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Case Studies

Total Reward Director – Global Media Company

A midsize international media company was diversifying its services and going through a commercial transformation. This change in direction meant a switch in culture and employee proposition favouring a more bonus led commercial structure. The HR Director realised her reward function was no longer fit for purpose and a new type of Reward Director was required to drive a cultural change through the business. This was also the opportunity to relinquish her RemCo responsibilities and recruit a credible operator to lead on those activities.

Whilst a strong media brand, this organisation was not seen as a leader in HR strategy or as an employer of choice in the Reward space. The opportunity itself was very exciting but needed to be marketed in a realistic way to manage expectations on both sides. Brands in the public eye can also distract candidates from the technical realities of a role due to their overwhelming desire to work for that particular company. This was certainly the case in this assignment and so the emphasis had to be on capability and technical skills. It was clear the role would suit a candidate with a passion for Reward & Recognition, not just the media sector, who was able to bring a different perspective to the function. To focus the Search on the media sector would be too narrow and unlikely to find that fresh approach.

Research was the difference in this Search. To find Reward professionals who understood a change in commercial focus our research function had to explore different sectors and companies and then approach accordingly. The successful candidate was found working abroad in an executive compensation role. He was keen to return to the UK to a broader total reward role. His experience in financial services and the pharmaceutical sector brought the new approach required and he is already breaking the reward mould and making the difference the HRD required.

Divisional HR Directors, PE baked retail company

An established, private equity backed, online retail organisation had recently acquired 2 competitors, thus enabling the business to hold market leading positions in 4 new major European territories. The Chief People Officer was leading concurrently on an HR and business transformation strategy that included implementing a new organisation wide CRM solution and operating model that drove significant synergies and, would enable all 6 European markets to operate in the future with shared product, technology and commercial models.

We were asked to lead the recruitment for 3 new divisional HR Directors to partner with the newly created leaderships teams to ensure the successful design, implementation, communication and future success of the businesses post structural change.

As with many integrations post acquisition, the key challenges that faced the new HR Directors sat around cultural alignment, ensuring trust and seamless service from newly centralised processes (and functions), plus ensuring the markets still had control of their key in-country products whilst benefiting from access to the wider group product portfolio.

We needed to find HR leaders who had significant experience of multi-cultural business integration, a strong understanding of digital consumer organisations and, the programme management skills to ensure the transformation was landed effectively, to a tight timescale and on budget. The 3 roles were recruited in 3 different Western European geographies.

When searching across multiple geographies, it is important to use both targeted search and network referrals in equal measure. One of our key differentiators as a specialist HR executive search firm is our extensive network of HR leaders gained over many decades (across multiple industry sectors) located in key global hubs.

Of the 3 successful hires, 1 was already well known to the consultant, another was a direct referral from a Group HR Director who we had worked with for over 8 years and the 3rd, whilst unknown to the consultant prior to commencing the search, was easily referenceable via 4 members of our extended network who had worked with them at various times in the last 13 years.

HR Director, Property Partnership

Following the appointment of a new Managing Partner, an international property business set out a new five year strategic growth plan which included significant investment in the corporate infrastructure. Historically the HR function had been seen as administrative and preventative and had an extremely poor reputation amongst Partners and employees alike. The Managing Partner wanted a new strategic HR function that aligned itself to the overall business objectives, with an equal and active voice on the board.

By their own admission, the Partners could not describe what good HR looked like for their organisation.Like most professional services businesses there were a lot of opinions and one of the challenges was to define a brief that everyone could agree with and crucially understand. Expectation management was also key – aspirations had to be tempered in some instances and raised in others. A candidate needed to be sourced who could balance the strategic aspiration whilst delivering an HR function from the ground up, which was inevitably going to involve a hands on approach.

Whilst it is agreed by most that HR skills are transferable across industry sectors, it became clear that working in a multi decision making environment/Partnership was crucial to the brief. Candidates were assessed against technical skill and capability but more importantly against their desire to build a function in what was often going to be an HR cynical environment, where resilience and courage would be key to success. The successful candidate came from a global professional services where she was a divisional HR Director. Frustrated by her lack of autonomy and the slow pace, this role appealed to her on a number of levels. She had worked in smaller businesses in the past and so was realistic about the delivery aspects of the role. She has now seen as the right hand of the Managing Partner, who now values HR as a strategic function and as an enabler not an inhibitor.

HR Director, Private-Equity backed luxury high-street brand

A premium beauty brand, received private equity investment in order to double their salon numbers and grow, nationally.  Their first appointment was the Non-Exec Chairman, whose first recommendation was that they created an HR Director role to steer the business strategy to focus entirely on its people.  As a services business, employee development and engagement and retention has a direct correlation to customer retention and the commercial mandate for a strategic HR Director had never been more critical to the future growth and success of the newly-structured business. 

The challenge was to find an HR Director with the experience of navigating the delicate relationship between the new PE Investment Directors and the Executives. The “honeymoon period” post-investment was very much still in evidence, but some of the intended changes, and desire for growth meant that serious change was afoot and the HR Director would be key to advising the Exec and Non-Execs, as well as being part of that senior management team. Excellent stakeholder management was required, as well as serious commercial capability, to prove return on investment from all the people initiatives which were needed.  It was a brown-field site, with a huge hand-on element, so the team required someone who could be in the detail, and actually deliver as well as sit with the top teams and contribute the longer-term vision for the business.

Culture fit, as always, was key to success.  In a highly customer-facing business, a friendly, down-to-earth personality was required, with considerable resilience, commercial knowhow and a solid HR Generalist skillset.  The client knew they didn’t want anyone from their industry as they recognised that HR was not well embedded within their competitors.  The challenge, therefore, was knowing where to look for HR Directors with this mix of skills and background.  Our search focused on retail, hospitality & any other sector where customer service was the heart of the business’s success, where budgets were lean & resource are usually tight. The shortlist ticked all these boxes and the successful candidate came from the Airport Industry, running the complex mix of customer service, security & regulation under serious commercial scrutiny. They had a unique mix of corporate capability without being too rigid in their approach, and the ability (and willingness) to get things done.  

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