HR chief admits making his mark putting spark back into M&S was a tall order

Marks & Spencer’s HR chief has admitted he took over a “dated” function when he began his job, just three years ago.

Chief executive Stuart Rose hired Keith Cameron as HR director in 2004, after a dramatic profit and sales tumble. He replaced Jean Tomlin, now HR director for the London Organsing Committee of the Olympic Games.

In 2004, M&S was failing to hold its position in the marketplace as a retail icon catering to the shopping needs of an entire family, and had lost sales to competitors as its clothes were seen as increasingly old-fashioned and unexciting.

Cameron told Personnel Today a lot of work needed to be done to update HR and improve business performance.

“M&S had relatively dated approaches to dealing with some of the HR subject matter. What we needed to do was significantly increase the learning and development as line manager training had more or less been abandoned. On the customer service side, staff had also had very little [training] for years.”

Cameron restructured pay and career paths for employees, and spent £10m putting getting on for 60,000 people through motivational training with guru Mary Gober.

“The real money was spent on getting people on side – and that costs a lot of money, with the training materials and everything else,” he added.

Cameron admitted he changed the HR function three years ago to better fit purpose and add more to the bottom line.

“HR was on a specialist agenda, and it wasn’t what the business needed, it was commercial enough. That’s not HR’s fault, but in our view there was something that needed to change. We now have a function that provides very important support and activity to the mainstream of buying and selling.

“We’ve got quite a lot of work on our plate now – including a bit of modernisation to do in terms of improving our systems,” he said..

“We’ve put so much into [motivational training] the key to it now is to build it and keep momentum. It’s not time for doing something radically different,” he added.

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