Halah El Sherbini has been a proud Burganer (employee of Burgan Bank Group) for more than five years. 20 years of diverse experience has positioned her to be the youngest female Kuwaiti Head of Human Resources and Development.Her heightened sense of structure and level of professionalism has led to a transformation of human resources management at Burgan Bank and has resulted in a shift in Burgan’s work culture. Halah has a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and holds a Professional Human Resources (PHR) Certificate. A Certified Professional Trainer in over 35 training modules, Halah is also a SHL Certified Assessor.

Ms. El Sherbini is the perfect example of an inspirational leader and has used her diverse background to strategically build the human resources capabilities at Burgan Bank Group. In Celebration of Burgan Bank’s 40th anniversary,we had the pleasure of having a sit down with Ms. El Sherbini to discuss her role in human resources management and how she is leading Burgan Bank Group’s human capital to success.

The role of HR has developed greatly over the years; tell us more about the responsibilities of your department.

It would take me a whole day to describe how the Human Resources discipline has evolved throughout the years. In its earlier days, human resources departments used to function from a purely administrative position. Since the early 2000s, the transformation and evolution started and HR became no longer just administrative. On the contrary, it has evolved to become a crucial business partner with critical involvement in decisions at a strategic level.

The successful management of the organisation’s most valuable asset, which is the core responsibility of HRD as a strategic partner, is what drives the organisation forward. I must explain what I mean and what our responsibilities are when I say that we are strategic partners because this is now a commonly used terminology. As strategic partners, we are responsible for the organisation’s efficiency and effectiveness through focused workforce planning, talent development leading to solid succession planning, and cultivating a strong corporate culture all of which ultimately leads to the organisation’s success. That is our role in HR in a nutshell and it keeps on evolving with time.

What was your vision and mission when you first joined Burgan Bank?
It was to create and nurture a culture of integrity and best practices which would allow great innovation and progression. To become the employer of choice of a motivated, developed and recognised work force aiming at exemplary performance.

What strategies have you adopted to achieve that vision and what were the elements that facilitated your mission. In addition, what obstacles did you encounter throughout your journey?

Firstly, I assessed and identified the skills and potential of our existing staff and their proper fitments in their existing positions within the department. After we identified their skill set, we created an individualistic development strategy which nurtured and developed these individual skill sets through in house engagements and proper job fitments. That was our first mandate internally.

When it came to growing our workforce through required hiring, I role model and uphold the values of the organization while firmly contributing and adding value. It is crucial that we hire employees that would blend in and add value to the organisation. In terms of obstacles, even though I won’t dwell on it, but being a female is always a challenge because of gender-related perceptions. It is not as much of an issue nowadays as it used to be, but it still exists. There is always a certain predetermined perceptions regarding your qualifications, limitations, and abilities as well as what you can and cannot do when you are a female in a leadership position. Working diligently towards changing such perceptions was the real challenge that was the real challenge.

Halah El Sherbini

What impact does your department have on the employees, the bank’s culture, and the success of the bank?
They are all interlinked. Human capital embodies the heart of all organizations. They are the main asset to any company, organization or institute. You cannot have an organization without employees, and you can’t properly develop and grow a work force without HR. As for our culture, the Bank is shaped by the values of its employees and what they aspire to and stand for. The performance of the Bank reflects those values and aspirations. Burgan Bank’s culture is derived from our work and performance standards. This is all shaped and crystallized through the successful management of HR as it is the backbone of any organization. Few Kuwaiti women head the HR departments of large companies, describe your career journey. Surprisingly, that’s true.

My mentor was a gentleman. However, when it comes to the newly transformed HRD role as i explained earlier, the natural instincts of a female combined with her skills and knowledge constitute a better fit for how HR functions. Moreover, my journey throughout those 20 years was not strictly HR. It is highly diverse which adds more value to HR management. I started as a teller and I progressed in my career to become a relationship manager. My HR career started in the year 2001.

How did the position and its responsibilities impact you personally?
Greatly! I believe learning is a two-way street. HR has given me the opportunity to understand and apply this mind-set because of the nature of its work and the constant exposure to great individuals and teams. It is truly a humbling experience to learn from each other because it has nothing to do with position, hierarchy, or even age. It has to do with the extent to which the person is receptive, how they receive knowledge and what they are willing to do with it. This kind of mindset enables a person to grow at accelerated speed and if you work by this model, then the sky is the limit to what one may achieve.

What impact do you feel your own leadership has had within the Bank?
I would describe my leadership style as being empowering, innovative and inspiring. I like to lead by example; by being a role model that people can look up to and gain knowledge from.

What do you feel is the highlight amongst your achievements – the thing that has satisfied you the most?
When I see our employees evolving and growing, which directly contributes to the success of the organization, I truly feel a sense of heightened achievement and pride. I am also proud that we built long lasting relationships with our employees during our 40 years that are just as solid with those we built with our customers and all our stakeholders.

When people speak about Burgan Bank, what are the things you hope they’re saying? And of you, how would you wish to hear them reflecting on your years at the bank?
I would like them to say that we are an organization that upholds great values. The main ones would be integrity, trust, and honesty because that is truly what we stand for here at Burgan, a young organization that is progressive and innovative, we will always be different. Our story is that of transformation; a 40 year evolutionary journey to say the least. This transformation began with our people and continued to reflect on our performance and success. We are definitely an organization that is adaptive to change, that is transformational, and that is revolutionary. We have shifted from being a small local bank to being the most diverse Kuwaiti financial group and this is what we want to be remembered by. We are the future.