Interview with Michele Rowlands

How did you get to where you are now?

By working hard and contributing positively to the success of a business, as well as being prepared to relocate and establishing good working relationships.

What takes up most of your time at work?

It has to be meetings but e-mails come a close second. I work in a global business so e-mails arrive at any time of the day and night.

Which three attributes are needed to do your job?

Strength of character, the ability to influence (obtain buy-in), and a sense of humour.

What legislation causes you the most headaches?

British Sugar has operations in 10 countries so there isn’t one singular piece of legislation. The difficulty is having a sufficient overview of the legislation in each of the countries.

How do you keep up with new and changing legislation?

I’m on a general circulation list with a number of employment law providers. These e-mails update me and provide me with the overview that I need to do my job.For more detailed information I rely on my local HR team in each country.

What’s HR’s biggest legal challenge?

It’s taking the various pieces of employment legislation and translating them into workable business solutions which fit with the company’s values and culture.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety of different challenges I come across working in a business that employs about 50,000 staff. It is great seeing how our HR strategy delivers results for the business.

What’s the most challenging case/situation you’ve had to deal with?

With more than 20 years’ experience in HR I have dealt with a number of challenging and complex cases. The most memorable was very early on in my career when I was faced with a very difficult situation at one of our remote locations. The individual concerned was suspended and I was ostracised by the management team on site. Having to deal with this at such a young age was very difficult. After a detailed investigation the individual was dismissed. This case taught me to be strong-willed and showed me the importance of conducting a detailed investigation, regardless of the behaviour displayed by others.

What would be in your Room 101?

My Blackberry. No seriously, it would be reality TV.

What really annoys you in life generally?

People not delivering against commitments or meeting deadlines: I am a bit of a stickler in this area.

If you could wish one employment law away, what would it be?

Just one? It would be good if we didn’t have to rely on employment law. If organisations treated people fairly and equitably, you could argue that we wouldn’t need the amount of legislation we have today.


  • 2005-present, group HR director, British Sugar
  • 2002-2004 group HR director, ABF Ingredients
  • 1999-2002 HR director, Lyndale Foods
  • 1994-1999 personnel manager, Britannia Building Society
  • 1987-1994 personnel manager: graduate trainee, British Sugar

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