Head of Staff Flourishing / Bellroy
The evolution of the HR function is a movement that generates a lot of interest for me. Originally conceived to handle personnel hiring and payment, the HR function now aligns closely with a company’s strategic plan, and the well-being of staff. Think of it like a delicate dance between management and employees, and handling the workforce, culture and responsibilities in difficult circumstances. It’s complex and incredibly rewarding particularly as the business of work twists and changes into a new world order.
Popping up of late is a new crop of titles replacing the word HR. Like People and Talent Managers at Lululemon, People and Culture Manager at thankyou Group and the title of today’s #careerstory. Please meet Charlie Simson. Charlie is the Head of Staff Flourishing at Bellroy and she is responsible for helping all the staff to flourish at work and in life.
For those of you that don’t know, Bellroy is a considered carry goods business that designs incredible products that meticulously blend simplicity in design and ease of use, into a marriage made in wallet heaven. It certain;y helps that their product is also aesthetically pleasing and cool AF, both attributes that have contributed to the business growth since it’s inception in 2010. The brand is at home in both Bells Beach and Fitzroy and drips with nuances from both suburbs. Bellroy also challenges the way that you look at product and how intelligent product can influence your life and make it better.
It’s no wonder that Charlie’s role at Bellroy is so fundamental, from supporting staff in growth to ensuring that they are happy, resilient, connected, productive and to have a meaningful impact on the world.
Meet the women changing the the dialogue…
Hi Charlie, welcome! Can you start by telling us where you grew up, and how your experience shaped the person you are today?
I grew up near Shepparton in regional Victoria. When I was young, my parents were orchardists – growing apples and pears mostly. So, until I was 12 (when we sold the farm) I was a farm kid. My siblings and I were helping out on the farm from an early age, picking fruit, helping to do the watering and a bunch of other little bits and pieces. It was really good for building toughness and for understanding that work is about getting things done, not about going to a particular place at a particular time.
On a farm, things need to be done for real reasons; like the fruit needs to be picked at the right time so that it’s ripe enough to taste great and still firm enough to transport well. This really meant that I looked for the real reasons to do things from a young age; not doing things because I was told to, or someone else seemed to think it was important – but wanting to know what the real world consequences might be.
It was great for learning, but maybe not so fun for my teachers!
Yes, I bet the teachers were so excited when a young Charlie put up her hand. :) So where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to Wanganui Park Secondary School from years 8 to 12, and did year 7 at Notre Dame College; both schools are in Shepparton. In general, the school was a pretty good experience for me. I mostly got good grades and enjoyed participating in extracurricular sport and other activities. I played netball, sang with the school band, acted in school plays and danced in the Rock Eisteddfod.
I was also active in the junior school council and was Vice School Captain in year 11. Although I was always pretty actively participating and got pretty good grades, my teachers would frequently comment that I had a tendency to ‘rest on my laurels’ and didn’t push myself very hard academically (which was true).
Did your high school play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
Not really. I’d been very clear that I wanted to go to university from early on in primary school. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for work, I just knew that I wanted the university experience. It was a bit of a convoluted road to get to where I am now, and I certainly didn’t have this plan when I was in high school.
Did you complete any internships or work experience placements in high school? Tell us about that experience.
Yes, in year 10 we did 2 weeks of work experience; a week in each of two different places. I did a week in public relations with a PR Manager for the local hospital, and a week as a journalist with the local paper. Both placements were useful in the sense that they showed me that neither of those careers were for me!
Did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
I’ve studied quite a bit. Straight out of school I went to the University of Melbourne and studied a Bachelor of Arts. I majored in Politics and Philosophy but also tried out Literature, Economics and Sociology. I chose Arts mainly because I was better at humanities than at the sciences (or at least that’s what I thought at the time), and I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up. I figured that Arts would be generally helpful and would buy me a little time to figure the rest out.
In my second year of Arts, I took a subject from the Public Policy school and loved it. For me, it was the practical application of politics that I was mostly interested in, and that’s what policy was all about. I then applied for admittance to the Bachelor of Public Policy & Management (BPPM), which was an unusual degree that was only available for students who had completed 2 years of another degree. I got in, and completed my Arts degree while also doing the BPPM. I really enjoyed policy and ended up doing Honours in policy writing. I graduated in 2006 with both degrees.
I had a break from study for a few years and went into work. Then, in 2012 I decided to go back and pursue an interest that I had in psychology. I enrolled in a Grad Dip in Psychology at the University of Melbourne and started working on that part-time. I had completed half the required subjects when I discovered that the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) was starting at the University of Melbourne in 2014. I discontinued the Grad Dip program, and don’t currently have any intention to finish it.
In 2013 I completed a certificate of Executive Coaching course with Swinburne University. I chose to do this, as I had developed an interest in leadership and wanted to be able to help other leaders to develop.
I applied for the MAPP and was accepted into the first full-time cohort. I completed the program full time, while I was working full time, which was possible because the MAPP program was set up as an Executive style Masters program. This meant that the classes were scheduled to occur over several weekends during the semester, making it possible to take only a few days off work. I chose to do the MAPP program because I had always been interested in how people perform well at work and in life, and the MAPP program was much more specifically about this. I graduated from the MAPP program in December of 2014.
During the MAPP program, I had gotten interested in how my previous career in policy could be connected to positive psychology, and I thought I could possibly bring them together a bit closer by doing some more research. I applied to do a Phd that combined policy and positive psychology and was accepted. My research project was looking to determine whether there were any examples of education systems internationally that were able to consistently produce student outcomes that were high in both academic achievement and wellbeing. Following a career change into a role more directly connected to positive psychology in the workplace I decided that the Phd program wasn’t where I wanted to focus my attention anymore, so I discontinued the program in 2016.
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
I’ve worked in a few different places so far. I started out in 2006 working for the Australian Government, working on programs to re-engage young people in education after they had dropped out, or were at risk of dropping out.
Following that, I spent a year developing sustainability policy for the Facility Management Association, before deciding that I really wanted to work on education policy. In 2007, I moved to the Department of Education as a project manager and policy writer. I really enjoyed working for the Department and stayed for 6 years. In that time, I worked on literacy and numeracy; early childhood projects; departmental budget bids; and as an executive coordinator for the Deputy Secretary of early childhood. This was a great learning experience.
In 2013, I decided to leave the department and try heading out on my own as an Executive Coach. I worked for myself as an Exec Coach for a year, before deciding that while I enjoyed coaching, I really missed working with a team and I missed the more strategic thinking involved in policy.
In 2014, I moved back into policy, but this time in consulting. I worked on projects in education policy in Australia and then in Qatar. I conducted research and evaluation of policy projects including an analysis of the effectiveness of the Qatari Education System, and a research project into the effectiveness of co-located and integrated services across early childhood and school-based services in Victoria. I enjoyed policy still, but I was keen to be able to bring more positive psychology into what I was working on, so I had my eye out for options.
In 2015, I moved into the job that I have now: Head of Flourishing at Bellroy.
Wow, what a journey Charlie. So let’s talk about today… How did you land your job at Bellroy?
Through a series of connections between Bellroy and me, I received an email in my inbox letting me know that Bellroy was looking for a head of Flourishing. I checked out the company and the role and decided I really, really wanted it, so I applied and here we are.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Trying to find time to give each staff member the time and attention they need to feel valued and to help them grow and develop. As the company grows, I’m needing to shift the way that I help our staff as there are too many people for me to be able to do it all personally anymore. I’m building the capacity of our managers to be able to help with more things so that I can pick up the more complex problems, and focus on helping the managers to help their staff.
What does a day a typical business day look like for you at Bellroy?
It varies quite a bit, but on a normal day I would spend a few hours in meetings with the senior executive team, or some of the managers talking about the people challenge they are dealing with at the moment and providing advice. Then I’d spend a few hours working planning for the next learning program, event or project we are currently working on, and an hour or so catching up with my team to see how they are going and help them with anything they need help with.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
I don’t really believe in individual heroes – I think that most people have some things that they are great at, and some things that they are working on. I try to take inspiration from different people on different things, without expecting anyone to be excellent at everything. Some people whose work I admire include Brené Brown on vulnerability & resilience; Angela Duckworth on Grit and psych research; Dan Pink on motivation; and Dan Ariely on decision making.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
I’d give the same advice to girls and boys (‘cause gender shouldn’t matter!): get lots of varied experience and pair it with going deep into psychology. You’ll need a good breadth of experiences yourself to help you understand what’s happening for others, and you’ll need a deep understanding of the theory to help you tell when you’re seeing a pattern, and when it’s just that one person’s thing.
And go to Uni, because it’s good to get a degree, but mostly because it’s a really great learning experience. Try to live out of home, and pay for yourself as much as you can – being an adult is hard, and the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get good at it. But finish school first.
Charlie is a skiing fanatic!
List the most valuable resources that you turn to constantly for inspiration in your profession?
- Favourite Websites: TED, RSA Animate, HBR Online
- Name an Instagram Account that you can’t go a day without checking: All of the skiing ones: powdernuts, skiing_of_ig, thepowguide
- Favourite Podcast: Too hard to choose, some of the best are: Waking Up with Sam Harris, Masters of Scale, The Knowledge Project, Tell Me Something I Don’t Know.
- Favourite Netflix Series: So many good ones, it’s too hard to choose! I loved Big Mouth, and Mindhunters.
- Favourite all time book/s: The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Work-related favourites include Thinking Fast & Slow, Flourish, The Brain that Changes Itself, and The Progress Principle
- People: Patty McCord, Sheryl Sandberg
- Others: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Less Wrong, Farnham Street blog