Salima Shariff

Head of Talent Acquisition (Global), Anglo American

1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?

I am from a very big extended family my mother is one of 12 and father one of 13 (+others). So I have many first cousins, infact we do not bother with the second or third cousin demarcation. Everyone is a cousin, aunty, uncle, sister and brother. Every year a small group of us (20-30) aunties, uncles, cousins would go fruit picking for the day to some Pick Your Own Farm. The tranquillity of the English countryside would be shattered by the noise, chatter, laughter that we would bring. It was a day of eating, running around, playing hide and seek and we always made friends with other kids. I remember the wonderful Indian picnic food think of ‘Bhaji on the Beach’ style it was a communal experience and we always shared the food with the groups who would be sitting near us that we did not know. I learnt that food has the power of bringing people together and its important to share.

2. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

Asking out someone at work for a no strings fling (as I was relocating him for 2 years to the other side of the world) who 3 years later become my husband after a long distance romance. I had to ask him out twice as he did not believe me the first time! If I had not had the courage to ask him out I would not have met the most wonderful person.

3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

Patience! I am such an activist, I want to solve everything and I want to do it NOW! I am learning (later than most people) that life is a marathon and sometimes I have to go slow to go fast. My family in particular know the struggles a lack of patience can bring, the angst, frustrations and annoyance. My mother always said to me ‘ You get the children you deserve and who you will need to learn from’. My kids are teaching me patience especially as we are in the teenage years.

4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?

IT, by Stephen King

I love horror books and I remember reading it aged 13yrs old in 2 days. I was terrified but love it. The power of words and your imagine can be a frightening combination. It’s a book that still get my adrenaline pumping and no film adaption can match the horror, suspense or explain the bonds of friendship

Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

Having travelled round Africa, reading this book took me back to there, I can smell, taste and feel Africa. It’s about a missionary family who move to Congo and each chapter is written by the wife and four daughters of the missionary. It was given to me by a wonderful HR leader at a moment in my life, reading the book takes be back to Africa and reminds of a special time.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK, by Mark Manson

My daughter gave me this book for Christmas one year. The underlying message from her was being ‘stop being so stressed about everything’.  It read it again and again and try to take on its messages.

5. If you wrote a ‘user manual’ for how people should interact with you, what would be the most important point in the manual?

I have a hard, terrifying, exterior (I am known as the Dragon Lady!) and I can come across as being driven and delivery focus – NO bullshit approach but I will never be rude. But I have a soft centre that means I ‘love’ my team, I hold them to account, I drive them hard, I support them 100% and I would do anything for them. But to not ever cross me! I will hold myself, my team and others to the same standards and expectations.

6. If I were to go to people who don't think very highly of you, what do you think they would say about you?

The older I get, the less I care for people who do not think highly of me, it’s been a liberating realisation. Salima is loud, noisy, lacks gravitas, swears too much – a bull in a china shop! I don’t play by the organisational norms or politics – I call a spade a spade – if you make comment or complaint I will investigate it and I will come back to you with feedback. I am amazed by people who make throwaway comments and do not expect action – Loose Lips will cause action’.

7. What is that thing which is OK to ask you about, but which other people are wary to do so?

About my religion, people are apprehensive to bring up the subject. But when people do we end up having a great discussion.

8. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did you learn?

The truth is I have spent most of my life feeling like an outsider whether it was at home, school, university or work life. I am always straddling many groups which means your not in any group 100%. You learn to be a chameleon, adapting, changing and being very wary who you allow to get to ‘really’ know you. You also see the unfairness of situations and you realise there are many people who are in the outside group. It frustrates me when people in the ‘inside’ group don’t see the issues and make the outsiders as having the problem. Slightly controversially HR colleagues have made the insider – outsider feeling stronger in recent years. I don’t think as a function we are the greatest ambassadors by our actions and behaviours towards each other or towards the TA community!

9. What’s the last image on your camera roll? Care to explain?

A picture of a small yellow orchid on my window sills. It was a gift from a friend and the irony is that I am known as the ‘orchid killer’ at home. Every day I look at it and I’ve taken several photos to remind me that life carries on during these times and somehow the natural world continues if we give it space and some TLC.

10. What’s your favourite meal? Can you say why?

Chicken Rice (very nice) made in Singapore! In 2012 I was the first person from my organisation to move to Singapore with my family (Husband and 2 kids) to set up a new office and company. We all experienced a culture shock but we fell in love with the food courts and wet markets. Chicken rice was homely, comforting and we knew we could make Singapore our temporary home.

11. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?

It would have mocktails (I don’t drink), sofas, bean bags, a reading corner (like a library), adult sized swings, a huge roundabout and a slide from the entrance down to the huge diamond encrusted dance floor. In reality it would be more a club/bar. I would also have a honesty box so you pay what you feel is right. It would also be twinned with another bar someone in the world but in the same timezone +/- 2 hrs eg London & Johannesburg and have a big screen that you connect the two together in real time. I would also have quiz nights, open DJ sessions, book clubs and lectures. It would be a place to bring people together.

12. If you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

Rosa Parks

I would want to ask her about the moment she made her decision, about resilience and standing up for what you believe in. One person can make a different but it can be very lonely at the start.

Alan Turing

Alan’s life and achievements have always moved me in a profound way. I would want to hug him and thank him! So much of our modern life is due to his amazing mind. I would love to show him what he enabled us to do!

Boudicca the Celtic queen

The ultimate ‘girl power’ I would want to understand her, power of women in the past and lessons in the modern day and how to start a rebellion!

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t think your achievements will be seen or acknowledged by others, you will need to be the one to advocate, tell, show others. You will also need to lift the work of others into the spotlight especially those who might not have the same platform as you.

14. Can you give a work example of a lesson you had to learn the hard way?

The past 2 years have been the best and worst for a variety of reasons. I learnt that if I ignore my gut feeling and intuition and trust others (when I suspected that I should not) I would be the one who suffered. I have a good barometer around people and their bullsh*t and I should trust myself more and not be swayed by others with their own agendas.

15. What’s the one bad quality you wouldn’t mind in a colleague? Why?

I don’t think there are bad qualities just qualities that might not resonate with me or I care about. But the one that comes to mind is excessive attention to detail (perfectionism) when it matters.

16. What role do you find yourself playing when you join a newly formed team? Can you explain why this happens?

I will go out of my way to connect with people and humour plays a big part in my approach. Yes I come with a job title (whatever that might be at the time) but it’s the connections and our mutually connectivity that makes a team. Laughter makes people feel good about themselves its an emotional, physical and psychological boost.

17. Name one person from your professional life who has had an extraordinary impact on your career. What did they do and what did you learn from that person?

I have worked with and for, some amazing people and they have all had a mostly positive impact on my career. However one person stands out – Greg Ruthven he recruited me into my current organisation. He saw something in me that others had not. He worked me hard, supported, challenged me and gave me a kick up the backside every so often. He helped my confidence grow and gave me my voice. He gave me the hardest feedback but it came from positive supportive intent. He ultimately sent me to Singapore to set up the business and office from scratch. He had faith in me. I miss working for him! I learnt that you must always push the bar, never settle for rubbish and challenge the status quo.

18. Do you have a secret tip, tool or trick that’s contributed to your success?

To be ruthlessly organised – my team think I have a sixth sense when it comes to managing my various work and life priorities. Being organised is my superpower and it means de-prioritising work as well as looking at what might be coming onto the horizon. You have to look near and far simultaneously.

19. What’s the one question that we should’ve asked you, but wasn’t on this list?

If you could witness one moment in history over the past 200 years which one would it be and why?

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Lewis Drinnan – My incredible technical colleague – Lewis joined my team earlier this year and has worked on our TA transformation from 2018. Lewis makes my life easier, his background is varied, problem solution orientated and knows his stuff.

Thank you to Salima Shariff for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune.

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