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I studied manufacturing engineering at university and got involved with quality management when it was becoming a key area. I became more interested in the people side, and how you could improve business performance by increasing capabilities. Working at Lennox Industries was a turning point for me, as it enabled the step change from a broad continuous improvement role into a more focused HR role. My managing director was incredibly enthusiastic and allowed me to develop in areas I felt passionate about.
I decided to move to a larger, multi-sited organisation and joined Dr Martens footwear in its most senior HR role. But the company soon went through some heavy restructuring and transferred a lot of its manufacturing overseas. The ensuing redundancies and site closures were the tough end of HR. I was still keen to work for a well-known brand, but away from manufacturing, so the Carlsberg job and its international aspect really appealed to me. There was a significant improvement in employee engagement during my time there – it was a high priority for the group’s president, which helped to drive a culture shift and improvements to communication and L&D in the UK business.
I wanted to be an HR director who could understand many different sectors. Logistics company Christian Salvesen was looking for an HR director, and I thought it would be fascinating to go into a business where a whole new board was joining at the same time. The group was then sold to Norbert Dentressangle, so I was involved in integrating the two organisations into a 30,000-strong workforce. Although they were in the same sector, the two companies had very different philosophies and ways of working. Part of the new strategy was to separate out HR functions from the transport and logistics divisions, and I had to bring in several new team members and shift the approach to HR business partnering across multiple sites.My ambition was to be part of a board of directors with ultimate responsibility for a company, and [vegetable supplier] Produce World offered me that. It was established in 1898 and is still family-controlled. Following an acquisition, it was looking to radically develop its infrastructure and culture. We have completely revamped organisational values and invested a lot in leadership development and management training. We have created a Partnership Charter – an agreement of commitments from leaders and employees – that I will focus on embedding.
I think it’s important that HR professionals are commercially aware and don’t just see themselves as specialists in people processes. Being able to talk about financials and customers with knowledge and confidence will earn you respect. Getting operational experience can be an advantage, as it provides a different level of insight. In the past there have been times when I might have made a quicker impact by being less preoccupied with the perfect HR solution, and instead having more discussions with function heads early on to really understand their needs.
HR is now much less of a traditional personnel function, with line managers expected to have access to administration systems, and undertake day-to-day management. HR has moved towards facilitating and leading organisational change, and in many cases initiating it. Despite the challenging times, there’s still a shortage of talent, so succession planning will be important. We’ve seen some dramatic business collapses in recent years, where organisations haven’t been sustainable. Leadership behaviours, organisational values and company ethos are the most important things, and HR leaders can add value by ensuring top-level agreement with those principles.
Career highlightsEducation: Loughborough University (masters in quality and HR management); Liverpool John Moores University (degree in manufacturing engineering)
Previous roles: HR director (transport services), Norbert Dentressangle (2007-08); head of HR, Carlsberg UK (2002-07); group head of human resources, Dr Martens (2001-02); HR and operations director, Lennox Industries (1997-2001); continuous improvement manager, Lennox Industries (1996-97); total quality manager (imaging division), Mitsubishi Corporation (1994-96); consultant, The CMC Partnership (1992-94); teaching company associate, Loughborough University and Kimbell Construction (1990-92); management trainee, Alumasc (1989-90)
Hobbies: Family time, running, community work