Get to know your peers in the global HR community through our career profile series. Today, we talk to Melanie Francis, head of HR at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, shares her career journey, her determination to get into HR and why it’s important to follow your head and your heart.
Name: Melanie Francis
Job: Head of HR
Current employer: Saïd Business School
CV in brief:
A day in your life
Tell us about your job and organisation
I am head of HR for Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. We employ 550 staff, including 60 faculty.
The school is a young, vibrant, and innovative business school that is part of an 800 year old world-class university. The business school has established itself as one of Europe’s leading centres for management education and research. We offer a range of post-graduate programmes including the highly regarded Masters in Business Administration (MBA), Executive Masters in Business Administration (EMBA) and a number of specialist MScs. We also have a significant portfolio of custom, open programmes and accredited diplomas for executives.
The school’s vision is to be ‘a world-class business school community, embedded in a world-class university, tackling world-scale problems’.
Who do you report into?
The chief operating officer.
Tell us about your team
I have a team of seven. This is made up of a resourcing and talent team of three, a HR operations team of three, and one HR apprentice.
What is the most rewarding part of your role?
Working with a fantastic HR team and determining the HR strategy for the school, and being in a position to realise the aims of this, are the most rewarding parts of my role.
Recently, I was lucky enough to attend one of our Executive Education programmes – High Performance Leadership. This was an amazing experience for me; a week long programme being taught by our faculty team was fantastic, and I learnt a lot. I was one of 38 international participants and it was great to understand our product better. I now know why people choose to learn at Oxford.
What is the most challenging part of the role?
Saïd Business School is the teenager in this prestigious 800 year old university, and this is both a challenge and a benefit. There are laws that are unique to Oxford and Cambridge universities that make some of the standard HR processes particularly challenging.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I am a working mum, so my day starts early as I get my son ready for school before setting out for work. We have two sites; I drive to our Executive Education centre on the outskirts of the city centre where I work one day a week. On other days, I will cycle to our award winning City Centre site.
My day is dominated by meetings and e-mails, as many others are. We are working hard at Saïd Business School to deal with the e-mail epidemic so that we can all be much more productive in our jobs. Equally, we are careful to ensure that meetings really are necessary and that the relevant stakeholders are invited only, so we don’t waste anybody’s time.
I always make time to catch up with my team every day. It is important that we keep each other up to date with what’s going on.
At the end of the day, I dash off to collect my son from his after school club.
I would love to say that my day ends there, but I am normally back on the e-mails in the evening after dinner. The recent press coverage about the working hours of managers and the ‘always on’ culture has definitely resonated within the school and we are being much more conscious and respectful of each other’s personal time as a result.
Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?
Saïd Business School is unique in the University of Oxford in that we are both a department embedded in the university and we also have a commercial entity, which is a limited subsidiary company. This means that I have the benefit of being able to apply best practice and commercial initiatives within the subsidiary, while also being governed by the university overall. Having the opportunity to apply all of the knowledge learnt from my commercial background into the school was a key factor in deciding to join the school.
Perks and downsides of your role?
Perks – being a member of a great HR team, and senior management team, working for a prestigious organisation, and having the opportunity to sample our products. We also have a fantastic pension scheme, which is hard to come by nowadays.
Downsides – employee relations cases. As with any HR department, we pick up and deal with these issues, and this can be draining on us (as all HR professionals will testify).
What skills are essential for the role you’re in?
Diplomacy, advocacy, management, leadership, communication, pragmatism, planning and implementation.
How did you get to where you are now?
I got here intentionally! I started in pensions where I studied for a BTEC National Diploma in Business and Finance, and on day release, I had a ‘Personnel’ lesson which I enjoyed the most. I applied for an internal transfer but as the Personnel department was so small, I realised there was little chance of a transfer soon. Therefore I left to study for an HND in Business and Personnel in order to increase my chances of getting a job in Personnel – and it worked.
What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study?
I went to Beaconsfield High School and my best subjects were French and geography. I intended to become an air hostess when I chose my GCSE options, so I chose those subjects with that aim in mind.
What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?
My first job was as a pensions administrator for AXA. I chose to work there as they were a major local employer with the best opportunities for school leavers. It gave me a good grounding in administration, which I think is essential for any good HR professional to have.
Have you followed the career path you set out to?
I never set myself a career path, but I do pursue the subjects I find interesting. The benefit of working in HR is that there are so many different and interesting paths to choose to explore. I haven’t tired of them yet.
What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?
I believe that one of the biggest challenges is understanding each other’s personalities, and adapting our behaviour in order to maximise the relationship. I am so pleased that I attended a Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)course early on in my career, as this was the best lesson in understanding that we are all different and that our preferences can determine our behaviour.
I recently qualified to become an MBTI practitioner and I love how engaged people become with this tool, and what a difference it can make to a team’s performance.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?
Leaving my job to go to university to enable me to get into HR. Looking back, this was a bit of a crazy decision, but I knew I had to do it in order to get where I wanted. I am generally a very measured person, so this was about as crazy as I get!
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Having a well-respected Oxford professor congratulate me on the difference that I’ve made to the HR department at Saïd Business School. It can be difficult leading an operational team in a university that teaches this stuff, so to receive this recognition was fantastic. I didn’t do it on my own though. I have a great team and they make me proud everyday.
Do you have any career regrets?
No – I don’t tend to have regrets about anything. Everything is a life lesson. There are things I wouldn’t do again, but I don’t regret having done them in the first place.
What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?
Take opportunities to learn new things whenever you can, attend interesting seminars and programmes too. You will be amazed at what you learn, what differences you can make and who you meet.
Also, never burn your bridges. HR is a small world, and you will come across colleagues in the future.
What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
Listen to the older people in your world – family, friends, colleagues. They really do know more than you, and they can help you to learn. Believe in yourself and have the confidence to follow your head and your heart.
- Coffee or tea? Coffee. I drink decaf tea, and caffeinated coffee. Lately, the coffee is winning!
- Jam or marmalade? Marmalade, orange with thick shred.
- The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? I’m a bit too young for that choice. I would prefer Take That or NKOYB! Take That win!
- Mac or PC? PC (old skool)
- The Guardian or The Times? Neither. I have very little time to read the paper. When I do, I get theIndependent. Easy to read the news without the gossip rubbish
- BBC or ITV? I also hardly ever watch TV. I would opt for BBC though – no adverts
- M&S or Waitrose? M&S – it’s on my way home!
- Morning or night? Definitely a morning person
- Rain on snow? Rain. Snow looks good, but gets you wet and cold
- Sweet or savoury? Savoury. I definitely prefer starters to desserts
- App: The weather – helps me to decide what I need to wear on by cycle.
- TV show: Don’t really watch TV, so no favourites I’m afraid.
- Band: Chase & Status was the last gig I went to, and I loved it!
- Song: ‘Time of my Life’. Dirty Dancing is my all time favourite film.
- Book: Any chick lit. Helps me to sleep.
- Sports team: Whatever football team my son likes this week. It changes frequently!
- Thing to do on a Friday night: A Pimms in my local pub garden with friends.
- Place to eat: My local pub has a fantastic chef.
- Holiday spot: Watergate Bay, Cornwall. Just spent a wonderful week there and my son loved the waves on the beach.
- Piece of advice you’ve been given: “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”
By Sarah Clark
Online features editor at Changeboard
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