I was recruited by Whitbread, but just before I joined they sold the division I would have been working for to venture capitalists. I could have jumped ship and gone somewhere safer, but I stayed.
The four years I spent there provided the most accelerated development I’ve ever had. They gave me access to the widest possible range of HR activities – anything and everything. From setting up pensions schemes from scratch, which you don’t often get to do, through to mergers and acquisitions, reward, and employee relations.
There was also scope for considerable personal and professional development, but the other side of it was that the owners were very specific about what they wanted from HR. They expected us to make them more money before they exited from the business in four years. Having to justify your HR decisions in the light of cold hard numbers has been hugely beneficial to my career.
I spent four or five years working for Tesco. It was a great time. One of the things that they wanted me to do was to manage a store for a while. Up until that point I’d been entirely in HR, straight from graduation.
I’d had a classic HR career, from the graduate development scheme through to a reasonably senior position at Tesco. To get to the next level, they said “We really like you, you’re doing well, but we’d like you to get some business experience, doing something other than HR.”
At the time, due to family commitments and wanting to get onwards and upwards faster, I felt that running a store for a year, dealing with 400 people and fronting a 24/7 operation, wasn’t really what I wanted to do. So I said no.
I think it was my worst decision because I can’t go back and do it now. I can’t go back and get that operational experience, or see the world through different eyes.
I’ve missed out on seeing the world as a customer, getting the full range of experience, and the credibility that goes with it. I missed out on the focus on finance, too. It would have helped me hone my management skills. Just to be an HR person puts you in real danger of being stuck in an ivory tower.