A minute with… Andrew Lawson, head of people, Drake and Morgan

We continue our series of interviews with senior HR figures by talking to Andrew Lawson, head of people at restaurant group Drake and Morgan.

How did you get into HR?

I’ve worked in operational roles within the hospitality industry for a number of years – everything from film catering to events and coffee bars to restaurants. My last operational role was with Pret A Manager as a general manager. I loved the people aspect of my role and decided to try and pursue a career within training and development. My lucky break came when I found a great start up role with a small soup chain called SoupWorks. I was their first personnel and training manager. With that business I started my Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development qualifications and then it progressed from there. Eventually I moved into retail HR with ASDA and never looked back. I was responsible for the redesign of the apprentice recruitment programme at Fifteen restaurant and was also head of people at Coffee Republic. I’m happy to be back in the world of hospitality!

What do you enjoy most about HR?

I guess I really love the interaction with people at all levels of the business – from MDs all the way down to our wonderful kitchen porters. The opportunity to be both strategic and operational and the sheer variety of skills that I draw on every day is also really satisfying. It takes a huge amount of effort to become proficient and effective in all aspects of the job. I’ve worked for some brilliant businesses and constantly build on my skillset. I never stop learning.

What do you find most difficult about working in HR?

There are always day-to-day tasks, which are really critical to get right. They’re not always the most interesting, but they are important for functional credibility. People – and people decisions – are complex so you have to be exact and precise. It’s not a natural thing for some people and it takes concentration.

What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?

I’m lucky that there are lots of great things I can be proud of. Here at Drake & Morgan, I think we’ve put together a fantastic team and we’re delivering on all levels. A good plan – well executed. We held our end of year conference a couple of months ago and we stood back to reflect on our business and our people achievements over a 12-month period. It was quite phenomenal, so I guess securing this role was the best thus far.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Stick with what you know and are good at, in a sector you understand. I’ve tried working in other sectors outside hospitality which has been great fun and useful experience, but I’m right where I want to be now.

What has been your biggest career challenge?

Being a non-corporate guy and working in very corporate environments with layers and layers of decision makers. I like to be able to make decisions and then move forward quickly. Good for the experience, but it can be frustrating.

What’s the next big thing in HR?

I could be really dull and say auto-enrolment, but actually the next big thing is how HR can partner with business and government to get talented people into work. Particularly in the hospitality industry – we have so much to offer in terms of career and progression, we just need to do some work convincing people who’d never considered our sector as a great place to work that it is.

Who do you most look up to in the industry?

There are some great stories and a huge number of talented people in our sector. Jillian MacLean has done an incredible job building the Drake and Morgan business from scratch and I never cease to be amazed by her energy and drive. I love the work that Suzanne Jackson is doing at the Hospitality Guild to deliver a world-class professional body to support the sector. Anthony Pender at Yummy Pubs is inspiring for his commitment to giving work experience and employment opportunities to young unemployed people. There are lots more, too.

If you didn’t work in HR, what would you be doing instead?

Oh, I guess I’d probably still be an operator somewhere in the hospitality sector. Or perhaps a musician – I always thought I’d be discovered by John Peel. He even listened to a tape I sent him!

If you’re thinking about the next step in your HR career, visit Personnel Today Jobs.

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