Interview with Penny Stoker

How did you get to where you are now?

Being open to opportunities when they presented themselves. My experience has been that performing at a high level and building strong relationships at many different levels enables continued career growth, as does being willing to take on new challenges.

What do you spend the majority of your time at work doing?

As a manager of a large group, my time is either spent coaching my staff or meeting with line managers and HR colleagues to ensure their needs are being met.

Which three attributes do you need to do your job?

Strong business acumen, decisiveness and resilience.

What legislation causes you most headaches?

It isn’t the legislation that causes headaches as much as individual interpretation of that legislation. For the most part, legislation is enacted to protect employees. It’s the abuse of legislative intent by employees with poor skills or capabilities that causes the majority of headaches.

How do you keep up with changing legislation?

I read a lot and get updates from my staff. I rely on my team to make sure we are on top of everything. My role is more to coach them through the issues they are managing.

What are the common challenges you face in your profession?

Ensuring managers have the tools and skills to perform their duties. Managers have the most critical role to play in an organisation and should be spending a significant portion of their time coaching, counselling and mentoring their staff. Building strong business acumen in our HR staff is also a challenge. While I’ve been in HR for a number of years, I have a background in finance and accounting and have held line manager roles. Those roles have given me a strong understanding and appreciation for the business. Everything we do has to originate from an understanding of how the organisation returns value to its stakeholders.

What’s the best part of your job?

Being a business leader. I have the opportunity and responsibility to be part of business decisions on a daily basis. The challenges of understanding the business risks and issues while working to deliver a strategy are what keep me buzzing every day.

What keeps you awake at night?

I’ve always been able to keep a balanced view of what’s critical so I sleep pretty well. Occasionally there will be some issue I’ll consider over a time period, but it’s rare that I lose sleep over it.

What’s the most outrageous case/situation you’ve had to deal with?

I once had an investigation that involved several women in one department who had been sexually harassed over a period of years by a senior executive, but no-one felt safe coming forward. One brave young woman finally spoke to me and the investigation ensued.

What would be in your Room 101?

Passive-aggressive behaviour and squash (the vegetable).

What’s your party trick?

I can juggle.

If you could change anything about the world what would it be?

Increasing humanity’s collective ability to build bridges, not divides. We spend incredible amounts of time staking out and holding on to our differences.

Who’s your hero/heroine?

My mum – she raised three young girls by herself with little support or income. She taught us to love learning and to respect others and ourselves. From her perspective, anything was possible for us – all we had to do was grab it.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a friend, a confidant and a positive force for change.


January 2008 – present
VP, global HR services, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals

June 2004 – January 2008
VP HR, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals (US)

August 2003 – June 2004
VP, Management and Organization Development

August 2002 – June 2004
VP North America

June 2000 – August 2002
VP HR, Internet Capital Group

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