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Career profile: Susan Houseman, director of business development, HR & training, Ribby Hall Village

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Get to know your peers in the HR community through our career profile series. Today, we talk to Susan Houseman, director of business development, HR & training at Ribby Hall Village, about her career journey. She reveals how she built the HR department from scratch – which oversees 500 employees – managing work/life balance and why she loves where she works: including having ducks following her into meetings!

Basic details

Name: Susan Houseman

Job: Director of business development, HR & training

Current employer: Ribby Hall Village

CV in brief:

  • 2008-present: Director of business development, HR & training, Ribby Hall Village
  • 2003-2008: Senior manager, Ribby Hall Village
  • 2000-2003: Head of HR, Ribby Hall Village
  • 1995-2000: Manager, Clifton Garden Centre

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation

Ribby Hall Village is a privately owned five-star holiday Village, boasting an award winning Spa HotelWedding VenueHealth Club and Conference Facilities. It’s open 365 days a year and in a world of it’s own, surrounded by countryside – guests love our location, within easy reach of Blackpool, and our five-star facilities. There’s so much to see and do here!

We have just under 500 employees across 15 departments, and we are heavily focused on their training and development. All the departments are empowered to drive the business forward, allowing innovation and personality to shine through. However, from an HR and training point of view, we all work to the same values, competencies and principles thus giving our guests, visitors and members consistency throughout their stay/visit.

Teamwork is essential for success, and we ensure our staff are both focused and motivated.

Who do you report into?

The CEO, Paul Harrison.

Tell us about your team

In the beginning it was just me! I was brought into the business to put together an HR department, which followed with a Training department.

I now have a team of seven, including two senior HR advisors, a payroll manager, training manager and two support staff. Our positive and can-do approach is made possible by a strong and close knit team with experience in key areas.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

Seeing growth and success year on year.

What is the most challenging part of the role?

Getting the balance right: office time to people time and ‘getting about’ time.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I could be with any of our departments within The Village or catching up with my team, rounded off by a sports session in our fabulous Health Club – this suits my multi-tasking skills perfectly.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

I was at a crossroads, as the company I was working for was being taken over. I was fortunate as I had the option to stay with the new company or take on a new challenge at Ribby Hall Village. I already knew a little bit about Ribby as I was a member of their Health Club. The offer to be a part of an exciting business that looked like it was really going places drove me to choose Ribby, and take my career in the right direction.

Perks and downsides of your role?

Perks – All the things The Village has to offer and the wonderful environment we enjoy daily. There are not many workplaces where you would find yourself walking to a meeting with a duck following behind you!

Downside – Making time to take advantage of all the facilities and great things on The Village.

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

A sense of humour, to be able to listen and to be positive. You also need innovation, the ability to look forward and very importantly, you must not over complicate things.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?

I always grasp opportunities that are given to me. I started my career working with people, I travelled a lot which is an education in itself and I was prepared to take risks.

What were your best subjects in school?

Academically I was good at the sciences, however I loved sport, and took part in lots of sports teams.

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

I was 14 and still at school when I, along with a friend, decided to get a summer job in a hotel. We had really left it too late in the season to get a job but we determinedly knocked on every hotel door from St Annes to Blackpool until we found a job vacancy.

In fact, the only reason we got the job was because the owner mistook us for someone else who hadn’t turned up when we knocked on the door! We worked the shift and because we did such a good job, they kept us on all summer.

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

I think it’s very difficult to know exactly what you want to do from the start but I know I enjoyed making a difference – so I got there in the end!

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

It wasn’t always easy balancing children, home and work life. A positive attitude, self-belief and a sense of humour has helped me overcome all obstacles.

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

At the age of 18, I went to live and work in Manchester. I quickly needed to find a job so I may have slightly overstated my experience and ability which landed me a very good job as PA to a Managing Director. I think the minute he saw my ‘shorthand’ he may have realised I had stretched the truth! However, I worked hard and went on to be successful in the role.

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

Becoming a director at Ribby Hall Village.

More recently, I was incredibly proud to learn that Ribby Hall Village has been shortlisted as a finalist for theInvestors In People Gold Employer of the Year Award 2015. This is a wonderful achievement that puts us amongst the top performing organisations internationally.

Do you have any career regrets?

No, I try not to have regrets, everything that happens is part of a learning curve.

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

You won’t get where you want to be unless you have a good work ethic, self-belief and dive in at the deep end if you have to.

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

Enjoy what you are doing: if you don’t enjoy it, make a change. Be curious.


  • Coffee or tea? Tea – it is refreshing and there are endless types to choose from
  • Jam or marmalade? Marmalade – a great start to the day!
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Rolling Stones – they were so exciting for their time
  • Mac or PC? Mac – I would love one!
  • The Guardian or The Times? The Times – reasonably balanced with a good crossword
  • BBC or ITV? BBC – simply because there are no adverts
  • M&S or Waitrose? Waitrose – for variety and quality
  • Morning or night? It used to be night but I am gradually moving more to a morning person!
  • Rain on snow? Neither as I am not great with the cold, but snow is prettier to look at
  • Sweet or savoury? Savoury – nibbles and starters are my favourite


  • App: Rightmove – I love looking at property
  • TV show: It used to be Top Gear! It just worked!
  • Band: Coldplay – great live
  • Song: Ed Sheeran, ‘Thinking Out Loud’ – wonderful to watch as well as listen to
  • Book: Nigel Slater, Kitchen Diaries – not only great food that works but a good read
  • Sports team: Williams F1 – I used to follow the European circuit and I admire Williams
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Eat in or out and plan the weekend with a good red wine
  • Place to eat: I love nibbles and small plates of food, so I love tapas (and especially The Tapas Bar at Ribby Hall Village!)
  • Holiday spot: South of France –I love the understated elegance and beautiful sunshine
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: ‘Be responsibly selfish. It’s OK to have me time’ – taken from a motivational programme I went to early in my career.
Sarah Clark

By Sarah Clark


Online features editor at Changeboard



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