Passing the baton: from mentee to mentor. ME Banks’s Lee Azfar’s journey in Workplace Relations
Lee Azfar radiates an infectious energy. His passion and ambition would inspire many to push themselves another step further. Determined to be the best HR professional he could be, he built his career from the ground up: with intent, discipline and a healthy dose of adventure. As ME Bank’s Workplace Relations Manager for the last two years, he has continued to live his values of fairness and honesty, and shares his knowledge with those walking the path he once trod.
Speaking to Lee Azfar, you quickly sense that he’s energised by his job at ME Bank and the journey he took to get here. He’s also grateful for the support he’s had. Starting out, he worked in a call centre while studying his double degree in Arts and Business, majoring in Organisational Psychology and Human Resources. Torn between these disciplines, Lee turned to a family friend, Matthew Macgrath, who was General Manager of HR at Nissan Motors. Matthew would become a valuable mentor throughout the early part of his career.
“I’ve always wanted to see people benefit from their work; to enjoy a positive workplace culture and have meaningful entitlements. I explained to Matt that I wanted a role that would allow me to work on something different everyday; I didn’t want to just tick boxes. I was able to leverage his experience and knowledge of the field to assess where he thought I would be best suited. He steered me towards workplace and employee relations - and it was absolutely the right call.”
As Lee neared graduation, Matthew encouraged him to venture beyond the call centre and gain experience in the niche field of workplace and employee relations. With new-found clarity, Lee went one step further and enrolled in a Double Masters in HR and Industrial Relations while searching for work in an industry body. He wanted to learn the theory and foundations of workplace relations before moving into an operational role within an organisation. Before long, he was offered a position as Employee Relations Officer at the Australian Shipowners Association.
Fulfilment, growth and passing the baton
After a year and half of learning the ropes, Lee moved to the Royal Automobile Club Victoria (RACV) as an Employee Relations Consultant reporting to a seasoned Employee Relations practitioner, Alan Turnbull, where he was mentored on everything operational in the Employee Relations field. From there, he worked in high profile positions across the public and private sector, including Ambulance Victoria, G4S and Vicinity Centres where he continued to work under what he says were fantastic leaders who continued to support his growth and development.
All the way, Lee carefully put one foot in front of the other, never detracting from his goal of gaining a rich and diverse experience in workplace and employee relations. In 2018, after successfully harmonising policies and procedures during an organisational transformation at Vicinity Centres, Lee was drawn to the opportunity to bring these newly acquired skills to the financial sector, with ME Bank.
“I realised pretty quickly that ME Bank is a fantastic place to work. We have such a wonderful culture because of our great team members. We all genuinely believe in our purpose - to help all Australians get ahead. My role is so rewarding. I have the opportunity to help employees, managers and the organisation work together to achieve the best outcome for everyone.”
What sets his experience at ME Bank apart, Lee says, is the chance to guide junior HR professionals in the way his mentors supported him. Over the last two years, he’s been working with the HR Shared Services Team to develop their knowledge and skills in employee relations.
“Leaders have invested time in me - and so the baton has been passed to me to do that now. In workplace and employee relations, you’re required to balance the interests of a number of stakeholders in some of the most difficult circumstances. That can be an intimidating responsibility for professionals starting out. So it’s been incredibly rewarding seeing team members gain confidence and develop in their roles.”
In particular, Lee says he’s proud of the immense growth he’s seen in his colleague, Kara Hargrave, over the last two years.
“Kara wants to be the best HR professional she can be. She’s never afraid to jump in the deep end and give it a go. She asks lots of questions, tries new things and is always willing to learn. She’s come so far in the last two years and I look forward to seeing her continue to go from strength to strength.”
Learning for life
While Lee’s doing plenty of sharing, he emphasises he still has much to learn.
“I believe we all have something new to learn everyday - no matter our role, level of seniority or how long we’ve been in a similar role. That's why I'm so passionate that in every interaction I have with someone, we learn from each other.”
Pondering the future, Lee shares that he has recently resigned from his position at ME Bank and accepted a position as Head of Workplace Relations at IOOF. Lee says he’s feels a great amount of pride in everything that he has achieved at ME Bank, and looks forward to having a similar impact in his new role working developing the best and brightest talent.
“Every employer wants to be the best place to work, and I hope that ME Bank reaches that pinnacle and the work I have done contributes towards their future success.”
About the Author
Emily Dickson is Employer Branding Australia’s Content and Digital Media Manager. A creative marketer who never says no, she specialises in content and social media and loves bringing your talent stories to life. She’s also multilingual, an incredible multi-tasker and better than most at keeping Mark in check.
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