Interview with Eugenio Pirri

Eugenio Pirri – Chief People and Culture Officer at Dorchester Collection

Hi Eugenio, can you give me an overview of your career to date? What’s your story?

I started my career in hospitality early. I had always been intrigued by people, and being a people-centric sector I knew this was the place for me. So, at 14 years old, I joined McDonald’s in British Columbia, Canada (which is where I’m from). By 15 I had attained my first leadership role. It was great – I loved the people and the job was really fun. I learnt a lot about time management, people management and re-confirmed that this was an industry where I could make a difference.

While studying for a hospitality qualification, I joined the hotel sector as a room attendant in housekeeping. From there, I worked in seven difference departments, including food and beverage and finance, before joining HR in a training capacity. Within two years I was the director of HR.

Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to travel the world; responsible for people strategy in all kinds of amazing hotels and locations including W Hotels in San Francisco, Starwood Hotels in Los Angeles and Fairmont Hotels, at The Savoy in London. I joined Dorchester Collection in 2011, where I’m responsible for our 10 hotels globally, and continue to love every minute.

What are you currently working on?

We’re currently making sure that our various transformation initiatives allow us to sustain for the future and the world that we live in. So, we’re in the midst of implementing a new global people system which will bring together all our core HR systems, recruitment, learning and development and succession planning. Previously we had five different systems across the Collection so this will allow us to streamline and obtain better data.

We’re also re-looking at the way we develop talent. We believe everyone is ‘talent’ and so want to create an environment which allows everyone to access the right development and opportunities for them, if they wish to grow and progress. So far, we’ve removed competency frameworks and mandatory employee completions from our performance reviews instead increasing our focus on personal strengths and aspirations.

What’s been the biggest OSM (Oh S**t Moment) in your career so far and what happened as a result of it?

I would have to say it was probably my first assignment internationally outside of Canada. I honestly thought ‘oh my god, what have I done’. I was leaving my comfort zone, moving to a place I had never been, not knowing anybody who lived there. In fact, one week in I had a mini panic attack about it all! And the worse thing, I didn’t have one friend to go for coffee and moan about it with!

Though once I had found my feet, around a month in the role, I realised I had a lot of base knowledge which was more than enough to do the role. This helped me relax a little and concentrate on enjoying the new environment; building the role into my own.

What’s your view on the future of HR?

It’s very much about the new breed of people leader, rather than HR professionals. If we want to future-proof our businesses then we must start the conversation about people-centric leaders. Leaders in all departments, and not just HR. It’s why I decided to write Be A People Leader, to try and kick-start the conversation around what it takes to be a true people leader and encourage everyone to strive for that goal.

The future of HR is also not to be HR anymore, which is talked about a lot in the magazines and conferences I attend. Forget the traditional ways we look at the function and instead become fundamentally involved in all areas of the business; understanding what we can deliver into the organisation to make sure it is sustainable. We have to create the environment for our people to be successful because we can’t bank on the world anymore, it’s constantly changing.

There’s a lot of talk about the gig-economy and future of work now, what’s your take on it?

To be honest, I don’t like to get too concerned with things which are just reality. We are in a gig economy and there will always be a future. So rather than seeing these conversations as shocks to the system, for me they provide the opportunity to understand the trends and things we need to consider as we evolve as a world. It gives us the opportunity to prepare and take advantage of the change.

Whenever we meet I’m always inspired by your proactive approach and energy. What is it that keeps you motivated and drives you?

I’m naturally energetic and most definitely a morning person. Though what keeps me motivated is my genuine like for people. I want to find good in everybody and help them to succeed. For me, this is what makes a successful people leader. And it must be a core value, part of your make up. If it’s not, then it will always be a struggle trying to lead, inspire and help your team achieve.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

“You know more than you think”. At the time, I was early into my career and felt I had to respect the line. I didn’t speak up enough and so a mentor said this to me. It’s about not being afraid to use your confidence. If you think you know the answer then allow yourself to be heard, be part of the meeting, speak up. I often say to people “Do your job like you’re not afraid to lose it” and I think this partly comes from this piece of advice many years ago.

If you were given £5,000 to invest in a HR Start Up business what would it be and why? (I’m not actually going to give you the £5K)

I’m not sure if this in an HR start-up, an app or a training programme, but it would be something about helping people to understand their talents and strengths. As I said earlier, everyone is talented, they just need to know what that is and be in the right environment to help it flourish. So, working with employees to articulate what they are good at and then build upon those abilities to thrive.

Is there anything else you want to share or you think we should talk about?

I’m talking about culture a lot at the moment, typically linked to wider economical change for example Brexit. I find that businesses tend to talk about the specifics but not about the overarching topic which is culture in general. We have to step back more on this because, unless we truly understand what we mean by ‘culture’, how can we possibly have conversations about all the other business issues? After all, culture must be at the top of all that we do – once you have the vision, you can do the strategy.

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