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Career profile: Kate Chapman, group HR director, PageGroup

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Get to know your peers in the HR community through our career profile series. Today, we talk to Kate Chapman, group HR director, PageGroup. She speaks in depth about her career specifically how much she values mentoring, managing a global workforce and why the culture of working, but also playing hard is important to maintain.

Basic details

Name:  Kate Chapman

Job: group HR director

Current employer:  PageGroup

CV in brief:
1. HR director, BT retail customer services
2. HRVP, BT global banking and financial markets
3. BT, director, performance management and BT transition centre
4. Head of HR, BT directories

A day in the life

Tell us about your job and organisation  

I have been the group HR director for PageGroup since joining the business in January 2013. We provide a global recruitment service through our three brands – Page Executive, Michael Page and Page Personnel. Starting out in 1976 as small finance recruitment service above a laundrette, PageGroup now spans 155 offices in 35 countries with more than 5,680 employees globally. 

Who do you report into? 

I work for Steve Ingham, our chief executive. He is a great character who’s very commercial and likes to challenge his team, he has a superb sense of humour which makes him great fun to work with. 

Tell us about your team

My HR team is global, working across 35 countries in every corner of the globe. The team is made up of a small core team of HR business partners facing directly into each business, shared service teams delivering the day-to-day transactional services and talent development teams who deliver all of our consultant and management services. We have worked extremely hard to establish our function and deliver to a common agenda, albeit reflecting the needs of the local countries and cultures in delivery. That's been important to gain credibility and support.

What is the most rewarding part of your role? 

At PageGroup there is an overwhelming commitment by everyone to deliver what they say they will. We have implemented a lot of changes since I joined, e.g. a new employer value proposition, talent and succession planning and management and leadership development. Each and every time when I have looked for support it's been there, we are a real team.

What is the most challenging part of the role? 

My role revolves around change and evolution directly linked to achieving our business results. It sounds obvious, but all too often HR can get caught up in delivering projects that you can't identify the real impact on the business. Before joining PageGroup as the group HRD the HR function hardly existed, so establishing it so successfully in a short space of time and showing the value of what we can do to improve our underlying performance has been rewarding.

What does a typical day look like for you? 

No two days are the same. One day I can be writing RemCo papers, another working through our project delivery plans and others spending time in the business coaching and mentoring some of our top talent. I like the variety, it keeps me motivated.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for? 

I went through a lengthy interview process, meeting all of the executive board. It was their spirit, engagement and culture that encouraged me to leave BT. I was also taken with having the opportunity to start in an organisation with a blank sheet of paper. It's not often any group HRD gets that luxury. 

Perks and downsides of your role? 

The perks are many. We have a culture of work hard and play hard. I've done some incredible things since working here like running for charity on the Great Wall of China and participating in the Rio Carnival for one of the samba schools. I also get to work with a great team, both operationally and within HR. I honestly can't think of any downsides.

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

Joining a business where HR has not played a role as a strategic business partner has meant I have had to be patient and thoughtful about how to bring key stakeholders on board with the changes we are implementing. Having a high level of emotional intelligence has served me well; after all we are a people based business. I've taken the time to get to know the business in detail and those around me and it seems to be working!

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?
  
I left school after O-levels and went straight to work at BT. There I was able to "try out" a few different career routes before moving into HR in 2000. I went through the traditional route of gaining my CIPD qualifications and it's only since then that I have planned what I want to do. That being said, I had no idea back then that I would ever end up doing this job!

What were your best subjects in school? 

Maths was my strongest subject although over time and with the use of calculators I have become quite lazy. I part qualified as an accountant in my early career before moving into HR which always comes in handy.

What was your first job? 

My first job was as a clerical assistant at BT's research laboratories in 1987. I joined as they were paying a good salary and I needed the money!

Have you followed the career path you set out to? 

I didn't have a structured career plan, anyone who says they did is definitely not telling the truth. Many of the decisions I took in my early career came about through the extraordinary opportunities BT afforded me. It was only when I moved into HR that I found a discipline I felt a real connection with. I set about trying out generalist and specialist roles across different BT businesses to give me the best experience possible. 

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

The biggest challenges in my career have been where I've taken a role and been thoroughly miserable. It's only happened twice and when I reflect back and think why, it boils down to a combination of the people I worked for and the roles themselves. That's why moving to PageGroup was a well thought out decision.
  
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job? 

I must be boring as I haven't had to do anything crazy to get any of my roles. Maybe I'm just lucky?

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
 
There are too many to mention but recently all the hard work we have put in to our engagement, diversity and inclusion agendas at PageGroup have been recognised externally with some significant awards.

Do you have any career regrets? 

None at all, I've learnt something from every experience, manager and team I have worked with. I'm a firm believer that you can take something from both a good and bad situation and benefit from it. 

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

Find yourself a mentor early in your career, someone who you can talk to about your aspirations and where you might like to get to. Don't be afraid to reach out for help from others and ask for training or support to get the development you need to achieve your ambitions. Network, network, network! People will always give you their time as they were once where you were and know what it feels like.

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

Have more confidence and believe in yourself.

Either/Or… And please explain why

Coffee or tea? Tea every time. I can't function without a cuppa first thing in the morning.

Jam or marmalade? Neither. Both are packed with unnecessary sugar. I prefer peanut butter.

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Beatles. So many incredible classics.

Mac or PC? PC. Maybe I'm old fashioned or just getting old but I can find my way round a PC much more easily than a Mac. 

The Guardian or The Times? Neither. It would have to be the Telegraph. My uncle was the political editor for the newspaper in the '90s so I feel a loyalty to read it as my preference.

BBC or ITV? BBC for its amazing dramas such as Happy Valley and Downton Abbey but ITV if I fancy something like a fly on the wall documentary or X Factor.

M&S or Waitrose? I have shares in M&S so I do all I can to add to their profits but you can't beat Waitrose Porridge Oats so I will go there every now and then to stock up.

Morning or night? Definitely morning. I am super productive early in the day and it's when I achieve the most at work or home.

Rain or snow? I love the snow. We usually get snowed in when it's really bad and that brings with it cosy log fires and extra time at home.

Sweet or savoury? A tough one. Probably sweet by nature but I've trained myself not to eat so much chocolate these days.

Favourites… and please explain why

App: Twitter. It provides so much access to everything I need to know for both work and leisure. The information you can find on there is incredible.
 
TV show: It has to be Coronation Street. I've been watching it for close to 40 years and I never miss an episode.  
 
Band: Take That. I know every word and am proud of it.
 
Song: Perfect Day by Lou Reed. I sent my husband the CD when I went away back in 1998 as the words meant a lot.
 
Book: The Laundrymen by Jeffery Robinson. An amazing book about money laundering.
 
Sports team: Ipswich Town Football Club. I grew up in Suffolk so how can I not support them.
 
Thing to do on a Friday night: Go home, sit and relax with a glass of wine and a nice supper.
 
Place to eat: At home, The Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk or in London, Petrus is my absolute favourite.
 
Holiday spot: West Coast, Florida. I've been going there for close to 20 years and love the lifestyle, warmth and golf courses.
 
Piece of advice you’ve been given: Live in the moment and enjoy every second.
Emily Sexton-Brown

By Emily Sexton-Brown

Emily is the commissioning editor at Changeboard

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