Top job – Maria Ferguson, Director of HR, Aspers Group

Where were you working before and what were your duties?
As a business partner at Royal Bank of Scotland, I worked with five executive committees across 14 of the bank’s brands, to provide growth and change management strategies. I also worked on integrating acquired companies into the bank’s infrastructure.

What qualifications do you hold?
Masters in Business Administration (MBA); post-graduate degree in marketing; British Psychology Society Levels A and B in psychometric assessment.

What are the duties in your new role?
I am responsible for setting the HR agenda for the group, with growth strategies as a priority. We are currently reviewing the HR infrastructure, consisting of an outsourcing model with training, payroll and a general HR team. I report to the managing director.

What are the main challenges HR faces in the next five years?
The ability to embrace changing working practices and maximise the potential of virtual teams. Also, leadership – employees want to be inspired and challenged to achieve, not directed.

What is the essential tool in your job?

And the most overrated?
E-mail. Although useful, it hinders one of the most rewarding things in life – meeting with people face to face.

What is the worst thing about HR?
Its tendency to support rather than lead business.

What is the strangest situation you have been in at work?
A bemused look by a colleague at a finance meeting when I began counting aloud in Spanish without realising. I revert to my native tongue when working with numbers.

Who is your ultimate hero?
Richard Branson. I like his casual style and driven entrepreneurial spirit.

What is the most annoying piece of management jargon?
‘Quick wins’. To me, quick wins are the botox of business – all superficial, and the issue will likely resurface.

How do you fill your spare time?
I enjoy power walking, golf and reading. My two boys and husband are at the centre of my life though – having fun at home is essential when you have a hectic job.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Entrepreneurial, risk-taker and optimistic.

What are your favourite web pages?
Times Online and BBC Online.

What song gets you on the dance floor?
Living La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin.

What is your worst habit?
I like playing devil’s advocate.

What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?
Leaving Costa Rica, Central America (my home) at the age of 22 and coming to England on my own. Twenty-three years later, I have not once regretted the decision.

What three items would you take with you on a desert island?
A never-ending bar of chocolate that won’t melt; my toothbrush; and some Campari.

Who would play you in the film of your life and why?
A curvaceous Latino, full of passion for life – such as actress Salma Hayek (left).


May 2007-present
Director of HR, Aspers Group (leisure and entertainment)

Nov 2004-Mar 2007
Business partner, Royal Bank of Scotland Group (global banking and financial services)

Jul 2004-Nov 2004
Interim consultant, Environment Agency

Aug 1994-Jun 2004
Managing director, Futurus (HR and general management consultancy)

Jan 1992-Aug 1994
Commercial operations manager, Ives and Company (IBM partner providing ERP software solutions)

Tell us – about your top job…
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