The Big Interview with Suzie Tideswell

The HR Heads Career Profile Series: We speak with HR specialists within our network to find out what 'a typical day in the office' looks like, what they consider their greatest career success to be, what advice they'd give their 20 year old self and we also explore some of their favourite things. This edition features Suzie Tideswell, Chief Human Resources Officer at AGI Holdings LLC.


What does a typical day in the office look like for you?

Normally I’m in the office between 7-7.15 in the morning and I spend the first 45 minutes going through emails – we have plants in America and Canada so if anything has come in overnight I can include it in my plans for the day. I meet with the CEO and CFO at 8am each morning to discuss what’s happening in the Group and make any plans we feel are needed.  At the moment it’s year-end for all 4 businesses’ and we’re finalising the budgets for FY19 as well as working on the strategy that makes it a really challenging but exciting time.

After this, my day can be very varied. I don’t think I have ever completed a daily to do list throughout my career, it’s something I accepted a long time ago.  If I’m not focusing on strategic objectives, my days are spent on a number of other tasks, one of which is the Life Programme. I put this in place about 3 years ago, and it’s a combination of business improvement and People Management. It is the underlying framework that we all work within and has facilitated some key successes through the Group.

I have 4 HR Managers across the group and they work collectively together to ensure we have synergy and consistency, but also to bounce ideas off or get assistance from each other. I wanted a team that didn’t always need me in the room. Obviously, I like to be included in the fun stuff! But I am so pleased I have a collaborative team that understands the business well enough to enhance it. I’m clear to all my Managers, “You’re Business Managers who specialise in people”. I know that HR can experience a fight to get to the top table but we’ve changed that here at AGI. My managers are key players and they contribute to the wider business picture, they understand the business, the figures and the people.

I’m normally home between 6-7pm and the phone finally goes quiet at 10pm when the overseas plants close for the day.


What aspects of your role do you love?

I love the fact that I’m involved in 4 different business in 3 different countries at a business strategic level – I make decisions that impact upon the business, not just HR and I love the variety that brings. I could be doing something very HR focused one day, and the next I could be on a plane to Canada to assist with a business problem.  One of the good things about having 3 of us in the C-suite is that all of us can respond to problems throughout the Group and one of us will always make ourselves available where needed.


Are there any aspects of your role you find frustrating?

Admittedly, I can be quite impatient, and I’d like things done quicker sometimes. Especially with the people who are sceptical or resistant when you introduce something new. Often things don’t move at the pace I’d hope them to and some individuals need extra time to adjust to change, but I’m used to that – any business I’ve ever been in has always been the same. There will always be people who need that extra coaching, or a little extra explanation about the new process and the benefits it will bring!


Can you tell us about your proudest career moments?

From a personal point of view the first is when I got my Chartered Fellowship with the CIPD, it was hard work but worth it. Secondly, I’ve just passed and been accredited with my Blackbelt in Business Improvement and Lean Six Sigma!

From a career point of view, The Life Programme has been intrinsic in terms of growing the Group. It’s wonderful to watch somebody go from a tier 4 role to a tier 2 manager role or even a tier 1 senior manager role by using the tools we’ve put in place.


Looking ahead at the next 12 months, what lies ahead for you?

One of our key strategic goals is to grow the business organically and acquisitively. Acquisitively – we are currently 4 businesses and the goal is to have at least another 1-2 under our belt over the next 2 years. We acquire a new business on average every 12 months, and one of my objectives is to align that business within 12 months of the acquisition date. Business improvement in all the companies has been implemented organically, and we have a very active lean six sigma belt programme that enables this, we’re always looking for a way to work smarter not harder.

The CEO will say, and I completely agree, that it’s all about the people. You could have the best structure in the world, but you need the right people in it. You could have the best product in the world, but you need the right sales person selling it. We’ve made our business very people centric, but we’ve also equated that with the business improvement so that we’re empowering people to make their jobs simpler which benefits both them and the business. Everybody knows where we are and where we’re going and we’re transparent with everything, even our finances. There’s nothing worse than people getting in our business boat and us saying “row!” without telling them where we’re going – I wouldn’t want that, and I think you should always create an environment that you’d be happy in.

We’re continuing to improve every day, and the transition from where we were three years ago to where we are now is chalk and cheese!



If you could give advice to your 20 year old self, what would it be?

Oh, take more risks! I started my HR career in Makro as a HR Clerk, moving to a manager position within 12 months. I then moved to an independent SME business that didn’t have a head office that sent you instructions and guidance so you had to do everything yourself. I think I was worried about looking foolish or letting anybody down, so I wanted to be 100% sure before I did anything whereas now I’m a bit more maverick. I know that if I make a mistake, it can be fixed. Everything has got a fix!


Is there anything you’re passionate about championing in your HR role?

For me, it’s a combination of the people and the business together. For too long, ‘the business’ has taken precedence and I’d like to see more businesses understanding that one doesn’t and shouldn’t outweigh the other, they both rely on each other – so there has to be a synergy between the two.


The Essential skills for a CHRO according to Suzie:

  1. Be patient
  2. Be tenacious
  3. Be genuine


Get to know Suzie Tideswell

My real ‘downtime’ is quite simple; putting the radio on and inhabiting my kitchen or just relaxing on the sofa with a book – I’m a bit of a Brontë fan: Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, but I do like political thrillers as well. My role is 24/7 so I don’t get downtime very often, normally Sunday afternoons are my time to silence the phone and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet when I can.


Suzie’s recommended management books:

  • “The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey” by Hal Burrows, Ken Blanchard, and William Oncken
  • “The Five Dysfunctions of the Team” by Patrick Lencioni





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David Barlow, Senior Consultant