We recruit across the digital product lifecycle. This means we get to spend our days working with generally awesome people who are doing interesting work across technology, product management, user experience, digital design, project management, analytics and insight, marketing, change and transformation and leadership roles.

And we love exploring what makes these digital minds tick. So we launched FFS, or Futureheads Five Stories, where we speak to people who have interesting stories to tell, to find out more about their career in the digital world, and the lessons they’ve learnt along the way.

And we couldn’t resist the acronym.

This week we sat down with Chief People Officer Karen Rivoire.

What’s the story of your career so far?

To be able to explain my career so far I need to explain my life. My life choices have made me who I am as a Chief People Officer but they have not always been by design. I have lived in three different countries and worked with people from all over the world from day one. Some people call me a hybrid HR leader or a human revolutionary, but we are all unique and have to find what we have in common to live healthier lives together.  I met my French husband at university just before graduating in France. We later had three sons and my husband stepped off the career “ladder” to look after the boys for five years.

I started my career in Paris in marketing for Sony and after two and a half years took a year and a half out to follow my husband to Guatemala. Our life in Guatemala shaped my career more than I realised at the time. It was not until I joined Unilever in HR that I realised you could combine good business and meaningful work. I launched an award-winning employer brand campaign called “you to the power of Unilever” which was all about having a positive impact on people’s lives – something that is still key to Unilever’s success eighteen years later.

I spent twelve great years with Unilever, during which, I had the freedom to create some amazing emotional wellbeing courses and take responsibility for the full organisational health agenda for Unilever’s biggest category. Unilever expatriated me to the UK for five years which was great for the family and where I did some of my best work.

Next, it was time for me to take on my first Group HRD role back in Paris, which was a real eye-opener. Thai Union, a family business, had just acquired a European seafood business and I was their first recruit. I had the opportunity to create their strategy into action and build a value-driven leadership model for everyone in the organisation. It was a huge transformation that included a lot of sustainability and communication work but I was able to create a real groundswell and had a great HR team.

After three and a half years, I was called back to the UK to be Chief People Officer at Millward Brown, one of the nine $1 billion businesses in WPP. The people were great and the business was future proofed for a new world of brand consultancy and predictive analytics. Unfortunately, the future did not happen quite as planned. There was a restructure and my role was removed.

Since then I have been doing a lot of advisory work at the intersection of leadership, technology and organisation design. I work with Microsoft Reactor and have helped founders at Zinc and the Founders Factory. I have been invited to speak on panels and innovation workshops with small and large companies about AI, HR and ethics. I have discovered a bold new world of creative independent thinkers working in social enterprise or nudging the corporate world. I continue to put wellbeing, inclusion and innovation at the heart of everything I do by curating and shaping some of the thinking around governance and people practices. We are at an important turning point and we need different disciplines around the table and better data to make more insightful and inclusive decisions.

As a hybrid HR leader, I am in a great position to help other leaders see what is really going on and encourage them to do what they say they do, which is not easy when we are distracted by short-term financial targets.

What advice would you give to yourself when you were just starting out?

Expand your thinking, understand yourself and meet as many different people as you can. I was the first to go to university in my family and despite being head girl, I had no idea what my options were. I enjoyed school and loved languages, sport and maths and I think I could have had bigger aspirations if I had reached out to more people.

What do you love most about what you do?

The people, the freedom, the serendipity, the emergence, the positive impact on people’s lives and the complexity.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?

Treat people as people and be clear on what you stand for. My resilience comes from what I have achieved but also from what I have overcome.

People need to be encouraged to dream and speak up. Without people, organisations cannot play the role they should be playing in society. That is HR’s main responsibility. Our second responsibility, like all leaders, is to look after ourselves and make sure we are having conscious conversations about our values and our lives.

What do you think is going to be the biggest challenge in our industry over the next twelve months?

I see two challenges but I am very optimistic!

  1. Getting beyond the AI hype and the constant broadcasting and taking concrete steps to develop people’s ability to sense, think critically, be adaptive, collaborate and act responsibly.
  2. We are at risk of purpose washing so we need to close the gap between company purpose and business models. Responsible technology will play a big role but we need people to be their best selves and stand up for coherence.

A little bit about Karen

I love being a hybrid and I have often been part of non-dominant groups. This gives me a unique perspective and helps me see and hear things that other people miss. My sons are my inspiration and have always curated great stuff for me. They even coached me for an important interview! I enjoy playing tennis, golf, cycling and eating great food with friends and family, often cooked by my husband.

I am currently looking for my next Chief People Officer role. 

You can connect with Karen on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Want to take part in our FFS series? Say hello at liz@wearefutureheads.co.uk.



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