Pentland Brands’ chief executive on being recognised as one of the UK’s best employers.
Pentland Brands was the only fashion employer to make the list in global research, consulting and training firm Great Place to Work’s UK’s Best Workplaces 2012. What sets you apart?
This year is the company’s 80th anniversary, and as a family business the ethos has always been about being a caring employer. This is the first time we’ve had an external source provide a form of benchmarking, and it confirms for us that we’ve been getting it right.
Did it help identify areas to improve on?
Absolutely. Great Place to Work surveys all of the staff, and then comes in and reviews our practices and policies. This hasn’t just been about celebrating what we’ve done well. It’s about listening to see where we could do better, and there are a lot of things that have come out of this that we’ll be acting on.
Great Place to Work praised Pentland Brands’ company culture and the internal pride and enthusiasm for its brands shown by staff. How did you create that culture?
We make sure that each person working for an individual brand is passionate about that brand. So if you work for Speedo, for example, you focus solely on that brand to identify with its DNA that much more. Then we have people who work centrally for Pentland, and we have to make sure that they are proud of the whole organisation, and not just focused on one brand.
Previously you have said that international is integral to your business strategy. With this in mind, are you now looking to recruit people with skill sets suited to international trade?
Eighty per cent of our sales are now from outside of the UK, so we have to think very clearly about what we’re selling. Our product [development] and design teams need to be very international to be able to develop the right materials for different markets. For example, there are probably 10 different nationalities within our Lacoste design team, and out of 12 designers at Speedo, only one is from the UK. We also have teams in the US and Asia to develop products for those regions. However, the Government’s increasing restrictions on non-EU workers getting visas means we have to review the internationalisation of our teams, which is a restriction to globalising our business.
What roles are the hardest to fill?
There is a skills gap in this country in terms of people who have the technical skills to develop footwear. We’ve got great design teams, but when you’re dealing with factories far away you need a [product] development team too. And I think we’ll continue to see the same problem in apparel, as home-grown manufacturing has dwindled and skills have been lost overseas.
How important is it to offer a competitive benefits package to secure the best workers?
It starts with being the type of company people want to work for. When we used to interview people they were interested in the size of the company, or how much money we made. Today we have people coming to us because of what we stand for. Obviously the physical environment is important too, and we have graduate and leadership development schemes. We invest heavily in recruiting and then developing the right talent.
What lessons have you learnt in your own career that have made you a better employer today?
I think the most important thing as the leader of an organisation is [engendering] trust. If someone messes up then it’s about asking them what they can do to fix it, rather than ranting and raving. Trust comes from being fair and consistent over time and by having integrity. We try to maintain that in everything we do.