HR Influencers
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A Passion for Variety

By Lisa Gordon

Like many human resources professionals, Anna Chartres fell into the occupation, discovering a passion for it while working at a hotel in her native New Zealand. After moving to Canada in 1989, she worked in various progressive positions before joining Fairmont Hotels 20 years ago.

Today, Chartres is the hotel chain’s regional director of talent and culture for central Canada, overseeing more than 2,200 employees – including 1,250 at her home base, Toronto’s iconic Royal York Hotel.

She told HR Professional that the best part of her job is the variety served up by the hospitality industry.

Whether it’s supporting the development of Fairmont’s innovative new mental health strategy, mopping up from a flood or dealing with an influx of media during the International Indian Film Academy Awards in Toronto, no two days are the same.

Indeed, this diversity is the spice that has defined Chartres’ 30-year HR career.

When did you decide you wanted a career in human resources?

Anna Chartres: I didn’t actually decide on it; I fell into HR. I started working in a hotel in New Zealand and loved it and got involved in training. My boss at the time had no HR department in the hotel and because I had a love and a passion for training, they asked me if I wanted to be the director of personnel. I said, “Sure, why not?” I knew nothing about it and had to start from scratch. I didn’t know what I didn’t know back then! It was fun.

So that was your first HR job. What made you move on?

AC: I was in that position for two years. I met a Canadian, and you know hospitality romances…to Canada I came!

Tell me about your current job. What are your main areas of responsibility?

AC: I look after five hotels. I direct and provide strategic guidance for the talent and culture function within what we call central Canada, which includes our city centre hotels in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto. I help develop and support processes from a talent and culture perspective to achieve our business goals.

“My advice is to understand what the staff goes through, before we start trying to layer on paperwork and forms we feel are important.”

What do you love about your job?

AC: I love that I come into work and I think I know what I’m going to do during that day, and it can turn out to be completely different! I can be planning to do the most wonderful talent and culture activities and something can go awry and I’ll find myself in the lobby dealing with guests because there is an issue or a need from a service angle. The needs of the business are such that there are days we all pitch in.

What are the challenges you experience in your job?

AC: We are completely a people organization. Speaking specifically about my home base, the Royal York, not only do we have 1,250 colleagues here to be concerned about, but we could also have up to 3,000 guests in the building. There are always people issues and concerns, and thinking about how to meet everyone’s needs and prioritize every day is a challenge.

What’s key to leading HR during a difficult time for a client organization?

AC: I think you have to balance your head and heart. You are the heartbeat of the organization and the advocate for employees, but you also have to make business decisions. Those two intersect in awkward situations from time to time. How will you best meet the needs of the organization and also look after the person? In times of stress and challenge, that becomes the most difficult thing.

What are the necessary competencies for success in HR and how do you think those have changed throughout your career?

AC: I don’t think they have changed. It’s about understanding the business. You need to have really good business acumen.

You need to collaborate with everyone because we don’t work on an island, and you really need to be a good communicator. Those skills are timeless because people haven’t changed. When you boil it down, we are here to create the culture and look after the talent. Call it what you may, but at the end of the day we are there to be the advocate for the colleague and to lead the business.


First job: This is actually very funny. I absolutely hate golf and my first job was at a mini golf course. The irony!
Childhood ambition: I wanted to be a librarian. I used to organize all my books and not let my sister read them.
Best boss and why: I’m really lucky that I’ve had wonderful bosses in my career. It would be unfair to single out one over the others, but the best boss is the one who gives me the freedom to do what I do best but inspires me and challenges me to do more.
Current source of inspiration: It would be my team. Surrounding myself with people who are different from me, who are younger and don’t have the same opinions is important. I am totally spoiled that my team inspires me and they come in with wild and crazy ideas, and keep reinventing where we need to go as a business.
Best piece of advice ever received: This was from the senior VP of talent and culture in our organization when she promoted me. She said, “Remember, you are the voice of the colleague – that’s your job.”
Favourite music: I would have to say I’m a child of the ’80s, so I like the music from then on.
Last book read: Right now, I’m reading High Performance Habits: How Extraordinary People Become That Way by Brendon Burchard.

What tips do you have for new grads or those in entry-level HR jobs who want to move up the ladder?

AC: I’ve hired many HR talent and culture professionals and leaders, who I’m proud to say are directors and managers in their own right now. The ones who are the most successful are the ones who go and walk a mile in the manager’s shoes. I’ll never forget, we had a health and safety manager who worked here and they were frustrated with the banquet department not filling out the requisite forms. This person did not come from our industry and didn’t understand hospitality. So I sent them to shadow that manager for a day. They came down the next day, nearly dead in their shoes because they had walked 50,000 steps in the Royal York – and said they had no idea how the banquet staff could do it all! So my advice is to understand what the staff goes through before we start trying to layer on paperwork and forms we feel are important.

The HR field has been evolving. What changes excite you the most?

AC: I think there are all kinds of things happening. It’s a really interesting world we live in now. Every day, there’s something in the news that is an HR minefield. How can we react to this but not get over-reactive? How can we stay grounded but protect both our colleagues and our assets?

What’s the future of HR?

AC: HR is about people. We get more sophisticated in our technology and we have things that help us do our jobs. But at the end of the day, the future of HR is the future of people. As an organization, as a company, as a country, what do we want to be known as? What do we want to be? 

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