Top job: Maria Horn

Maria Horn has joined hospitality company Whitbread as HR director for its Costa Coffee brand. She has worked for Whitbread for two years and transfers from Marriott Hotels, where she was group HR manager.

What are the duties in your new role?

I now report to the managing director of Costa Coffee, Mark Phillips. I have six people in the learning and development team, plus one dedicated resourcing manager. Whitbread has an HR shared services team for all aspects of employee relations, pay and reward and the more transactional side of HR, so I also manage the service level agreement with this team.

What do you hope to achieve in your new role?

Costa is at a really exciting time in its development, moving from a UK retailing operation to an international franchiser of the brand. I am working with my colleagues on the executive team to take the business through this huge transition.

What are the challenges HR faces in the next five years?

One that is evident in the retail and hospitality sector is attracting and motivating the right people for the business. We have to make our organisation attractive to those who have the skills, but want a job or career that fits around their life and family commitments.

What is the worst thing about HR?

The fact that at some point in your career you will end up with the job that also incorporates ‘facilities management’. Suddenly you are required to become an expert on toilets, photocopiers, printers and the tea and coffee machines. How does that happen?

What advice would you give to people starting out in HR?

Don’t give up when people tell you that you need the CIPD qualification to get in to the profession as well as work experience. Be prepared to apply for general management schemes, and then you can try and specialise.

Who would you most dislike to work with?

It’s difficult to pinpoint a person, but I really don’t like working with people with huge egos or who have huge amounts of self-importance.

What is the strangest situation you have been in at work?

When I was a store personnel manager in retail. I was working late one evening, and I was called to the checkout area to separate a fight between two female employees. I ended up picking up clumps of hair that they had ripped out of each other’s heads. Our regional director chose to pay a surprise visit to the store that night and he walked in right in the middle of the fight!

Who is your ultimate guru?

The people who really inspire me have a real single-minded determination and focus to achieve what they set out to do. I find their passion and energy hugely inspiring – people like Bob Geldof and Clive Woodward.

What is the essential tool in your job?
I have just got a Blackberry and I love it. It’s great for keeping in touch when you are out and about.

And the most over-rated?

The ‘to do’ function on your e-mail/online calendar. It takes more time to fill it in and understand how it works than to write a list on a piece of paper.

What song gets you on the dance floor?

Dancing Queen by Abba, every time.

What would be your dream job?

I’ve always had a desire to set up my own business one day. There is something really attractive about being responsible and managing your own agenda.

Who would play you in the film of your life and why?

Cate Blanchett is an understated but very powerful actress. And perhaps the biggest reason: she is also very pale, like me.

Horn’s CV

  • 2005 HR director, Costa Coffee
  • 2004 Group HR manager, Whitbread Hotel Company
  • 2003 HR director, new business development team, Whitbread
  • 2001 Consultant, Hay Group
  • 1997 Consultant, Tarpey Clark

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