Energy company npower's aggressive expansion philosophy was borne out of necessity rather than desire. Mike Broad talks to Saudagar Singh, npower's HR director, about the challenges raised for his HR team as the UK's leading electricity supplier
Organic growth has not been an option for energy company npower. The deregulation of electricity and gas supply in the early 1990s created the business equivalent of the Wild West and utility companies have either been acquiring or being taken over ever since.
Since its launch in April 2000, npower has been picking off competitors with the confidence of a hired gun. Innogy, npower's parent company, bought Yorkshire Electricity in April last year and Northern Electric four months later.
Rapid growth has been a key element of npower's business strategy. Its size has increased from 1,800 staff at launch to 8,500 at present.
Saudagar Singh, HR director of npower, says: "The question is: do you grow organically or through acquisition? As utilities have been opened up, those organisations that have not responded have seen their market share go down."
Singh, who sits alongside the finance director and CEO on the integration team, explained that he supported the aggressive M&A activity as much as anyone else.
"It was painful but the commercial reality is that we had to do it.
"We felt that if we did not get beyond four million customers rapidly, then we would be at risk of being gobbled up."
The pace of change has raised huge challenges for the 50-strong HR team. Performance management, employee relations and rolling out common brand values and culture across the company were priorities.
The HR team is also supporting the transformation of npower into a highly-competitive retailer. It now supplies gas, electricity, telecoms and financial services to nearly seven million customers.
Singh says: "We are taking our company from thinking and acting like a utility, and turning it into a competitive and commercial organisation."
Recruiting the right people - with strong commercial skills - has been essential. Singh has targeted people from progressive, blue-chip organisations outside the sector, such as their new head of PR Richard Frost, headhunted from Cadbury Schweppes. "To compete in the harsh realities of a commercial environment, you have to bring the right