My big break

Annabel Gatward is HR executive for leisure company Fitness First. She has
worked for the company since 1993, performing roles as varied as receptionist
and fitness centre manager. She has worked exclusively in HR since being
promoted to the post of national development manager in 1996.

"At the age of 23, I managed to convince my boss that I could run a
20,000sq ft leisure centre in Coventry. We had a fantastic team of 20 full-time
employees, most of whom were older and far more experienced than me.

"I was thrown completely in at the deep end, but I loved it. The team
we recruited remained unchanged until I was promoted to national development
manager a year later.

"Without this day-to-day experience of managing a team within the
business, I don’t think I would have progressed into the development role at
all. I had to learn on the job and was challenged every day.

"It taught me that I have a passion for people and a passion for the

"This led on to the role of national development manager, which put me
at the helm of the HR function for the entire company and its expansion
programme. It meant managing and controlling the recruitment of 500 employees
each year.

"We had excellent wage and pension plans in operation, but I saw the
need to set up a full time HR function. I put forward some plans to the board
and was given the go ahead to lay the groundwork for a more developed HR team.

"A huge amount of work has had to be done to turn HR into something
more strategic within the company. It is now far more of a catalyst for change
as we are involved in all of the organisation’s agendas and decision-making

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