One ring for bad news, two for good, for generations, the Lutine bell has been the bringer of good tidings and the harbinger of doom across the Underwriting Room at Lloyds of London. This historic British institution has international ambitions, and the objective is that the future will be delivered by a widely diverse and inclusive workforce, demonstrating that great change in the world requires great change within.
Lloyd’s of London has changed considerably throughout its 300 plus year history and the tone of the bell has rung through many triumphant and turbulent times. Throughout its history, the organisation has had to adapt and evolve, and the need to react to the ebb and flow of the world remains a keystone to remaining competitive. In May 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron visited Lloyd’s to help launch Vision 2025 – a brand new strategy for its further development, positioning Lloyd’s to take advantage of opportunities presented by the world’s developing economies. Central to Vision 2025 is the need for the organisation to be larger than today, so that it can target profitable growth from both developing and developed economies. The aim is to ensure that Lloyd’s remains at the centre of specialist insurance and reinsurance, but at the core it has to grow its premium income from developed markets, in line with their economic growth, with greater growth in developing markets.
Encouraging a more diversified capital base, with far more contribution from high growth economies and supporting a truly international underwriting community is fundamental to the objective, as remaining a broker market, and making full use of the specialist international networks that the business has built over the years is key. Having a small number of powerful overseas hubs in key major overseas markets, much of the work of realising this vision will fall to the current market – the underwriters, brokers and managing agents who constitute what Lloyd’s already is, but the success of the plan, along with market development support, the improvement of back office processes, will be down to attracting an ever-more diverse workforce from a myriad of backgrounds and experiences, with the talent and the potential to develop.
Annette, tell us about your early life and why you decided on HR as a career.
I was at the University of Chester as it’s now known, and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was doing a sports science degree – I was keeping my options open. All I wanted to do was play hockey and I was aiming to join the army with a view to playing around the world. At this time, I didn’t even know HR existed. Then two things happened, I injured my knee playing hockey and that finished my ambitions in hockey, and also put the kybosh on me getting into the army. But also I was also offered work experience at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, working for the HR director setting up pay schemes for staff over Easter and summer. I really loved the work and learnt a whole lot about the HR function, and it turned into a regular job. Time passed and the HR director suggested I should think about HR as a career and he showed me some great grad programmes. One was at Ford, another was Marks & Spencer’s and also Mars. I looked at all of them, kept all my options open, but it was the Ford Motor Company which stood out, and thankfully, I was accepted. Part of the assessment centre was going to Dagenham and I recall going on a plant tour that took me from the start to the finish. I was captivated by the operation which was full of energy, and clearly a very busy and engaged multicultural environment. I was hooked and embarked on the grad course which had a great reputation.
First impressions do count. As you said a challenging environment from an HR point of view, and Ford, a real history of change. Give us an idea of the first things you were involved in.
My first job was at Halewood, the manufacturing plant. I didn’t understand anyone, it was very broad scouse and acronyms, and I had to learn a whole new language. I was 22 years old and the only girl working with several thousand men over three shifts, and it was captivating, with a real sink or swim culture. Within a few weeks, the place went on strike – I hasten to add it was nothing to do with me, and I was put on security guard duty – that really was an eye-opener and for certain, a real challenge. I threw myself into getting to know the business and building relationships, to build confidence and influence. There were mass pickets, and you had to shoulder your way through with some pretty rich and colourful language ringing in your ears, but it was a case of keeping the plant operating, no matter what. Once you’ve worked in that environment, nothing can throw you, it was a tough and grounding experience.
Ford for many years has been pushing the curve with employee relations. Do you think HR has played a role in improving the relationship between unions and employers?
I certainly think so, I saw huge change, and I was at the end of an era. They were tough times. But in terms of understanding how an organisation functions, not to mention experiencing the dynamism of people and the role of the unions, this was a HR showcase bar none. Ford was determined to get to grips with the inevitable change that was shaking the foundations of the business, and central to that was, everyone went through the Marsh change programme, which is about how you manage change and help people through that curve, and also how to lead it. People either work with it or fear it, and the latter is the cause of disruption and in such situations, HR’s mettle is tested to the max as it is invariably one of the agents of change. I was at Ford for eighteen years, fourteen of which was in automotive, and I did my CIPD qualifications along the way. Out of automative, one of the stand out jobs was being seconded to the global finance function, where I studied for my MBA. It was tough going, but what it did was open me up to life outside the Ford plant.
Then I moved back to Dagenham where I was the employee relations manager in transport ops, renowned as a difficult area, the heart of transport of Europe. It was a part of the operation that simply could not shut down, and I was on call 24/7, liaising across Europe and the US. The operations manager was unwell for six months and I was asked to cover ops as well as HR. Then I was asked if I wanted the ops job permanently, and I didn’t hesitate in saying no. I had made up my mind, I wanted to get back to focusing on HR, but I also wanted a change. My last two years at Ford were a whirl, from working diversity and inclusion, policies, flexible working and paternity.
Then I moved to Ford Credit, which was a completely different environment, non-unionised and FCA regulated. It was a shock, just across the corridor, but a million miles away in terms of culture. I was Head of Reward, and then the Head of HR for Europe, working for the HR Director across the continent. This really switched me on to the finance sector and, by chance, I got one of those out-of-the-blue phone calls. I had been the head of HR for two years, and this was from “a big name bank”, going through big change and they were looking for someone with my skillset. It was almost perfect timing as I was talking to Ford about what to do next, and in my heart of hearts, I really thought it had run its course for me. In a clash of metaphors, the pyramid was getting smaller, and I was on a merry-go-round. I was offered and accepted the role at Lloyds Bank and I was immediately thrown in at the deep end, working on a globalised part of a major IT offshoring and, in the course of all that, I became head of HR in wholesale banking.
Then I had just settled in and the worst financial crash in living memory arrived. I was on the trading floor when it happened, people were crying, shouting, holding their heads in disbelief as the numbers fell through the floor and into the basement. Emergency meetings were called, the atmosphere was unbelievable. Very soon after that, Lloyds announced it was acquiring RBS, and I worked with my counterpart at RBS, managing processes and I was part of the HR transformation team. I look back at this time with disbelief, how on earth did we know how to navigate that? Nobody alive had any experience of a complete global market crash. I couldn’t have done it without the Ford experience.
The group of about twenty of us worked on the internal staffing issues and the RBS acquisition. It was an unbelievable time. I then went to the US to continue with the deal. I remember walking into the New York office on Times Square, I had an HR team from Lloyds, RBS had a team, and initially it was like there was a wall down the middle of the table, and the two people that had been heads of the respective companies were now reporting to me, there was no time for personal differences, but the atmosphere was pretty choice. We drew up a plan of attack agreed on how we could best support the business, closed down areas of RBS, and managed to pull off what is arguably the fastest buy out of its kind in history. It was a trying time, RBS was being heavily scrutinised, audited, and twice a year you had to report on what you’re doing and what controls you had in place and we future-proofed it as much as we could.
I came back to London after two years. I had two teenage sons and they were going into secondary school, and I took on the role for recruitment at Lloyds, at the heart of serving the total bank. I hadn’t been in that role for long when I started thinking about what was next for me career wise, when I received a phone call, yet again. Somebody had looked at my experience set, and it fitted what was needed here at Lloyd’s of London. I thought about it and declined, as I had just settled in the new job. Then a few months later they called again, and wondered if I would reconsider, and this time I accepted and started as HR Director on the 1st of January this year.
A company with an unrivalled heritage, you can't avoid reflecting on its history, but what was it about its future that enabled you to place yourself here?
You’re right, Lloyd’s of London is an incredibly historic organisation. I met Inga Beale, the first female CEO of the company, and listening to her vision of the future for the business. I was buzzing with anticipation, because the timing of me joining was perfect. Lloyd’s wants to grow in global markets, and Vision 2025 is a Lloyd’s strategic plan devised to set out how we will grow and take advantage of those global opportunities. It’s really focussing on the objectives and all the building blocks that need to be in place to achieve them, not just the HR strategy. But HR is the keystone, insomuch as talent and skills, of course, are everything. The front end of the plan was me working across the executive team, to get a long-term talent strategy in place. We then shared the strategy with the market and the core franchise board, because before you deliver a strategy, you have to ensure everybody buys into the principles. Diversity and inclusion was embedded into it and having previous experience was so useful in helping deliver this. We looked at everything, the brand which is so well known is not fully utilised yet and there’s huge opportunity there. Of course making the most of social media is key to creating talent pipelines. We need to be there before people make decisions, so we have completely refreshed our recruitment approach upskilling our recruitment managers so that, even if somebody isn’t successful, that they have a positive experience.
There is a real sea change in how businesses like this are recruiting, to ensure they are not fishing in the same pond. Businesses really seem to be taking inclusion seriously, in terms of a workforce with a diverse range of backgrounds.
Any culture takes time to change, it can be clunky and resistant at first. But as soon as a business starts to be enriched and improved by a new way of thinking, then you start to push on an open door. You know, you can read about Lloyd’s rich heritage on Wikipedia, and if you’ve just left school with your GCSEs, it would be difficult to place yourself working for the business. But now people are coming into the business via apprenticeships and we are really capitalising on our brand via social media, to build a more accessible employer brand. We want to be more agile and able to react swiftly, so we’re really recruiting for knowledge and experience in technology areas, for example we have just brought in the chief data officer from Tesco. Her skillset and scale reflects perfectly our ambitions in terms of the business and as an employer brand. A few weeks ago, we ran a diversity festival, the first ever, and people say to me it couldn’t have been done a year ago. It focussed for four days on diversity, working very closely across the market with loads of great people and star names, but also high profile politicians, and Paralympians etc. we had some great branding from it. It’s not just about the law, it makes great business sense.
What are the objectives for the business?
From a business perspective we can’t stay London focused, we are looking out globally, for example we’re setting up operations in China, have just opened up a second office, but there are plenty of hoops to go through in terms of law, regulations and licensing relationships with the government. For the Lloyd’s members we go in on their behalf and get the license and facilitate that, and of course, that increased our reach in the market. It’s important to recruit locally too due to local knowledge, language and culture of course, but the costs are significant. We’re now looking to go into Turkey, India and Africa. But the ways of doing business in China are so different, and so we have to make sure our communications are truly global. We also have to look at having a learning management system that works globally. At Ford it didn’t matter where people were, as a long established global business, you could tap into the same training and feel part of Ford. But here at Lloyd’s this is new territory. What we’re finding is that although the heritage and prestige of Lloyd’s is an incredible door opener, the ground work even for an esteemed business and with the latest communication tools is still gruelling work.
What about the insurance market as a whole, it has had its issues and practice is heavily scrutinised.
There’s a big expectation from businesses and HR is central to ensuring people have the right knowledge and skills, as well as practice. Lloyd’s has a key role in the market. We share the toolkit with the market and share what we are doing, and it’s part of our role to provide support. We have common challenges and I think going forward, we have to work more closely as a sector. For example there are new entry levels into the business such as apprenticeships, and so collectively, there is a responsibility that this is comprehensive, consistent and has reliable longevity to future proof it. For HR, It comes back to being at the heart of the business working across all units of the business and understanding how it ticks.
How would you sum up your career?
I often think about the eighteen years I spent at Ford, did I stay there too long? The answer is always no, because the business threw so many different and new challenges, so it was like working for different organisations. I then wonder, should I have specialised, but I think there you have a situation whereby if you’re a generalist who can get stuck into different areas of HR and the business, the experience and the pressure to understand and learn is always there. I look back at my time up at Liverpool, the “posh southern girl” and think I must have been pretty tough to get through that. But I think it’s an individual thing, like everything in life, if you’re prepared to get stuck in and show that you’re capable and eager to learn, sure you’re going to get ribbed that’s human nature, but people are essentially decent, and will always respond positively. I have pretty much done everything in HR, and whilst perhaps that makes it difficult for people to pigeonhole you, I would say that’s an advantage. I know I can pull it all together. Some people choose to be a specialist but I didn’t, and I’m glad I chose not to.
A lot of questions are asked about HR. Do you think HR is in a good place and that it’s well represented in businesses?
Here’s what I think, take people out of the business and you know longer have business. But that doesn’t give HR any birth right to the business. Every step of progress has to be earnt and ultimately, every effort, plan and strategy has to be aimed at the business. To pull that off, HR has to be more than an HR department, it has to be right over the business. It’s about knowing your business and being commercial, because it truly is a unique role that must have a clear path to the CEO. Before any other part of the business, and no matter how sophisticated the technology, what people think and say is the first indicator that something is going right, or indeed going wrong.