Preloader Logo
Move Recruitment Solutions Banner


Meet Donna Griffin - Group General Manager, People and Culture at JBS Australia Group Image

Meet Donna Griffin - Group General Manager, People and Culture at JBS Australia Group

Article Published 02 Mar 2022 / By Daniela Gonçalves

Welcome to the first of our guest speaker blogs. We will be interviewing executives in the HR, Capability and Safety space who are leading their people, organisations and industries through transformation and driving commercial outcomes, setting them up for future success.


Meet Donna Griffin, a commercial and inspirational powerhouse and executive female leader. Donna shares her career and the transformational journey of the People & Culture function that she Owns at JBS Australia Group. She shares how she and her team have navigated through global, local, and operational challenges as well as insights into how the HR function will have to continue to support organisations through automation, digitization and new ways of working.  


You’ve had an interesting and diverse background. Are you able to share a little more about yourself and your earlier career choices that lead you to where you are now?

I will start by saying that although I love what I do, I didn’t choose HR as a career. My affinity had always been with numbers, data and analytics. I studied commerce and during that time I was working for a mid-tier boutique accounting firm where I was introduced to a hardworking, life-loving, very astute businessperson who ran an airline catering company that was about to go through some tumultuous times. He offered me the role of Financial Controller and I grew with the organization on its14 year journey to become Australia’s largest airline caterer. HR ended up in my portfolio as part of my finance responsibilities at that organization because I ran payroll, and back then payroll officers often dealt with HR issues. The rest is history!

Could you tell us about your role at JBS Australia Group?

JBS has very strong core values, and one of those is Ownership. This drives everything that we do, and I am a strong believer that if we give ownership to the functional leads, they will treat it as their own and deliver. So when you ask me about my role, my automatic response is that I Own the People and Culture function for the organisation. My function designs and defines programs, services, processes, frameworks, and systems for our operating units through a team that consists of specialists in People Risk, Workforce Capability, Payroll, HR & HR Systems. I am fortunate to have a strong team and my role is to support them to be the best that they can be, delivering a service that adds value.

What are you and your team focused on right now?

Getting the right people in the right roles. It is our number one challenge and what keeps me up at night. Like many organisations in our industry, we have a significant labour shortage. This impacts our ability to produce at many of our facilities and particularly those in regional locations with low unemployment rates. It is everyone’s focus right now whether it is looking at ways to do things differently to access people - both skilled and unskilled - or implementing contemporary retention initiatives to make sure that we keep the great people that we do have. Our industry is not sexy, it doesn’t hold the appeal of other more polished industries and some of the work that we do is pretty tough going, so we need to tell the world that there is so much more to JBS and that there are career paths here for those that want them.

Being that you are an essential services business, how have you managed to steer your business through the pandemic?

It was a massive team effort! I don’t know if we were lucky or unlucky, but we learned a lot from the initial outbreak in Victoria.  Back then, two cases were considered a “cluster” and one of our facilities had to close. Good, solid relationships with the Health Department were built by our team in VIC and it taught us so much about what we needed to have in place at our other facilities across the country. We also had the value of experience from our US business when it came to communicating with our team members and keeping them informed and feeling safe at work. We had well-established protocols and we were thoroughly prepared when the virus started to move around. Our team members tell us they feel safer (from the virus) at work than in the community, which is a fabulous testament to the work put in by our Site leadership teams.

What is the biggest challenge in the food manufacturing and agriculture industry that you are facing and how is the people function responding to these challenges?

We need to think beyond the traditional methods of solving labour shortages and look to what we can do around general labour management strategies such as automation and efficiencies, as well as opening up new talent pools by changing the way that we operate and offering more contemporary shift patterns and ways of working.

What do you foresee the main challenge the HR function will face in the future?

With automation and digitization on the horizon, one challenge for HR will be to help support a culture of coaching and mentoring, establishing how to embed new ways of working, and teaching the existing workforce skills to undertake new tasks that are created by the changing landscape.

When recruiting for your own team, what do you look for?

Personal alignment with the JBS values is a big thing for me. We really foster a high-performance culture with discipline and determination, and we oppose things such as bureaucracy (often confused with governance – they are very different) and arrogance. I also look for potential, attitude, and resilience. Technical skills and the theory behind that are important, but if you have the right approach to getting things done, we can work with the rest.

What is the best career advice you have been given?

When I started as the Financial Controller at the airline catering company, I had a long-term team member in the accounts payable area resign. The MD said to me that while I recruited for the role I should get in there and do the job. His reason for this was so that I could always talk their language and could assess ways of working for process improvements and risks. This is a piece of advice I carry with me always. If you want to run a function, get to know it from the ground up. That’s not always easy, particularly in leadership roles where you are expected to work strategically but if you can make it happen, do it.

Are there any books you can recommend, professional or otherwise?

I only read for relaxation so I can’t recommend any professional reading (I fall asleep when I read!). I am part of a book club with some other school mums and follow Reese Witherspoon's recommendations. I’m reading lots of Sally Hepworth now, and really liked her book The Good Sister.

Now that international borders are opening up, what will be your first personal overseas destination you will be visiting?

It will have to be New Zealand. My son loves the snow and has been pestering us to get back there since we had to cancel a trip during COVID. I don’t think we would live it down if we went anywhere other than skiing in Queenstown.


Donna Griffin Bio

Donna is the Group General Manager, People, and Culture for JBS Australia Group. Over the space of three and a half years, Donna has completely transformed the People function and elevated the value it brings to the business.

JBS Australia Group is a large and highly complex matrix organisation. They are the largest multi-species manufacturer globally and in Australia. They are much more than 'meats' the eye, they are a full supply chain, paddock (and now ocean) to supplier business. In Australia, they have over 15,000 employees, more than 45 sites, and multiple recognisable brands. They are a major exporter of essential services and an overall significant contributor to the Australian economy.

At the helm, Donna leads a high-performing People and Culture team encompassing, HR, ER, Learning and Organisational Design, Talent, Risk and Safety, Wellbeing, Workers Compensation, Injury Management, Self-Insurance specialists, and Payroll to deliver the corporate vision.

Donna has navigated the organisation through acquisitions, organisation-wide technology, and HR systems implementations and developed OD strategies to engage and grow their talent all whilst steering an essential service business through a global pandemic. 

Thank you Donna and thank you all for reading, stay tuned for our next guest speaker. Details to follow.