The recently appointed Paulig’s new Senior Vice President, HR Anu Pires has worked in Brazil, India, China and Singapore during her career. In Brazil, she learnt the hard way that talking with others is the only way of getting to know a new culture and promoting anything within a company. “When you listen to people, you gain access to a massive amount of tacit knowledge that companies can and should make use of.”

Tones and gestures have a massive impact in the corporate world. Directors and managers should never belittle the significance of their body language and behaviour to the working community. This is how Anu Pires feels. She started as Paulig’s Senior Vice President, HR in the beginning of October.

Finnish leaders rarely beat around the bush, and they value consistency.

“In our corporate culture, telling the truth and speaking frankly are easily considered such great virtues that the way of communication doesn’t really matter. Regardless of this, the way things are said has a huge effect on how they can be progressed and moved forward within an organisation,” says Pires.

Before joining Paulig, she was the Vice President of HR at the cosmetics company Lumene. Pires has extensive experience in human resources management from companies operating in different fields, also globally. During her years at Nokia, her areas of responsibility featured network operations in Asia and Latin America. Because of her work, she and her family lived for a long time in Brazil, India, China and Singapore.  They ended up spending in all almost ten years abroad.

What was the most important lesson you learnt during your years abroad?

“Brazil really transformed me as a leader. There, I learnt the most from the mistakes I made as an HR manager in my thirties. Going there, I thought people will change as long as I work in my own determined way. I learnt the hard way that most things in this world are dependent on the relations between people and how well they work. If your relationships with the people aren’t in order, nothing will work,” tells Pires.

When she later on moved to India, she used plenty of time getting to know the people and also told openly about herself to the employees. According to Pires, those heading abroad shouldn’t assume they understand the foreign culture and new people but rather seek to find new information and knowledge through discussions.

“When you listen to people, you gain access to a massive amount of tacit knowledge that companies can and should make use of.”

Years as a pizza cook taught how to manage stress

Pires ended up working in HR by accident. She studied marketing and graduated during the recession in the early 1990s. After trying hard, she landed a job at Valmet’s personnel development department and noticed right away that working in HR was her thing.

“Looking back at it now, everything went just as it was supposed to. As an HR professional, I feel that I can play to my strengths. The first impression of me is soft but I can also be streamlined and firm, if necessary.”

Learning doesn’t always take place in a school. While studying, Pires worked at Kotipizza for eight years cooking pizzas. She considers these years to be almost as important as her time at the university.

“There, you faced all kinds of different and surprising situations you just had to solve: what to do when you’ve burnt the pizza and there is a long line of hungry customers waiting for their food? In addition to practical skills, I also learnt a lot about managing stress during those years. Those skills have come in handy later in working life,” says Pires.

Simple is beautiful

Pires values simplicity and clarity. The more difficult the matter, the simpler it has to be put. Few things are so complex that they cannot be simplified. Pires is not interested in beautiful and complex PowerPoint presentations but rather in the core of it all.

“There is a school of people who think that complexity is somehow admirable. I think it’s a pity if the key point doesn’t come across clearly but gets lost in the weeds.”

In addition to clarity, Pires thinks an HR Director should be fearless. 

“The most important job of an HR Director is to verbalise the company’s direction to the personnel. You have to take care of the overall picture on all of the paths that affect people – create preconditions for employees and identify opportunities. I am genuinely interested in people and their development. If there is room for improvement in an individual’s work – even if that individual is the company’s CEO – the HR Director must use constructive discussion to ensure that everyone is playing the same game with the same rules,” explains Pires. 

She also wants to encourage people to admit when they don’t know something.

“Dare to be ignorant. State openly that you don’t know this but that you’ll learn. This applies to subject matters and cultures as well as businesses.”

The better leaders know the people they are leading, the better they can adjust their ways of working to the corporate culture. Pires’s skill of reading people has also developed during her long career.

And what in Paulig appealed to Pires?

“This company has always been in my top 10. I love the food industry. In addition, Paulig’s long history and story enthrall me. As it’s not a listed company, I believe that development work with a longer perspective is also possible. The food industry is facing a tremendously interesting outlook!”

But what on earth! The fresh HR Director admits to not drinking coffee at all – with the exception of Frezza! Pires is a dedicated tea lover.

“Fortunately, this wasn’t a deal breaker in the job interview. And you never know, maybe I’ll convert,” laughs Pires.