Louise Rogers is head of HR at international financial services company, Axcess Financial. She spoke to Anna Auld from Michael Page Human Resources about her career to date, women in senior HR roles and advice for aspiring HR leaders. Read on to find out more...
Tell me about your career
I studied Behavioural Science at university and graduated realising that I enjoyed the people element of my studies most so HR felt like a natural place to go.
I started at the NHS in Kirkcaldy in their recruitment team and I began my CIPD qualification two nights a week. After a year I moved to NCR in Dundee to join their HR transaction team; it was a manufacturing environment so there were a lot of people dropping in for advice as well as email queries. I progressed to being an HR consultant, before a business partner opportunity became available in London with the services part of the business. This was my first big move, both in terms of scale of responsibility and the significant step outside of my local comfort zone: I was now covering UK and ROI which was a big balance sheet with expectations and challenges to match, for instance, taking a case to Irish Labour Court (their equivalent of an Employment Tribunal).
I was there just under a year, before I was approached for a role in Atlanta (USA) with NCR. This was a global role to business partner the retail division, which had large offsite facilities in Philippines and wider teams of engineers across the globe. While in Atlanta, I was asked to run a project team to resource a project in India within extremely short timescales. It was a great challenge with long days (and nights), but so rewarding to deliver this successfully. I’m always looking for the next challenge – it makes your contribution more rewarding.
After a year in the USA there was a restructure and I was aligned to a new part of the business – the retail and financial services business. This role had smaller direct headcounts but more indirect influence. I was working with great people to lead on strategy and I learned a lot about balancing HR priorities with commercial practicalities.
After returning to the UK I joined HSBC’s investment banking division in a business partner role, providing HR for HR.
Is it true HR employees are the proverbial cobbler’s children?
In a way yes – we know what needs to be done but are sometimes so busy ensuring everyone else takes action that HR can be a little neglected.
It was really interesting to be part of a huge organisation although navigation was a challenge – it was a big eye opener to how other organisations work and how they do HR. At the time there were a number of changes occurring in the HR delivery model so it was exciting to be a part of this and help shape it.
After completing a short contract at Raytheon, where I was exposed to different HR practices in a new environment, I joined Axcess as the ‘Head of HR for Central Services’, looking after recruitment, learning, HR services and business, systems and payroll. This was a challenge for a number of reasons; the team were all relatively new to the Axcess business and the business was in transition between regulators which was driving a very focused agenda. I’d developed a good working knowledge of all those HR areas in the past, but I didn’t have the same depth of knowledge that I have now built up.
After a restructure of the business last year, I took on the head of HR role with responsibility across the entire HR function, with additional accountability for budgeting and the senior management team, as well as regulatory responsibility. I’m part of the executive committee where I’ve been further developing my commercial focus and leadership skills, promoting the people agenda and influencing the strategy of the business. The HR team is smaller now, but we provide the business with end to end support on people matters and I’m very proud of my team.
After this journey, you’re in the job that so many people aspire to and work towards. Reflecting now, what has helped you achieve your head of HR post?
If I reflect on my career journey, I never set out to get this job. I always wanted more than what I was doing at the time, but I never had a picture of a particular job title that I was trying to attain. I was just asking myself: am I doing interesting work? I made choices based on what’s interesting, whether that was taking on a big change or pursuing something in addition to my day job.
Having said that, taking the head of HR role (central services) with Axcess was a conscious choice. I’d been doing HRBP type roles for the last four roles and knew I wanted to broaden my experience. The central services post was the perfect challenge – team management and an environment with amazing people that I’ve learned a lot from.
The Axcess roles and both London HR roles [with NCR and HSBC] have taught me most about HR. Mainly because I’ve said “yes” first then figured out how to make it happen later. I knew I could do it, I just didn’t necessarily always know how.
There’s some accepted wisdom out there that part of the reason we see fewer female applicants for senior roles is that women wait until they’re certain they can do a new role before applying. It sounds like you don’t fall into that category, is that true?
An element of faith in yourself is always needed. You need that experience that you’ve brought a problem or project to a positive outcome. Therefore you know you can get there with work and perseverance, and not much is insurmountable as long as you’re resilient.
I’ve been incredibly lucky with my managers who have given me challenges; at NCR in London and to move to Atlanta, to transition to HSBC and Caroline Mellor who hired me at Axcess and gave me the opportunity to step up into my current role.
What advice would you have for people looking to achieve a top HR role?
Thinking about my journey, there is so much experience that I got from specific situations that I’ll never face again, but I know there will be elements or learnings that I’ll need again so I would say be curious, enthusiastic and try not to say “no” to anything. If you don’t try it, you won’t learn. It’s the most important thing I can tell you.
The other piece of advice would be when you’re in a company, don’t get too insular. There’s a world out there. Going out to networking events like employment law updates and seminars is really valuable. You can learn a lot from seeing how other companies do things differently. I thought I needed to move across organisations to achieve this, but actually you can do this in one place if you network and know people from other companies. You can see things with a fresh pair of eyes.
Now that you are the head of HR in your organisation, how does it feel?
I remember just before taking the head of HR role having a real crisis of confidence questioning “what have I done?” and “what have I said yes to?” Caroline’s support and knowing that tough periods don’t last forever has kept me straight.
It doesn’t actually feel any different, but yes, the expectation and accountability is higher. Go in confidently and remember all your positive accomplishments.
Having said that do you regret not pushing yourself to head of HR earlier?
No, I needed to gain the experience that my previous roles have given me to feel ready for a step up. It’s back to that old saying of ‘what’s for you won’t pass you by’. If I had made the step earlier, it might not have been so successful.
Louise’s human resources career journey has taken her across multiple roles and countries to where she is now as head of HR. We often get the chance to speak to great people at the top of their game. Find out more about successful leaders in Scotland in our interview series.
If you’d like to get in touch with Michael Page Human Resources about your next move or your hiring process in Scotland, please contact Anna Auld.
T: 0141 331 7931