Natalia Shuman On Passion, Energy And Curiosity

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Conversations With Global Women Leaders

The third in my series of interviews with influential female global executives is with Natalia Shuman of Kelly Services, Inc. It has been fascinating talking to Katie Mehnert and Kahina Van Dyke, and Natalia’s insights are equally absorbing. Natalia Shuman is Senior Vice President and General Manager, EMEA and Asia Pacific Regions. Her career with Kelly spans all three regions of the globe and a variety of progressive leadership positions. She first joined Kelly in Russia as a general manager of Moscow operations, then relocated to New York where she managed branch network operations, key accounts and growth initiatives. She has taken responsibility for managing Kelly’s largest and most complex customer programs across US, Europe and Asia and led strategic cross-divisional projects with focus on above and beyond results and value creation for customers. Now situated in Singapore to focus on Kelly’s customers and partners in the APAC region, her attention is on growth opportunities, building innovative customer solutions and talent development across borders. Natalia has a degree in finance and economics and a dual global MBA from Columbia and London Business Schools.

Clare: Kelly Services is most definitely a global player in the provision of workforce solutions, serving clients right across the world and providing employment to more than 560,000 employees annually. What are the most common topics you are asked by your global executives regarding learning and development?

Natalia: That’s an interesting question Clare. In an ideal world you would hope that executives were focused on personal development and how to support their people with their long-term career aspirations. Of course these factors do contribute to decisions, but in reality, because in the recruitment industry margins are very tight, there is a strong emphasis on the outcome. So I would say these are the three questions most often raised:

      1. What will be the practical impact of any proposed learning and development?
      2. What will be the return on investment?
      3. Will our L&D efforts strengthen our leadership bench?


Clare: I can see how these questions are important Natalia. After all, you are running a business in a very competitive industry. Having said that, strengthening your leadership bench will always involve developing leaders holistically in order to sustain your success over time. Another key aspect in a business like yours is leading global teams which are geographically dispersed and culturally diverse. What top three tips would you give to your peers looking to support their global teams?

Natalia: Firstly, I would say it is important to set clear expectations and ground rules. When you have limited face-to-face contact, clarity is really important because people cannot easily pick up nuances and there is more scope for misinterpretation.

Secondly, you need to make sure that your teams have rounded competencies. As with any team you will get much more success if you approach leadership in a relational and not purely transactional way. Team members are people, not just workers or resources. If you take this approach, you are much more likely to see them mirror this by developing good relationships with their customers and colleagues.

And finally, trust your teams. Leading on a global scale means working strategically and so the question I always have on my mind is ‘can I trust my team enough to get on with it and do a good job?’ If I can’t and I’m not free to play to my stre
ngths, then it’s my responsibility to do something about that.


Clare: So I’m wondering how successful leadership, as you have described it, links to a sense of meaning and purpose. It is said that developing game-changing models that make the world a better place can help engage and retain skilled and committed employees. Is there anything of which you are particularly proud to have been part?

Natalia: Yes, in our business it is all about the impact we have on peoples’ lives and the fortunes of our customers. I am proud of being part of the customers’ efforts as they are improving their gender and global diversity and inclusion of people with disabilities in their workforce. One particular activity that I am particularly proud of is our work in Switzerland, where we collaborate with the Battenberg Foundation, an organization that works towards the professional integration of people with disabilities, particularly those in the watch making profession. We work with the foundation across a number of our different branches in Switzerland where we source job opportunities and help encourage career progression for those involved in the foundation.


Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland

Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland

Clare: Your career is truly global – you grew up in Uzbekistan, worked in Moscow and New York, and now Asia. What would you say are the key cultural opportunities and challenges you face working internationally?

Natalia: It’s been extremely exciting to learn new cultures and experience different business environments around the globe. I believe that cultural differences present the biggest opportunities for companies to capture and build value, reengineer and innovate their business. The challenge is to have patience and tolerance as a company integrates the cultural differences in their business and operating models.

A good example of a culturally diverse team bringing desired solutions to the workforce requirements of our clients is the IT sector in Singapore. Singapore is a talent crunch market where demand for manpower often exceeds supply. With an IT recruitment desk that comprises consultants from more than 5 nationalities, this culturally diverse team is able to tap into its vast network of talent to meet our clients’ needs and requirements. Besides having a pipeline of candidates from the Asia Pacific region, we have successfully placed candidates from as far afield as Russia and Israel. This truly exemplifies the value and strength of a team with diverse culture and backgrounds.


Clare: A recent Harvard Business School survey found that prospering in the senior ranks is a matter of ‘carefully combining work and home’. What is your experience?

Natalia: I would say it is all about having support and love in your home and managing the expectations of people you work with. In this way you can know that your colleagues understand and respect your need for downtime and your family and friends are clear about when you are, and are not, available.


Clare: It sounds like you value your free time and guard it well. What do you do to relax?

Natalia: I love to travel with my family to remote places to learn about the world. There is always so much to find out. I guess I have quite a thirst for knowledge! Reading a good book or magazine also helps me unwind. And I love to take in a good view, like when I visit our European HQ which is on the north-western shore of Lake Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Soaking up such beautiful scenery can bring a great sense of calm.


Clare: Sounds wonderful – in my head I’m already there, sitting on the balcony! Last quespassion-energy-curiositytion. How would you best sum up your work as a global leader?

Natalia: That’s clear for me: passion, energy and curiosity – all three are necessary. Passion gives me the motivation to keep improving, energy is crucial for maintaining stamina in the global arena which is incredibly fast-paced and ever-changing, and curiosity keeps me fresh and open to different perspectives. I love connecting with people and understanding what drives them and to think about opportunities and possibilities to help us achieve more in our lives.



Clare: I imagine your passion also inspires others to engage in and believe in what you are striving to accomplish. Having the courage and confidence to ‘show up as you’ is in my view one of the most important leadership traits. Natalia, thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights. It has been truly inspiring talking to you.



Find out more about Kelly Services

Find out more about the work Clare McNamara does with leaders and their teams.

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