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Career profile: Steve Rockey, head of people, Byron

Posted on from Changeboard

Get to know your peers in the global HR community through our career profile series. Today, we profile Steve Rockey, head of people at Byron about how he built his HR team from scratch, his advice for career success, and his favourite restaurant – other than Byron, of course.

Basic details

Name: Steve Rockey

Job: Head of people

Current employer: Byron

CV in brief:

  • HR manager, PizzaExpress, 2005 – 2011
  • Personnel officer to HR executive, Granada Retail Catering/Compass Group, 1999 – 2005

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation.

Byron started six years ago with our first restaurant in High Street Kensington and a simple mission – to sell ‘proper hamburgers’. Since then, we’ve grown restaurant by restaurant to 38 (with number 39 opening in just 2 weeks)!

As head of people, I support this growth by making sure we attract, recruit and retain Byronites for our new and existing restaurants while making sure we live by our values: ‘doing it properly’, and having some fun along the way.

Who do you report into?

Tom Byng, managing director and founder of Byron.

Tell us about your team.

I started two years ago with a blank piece of paper; creating our first ever people plan and building a team to help deliver that plan. I was the first person in the people team and we have now grown to a team of six who are all experts in their own niche areas:

Gareth Jones is our recruitment and talent manager, making sure we attract, recruit and grow our internal talent pipeline
Evonne Lennard is our training manager, executing all operational training
Elena Flores is our people administrator and our glue holding us together. Two years ago she was a waitress in Byron, and showed HR talent. I recruited her as the second person on the team
Joining in the next few months, we have Danielle Silvestro, our payroll and benefits manager, and Helen Riding, our learning and development manager.

Once we’ve got all of the key people in place, we’ll then start to grow and finesse what we do and how we do it.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

I love the freedom which comes with the role. I get to be the one to create, shape, plan and deliver the people agenda in a truly inspiring business through a great team of talented people. There’s something so incredibly rewarding about helping to create the overall Byron plan for growth and then putting in place the people plan to deliver against that vision.

What is the most challenging part of the role?

It changes. Sometimes it’s the challenge of growing so quickly: making sure we keep up with opening restaurants which are the epitome of a great Byron site. Lately, it’s more personal and making sure I spend time developing myself as the business and roles grow.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It doesn’t – we don’t have a set blueprint for the week which is great and never dull. We have scheduled meetings in the week, but aside from that I could be working on a project at Byron’s on New Oxford Street, meeting with our head of food, Fred Smith, to discuss back of house development or visiting new openings to check that all is okay.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

When I first ate in Byron during the soft opening of High Street Kensington six years ago I knew it was something special. So, I made sure I kept up to date with what was happening in Byron (at the time they were part of Gondola, who also owned PizzaExpress where I was HR manager) and helping out where possible, which then led to me joining Byron in December 2011.

Being the first HR person also meant it was a great opportunity to create something from nothing and opportunities like that don’t come around very often. It’s also performance-focused, rather than results-focused, so if we perform well, we’ll get the results and that’s a very refreshing point of view. It’s a hell of a lot of fun as well.

Perks and downsides of your role?

Perks: Working with the people that I work with and all having a vision to create a truly iconic restaurant business. Needless to say, an endless supply of hamburgers is also great.

Downsides: None. If something isn’t right, then it’s down to you to fix it and make it better

What skills are essential for the role you’re in?

Thinking like a small business: Don’t try to solve problems in a ‘big business’ way – it took a bit of time to learn to let go and think entrepreneurially and not in a linear, big business way.

Be yourself: There’s no escaping here, so let go and be yourself; it makes life a lot easier.

Be open to self-development and improvement: We’re a new team, so we have to be open to new ways of working and thinking with big personalities who all have a view.

A thick skin: Roll with the punches, it’s not personal.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?

The usual hard work route I think. Once I get my teeth sunk into something that genuinely gets me out of bed in the morning then I can’t stop thinking about it, and working at it. That usually pays off.

What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study?

My best subjects were business studies and English at A level. I did home economics as I just wanted to be around food. I took French, but despite the hard work, it was a disaster.

I went to Island School in Hong Kong and came back to the UK to go to the University of Surrey to study hotel and catering management, ending up after four good years with a 2:1 BSc (Hons).

What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?

My first HR job was the on-site personnel officer for Granada Retail Catering at the Millennium Dome; recruiting, setting up, running and then finally closing down our operation from a people perspective. I applied for the Granada Graduate Programme while at university and having completed the assessment told them that I didn’t want to join their programme but wanted a proper job instead. A couple of days later, they rang me up and told me about the one they were creating at the Dome and I reckoned I would be a fool not to take it.

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

I never set out a career path/plan. I have just been able to generally do things that interested me. I work on the basis that if it’s not interesting, no matter what part of your plan it was, I was never going to be successful at it.

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

Opening up the Dome kept me awake a lot at night, it had a very definite deadline to open and close. That seemed to pay off with a lot of hours and hard work. Now I think it’s more about learning how best to manage the very different personalities we have in the business to best effect and making sure we all achieve what we want to make Byron, Byron.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?

Telling Tom that the handbook he asked me to review in place was s*** and he needed to employ me in order to help get it sorted out.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Difficult one – I’m not usually one to sit back and give myself a pat on the back for a job well done but I’m sure there have been some successes along the way. I’m really proud to work in Byron, so perhaps that.

Do you have any career regrets?

Nope, not one.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Don’t force or think about it all too much. I laugh when I hear people spend a disproportionate amount of their time moaning about work, their boss or who they work with or for as it’s probably not the right place for them to be if that’s the case. Focus on what’s in front of you and enjoy the ride.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

It’s okay to be yourself and not have all of the right answers, whatever they are.

Either/or…

  • Coffee or tea?: Coffee. It makes my world go around
  • Jam or marmalade?: Jam – raspberry or strawberry only if I’m honest
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?: The Stones. Never really been a Beatles fan
  • Mac or PC?: PC
  • The Guardian or The Times?: The Times, not that I really read the paper.
  • BBC or ITV?: Quite like a BBC documentary
  • M&S or Waitrose?: Waitrose
  • Morning or night?: I’m much more productive in the morning when I’m awake and thinking about things. That said, I love a good night out
  • Rain or snow?: Snow. I love skiing so the two things go hand in hand, plus I hate getting wet
  • Sweet or savoury?: Why choose? Take both

Favourites

  • App: CODE – it’s an industry app that gives info and discounts at some great restaurants
  • TV show: “Luther” for the dark brooding twists and turns
  • Band: Tokyo Police Club – great band and upbeat tunes
  • Song: Vapour Trail by Ride – it’s just a beautiful track
  • Book: Anything by Lee Child – I just enjoy reading about Jack Reacher kicking arse
  • Sports team: Saracens Rugby Club because I used to live in Watford and have really enjoyed how they have grown as a team over the last few years. The Heineken Cup beckons…
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Usually involves the pub for a bit and then dinner at home or with friends
  • Place to eat: As I can’t say Byron, I keep going back to Franco Manca – great pizza
  • Holiday spot: Vancouver – anywhere you can ski one day and sail the next gets my vote
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given:  Be culturally uncompromising with your people, whatever the cost

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