Mathematician turned HR expert – Silvia’s road to leading Cezanne HR through global pandemic

Following our popular #TeamCezanneHR discussion article with our R&D Director, John Hixon, we caught up with our Head of Account Management and Cezanne HR business owner, Silvia Persico, to understand her HR journey and what it was like to lead the organisation through COVID-19.

Silvia, how did your career in HR start?

I actually did a degree in mathematics, so HR might not have seemed like the obvious career path for me. My first role after university was for a large insurance company with a really big HR team. Because of their size, they had the luxury of having a dedicated HR team that managed HR data, including reporting and analytics, and this team was the perfect transition for me from the maths world into HR.

I liked HR so much that I continued with it, moving into a more general HR role with my next employer – a smaller company where I was the HR manager. I followed that up with a role at another large organisation in HR. It was after that, that I moved into HR systems support with the organisation that would be a ‘grandparent’ to Cezanne HR.

What’s been your journey with Cezanne HR?

When I joined Cezanne HR’s grandparent 20 or so years ago, I went out to the United States to set up the business’ US infrastructure and customer support team. Ultimately, we decided not to continue with a presence in the US, but we learnt a lot about the market in our 13 years on the ground there.

It was during this period that I also took some time away from work to travel and learn about different countries and cultures. My itinerary took in Africa, Asia, Antarctica and more. I have great memories of the safaris I did in India and Africa, and seeing places of cultural and archaeological significance in Egypt, Cambodia and Syria.

In 2013, I returned to work full time to help build the current Cezanne HR. The company as we know it today was born out of the sale of its predecessor, with the remaining fledgling team focusing on modern multi-tenanted Cloud-based HR solutions. I headed up customer support, and created new teams to look after support and sales. Building teams is something I enjoy doing and am passionate about. When an opportunity came up a year and a half ago to create an account management team, I jumped on it and that’s what I focus on today – as well as now being a co-owner of Cezanne HR.

As a business owner, what was your experience of COVID-19?

I think like a lot of people responsible for businesses and people’s livelihoods, the beginning of COVID-19 was a very scary time. Although we sell a product that’s always in demand, we weren’t sure how many of our customers would be immediately affected by COVID-19, and what the knock-on effect of that would be for our organisation. Trying to plan during the first 6 weeks or so was very difficult – it was like being in a fog of uncertainty.

But we did manage to keep the business fairly stable. And, as last summer approached, the market started to seem more positive.

We’re very proud of how our team switched so seamlessly from a mix of office working and homeworking, to 100% homeworking. Face-to-face meetings and training were replaced with calls, but other than that our professional lives remained very normal. I’m very relieved that we never let any of our customers down as homeworking didn’t affect our service levels.

A lot of our success is due to our team. Our hiring practices are fundamental in shaping Cezanne HR’s workforce. We don’t hire people for their knowledge, we hire them for who they are – their character, attitude and aptitude. In the tech industry, ‘what you know’ can so quickly become obsolete, but the innate ability to learn and stay ahead of our customers’ needs is crucial. Everyone at Cezanne HR knows that they have ownership of their work and the success of the company; this was very important in getting through the last year. And we’ve also always fostered the ethos that it’s okay to make mistakes and to own them – that’s how we learn.

For our HR customers and prospects, we know that those early days were about doing everything they could to manage furlough, to help people adjust to working from home, and to support workers who were ill. There was little time for anything else. Then as things settled down, we saw HR begin to look outwards again, thinking about their tech solutions, and what new software they might need to move forward. I’m confident that Cezanne HR remains ready to meet those needs as they arise.

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