BPP was a publicly listed company until July, when it was acquired by the world’s largest private education business, Apollo. We’ve gone from being a company with 1,500 employees to one with 44,500 staff.
Apollo’s group HR director sits on their board, as well as attending all of the meetings at group director level – one level below the board. BPP, however, has its own board, but the HR director was not part of it.
As the new chief executive, I’ve inherited a series of interim HR directors who attend the group directors’ meeting without being on the board. I meet the current interim HR director at least once a week.
I do plan to hire a permanent HR director, although I really regard myself as an HR director. From a chief executive’s perspective, HR is the number one duty, especially in a people business like education.
In the past, we’ve fallen into the old trap of treating HR as a personnel function, there just to ensure compliance with rules and regulations. But I think HR could be so much more – it could be a power for good. So I am keen to find an HR director and to bring together some of the half-hearted initiatives we’ve seen within BPP.
Finding a good HR director is the key. There are a lot of people who fill that space, without necessarily having the mixture of commercial, commonsense skills. And you tend to find people who are niche specialists in areas such as pay and benefits, without understanding what it takes to run a business or what the leadership team needs to achieve. I see myself as representing the softer side of HR – I need an HR director on the hard side.
I’m just 30 days into this role and my focus has been on visiting all 27 BPP offices, and making sure the integration with our new US owners is going well. For me it’s all about the individuals who make up the business so I’ve been talking to them about our vision for the future and listening to what they’ve got to tell me. That’s reminded me of the need to improve communication within the business.
Apollo has four mission objectives, one of which is to offer “the job of choice”. That really gives me all the room I need to play around and develop some innovative HR practices. They are also keen for BPP to offer the best work environment in the industry and to empower people. I love all that stuff. As a chief executive, that’s given me all the excuses I need to put my foot down and create a model working environment.