Audi Australia’s Head of HR Zena Boakes Guest Lectures with AIB
The Audi brand has long been synonymous with quality and prestige. Zena Boakes, AIB’s newest Industry Guest Lecturer, epitomises those values. She has over 20 years’ experience in all aspects of Human Resources, having worked in a range of industries including retail, automotive, telecommunications and professional service. Now, Zena and Audi Australia are partnering with AIB to enrich the MBA programme with practical HR industry insights, focusing particularly on the subjects strategic HR management and managing people in a global context.
Zena joined Audi Australia as their Chief HR Officer in 2015, and leads the HR function for Audi’s head office, as well as the company owned dealership in Sydney. As a senior strategic HR business partner, Zena partners with the company’s leaders to provide expertise in organisation capability development, relationship management and human resources strategy development.
Zena grew up in South Africa, where she qualified with a Bachelor of Arts and Postgraduate Diploma in Education at the University of Cape Town. Although her intention was to become a primary school teacher, she took up an opportunity to run training and development for organisations. Her first role was as a personnel officer and training manager for a retail company, which allowed her to utilise her teaching skills on adults, instead of children.
The role also allowed her to develop her human resources knowledge, and after a few years, Zena began her own recruitment company. The enterprise was a success. Some years later, when Zena and her husband emigrated to Australia, she parlayed those skills into a job with Vodafone and subsequently Deloitte Consulting. She also pursued further education, gaining both a Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapy and an MBA from AIB. In late 2015, Zena left Schneider Electric to take the role at Audi Australia, graduating with her MBA shortly afterwards.
Zena’s current role sees her leading the HR function in tandem with the leadership team. There are around 100 people at Audi Australia responsible for importing and distributing vehicles, and another 140 at the Zetland dealership who work across service, parts, sales and marketing. “My job is to, together with the leadership team, set the people strategy and execute it through my team,” Zena explains.
Audi Australia has set itself a series of ambitious targets in its strategic plan, and the HR function is integral to meeting those goals.
“Our vision is to become the best and most progressive premium brand in Australia. We have built our strategy for the future around that, and we can only do that through the people that we have. The technology exists, but people create and develop that technology,” explains Zena.
To develop brand loyalty, Zena says that one must prioritise people, process and culture. A successful HR plan finds, develops and retains the right talent for the job. A successful customer service plan helps a customer find the right car, develops the relationship between customer and dealer, and retains them as a loyal customer going forward. “Once we’re all speaking a similar language, it becomes a lot easier to connect the plans. With the people plan being directly linked to the company’s strategic plan, we are much more likely to achieve what it is we want to do,” says Zena.
As a premium brand, Audi strives to make sure that their internal experience matches their reputation. Zena explains, “We ensure that everything we do is premium. An employee who comes through the recruitment process has a premium experience, and when they get here, it’s the same. What we’re doing internally reflects the progressive nature of our vehicles. We’ve got very progressive processes and systems to design and manufacture our vehicles, and so we want that experience for employees to be the same.”
The automotive industry is always changing. Customers do more research online, meaning they’re likely to come into a showroom only once instead of several times. Audi is developing electric vehicles which is changing the way dealerships look and creating new roles within the company.
All in all, Zena says, “It is an interesting time for all. Nobody’s got all the answers. Audi’s just put a ‘vehicle’ on the moon, so who knows where to next!”
Whatever does turn out to be next, we’re pleased to have Zena and Audi Australia on board to help our students prepare for it.