Heidi Suominen Chief People Officer at RACQ came to Australia from Finland with her family, when she was 14 years old. Early in her career, she worked for AlphaPharm, where Heidi grew with the organisation of 120 employees to eventually become the largest distributor to the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. In the late 1990s, the parent company was acquired by Merck KGAA, a large global organisation of approximately 80,000 employees, and Heidi was their National HR Manager for a decade. When the company was acquired by Mylan, Heidi moved into the APAC Regional VP HR role, then became Senior Director HR Operations globally.
As well as being part of a Greenfields operation, she was a stakeholder in the organisation that lobbied for pharmaceutical generic substitution, which now underpins a big part of choice for consumers in Australia.
Heidi credits this experience as an amazing platform for a young professional to learn about really good business practices, the level of grit required to build success, and the well considered business and people practice that enables it.
After spending a number of years undertaking significant international travel, working across different time zones, and with a leader based 14 hours away, Heidi sought a role that was focused in Australia, and in 2012 joined RACQ as their Executive Manager HR. Progressing rapidly to Chief People Officer, Heidi now leads RACQ‘s Group HR Function spanning multiple industry sectors including Motoring Services, Insurance and Banking.
How has RACQ developed a trusted brand?
RACQ is not simply an organization – it’s a promise to make a difference to the lives of our members now and into the future. We’re a workplace where every member interaction is targeted to deliver on this. This is felt in our day-to-day existence and our culture. Our values are central to this: generosity of spirit, being of service, inspiring trust and dedication to excellence.
When our people feel and behave in alignment with our values and are enabled and supported to deliver on our commitment to member experience, we build trust. The trust that we have is earned through every interaction, every day and everywhere. We are committed to living up to the trust given to us by our members.
How has your international experience influenced your career?
International experience provides an excellent opportunity to learn about operating in culturally diverse environments. In my case, this has built an awareness and understanding of how to navigate large scale and complex organisations. It has highlighted the value brought by different ways of working, thinking and approaching issues. Also, the opportunity to interact with, influence and lead people from different backgrounds has not only led to professional growth but has also built a high level of appreciation for diversity and inclusion. I believe that learning from my international experience has been career enabling.
What’s your advice to others on how to develop their leadership style?
Be clear on what it is you stand for as a leader, what is the impact that you seek to make to the lives of those that you lead, and keep checking that you are consistently delivering on this. In developing your leadership style, the learning that you get from your team is a gift and helps you to continue growing as a leader.
Tell us about how RACQ supports women in its workforce?
RACQ has a good gender balance overall and a large number of women in leadership roles right up to senior executive and board level. The dialogue on gender equality is active in the organization at all levels with continuous focus on inclusion, enablement and equity. The investment into targeted programs such as our Female Mentoring Program, which has been running for over 10 years, is important in tangibly supporting female careers.
Over the past 2 years, we have all been forced to change and adapt. What are some of the ways RACQ has adapted to change?
The changes brought about by the past two years have been profound at individual, organisational and societal level. We transitioned to a very different way of working almost overnight and continued servicing and caring for our members without a significant change to their experience. It was important for us to rally behind our people which in turn enabled them to be there for our members. We have committed to building a deeper understanding of the needs of our people as well as their feelings and experiences in this changed environment. As a result, we have become more responsive in unpredictable circumstances while also learning important insights about our organization and how we could best deal with whatever the future might bring.
The main impact however is on how we view work and life, with some of the belief sets from the past, such as the place of work or where work is done, having been dismantled. At RACQ remote working and a more flexible approach to work more broadly is here to stay. Further, the mindset of looking at and responding to issues and situations from different perspectives has been strengthened. The last couple of years have taught us what is possible and this has built innate confidence and resilience not only to respond to our environment but also to positively influence our future.
As an over 100 year old Queensland based member organisation, how does RACQ continue to put members first?
Members are our reason for being. It is in our very make up that we always put members at the heart of what we do. We are an organization of people for people and we like to say that we have the heart of a club and mind of a business. This recognizes that when our people always, everyday extend understanding and care to our members and add value to their lives, we are living our purpose.
For this, we need to ensure that our people are enabled, empowered, supported and cared for. Further, we need to ensure that the service, products offered and our proposition to members continues to be competitive and value adding to our members lives. So there is an element that is internal in order to put members first. The key though is that the care and commitment to members is everything to us.
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