GEOGRAPHICALLY, THERE IS ONLY A COUPLE OF MILES BETWEEN APPLE’S STUNNING LONDON HEADQUARTERS AT THE REJUVENATED BATTERSEA POWER STATION AND THE TOUGH, SOCIAL HOUSING ESTATE THAT HANNAH REID GREW UP ON. THE PROXIMITY AND DICHOTOMY MAGNIFY HER ACHIEVEMENTS, BROUGHT THROUGH BREAKING DOWN PREJUDICES AND STEREOTYPING AND LEADING BY EXAMPLE. SHE IS AN INSPIRATION TO EVERYONE WITH POTENTIAL AND AMBITION, THAT ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. HERE’S HER STORY.
PEOPLE DIRECTOR EMEIA, APPLE
BREAKING DOWN PREJUDICES AND STEREOTYPING AND LEADING BY EXAMPLE
My parents played a huge part in my decision, because in West African culture, there were only two recognised professions, being a lawyer or a doctor. I was relieved that being an editor or working for a newspaper, had a level of prestige my parents liked and I enjoyed writing, so that was my early ambition. My Dad came to the UK on an engineering scholarship, but after a coup in Ghana, he was not allowed to return, so eventually joined Ford Motors and my mum spent most of her career in London Transport and later Selfridges. My parents worked so hard to provide for my brother and I and they kept a lot of the hardship they endured as immigrants – which inevitably included a lot of overt racism – from us children. I had a humble upbringing, but I was surrounded by people just like me on a big council social housing estate. All the families around us were all on a similar level, so there wasn’t that feeling of inequality I was later exposed to. We all had commonalities and one was a perceived lack of opportunity – not that we were all Black – but because we didn’t have the access to a different way of thinking, or the money to support ambition beyond the practical necessity of earning money to survive.
I studied hard and also made the most of my work experience, where I had articles published in The Independent and The Voice. Now I must tell you about an important story that runs in parallel to my career path and it’s a love story. When I was 18, turning 19, I went on holiday to America, met the love of my life and a year later we were married… only we didn’t tell anyone, as we are both from big families who would have had too much to say about it! It was all very quick, a quiet ceremony with one of the witnesses we pulled off the street – who, not surprisingly, thought that she was taking part in something illegal – it really was just like something out of a movie. This change of circumstances actually propelled me to do things really quickly and make some big decisions. Firstly, journalism was not working out as a reliable money earner and so I applied for a job at the Employment Tribunals and that was really how I started my career in HR. So, I kind of stumbled onto the profession, which actually a lot of practitioners seem to, only to discover it is absolutely fascinating. It brought into play a lot of writing and the true definition of journalism, which is to be objective, balanced and equitable in pursuit of the truth and justice. We were exposed to all the cases which defined the laws that govern how we work and informed the policies we were responsible for. It felt like there was something important and worthy in creating more credence and understanding for people in their work. I reflect now that I was really young to have had these responsibilities, but I think being married young pushed me to do a lot more. Happily, 22 years later and that love story still influences many of my decisions, only now I can be more measured without the financial pressures. All along the journey, my husband has been my cheerleader, my support network and has made sacrifices in his career, so that I could pursue my goals.
At ETS, I was working across different tribunals and constantly travelling up and down the country supporting the judiciary. Sometimes on really high-profile cases, when all the cameras would be asked to leave and the judge was deliberating with lay members, we could listen in and that really helped me understand employment law more practically and there really was no better place to learn the intricacies. I was working as part of the Government Department of Trade and Industry, when they decided to bring all of the Judiciary together under the Department of the Constitutional Affairs, which meant a massive reorganisation. During this time, I was asked to take a role supervising a shared service function and, at the same time, I found out I was expecting our first child, which wasn’t my plan at that time. We bought a flat – which was pretty unheard of in the London Black community – but I was spurred on to really create a different world for my family to grow up in. Not in terms of being loved and supported, that was never in short supply when I was growing up, it was more eliminating the stark reality of having to struggle day-to-day financially. So, I left ETS and landed a role as HR (personnel) administrator at the City of London Police, which would be the setting for where I would build my career. I was in admin for a year, then promoted to HR Advisor, ER manager, HR Manager and ultimately Head of HR. My overriding memory of the police is that it was a real family culture and at the time I was there, the command team had really strong leadership. There was a real sense of purpose and my experiences there really influenced, shaped and defined me. It was at this time that a decade had passed since the murder of Stephen Lawrence and what I experienced was a real commitment to learn from the past and determination to making fundamental change to the culture of policing. There was real motivation to truly support inclusion and diversity and real engagement in finding measures that would improve and sustain. Above all, it would require honesty, transparency and accountability – the last of which is the most challenging, because accountability can infer liability – which of course can lead to court action. I would say accountability and clarity were crucial at the time, because vague public statements with no acknowledgement of wrongdoing or lessons learned destroys confidence, both in the force and the wider public, which is ultimately what the police are there for, to serve and protect. From an HR perspective, that meant change management programmes focused on how the police reflects the communities it serves, in order to inspire, role model and attract throughout the entire employee journey. The activations we did back then are only now being rolled out in organisations generally, which shows we were pushing ahead, despite the challenging climate we were operating in.
I covered a lot of different roles in HR and was gaining broad experience and, as I was developing, so was the way HR operated and the push for police reform was gaining momentum. When my role changed to ER manager (employee relations), I was more exposed to the challenges the police faced. At this time, we encouraged grievances as a way to transparently resolve concerns. Another trend across local Government at that time was that lots of cases went to tribunal, even without foundation or merit – it was just the way the world was, because it was free to lodge a claim – and by comparison, my work was more transactional than strategic. In time, I made it clear that I wanted a role with more influence and that was the direction I was going in. When I moved to become HR Manager, I attended a talk – we used to organise a large event at the Guildhall for International Women’s Month – and one of the speakers was the CEO of the FCA. She was a mother and she talked about balances and sacrifices and how you have to drive your own career and set your own agenda. Of course, I was also a mum of one at the time and I could empathise with the juggling act. Before then, all the speakers were people I could not identify with and that’s why representation matters. At no point in my career or at school was there a Black female sharing her journey. Although this speaker was not Black, there was a jaw-dropping moment when she said she had seven children! Afterwards, there was murmuring, people were trying to understand it, “she probably had three kids and maybe met a partner who had four and blended families”, was one offer of explanation from the collective. But she came on the microphone to confirm she was the birth mum of all seven. If she could achieve what she had, then so could I! That really was the beginning of having very meaningful conversations with my leaders about my career and next steps. Shortly after that, I had the opportunity to become the Head of HR for the City of London Police and I was still in my late 20s. I had also gone back to university to gain my degree in HR, my CIPD and subsequently my Masters, which I did whilst pregnant with my second son and so I was demonstrating to myself that it was possible.
In the wider world at this time, there were some unbelievable challenges for policing. It was at the height of the terrorist attacks and the City of London Police were the lead Force on tackling terrorism. Part of my role was also responding to the Government’s comprehensive spending review. I often worked with the chief police officers and so I was juggling the challenges of policing, practicalities of people management and having to make reductions in spending, dictated by the Government. I look back at this time as transitional to my career and nothing really prepares you for that, it’s up to you to do the preparation yourself. Clearly, I was being tested and it was a steep learning-curve and I felt the pressure of expectation, being part of the leadership team and driving these big moments of change. I learned that you cannot outperform your own level of self-esteem – all the self-limiting beliefs and even imposter syndrome are there to call you out, if you let them. But I was determined and had an incredible boss earlier in my policing journey, called Jean Harper who said: “The way to work through those moments is, every time you go somewhere, say something, have a perspective and invite debate, make sure people see you.”
Definitely, because otherwise, I may have been hesitant to speak up. I remember I attended a briefing where the Home Office was talking about the Stephen Lawrence ten years on moment – they were briefing us ahead of an announcement to the press and public – where they would confirm targets would be devolved to the local authorities across the country, to set targets for hiring Black and minority ethnic officers. This seemed to me the wrong approach for many reasons, not least absolving the Government of having to address what had not gone well and so I challenged it. I had based my Masters’ degree thesis on the lack of progression of Black officers in the police force so I had insights that were relevant on why the disparity was being compounded, as well as challenging some of the data points, given it was based on outdated census data. Consequently, I was approached by Steve Otter’s team – he was the Chief People Officer with a focus on race and equity for the UK police service – asking if they could see my research and for me to be involved. This was a big moment for me a Black girl from a council estate, with limited ambitions in life. I also had a role in the Black Police Association and was really broadening my network. I was even supporting our BPA Chair with the scrutiny committee, working with the Home Office. With all of those moments came elevated status for me, whereby I was one of 43 voices – there are 43 forces in the UK – in a room talking about a range of topics that impact policing. The next stages of my career were fulfilling, because I was leading big programmes, going to various briefings – such as our Independent Advisory Group with the Assistant Commissioner – and HMIC with our Chief Officer, plus I was running a department. But it came to a point where I thought, is this me for the next 20 years plus? Then my previous boss Nicky Johnson, who I really admired, had moved to Allianz, contacted me out of the blue with a really compelling opportunity. The thing was, could I leave all that I had achieved at the police behind? The command team had been incredibly supportive and didn’t want me to leave and I had an incredible boss in Barbara Giles and it was the hardest career decision I had ever made. But after nearly eight years, I knew that it was time.
My rationale was to gain experience in a commercial setting in the private sector and I wanted to test my experience and skillsets in a completely different environment. I hoped it was the right decision and nobody understood why I had taken a backwards move. Essentially, I came out of a leadership position of a big team in which I had made some bold changes, including introducing HR business partnering in the City of London Police. But sometimes you have to move backward to move forward. Allianz was a ground breaker employer, in terms of HR initiatives and I felt compelled to be a part of that, to learn and develop forward-looking strategies. My area of responsibility was on the insurance claims side, which is the high-volume element of the operation and here employee relations played a significant part, so my experience was well suited. But I also needed to come up to speed with some of the detailed layers of insurance such as underwriting, which is the real heartbeat of insurance. From a personal perspective, this was not as big a culture shock because it’s a risk business and HR is HR. I quickly learned the different elements of the operation, the main one being call centers. I began to really focus on metrics and data as a way of assessing my own progress, as well as that of the site I was responsible for. I had all of these impressive metrics – for example, reducing agency usage, attendance management and attrition – and I was sharing management information in a way that was new and different for the leadership team. I was quickly gaining a reputation for myself and soon enough, I was being asked, “so what next?” I then became involved in a project around offshoring and a large project working with a divisional leader, also working with my peers in building bite-size training programmes, to help the progression and succession of our leaders and restructuring projects. But despite being given these extra responsibilities in recognition of my capability, I missed being a senior leader and the more strategic components of senior HR. I was just starting conversations about my options in Allianz, when a call came in from one of the amazing former HR leaders at Allianz for a senior HR role at Oliver Wyman. I would add that Allianz was probably the best HR function I’ve ever worked for. Everyone knew their expertise in such a way that when we came together, it was really impressive. There were absolutely no passengers, everyone was exceptional. That really helped in many ways, but it was time for me to move and Oliver Wyman was the next part of my journey, although looking back, I am not sure I would make the same decision again.
Absolutely, consulting has an inherent reputation for elitism, in terms of background and education. For me, somewhat selfishly, this move was about being reinstated into a leadership position – and with a broader EMEA remit – so finally no longer focused on just the UK. But quite quickly, it proved to be an exercise in eliminating a sector and culture that didn’t suit me, though I’m sure it is great for others. During my tenure, it was about driving impact really quickly, but it was a massive job and, when I left, they ended up splitting my job into three. The company was USbased – although the C-suite were mostly in the UK – so they ended up being in my client group and I had over 100 partners, which I had to partner with directly. At that time, the gender pay gap was introduced, as well as all of the impact in the wake of #MeToo. We also had the apprenticeship levy come into effect in the UK and all of this legislative change was my responsibility. Meanwhile, there was a really interesting boiling pot to think about – lots of contractors, the burgeoning gig economy and a steady pace of growth from constant acquisitions and M&As, which I became really fascinated by. I learnt a good deal from M&As, in particular how to fuse cultures and I wanted to create more of a playbook around that. I also played a role in improving our Stonewall Index and establishing more inclusive policies. I sat on the leadership team for MMC Marsh & McLennan Companies, which included Mercer, Marsh and Guy Carpenter – a wonderful team to work alongside – and experienced the difference in leading across different operating models. I was also gaining some really useful exposure in many countries and I had the opportunity to build an HR operations function in Ireland, with the Innovation Center including payroll, which I then went on to replicate in Sweden and Netherlands. But I knew I had to move on with my journey and, about this time, I was pricking the interests of a number of headhunters which was flattering, but I knew I had to make the right choice this time. I worked with a Partner at LHH Penna Clinton Thomas, who ran the account and during one of our catchups, he asked me about my own ambitions and how I was responding to headhunters as that could also impact my brand. This was such great advice and it resulted in me having an executive coach, who helped me frame my next steps. I was also the proud recipient of the top three senior leaders in the Black British Business Award and my network was growing massively. I then received the Top 100 Black Females in the UK accolade and all of that propelled my brand further. Around this time, Gartner reached out and this was one of the companies whose values really resonated with me and I was so excited to join.
Another phenomenal leader in Katherine Graziano who, along with the senior leadership team, collectively made sure I knew that I was well-regarded and that sentiment only strengthened throughout my time there. Beyond the value they saw in me it was also the role itself – an EMEA senior director role that was business focused and strategic – working alongside the senior Vice President of Consulting, to help develop a fast-growing area of the multi-billion dollar business. Gartner was an absolutely incredible place to work, but it turned out to be my shortest ever tenure. Within Gartner, employees could rate all the different departments and the HR department always ranked near the top, because it was a trusted business partner and had a prominent seat at the table. It managed what I have rarely seen in HR, which is not to just be a reactionary function, but to be a function that sees ahead, that grows just as much as the organisation it partners with and operates with real trust and transparency. Essentially, it made a big organisation feel really small and personable. It was dynamic, but not in a showy way. I had delivered a large restructure, introduced a development programme that gave accreditation to the associates in new skills, which were also highly sought-after by our clients and introduced a new people strategy to sit alongside the strategy. I had built a great relationship with the EVP and when the Black Lives Matter movement happened, the EVP reached out to me with an incredible email of allyship. From those conversations, I ended up developing their first-ever DEI Council with a colleague of mine. That was a wonderful moment for me, my personal passions realised in a business that truly cared and supported. I also started a number of partnerships, for example with St Mary’s University, where we took on underrepresented interns and ultimately won an award for this sponsorship. The objective of the programme was to reduce the dropout rate of Black students in further education. After my time at Gartner, it continued to scale and it’s something that I’m very proud of.
I was happy at Gartner, but also really flattered when Apple reached out and, although I was not looking for a new role and had actually moved out of London, I realised there was a great opportunity to drive impact, albeit at a different scale from what I could achieve at Gartner. There is something about the scale, scope and ambition of Apple – it’s about changing the world and embarking on epic journeys – it’s not the usual vision you hear at your average interview. You cannot help but to be inspired and elevated when you consider what Apple has achieved, how it has grown and indeed how it is changing the world. To say the least, I was in awe. What also shone through was that inclusion and diversity was and is spoken about in every conversation. I was quite moved by the synergy and passion from everyone, not just the people (HR) function. So, with very mixed feelings I accepted the role. Mixed because I gained this great job, but I loved Gartner and I still do and the day I resigned I was due to meet the CHRO to discuss her presentation to the board for a promotion to VP, so Gartner truly was an organisation that recognised me. At Apple, it’s a behemoth role, essentially I am a leader within the corporate lines of business, not retail. Above all, what has struck me from the moment I joined was that, in terms of product, the belief across the company is that anything is possible and yet this is belief with humility not arrogance.
It was a tough time for us as a family, my husband lost his job and the kids were home with us. With 33 countries in my remit and so many lines of business leaders, coming up-to-speed with this dynamic organisation, without physical meetings or in bricks and mortar settings, was not easy. One of my superpowers is relationship building, learning about the business and its plans and trying to discover where the impact lies from a HR standpoint. So in this unusual situation, that required a certain amount of versatility. I was at home probably a year into my Apple journey, before I even stepped into an office, so there was no time to feel overwhelmed by it all. I did miss what I call ‘being able to turn my own corners’ and instead, on screen, if you meet someone outside of the list you have been given, you have to make a note of their name and then reach out to them afterwards. One thing you learn quickly about Apple is the consistency on values – it sound like a throwaway corporate cliché, but everybody is value-driven in this organisation and for a business that has made such a mark on the world, in terms of tech and product, it’s very humble and approaches everything differently to the mainstream. For me, what’s beautiful about HR is that you can align it with any ethos and style and I believe great people management has been a big part of the evolution of work and business operations. Compare now to the time-obsessed clocking in world of work that hadn’t changed much since Henry Ford and Taylorism, there is hardly anything left from that past. As we know, it’s a paradox that we put this acceleration of change down to the pandemic, but that is our reality. Every business and person have a part to play in writing the next chapter and that is a big responsibility.
You may be surprised to hear that we don’t feel that at all, because of the way that the sense of purpose is calibrated as a value-driven motivator, the trust throughout and the leadership of the organisation carries people through. My vision is that, however effective the current operation is, you cannot rely on the belief that the status quo will continue. I believe the future of world leading innovation is inclusion and diversity-of-thought and background, building future vision, maintaining strong values and a culture of continuous curiosity.
At the time of this interview, it was announced that Hannah has made Empower’s Top 100 Black Execs list globally. Another outstanding achievement and all of us at theHRDIRECTOR send our congratulations.
Photography location: Battersea Power Station Control Room A.