After 20 years of working predominantly in financial services with six of those in the public sector, I decided to become my own boss in 2010. I have now run my own business for five years. Originally it was just me, but as we grew, Amelore was born. Our name is taken from 'amelioration' – to better or improve - and 'lore' – the build up of knowledge.
We provide integrated HR services for fast growing SMEs and support bigger HR departments by taking away and delivering key pieces of work for them. I personally do a lot of coaching and mentoring of HR professionals which is something I get a huge amount out of.
Our business is moving towards developing our own software solutions and we are working closely with corporate HR teams to provide alternatives to the traditional appraisal process as well as looking at new ways of working. This often involves taking out traditional and accepted practices.
I fell into a career in HR!
I didn’t choose a career in HR - I fell into it! In fact I knew nothing about HR, but following my first job at American Express, I went as a temp to a medium sized firm of chartered accountants, Robson Rhodes (now part of Grant Thornton) on the City road, London.
My expectations were pretty low (I imagined lots of grey suits) but I loved it, and as the firm downsized, I stayed on, getting involved in training and development and working with the graduate accountants. I eventually made the decision to focus on HR as a career and study for my IPM (now CIPD) qualifications. When I was part-qualified I moved to another accountancy firm to head up their Graduate Recruitment team.
Whilst working at Mazars, I regularly supported management audits by assessing people in terms of their skills and potential. It was a fantastic consultancy experience. I’m always keen to prove that HR could be a profit centre rather than a cost and Mazars were supportive of my setting up an HR consultancy division when I wanted to expand my role. My first goal was to cover my costs and become a profit center. I then pushed the targets – to double and triple what I could bring in. I was then headhunted into the exciting and extremely demanding world of investment banking.
From investment banking to the public sector
I became Assistant HR Director for Charterhouse Bank, an HR director at ABN Amro and Head of HR at a small but very dynamic firm of hedge-fund managers GNI, owned by Old Mutual. I had the unusual role of providing HR services to my parent company, so used to be consulted about my boss as well as by him.
At the time I lived in Brighton and used to get the 5.40am train every day to be at my desk in the City by 7am and work a long day. My company had just been bought by a competitor so I decided to do something quite radical and applied for a job in the public sector working for the Environment Agency. The process was longwinded – four different stages including a full assessment centre for me to take about a 60% pay cut!
It was a senior role and at the time there were 13,000 in the organisation with only 120 serving as Executive Managers and what really appealed to me was that I wouldn’t just be doing HR. In my new role I’d be supporting my region and the community I lived in. working as Head of HR for Hampshire, Kent and Sussex and dealing with everything from flooding, drought and fly-tipping to diversity, workforce planning and health and safety.
I was promoted to Head of HR Operations, looking after the 1,200 staff and directors in Head Office based in Bristol, which involved a move to the Cotswolds with my young family. I did that for a few years and then took the plunge to set up my own business which I had been yearning to do for some time.
Career insights and advice
When you study for the CIPD, you will cover lots of areas but none in detail, as you will be expected to work this out in the context of your own organisation. Sometimes that gap can be filled by your experienced colleagues or by working it out for yourself.
What I find worrying about HR training in general is that it is predominantly influenced and led by compliance with employment legislation. This has a place, but if one focuses on it too much (or spends too much time with lawyers) you will lose confidence in your ability to manage something pragmatically. Ultimately HR is valued when it delivers solutions and makes things happen. Rigid compliance with legal guidance is not something that anyone will remember you for.
HR is a great career for anyone who has feels they have a good insight into how people work. You will in many respects become a broker, moving things on, introducing people, making things happen, fixing things, up-skilling your colleagues, but never ever think that you have a right to be there.
A career in HR can be so many different careers depending on the environment in which you choose to work. If you work for an SME you will be the HR department and that can be great in terms of developing skills, but hard as there will be no-one to learn from. Likewise in a larger organisation you can progress upwards towards sitting on the Board or perhaps you may choose to specialise.
In my first job for American Express, before my career in HR began, I worked as an administrator, looking after the businesses that accepted the card. But I was very taken by the world of Sales which touched upon my role. When a job came up as an Area Sales Manager, despite it being a five grade promotion, I applied for it. The Sales Director liked my confidence and I was appointed, much to the surprise of a few people, including my boss and boss's boss, who I became senior to overnight. It cemented my 'can do' attitude at an early stage.
When I was Head of HR for the Environment Agency, I was Duty Manager one weekend, deputising for the Regional Director during the floods of 2007. I worked non-stop moving sandbags and people around the country to stop their homes being flooded. I felt so privileged to be doing it.
Two disability discrimination tribunals stick in my mind. When I worked in L&D, the DDA had just become law. A trainee accountant was dismissed because he had failed his exams, as was the accepted practice. This was partly due to a degenerative condition he was coping with. At that time no-one understood reasonable adjustments, so he was treated the same as everyone else, which wasn’t fair to him. He easily won the case (representing himself) and just asked for his job back. No compensation. He went on to qualify and became a partner.
This contrasts with my time in the Public Sector where we had to constantly defend discrimination claims, many not apparently genuine. I chose to defend one for disability discrimination where the stakes were quite high and I was repeatedly advised to settle but felt confident that the right thing to do to was defend it. We did and we won. Our approach was commended by the employment judge and I know my team benefitted from the experience.
I am also proud to say I employed the first ever totally deaf trainee Chartered Accountant.
I’ve also had some amazing experiences whilst running my own company:
- working with the talented founders at notonthehighstreet.com, both in their business and later when they wrote their second book Shape up your Business in 30 days
- profiling the personalities of the iconic fashion designer Roksanda Ilincic and her husband, neither of whom has worked in a corporate environment before. She went from being a bit nervous and suspicious to absolutely loving it
- providing HR and Payroll support to the amazing British jeweler Monica Vinader for a number of years now. I was delighted to be offered a discount on their wonderful products which I’ve become quite addicted to
- becoming a writer – working for companies one is never allowed to make public comments unless approved and virtually rewritten by corporate comms, so I have really enjoyed contributing and blogging, as well as writing articles for Moneywise magazine, as their HR expert, and speaking on the radio.
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