Prof. Sesh Paruk

Culture change specialist


Prof. Sesh Paruk has 18 Years’ experience at Senior & Top Management level in the Private and Public Sectors. She is currently supporting the Department of Public Works Turnaround strategy in the capacity of change management and culture change specialist.

Prof. Sesh Paruk | The Legacy Project

Sesh completed her role as the 1st HR Executive at the Parliament, RSA in December 2012; has been the 1st Black female Director at Direct Axis in the financial private sector (a First Rand subsidiary ) Prof. Sesh Paruk has served as the 2nd National President of Women in Nuclear (SA) whilst serving multiple roles within Eskom’s’ Nuclear arm was Head of Psychology at the University of Zululand’s satellite campus in Umlazi (Kzn), Senior Counsellor at the AIDS Training & Information Centre A Trainer of Primary Health Care workers at Siyakha (NGO) to name but a few of her roles, she concurrently served on several high ranking Global & National Boards.

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Interview Questions

Prof. Sesh Paruk definition of success has certainly changed over the years. I worked part time through many of my studies, so I was always grounded in reality. The “80’s were also very turbulent times politically and many of us were far too intense to enjoy a carefree campus life. Success at this stage meant completing my studies despite the barriers faced.

On moving into Corporate and industry, success became the obvious desire to climb the career ladder, to constantly better one’s performance and to soar to new heights. With each promotion, came increased self worth and exposure to new challenges.

Having achieved many of my career goals, for example: the pinnacle of my academic career which culminated in an Extraordinary Professorship being conferred on me for my contribution to the social sciences in trying to achieve societal renewal reaching top leadership roles where one commanded large teams and huge budgets, exposure to amazing networks and experiences, etc, I find that my notion of success has changed.

The lights, fame, glory and power associated with being in the limelight are no longer part of the equation. Success for me now is assessing how much of a positive impact my work has had on target groups; how many lives I have influenced positively and using various means for the balance of my active career life to shape and assist up and coming leaders.

I have always been driven by a deep desire to make a positive contribution to society and in this instance South African society. The earlier part of my life was intensely involved with using the social science and academic platforms to highlight societal injustice and human rights violations – I was driven by an unrelenting need to find out what was needed by those without a voice (informal settlements marginalised communities, etc) and try to give such communities a voice, often in ways that were career limiting as it meant swimming upstream a lot.

Now that political freedom has been attained, I am driven by a deep need to help in any way possible with re-building our society, helping with processes that restore dignity to people and being part of global, continental & national initiatives that move us forward towards a human rights culture of dignity, respect and access to resources for all.

I think the difference is linked to the principles upon which the behaviours are based and the locus of control, that is, when performing at your best, are you doing it to meet an external standard set by society/your peers, etc or are you aligning your work with your internal compass. People who are great set their own standards, are internally driven and work in accordance with their internal compass

I always seek the opinion of trusted peers when venturing out on a strategic project. On entering a new organisation/team, I always go out of my way to seek out the most critical colleagues who think in a totally different way from me. Seeking their candid views and consulting is a must for me as it helps one to compensate for the blind spots we all have.

This process comes slowly and through gradually building relationships of trust with peers within and outside the organisation one is in, and often getting multi-disciplinary perspectives as our professions can also cause us to conceptualise issues in a skewed way. No matter how scathing the critique that comes in when I send out concept documents, etc, I always take a step back, look at the issue through the eyes of the that reader and if need be, modify my stance. Of course there often times when I may stick to my perspective, but that is only after considering the angles suggested by this peer review system I have established during my long career.

Integrity is of key importance to me and keeping ones word/promise. Integrity is a very deep and personal construct and involves living in a way that is congruent with your world views and what you claim to uphold or stand for – it cannot be assessed by someone else.

This goes way beyond the norms set out by society, etc, but relates to the handful of principles I hold dear integrity is thus of utmost importance to me along with fundamental human rights/natural rights I believe all people should have including treating people as unique, treating people with respect and trying to see the best in someone rather than just criticizing. Integrity can only be achieved if we live and behave in a way that is congruent with our tyre inner selves and beliefs upon which the principles we stand for are based.

Timing and use of energy are skills I always work on during the course of my work. I am generally very driven and can push myself very hard. Often during the early stage of my career I would expend a lot of energy fighting specific causes purely from a principled perspective.

Life and experience have taught me that good timing is often the key to the success or failure of projects & programs. People can only absorb/change in relation to how you have helped to prepare them and how personally committed they feel to overall goals.

It takes a while to get the balance right with respect to timing of change initiatives and where/how to use ones’ energy, but considering how complex the world of work has become, it is vital for leaders to use their energy correctly or work stops being your passion and you burnout through not picking your battles wisely.

I am a much focused person and quite goal orientated. Psychologically, when preparing for a major project, I start with a big picture perspective and how the work is going to affect the broader context, then I progress to look at different key components so I create a “mini score card” in my mind of the handful of factors I always need to keep my sights on and monitor.

I guard against micromanaging as it stunts your team and you become an obstacle, so I usually have a kind of psychological compact with my team members where I help with the kick off processes and they then continue the momentum, and pull me in whenever they are in doubt over directionality, require support/advice/coaching, etc.

I have always listened to the voices of the so-called “little people” in organizations, messengers, cleaners, etc and found that they provide valuable insights into the unspoken culture of the organization.

I have also learned that projects that seem to be failing are some of the most valuable learning exercises, even if it does not feel that way at the outset. I always do a “wash up” with my team to critically look at what we could have done differently. I do this privately as well to ensure that I never repeat mistakes

My plans and dreams have not changed much over the years, but essentially they revolve around being of service to the highest good, having the chance to share whatever skills/experience I have; making a difference where it counts and living to see my children and all children live in a more just, humane world where there is more emphasis on abundance, generosity and a spirit of giving rather than the aura of “taking” we live with.

Prof. Sesh Paruk legacy is quite simple: Knowing that I have positively impacted the lives I have touched and that the world is just a tiny bit better because of my life’s work.

Interview Date

  • 2015-08-21


  • South Africa


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