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An Unconventional Career Path to Corporate Success

Experience in a variety of environments and roles—and a little self-acceptance have brought Teri Ellison to where she is today.


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Several things came together to bring me to SHL four years ago. I liked that the job combined my previous experiences in both HR and marketing and gave me the opportunity to talk about SHL’s products, meet customers as well as lead an HR function that was commercially focused.

Looking back, because of my journey I had a self-belief that I would always be in the second role, never the top. Why? Partially confidence, the fear of being the final port of call, plus the pressure of dealing with very educated, logical leaders and feeling that I did not have permission to be at this level due to my background and their education. I have since learned that I do have the experience and education to be in this position. I can bring all my experience as a true commercial thinker and HR business partner to the table, and that is enough. Permission to hold my own now granted though I did not see that at first.

Finding my success through an unconventional career path

My path was an unconventional route into corporate life. At school, I struggled with completing exams, and with written assignments. I understood my subjects but found it frustrating that I could not articulate this in the written word. I was lucky to have a forward-thinking teacher who worked with me and allowed me to do verbal exams, which meant I finally passed. However, back then, dyslexia was not recognized, and people told me that A levels and university were not for me—and I listened to them. What I did know was that I wanted to learn more, so I decided on a different path and joined the Army.

I enjoyed the Army immensely and experienced and learned more than in any corporate role. I learned to make critical and well-informed decisions, often in high-pressure situations with consequential risks, with conclusions on which you can act. In addition, I developed my strategic thinking, while also leading large teams of people.

Partially confidence, the fear of being the final port of call, plus the pressure of dealing with very educated, logical leaders and feeling that I did not have permission to be at this level due to my background and their education.

Eventually, I left the army because at the time you could not live in the same location as your husband—wow have things changed! I had to figure out what to do next. I started working in the tech industry, doing computer-based training (remember those rooms with PCs and Floppy disks?). It was while running a graduate program for Fujitsu that I realized the formal education question was still one that was unanswered for me, and I started to consider the challenge of completing a degree. It was not the job that made me decide, it was that feeling that I was missing something. So, I started an MBA, a 3-year journey while working full time.

While I was studying and working, I became pregnant. It was a juggle, but I managed it and was successful, but again it was not easy. By that stage, my job was in marketing for Microsoft, but I moved back into HR because Business Partnering became a new role and they were looking for people with a commercial background and not just an HR one.

I missed dealing with all the elements around people and quickly moved from HRBP through to Director, local, regional then global. I then took a life choice to work a temporary job to support my family for 6 years as a Senior HR Interim. Though nervous about not having a permanent role, working in multiple industries with different business challenges and leadership teams taught me more than I could have ever learned in one organization. I returned to a permanent role as SVP HR when my son went to university, which ultimately led me to SHL as CHRO.

Open to learning

In the end, even though I went through an unconventional career path, all my experiences brought me to the CHRO role at SHL. My takeaway from everything I have done is to stay open to learning and new experiences. You do not know everything, and you will, without a doubt, be hit with new projects, people, and many changes all the time. However, this naturally helps you to grow personally and professionally.

My professional journey is hard to describe, and I have had to give myself permission to be in the place I am in now. I only started telling close colleagues about my dyslexia last year. The world is a more accepting place today and we are all able to be more honest publicly about who we are.

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headshot ellison teri


Teri Ellison

Teri is an experienced commercial HR leader, working across SHL’s vast client base to deliver advanced Human Resourcing Services including coaching, mediation, mentoring, training, and facilitation. With 20 years of experience in the IT sector, Teri is an experienced coach and NLP practitioner, and her department helps client businesses focus their leadership teams on transformational change and on working effectively together toward business growth.

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