From labour law to HR: CHRO SA meets Verna Robson, Sun International

Sun International’s group director of Human Resources Verna Robson is a lawyer by training, who spent much of career practicing labour law. She believes it has been an advantage to have a career where she has worked closely with HR but not necessarily within it, because that has allowed her to think about her role from a very different perspective.

(In the photo from left to right: Verna Robson and Didi Sehume, managing executive for CHRO South Africa.)

CHRO South Africa - an organisation that helps HR executives to boost their network, knowledge and careers through events, media and peer-to-peer advisory - caught up with Verna on Tuesday to learn a little bit about her ahead of upcoming executive HR roundtable to be hosted by Vodacom HR director Matimba Mbungela on 9 March.

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"As a lawyer you look at things differently. I'm a very risk averse kind of person so I always wait to understand the level of risk a particular environment before going ahead with a project," she said, adding that, by the time the company rolls something out that is new, she's already thought quite deeply about what the challenges are and how she would navigate her way through the obstacles.

She says that typical HR people tend to look at problems narrowly through of an 'HR lens' to the point that they don't link what they're doing to business and they don't link the business initiatives to what they're doing. And, in her two years in her current position at Sun international, her most difficult task has been to get the HR team, all of which is made up of seasoned HR professionals, to understand that the HR strategy cannot be developed in isolation from the business strategy.

"For example, they might come up with a fantastic learning and development initiative and I'll say, 'Okay, but our core business is gaming, so what are doing from a gaming perspective,' and then they understand where they might have fallen short. So a lot of what I've been doing to getting them to put the business at the center of their ideas."