Head to head

regular monthly series where we look at similar roles in different sectors and

week Alison Warner, head of HR at Stephenson Harwood and Irene Cowden, group HR
director at Securicor, compare notes on their careers

What are your main responsibilities?

I am responsible for the provision of all HR services, including the
implementation of policies and procedures, recruitment and retention, training
and development and employee relations across Stephenson Harwood. In addition,
I represent legal firms on the executive committee of the Association of
Graduate Recruiters, giving input on issues relating to law firms.

Developing Securicor’s overall HR strategy and making sure it is implemented.
Ensuring our HR strategies are taken into account when developing the business
model. Developing the company’s culture and group organisation. Selecting and
developing the best people and senior management. Recognition and reward.
Spreading knowledge and best practice throughout the organisation.

What’s the pay like?

It is fair, but there are reasons other than the salary alone as to why I come
to work.

In line with market rates.

How flexible are the hours?

Not terribly, but that is part and parcel of this role. I tend to work late in
the evenings as there are fewer interruptions and I can concentrate on getting
things done when it is quiet. I regularly work 10-hour days and longer when

All our employees are required to be flexible, and in return we encourage the
right work-life balance. Our employees work the hours the role demands, but in
return we are as flexible as possible.

What do you like most about the job?

The fact that no two days are the same and that there is always something new
to learn.

Working with a top team to move the business forward. Witnessing people you saw
arrive at the company, develop and grow with the business.

What are the challenges?

The fact that no two days are the same and there is always something new to
learn! Working in a professional services firm is a real challenge in itself
but I wouldn’t do it unless I enjoyed it. We recently merged with another law
firm and the challenges presented by the merger have been tremendous. I have
had a crash course in Tupe

Securicor has grown rapidly in a very short space of time and the challenges
are great but exciting. Among others we must ensure we spread the values of the
organisation, share best practice across the organisation, understand the
organisational culture in our regions, and ensure the business units retain
their autonomy.

What is your biggest headache?

I think the amount of changes to employment legislation over the past few years
and potential legislative changes in the future. Not only are these challenges
for HR professionals but introducing policies and ensuring best practice is
complied with is a headache in itself. Within the firm, currently the biggest
challenge is the integration of two businesses and for HR dealing with the
‘people’ issues which resulted from the merger.

I don’t tend to see things as headaches, but rather as challenges as described

What size is your team?

There are 10 of us in the HR team. The core HR team comprises six people:
myself, two HR managers, an HR officer and an HR assistant. In addition we have
a training and development function comprising a training and development
manager, a training adviser an HR and training administrator and a graduate
recruitment administrator. HR also has responsibility for payroll and the
salaries manager is part of our team.

I have a small team of people specialising in executive development, compliance
and benefits, and employee communications. This team is small because we
deliberately want the business units to have autonomy, which is why there are
high level HR specialists in the business units who make decisions about
running their own businesses.

Who do you report to?

The chief executive, John Pike.

The group chief executive, Nick Buckles.

What qualifications do you have?

I am educated to degree level and I am a member of the CIPD. More important
though are the 10 years practical HR experience I have, something which cannot
be gained through qualifications.

BA Hons degree, Member of the CIPD.

What are your career aspirations?

At the moment I am happy in the role I have. It keeps me sufficiently
interested and motivated. I am due to go on maternity leave shortly and I think
combining motherhood with my role will be enough to keep me occupied for a

Last year it would have been appointment to the board as group HR director!

What training and development opportunities are there?

Stephenson Harwood has invested a lot in training and development over the past
few years and we see it as one of the keys to the firm’s future success. To
remain competitive, it is vital our lawyers are up to speed with the latest
legal developments and we run an annual training and development programme for
lawyers, which is also open to anyone in the company looking to expand their
knowledge. We invest heavily in recruiting and training graduates as future
solicitors and in recent months we have developed a suite of courses for
secretarial and support staff. We are really proud that our first NEBS
‘trainees’ (qualification in supervisory management) have just completed their

We have strong training and development programmes and put a lot of emphasis on
this area, both in developing people professionally but also, and often more
importantly, developing them personally to allow them to take on more
responsibility and build their personal skills.

What is your holiday entitlement?

30 days

25 days and I take all of it, honest!

What’s your working environment like?

I think we have the best offices in London. We are directly opposite the front
of St Paul’s Cathedral and have a view to beat all others.

Informal, fun, focused and flexible.

What other benefits do you get? (company car, etc)

The benefits are very competitive: private medical insurance, permanent health
insurance, life assurance, gym subsidy, season ticket loan, well women
screening and a pension.

Company car, and a company share scheme.

What’s the best part of working in HR?

The fact that we can make a difference to people and ultimately to the company.
I also love the interaction with people.

Influencing people’s behaviour, developing people and seeing them grow and
progress in the organisation.

How does your firm treat work-life balance?

We think it is vital that people have a good work-life balance. In professional
services firms, the client comes first and there will be times when we have to
work long hours to meet their requirements. However, there are also other times
when people do not have to work long hours and leave on time; we don’t have the
kind of culture that means people stay late because they feel they have to.

Securicor encourages it and this includes offering flexible hours. We encourage
staff to be open and the responsibility is with each employee to ensure they
have the right work-life balance.

Who do you most envy? (what’s your dream job)

My dream job is one in which I am respected, can make a demonstrable difference
to the organisation I work for and one which I enjoy.

Judith Chalmers

Warner, head of HR, Stephenson Harwood

at a glance

of team: 10
Holidays: 30 days
Benefits: private medical insurance, permanent health insurance, life
assurance, gym subsidy, season ticket loan, Well Woman screening and pension
Reports to: chief executive John Pike


Head of HR, Stephenson Harwood
1998 Legal and graduate recruitment manager, Stephenson Harwood
1996 National personnel and training officer, Moores Rowland
1992 Recruitment officer; staff training manager; training and development
manager, Harrods

Cowden, group HR director, Securicor

at a glance

25 days
Benefits: company car and share scheme
Reports to: group chief executive Nick Buckles


Group HR director, Securicor
1999 Divisional HR director, security division, Securicor
1995 HR director, cash services UK, Securicor
1995 Six months secondment in South Africa as part of a start-up project team
1991 Personnel director, security businesses, Securicor

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