PEOPLE DIRECTOR , EVERTON FOOTBALL CLUB
The world of elite professional football can, at times, seem far removed from ordinary, everyday walks of life. But football is all about people, from the grassroots, the fans and the volunteers, to the players on the pitch. Everton Football Club is known as ‘The People’s Club’ and in this exclusive, behind the scenes interview, we find out about the team behind the team.
Kim, tell us about your early life, your aspirations and how you found yourself on a HR career path?
My childhood was spent in St Helens, at 16 I took my O’ levels and, after that, most of my friends went onto sixth form college and studied at university. Although I never missed a day, I didn’t enjoy school, and so as soon as possible, I started applying for jobs. I joined ASDA, worked part-time in the evenings and weekends, and went to St Helens College, full-time, studying business. My college course completed, I was offered a full-time job in the cash office at Asda, and went on a management training programme, which helped me gain a role in the new store implementation team. This involved a lot of travelling around the UK, training people, which really opened a new world to me, about the positive impact of learning and development. I then joined Focus DIY as a training officer, based in Crewe and with 20 branches. There was no HR team at the time and, shortly after, I was made HR Manager for the head office and, in the seven years I was there, we acquired Do It All, which had around 250 branches. It was a hectic schedule and I was almost constantly on the road. Then suddenly, my husband was diagnosed with FSH muscular dystrophy.
Given my husband’s condition, I decided to look for a role closer to home, and an opportunity came up with a company called First Quench, the largest independent off-licence retail chain in the UK, with around 1,300 shops, operating under several retail brands – all have since closed. On top of everything we were coping with, there was a lot of uncertainty and insecurity there and, with constant acquisitions happening, I was offered the role of Recruitment Manager for the North of England and Scotland, and quickly realised that it wasn’t a good fit for my circumstances. So, I had to make a speedy decision, that what I needed was a role in a more stable, smaller scale operation, closer to home – and the opportunity to make a difference in a smaller business really appealed.
I joined a growing finance company in Manchester, which was owned by an entrepreneur. It was a fresh challenge, starting a whole new function from scratch, and I loved it. But when the owner later sold the business to a larger organisation, once again, a field-based travelling role looked on the cards so I started to look for a role that was compatible with our situation at home.
Work disruption is stressful enough, but with your husband’s condition, this must have been a very testing time.
It was, but if anything, it taught me to be more resilient. I enrolled with a recruitment agency, explained my position and what I was looking for and, by complete surprise, I was matched to a role at a football club, Blackburn Rovers. I’d never thought of going into football as a career, but I went to the interview and was offered the HR role the following day. Instantly, I absolutely loved it – a real ‘family club’. There wasn’t as much money in football then – compared to now, far from it – but in terms of building the HR credentials, I was allowed to do whatever I could with the little amount that I had. A good example was, we introduced counselling services and staff engagement initiatives. At the time, Blackburn was in the Premier League, had around 250 permanent staff and 800 casual workers. HR was relatively new to football at that point, so I set about introducing policies and procedures to change mindsets from ‘it’s football’ to ‘it’s a business’. This was a challenge, but I loved the family feel and we introduced some really impactful initiatives. Then came along a takeover of the club, and I decided to leave Blackburn. If you follow football, you’ll know that some takeovers run more smoothly than others.
I really enjoyed my time at Blackburn, the experiences I had stay with me. I trained to be a counsellor for my own CPD and met some amazing people. But with the takeover, I saw a lot of people leave and I had to think, ‘is this
the right club for me, in terms of my values and how I like to work’? Football is a small industry and I was lucky that a role came up at Wigan Athletic, which was only eight miles from where I lived. Another small, family-focused
club and, even though they were in the Premier League at the time, staff numbers were a lot smaller compared to Blackburn. My role at Wigan was more hands-on with the day-to-day side of football and, in an HR role in football, you do deal with every level of staff, across the many different disciplines. It was a great three years – a club that shared my values and had a community feel – and now that I reflect on it all, working in football is so different to any other job I have had in the past.
It seems that you had found a home in football, what happened next in your career progression?
I got a phone call out of the blue, from Everton Football Club, and I thought, ‘it’s close to home and a Premier League club… fantastic opportunity’! I met with Denise Barrett- Baxendale – who was Deputy CEO of the Club at the time – and she shared her vision of the club and how the HR team could support it. She wanted Everton Football Club in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies and for the Club to be recognised as one of the best employers to work for. As far as I could see, there was a sound platform to work from insomuch as everyone looks on Everton fondly as a family club… ‘The People’s Club’. Everything is genuine and, whilst we work hard to build a strong and sustainable business, family values and our community are at the heart of everything we do.
How did you set up your HR team to take on the challenges and meet the objectives?
Previously, HR had been perceived as a ‘policing role’, and so we were keen to move away from this and build a team that, not only provides the usual support elements, but is a place where people can feel comfortable to discuss any issues or problems in their lives. So, we rebranded our department to be known as ‘People Services’, we moved from a transactional department to a HR business partner model, and we now have a presence at each of our sites.
What about the perception of football, what it represents, both good and bad? Did you see an opportunity with Everton to challenge some of the perceptions and misconceptions attached to the top of the game?
I did and we’ve worked hard on equality and diversity and, a question I’m often asked is; ‘what is it like to be a woman in a senior role in football’? I can honestly say, hand on heart, I have never been made to feel like I shouldn’t be in football… but do we need to see more female representatives across the sport? Yes, we do. It’s always difficult to push an agenda like that without it seeming forced, patronising and positive discrimination – we should always employ the best person for the job. Football has a business element, so if you do have an interest in football, that’s great, but it’s always about your skills and what you can bring to the role. We have a saying; “are they an Everton person? And can they work with our values”? We’re here to support each other. We now have 1,600 permanent and casual staff, and we continue to invest heavily in them. We’ve achieved our Premier League equality standard and are going for our advanced standard now, to ensure that everyone across the entire family feels safe and welcome, irrespective of; ethnicity, disability, religion or gender. We recently launched a campaign called ‘All
Together Now’, which is a platform to let our supporters know what we do as a club in promoting positive equality and diversity for all. It’s an area we are extremely passionate about. Our reputation as a Club of ‘firsts’ is really compelling, and binds people into the great initiatives we work hard to achieve in promoting inclusivity across the Everton Family in lots of different ways. For example, we used virtual reality to give a matchday mascot experience for a boy with severely reduced mobility. We’ve also become the first Premier League team to be recognised as breastfeeding friendly, and this really typifies our ‘Everton Family for Everyone’ mantra and mission, in our drive for equality through the positive power of football.
Do you think more needs to be done with what happens to young women in education? Do you think employers need to bridge the gap?
When I was at school, I didn’t have much confidence and, even though I was in the top sets for everything, I didn’t want to go to university. In recent times, I’ve met with participants from our club’s community programmes and given them advice on how to enter the working environment, despite perhaps not having done too well at school. The big message is, you don’t necessarily need that piece of paper – ultimately, and increasingly – it’s about you and how you present yourself.
But if you look at boards across sectors - typically, and frustratingly - it’s still the prevail of white, middle-aged men.
We don’t focus on gender – we look for the individual who is the best fit for the job. As a Premier League club, we are in a privileged position to be able to raise awareness about positive equality and it is high on the Premier
League’s agenda. Football is a fantastic tool to be able to do that as it is so close to people’s hearts. I think the governing bodies in football are committed to supporting this and we work closely with the likes of the Premier League, Kick It Out, Stonewall and Show Racism The Red Card on a regular basis, to ensure we are doing all that we can to make football inclusive for all. Our Club motto is ‘nil satis nisi optimum’, translation means ‘nothing but the best is good enough’, and it means an awful lot to the Club. As a collective, we all strive for that and I want all of our staff to be aware, work towards it and embrace it. We want to be the best Premier League club and wholeheartedly live our values.
What are your key objectives at Everton as you push the HR agenda forward?
Premier League football clubs are multifaceted organisations, with a wide range of business functions. Unlike other companies, where the focus is often on one or two core competencies, such as; retailing or banking, but we must unite many functions into one, cohesive team, pursuing one, shared vision. We are, of course, a football club, first and foremost, but we are also a retailer, selling merchandise across multiple channels – online, mobile and in-store – a commodity trader, investing in, and increasing the value of, a half-a-billion- pound player portfolio. We are a coaching organisation for professional athletes, and an academy for more than 300 youth players. And, to support our players, we are a medical practitioner, an analytics firm and a travel agency. What’s more, we are a major events organiser, and an entertainment venue, selling a million tickets each season and we are a catering business, providing both high-end hospitality restaurants, and pies and pints on our concourses. We are a facilities management company, an advertising sales agency, and a PR and media agency that, rightly, receives intense scrutiny from our supporters, the media, Government and stakeholders and we are also the UK’s leading sports charity, and an education provider for 200 young people.
Our long-term plan brings together all the functions of our Club into one cohesive team, pursuing one shared vision. Every person at Everton now understands how the work they do contributes to delivering our strategic objectives. As for the HR team, how we prioritise work that results in measurable impact is high on our agenda. Our key objectives for this season cover; people engagement, staff wellbeing, learning and development, and equality and diversity. We have recently moved our head office to one of the most recognisable buildings in the world on Liverpool’s famous waterfront, The Royal Liver Building. This has allowed us to bring teams, previously based in different locations, into one place, enabling us to work more collaboratively. We now have a fantastic working environment for our non-football staff. Having a world-class working environment will support us in attracting the best and most talented people and provides business continuity, as we prepare for our move to a new stadium at Bramley-More dock. Now we can boast a state-of-theart working environment, in a world-renowned building, on a world-renowned waterfront, for a world-renowned Club. The future is looking very positive.
The next generation coming through are changing things. They are driving their own agendas and how they want to pace their own careers. There is a lot for businesses to consider in terms of changing conventions and cultures. To be successful, we need to attract and retain the best talent on and off the pitch. We’ve carried out a lot of work on how we support multi-generations across the club and business. In fact, we have doubled our headcount over the last three years, which has seen a shift in our age profile. We have a flat structure at the Club, having 500 permanent staff covering multiple disciplines, so we have to be realistic with the expectations and career opportunities we can offer. We have partnered with a training provider called Azimuth, who have helped structure our L&D programme with us, with an emphasis on personal development as well as career development. Succession planning is important to us and we aim to develop our staff to promote from within when we can. Last year, as was our goal, we secured a place in the Sunday Times Top 100, making us the first Premier Football club to achieve this and we also recently achieved a two-star Best Companies rating, and our position in the list recognises the hard work, innovation and dedication shown by staff across the football club, which has helped cement us as a leading workplace.
As part of that, we scored very highly in the ‘My Company’ factor, which recognises the level of engagement our employees feel with their job and organisation. The Club also saw successes in the ‘Giving Something Back’ category which measured the extent by which staff members feel their organisation has a positive impact on society. But we are only as strong as our workforce and we have a lot of talented, dedicated and ambitious people who have grasped the opportunity to succeed and become leaders in their field. Our People Strategy has allowed us to take on feedback from our staff and create an inspired, inclusive and diverse workplace in which they can pursue the extraordinary. We have incorporated a host of changes to make this possible including a review of pay and benefits, enhanced internal communications, upgraded learning and development programmes and tangible opportunities for internal progression.
How do you think grassroots and local communities are being served by football clubs?
Here at Everton, we have an award-winning community scheme in the form of Everton in the Community – the charity recently celebrated its 30th anniversary and was awarded Freedom of the City of Liverpool. Through EitC, we
engage with over 20,000 individuals a year and deliver over 40 social programmes tackling a range of issues that are particularly prevalent in Liverpool such as; employability, education, homelessness, poverty, mental health and
youth justice. Our community is at the heart of everything that we do; Goodison Park is situated in one of the most socially deprived wards in the United Kingdom and, as a football club we have a commitment to our neighbours
and residents, and in the last few years we have invested a lot of money into the area to support community regeneration as well as renovate old buildings to house our charity’s programmes. In just the last five years we
have invested £8million to improve the lives of supporters and our community. Football is a hugely powerful force for change – through the power of the badge and the power of the Club – we can communicate and engage with
fans and members of our local community and tackle issues. Blackburn and Wigan had fantastic community schemes too, but Everton is the club that everyone else looks up to.
Since I joined Everton, I have been blown away by the diversity of the work in the community, and the impact that we are able to have. Last summer saw the launch of EitC’s Blue Base, a former derelict building in Salop
Street, close to Goodison Park, which was transformed into a function centre to act as a pre and post-match lounge for vulnerable and disabled fans on matchdays. The building also hosts ‘Pass on the Memories’ – a programme that supports the elderly living with dementia or suffering from social isolation – while encouraging them to immerse themselves into the Everton family. We also launched a campaign called ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is’ to raise £230,000 to purchase a house to support the homelessness in the shadows of Goodison, and now we are looking to build a permanent facility dedicated to mental health. We will never shy away from our responsibilities and will continue to invest in our community. That, to me, is what makes a great place to work.