A minute with… Natalia Bikkenina, VP HR at Ceona

How did you get into HR?

I didn’t start out in HR. I was a business manager at a time when HR wasn’t really a thing, it was more about personnel. But in management you learn that success relies on people and your ability to help them grow with the company. Every manager is, to a degree, an HR manager, so it wasn’t difficult to make the move.

I was surprised when I was offered my first HR job after completing my MBA. I could have chosen a marketing route, but HR was appealing, and the job came with the extra challenge of learning a new language, as I was to be based in Austria for [water and hygiene technology company] Ecolab.

What do you enjoy most about HR?

People are the focus of any business, so no matter how good the market conditions or business model are, it all rests with the employees. Therefore, as an HR manager, you have a direct impact on the success of the company. Your aim is to provide the best quality of people who can lead the growth of the company. HR is like a science: there are lots of tools and different methods you can use depending on the type, size and maturity of the company, so you have to make the right decisions from the start.

CV: Natalia Bikkenina

  • September 2011-Present VP human resources, Ceona (Ceona is a start-up oilfield services company, backed by venture capital from Goldman Sachs Capital Partners).
  • April 2009-March 2011
    HR director, Colt Technology Services.
  • May 2006-March 2009
    HR director EMEA, ViewSonic Europe.
  • 2005-2006
    Consultant, DPD in Russia (Armadillo Business Parcel).
  • 2001-2004
    HR manager, Ecolab AG, Vienna.
  • 1991-2000
    Deputy general manager, Armadillo/ DPD Russia.

What do you find most difficult about working in HR?

Funnily enough, it’s the same thing – people. No matter how well people work individually, some will run into trouble when they come together. As an HR professional, you must try to resolve any issues and create the best environment for employees to come together and make a greater whole.

What is your greatest career achievement?

Outside of HR, it would have to be the start-up company I ran. It was quite successfully sold to a big international company and is now a leading player in the Russian parcel transportation market.

In my HR career, I count the ability to work in very different cultural environments as an achievement – and a great reward. Working with so many different people in companies from five or six different industries in my career has been a wonderful experience.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?

To always be patient. When you work with people, it’s often impossible to resolve issues with a one-off gesture or decision. People require time and effort. It may be a cliché, but if you put in the work, it’s a win-win situation for the employee and for the company – and for you to take pride in your work.

What has been your biggest career challenge?

For an HR professional, one of the greatest challenges is to be viewed with credibility by the business leaders and managers we work with. Everybody has their own beliefs about what’s right for business and for people, and yours may differ from some of the people you deal with. It’s a fine balancing act, weighing up these factors while trying to do your job, but it’s rewarding when it all comes together.

What’s the next big thing in HR?

Leadership. It’s always been an issue, of course, but it is set to remain important, especially in tough economic times when strong leaders are so valuable. In industries that are doing well, like oil and gas, there is a great deal of competition for talented leaders. Churn is bad for business, so you must fight to retain your talent and aim to produce excellent leaders.

Who do you most look up to in the industry?

One of the people I look up to most was the one who showed faith in me when I started out in HR. Gwendolyn Doden has worked in senior HR positions at companies like Dow Chemical, Nike, Ecolab, and Boehringer Ingelheim. Now she’s a successful consultant. She’s a very “European American”, speaks lots of languages and really encapsulates the power of engaging with people from all kinds of backgrounds. If I can be as good a leader as she can – and as fun as she is – then I’d be happy.

If you didn’t work in HR, what would you be doing instead?

I think I’d like to work in PR, maybe in fashion. Who knows, maybe I would even be the editor of Vogue!


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