Head to head

Head to head a regular monthly series where we look at similar roles in
different sectors and industries

This week Jane Cotton, HR director at Oxfam, and Mark Barrett, head of HR at
The Body Shop, compare notes on their careers

What are your main responsibilities?

 I’m just one part of a six-person
corporate management team that leads Oxfam. 
My particular focus is HR for over 3500 full-time staff and 21,000
part-time volunteers, along with being responsible for facilities management,
health and safety, purchasing and supply.

MB My prime role is to deliver an HR consultancy service to the head
office of some 350 people, and to provide HR support to the four global
regions, particularly UK and Europe. I am also a Trustee of The Body Shop
Foundation and The Body Shop Pension Scheme.

What’s the pay like?

The pay is much less than in my previous civil service role, but is not too
bad for the charity sector. But I knew that when I accepted the job and my
reasons for joining Oxfam involved far more than issues of remuneration. Quite
simply it is worth the pay cut for the joys of the job!

The pay is good.  We benchmark our
salaries carefully against the marketplace. 
I have a basic salary and an annual bonus targeted at 25% of salary.

How flexible are the hours?

They’re long but quite flexible when I need them to be, on average around 55
hours per week.  

What do you like about your job?

I like practically everything about what I do. I find it rewarding in so many
ways. First of all it’s a pleasure to work for an excellent organisation such
as Oxfam, who are committed to overcoming poverty and suffering throughout the
world. There are so many fascinating issues to deal with and any number of
great colleagues who share my values.

I enjoy working for a Company that has strong social and environmental values.
The people are great to work with. The culture is creative, dynamic and fun,
mixed with hard work and tough deadlines. Managers and staff are very receptive
to all HR initiatives, and we can have a real impact at all levels in the
organisation. I also enjoy the variety of work that comes with the HR

What are the main challenges?

The trickiest part of my job is helping to manage staff effectively across more
than 70 countries. Each area has its own cultural traditions and working
practices and you have to take local considerations such as climate into consideration.
We often have people working in dangerous areas so security considerations can
also play a major role.

The main challenges are in organisational development. We have recently
restructured the company into four regions, with a reduced head office, and the
challenge is to minimise duplication and lack of role clarity, and maximise
customer service and collaboration. The other challenge, when there is always
so much we could do, is to prioritise what to focus on and what to leave undone.

What is your biggest headache?

I would say that it used to be keeping shop volunteers motivated
day-to-day, but we now have a new trading director doing a great job in this
regard. My major difficulty at the moment comes with trying to fit everything
into a single day!

The shift to a regional structure has taken up significant amounts of time
and prevented us from developing more exciting HR initiatives as quickly as we
would like. Closely followed by the pension scheme management, whether it be
the cost of administration, what to do about Equitable Life, or whether should
we make “concurrency” available to our members!

What size is your team?

Twenty in my immediate team, all based in Oxford.  They deal with Corporate HR issues such as reward, management
information, policies, employee relations, learning and development, diversity
along with the topics listed in Question 1.

19, including myself.

Who do you report to?

Oxfam’s Director, Barbara Stocking. In any other organisation she’d be called
the chief executive. She recently 
joined us from the NHS in May to take up this role.

I report to the global HR director.

What qualifications do you have?

A geography degree and MIPD.

I have an unusual background for an HR manager.  After leaving university I qualified as a chartered accountant. I
changed to HR some 7 years ago, and I gained a Masters Degree in Human Resource
management from Kingston University.

What are your career aspirations?

I’m not really a longer term planner but I’d like to stay with Oxfam in
this role for a few years yet. I enjoy it so much that at the moment I can’t
really see anything that would be as interesting or rewarding.

Whilst my current role continues to be interesting and challenging, I would
ultimately like the number one HR job in an organisation. Alternatively, I
would like to move into a commercial role within The Body Shop.

What training and development opportunities are there?

JC Overall, there’s probably less scope in the
charity sector than most others partly because we are cautious about
expenditure on external training.  But
we’ve got a good in-house leadership programme that enables people to update
their skills. There’s also lots of on-the-job learning for all concerned.

Plenty. Learning and development is taken seriously at The Body Shop, and
we encourage all employees to have personal development plans, both for their
work and their personal needs.

What is your holiday entitlement?

I get thirty days annual leave a year.

Having worked for The Body Shop for over 10 years, I now have an
entitlement of 33 days, plus up to 5 days extra that I can buy through our
flexible benefits scheme.

What is your working entitlement like?

We have very basic offices as we seek to minimise this kind of expenditure, but
there are questions about whether that’s really cost effective as we’ve all
melted in the recent hot weather! But it’s great to be based in lovely Oxford
after twenty years of London commuting.

Excellent. Based at Littlehampton, my journey to work is only 20 minutes.
The head office is a visually inspiring place to work, and people have the
opportunity to re-energise by utilising the on-site alternative therapies
(massage, reflexology etc) available to them through the company’s L.O.V.E.
scheme, which provides £100 towards a personal learning or fitness/wellbeing

What other benefits do you get?

Part of my job is to travel to areas of the world that most people don’t
generally visit – recent examples are Angola and Albania.  Seeing such places really opens your eyes to
what Oxfam are trying to do and, more importantly, why. It also helps you to
appreciate the jobs performed by our people on the ground and hopefully enables
all of us to support them better. Apart from this and my annual leave I
contribute to a final salary pension scheme.

Share options, health cover, permanent health insurance, life insurance,
discount on The Body Shop products, health screening, company pension.  And the opportunity to flex a number of
benefits each year.

If you weren’t in HR, what other role within your organisation would you most
like to do?

JC I suppose it would be to run the Trading Division
(our 800-plus shops and Fair Trade business) – but it really does need a
retailer to do that.

Using my financial skills, probably a general manager in one of our
regions, or a role analysing new business opportunities.


at a glance
Flexible hours. Average of 55 a week.
Enjoys working in a company with strong ethical values
Main challenge is managing staff in 70 countries
Reports to company director.
30 days annual leave a year.

1999-2000       HR Director, Oxfam
1996-1999       Change Management,
Department of Transport; then Personnel Director, Department of Environment
&Transport and the Regions
1993-1996       Resources Director,
Charity Commission
1992-1993       Railway Policy, Department
of Transport
1989-1992       Personnel Manager, Department
of Transport
1979-1989       Transport Policy work,
Department of Transport


at a glance
Flexible hours. Average of 50 a week.
Enjoys working in a company with strong ethical values
Main challenge is global organisational development
Reports to head of global HR
33 days leave a year, plus an extra 5 through a flexible benefits scheme

1994-present                Head of
HR, The Body Shop International plc
1989-1994                   Financial
Controller, The Body Shop International plc
1985-1989                   Group Accountant,
Austin Reed plc
1982-1985                   Group
Accountant, Kunik Leisure

2 Responses to Head to head

  1. Karin Jane Beach 3 Oct 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    Are you the same Mark Barrett who worked for Austin Reed in Thirsk, before leaving to join the body shop in littlehampten

  2. Karin Jane Beach 3 Oct 2014 at 7:30 pm #

    I worked in wages Austin reed before going on to become an RGN, BSc hons and nurse manager/ prescriber