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Brenda Allen

DNA of a VP of HR

DNA of a VP of HR Brenda AllenBrenda started her HR career with Weyerhaeuser, as the HR manager, and then went on to a management role with Island Timberlands LP. She soon after took on the Director of HR role with Neucel Specialty Cellulose, and then the Training Manager with BC Maritime Employers Association. Since then she has moved into the VP of HR role with Amica, responsible for the leadership of the human resources function and related programs for Amica Mature Lifestyles, ensuring that the human resource strategies align with the corporate goals and objectives.

Brenda Allen, VP of HR at Amica Mature Lifestyles
DNA of VP of HR amica logo

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path?   

Being taken seriously as a business partner. I overcame this by proving myself and getting to know the business and the front line operations.  Understanding the financial drivers of the business and applying HR solutions that support the bottom line was and is crucial. 

What technical skills do you think are integral to role?

First you have to have financial acumen. Developing a strong financial background will help you succeed in HR today. Secondly understating what drives people is essential. Together this enables you to be able to bridge the financial side to the people side of the business, positioning you as a strong asset.  

You also need to be strong in technology and self-sufficient in this domain. You need to be able to analyze data accurately and measure apples with oranges. Today not everything is apples to apples – recognizing this and developing the technical skills you need to be able to do this effectively will help you along the career path.  

Lastly, communications and influencing skills are crucial. You rarely have formal authority even at the top of the HR field, so you need to rely on your ability to communicate and influence others in order to achieve your objectives.  

What attributes or personal characteristics do believe are integral to the role? 

You must believe in the good of people. In this field you will have to face cynicism, so in order to be able to handle this, you have to really want to support people. People need to be your passion in HR. You have to be selfless, and be open to sharing information and encouraging others to grow. 

You need to have thick skin and be able to maintain composure during heated conversations,, and remain calm when you’re often putting out fires.  These are key assets as you grow into more senior management roles.  

Lastly, be a logical, systems thinker – you need to understand the overall impact & unintended consequences of any action or initiative. Apply the ability to think critically to your technical abilities and you will have a long career in HR. 

What is your advice to someone who is moving up the ranks in the field and wants to pursue a management/executive career? 

Always be certain of the level at which you want to work at. The further up you get the further away from the people you get. Determine early where your passion and interests lie.  

My favourite part of the job is getting to spend time with the front line employees who touch our customers. My advice, don’t get giddy about your career progression, first get giddy about the work.  The passion is what will make you great at the job, and that will make you successful.   

How important is it to be exposed to all areas of the business?  

Vital – Even if you’re in a really junior role you should strive to fully understand the business. As a VP it becomes key as you have to understand the impact of policies and decisions.  

What is the one thing you have to have to be a VP of HR in your opinion?  

You have to be able to change direction/task in a second, so you need to be flexible, resourceful and quick thinking.  

What advice would you give to the next generation of professionals aspiring to become a HR leader? 

Stay flexible and keep your skills broad – even if you have to move sideways, get the generalist HR experience first, before you specialize. CEO’s are recognizing the value of consulting with HR and we’re being increasingly seen as a real contributor to the bottom line, so make sure you have the experience and exposure necessary to be that trusted partner.