For Juliet Du Feu, working with Dart wasn’t supposed to be a permanent job.
It was February 2010 and Juliet was working for her and her husband’s successful consulting company, As I See It Solutions, named after the title of the book written by the late Sir Vassel Johnson, her father. Sir Vassel, who played a vital role in Cayman’s ascension as an offshore financial centre, is the only Caymanian ever knighted.
“We were eight years into the operation of that company and we were very happy with the way things were going,” she says. Then Dart Realty Chief Operating Officer – and now Dart Real Estate President – Jackie Doak reached out to Juliet with a consulting opportunity on the recommendation of a couple of people associated with the company who were previous clients and colleagues of Juliet’s. Dart’s staff had started to grow and there were a lot of things happening in the company at the time, she says.
“It was proving very challenging for the Dart Enterprises Ltd.’s HR team to keep up with the rapid growth and changes that brought, so the idea was to provide some extra assistance and guidance to the team,” she says.
That six-month contract was extended for another three months and as the end of 2010 neared, the Vice President of HR position became vacant because the post-holder at the time wanted to pursue other areas of interest at Dart.
“Because I had developed a relationship with Dart and they were comfortable with what I was doing, they asked me to consider taking the position,” she says. “While I was honoured to be asked, I really was very happy with my consulting work and company.
Juliet committed to help Dart with the recruitment of a new head of HR. After the recruitment process started, management came back to her and asked again that she consider taking the position. She and her husband Chris had a decision to make.
“I was struck by the support of the leaders of the company and by their interest in having me seriously consider the role. So I agreed to give it further consideration, particularly as my husband and I had just been approved as foster parents and were looking for a bit more stability,” she says. “As I looked around, I realised that if I wanted to step away from my business, there was no other company in Cayman that I would want to step to.”
Juliet says part of the attraction was Dart’s strong commitment to its people through its HR policies and philosophy. Another significant factor was the makeup of the HR team.
“The teamwork and dedication of the HR team was – and still is – incredible,” she says. “They were welcoming and supportive, even to me in my role as a consultant. The people you work with on a daily basis greatly impact your engagement and job satisfaction and I knew from my experiences with the HR team over 10 months that it was a team I would really enjoy working with on a longer term basis.”
Since August 2010, just months before Juliet became the VP of HR, employment of Caymanians across all Dart companies increased from
198 to 404.
Given the support from the top and the commitment and experience of the HR team, Juliet says she thought she could help the Dart organisation. “I felt as though I would have an opportunity to do some really fun things, to be more creative, and be a part of developing and implementing new programmes and initiatives,” she says. “And that was really appealing to me.”
She took the head of HR position at Dart Enterprises Ltd. and more than six years later, she still has it as Senior Vice President Human Resources.
“It was really, really tough to walk away from our company,” she says. “There were a lot of emotional ties around that, but we made the decision, and here I am with no regrets. I am honoured to work with the team of HR professionals that are here at Dart.”
TARGETING LOCAL TALENT
Once she started in her senior role, Juliet wanted to target local talent. “There was a tremendous amount of support and commitment to hiring and developing people, but because of rapid growth, the supporting mechanisms weren’t in place,” she says. “The will was there, but there just weren’t enough resources and structure to translate the commitment into opportunities.”
Dart’s Caymanian staff has more than doubled in size since Juliet started with the company.
“I attribute a lot of that to [Dart CEO] Mark VanDevelde’s leadership and willingness to provide opportunities,” she says. “We have helped by the way the structure of our human resources team has evolved, creating a new learning and development function as well as a new recruitment function and team to provide recruitment services to our business partners and managers.”
Having a separate recruitment function has enabled Dart to hold a greater number of what Juliet calls “exploratory interviews.”
“So if someone came to us and it wasn’t necessarily in relation to a role that was being advertised, we then had more resources to be able to sit with them and talk about their skills and what they were interested in.”
This helped to create a pool of candidates so that when a position became available for which someone they’d spoken with was potentially the right fit, they could be considered.
“We call them opportunistic hires,” she says. “Because we’d already sat down with an individual, we could say, ‘here’s somebody we feel could do this job.’” Since August 2010, just months before Juliet became the VP of HR, employment of Caymanians across all Dart companies increased from 198 to 404. From a percentage standpoint, as of March 2017, 60 percent of all Dart employees are Caymanian, compared to 42 percent back in August 2010.
LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT
Shortly after joining Dart, Juliet helped translate the commitment to training into a more structured approach, with the addition of Dart’s first Learning & Development Manager, Glenda McTaggart. There were two initial areas of focus for Dart: creating a scholarship programme
and developing a training programme for its managers.
“Although there was a lot that we wanted to achieve, we felt that by focusing on developing future talent and helping our managers be more effective in their roles, we were tackling two really important areas that would positively impact our employees and the employment of young Caymanians in the future,” Juliet says.
Both initiatives were successfully launched. The scholarship programme is now managed by Dart’s Community Development division and the learning and development programme has become a key component of Dart’s human resources function. With those initiatives accomplished, Juliet and her team are now focused on some other big HR objectives: establishing succession planning and career-pathing programmes, and establishing a coaching culture at Dart.
“We have long held the belief that the idea of identifying one person for a role – for which it could take years to acquire the requisite experience and skills – is no longer a practical or desired approach to developing people for the future,” she says. “In particular, our younger employees/millennials are keen to have a number of different options for their career path and to have the ability to change direction at any time, if they choose.”
Ensuring that Dart is effective in recruiting and retaining millennials is a challenge that Dart is addressing. “At Dart, we can provide unique opportunities for career paths that few other local employers can,” Juliet says. “With opportunities spanning diverse industries, companies and disciplines, we are able to create career paths across these. So, let’s say that an employee working with our real estate finance team wants a new challenge; rather than having to leave Dart to find that, we may have the ability to create an opportunity within our retail finance team.”
At last month’s Chamber of Commerce Career Expo, Dart’s HR team started to promote the message of career path flexibility through brochures and discussions with interested members of the public. “We want people to understand that Dart isn’t just offering jobs, but career opportunities that can be adapted as they evolve through their lives and seek new challenges.”