Interview with Stephen Gambles, head of reward at Alliance Medical

Good communication can be the difference between success and failure for a compensation and benefits professional, says Stephen Gambles, head of reward at Alliance Medical

Stephen Gambles, head of reward at Alliance Medical, admits it was a complete fluke that he ended up working in compensation and benefits.

After graduating from university, Gambles took an IT role at Barclays and in 2000 utilised his computer skills at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), working as an administrator on the company’s flexible benefits scheme. While at PWC, Gambles discovered he enjoyed working in the benefits arena and took on a number of HR roles until he became reward manager. Leaving PWC in 2004, he took compensation and benefits roles at AHH Pharmaceuticals, Alliance and Leicester, and Banco Santander before joining Alliance Medical in 2010.

In his current role, Gambles looks after pay, bonuses and benefits for the firm’s European operation. He is also responsible for performance management and employee relations.

Gambles may have stumbled on his reward career by accident, but he leaves nothing to chance when it comes to managing employees’ reward packages at Alliance Medical. “When you are talking about people’s pay and rations, if you miss something, they will pick it up because you are impacting on their take-home pay,” he says. “You need to be very confident that whatever you are trying to do, you have dotted all the Is and crossed all the Ts and taken into account all possible scenarios.”

Since joining Alliance Medical, Gambles’ biggest challenge has been to consolidate seven legacy pension schemes. A group personal pension (GPP) was introduced to replace the DC schemes that were inherited during 20 years of growth for the firm. The new pension scheme attracted 100% take-up from historic scheme members.

“Employees can make fund switches when they want,” says Gambles. “They can see what the value of their fund is at any given time of day.”

The biggest hurdle for compensation and benefits professionals, says Gambles, is getting staff to fully appreciate what is offered to them. “Benefit professionals who are good at communication tend to be good at their job. If you are changing something, you have to make people understand why you are doing it and what the benefits are. If you are not changing something, it is about making sure employees understand what is in place at the moment.

“Designing something is one thing, but never overlook the importance of communication. It is the biggest determining factor between success and failure.”

Another big issue for benefits professionals is managing costs in the current economic climate, says Gambles.

“Organisations are still battening down the hatches and looking at costs. The biggest pressure on benefits professionals, when told by their managing director or HR director to ‘keep cost out of our budget’, is finding savings in the right areas. Is it about removing or restructuring benefits? Is it about putting pressure on providers to do better deals?”



Who is your role model?
Steve Redgrave. I just think the man is phenomenal. To be arguably Britain’s greatest ever Olympian is one of those amazing things.

What is your favourite benefit?
I really think private medical insurance is one of the best benefits you can provide to employees. In the current
economic climate, it probably does not go onto people’s radars because it is quite expensive. It is a win-win for both employers and employees. Employers get their people back [to work] faster and employees get a great quality of care.

What are your strengths?
If you ask other people, they would probably say I am incredibly tenacious in my approach to things. If I really
believe in something, I stick by it. But I also adopt a consultative approach. I do listen to people and I do take on other people’s viewpoints.

What is a typical day like?
I do a quick nappy change, then give my daughter to her mum and run out the door to get to work. Then 25% of my day probably involves discussing things with senior management. I also look after payroll in the UK and deal with employees.

Curriculum vitae: Stephen Gambles

• 2010-present: head of reward, Alliance Medical
• 2008-2010: reward and benefits senior manager, Banco Santander
• 2006-2008: reward and benefits senior manager, Alliance and Leicester
• 2004-2006: compensation and benefits manager, AAH Pharmaceuticals
• 2003-2004: reward manager, PWC
• 2001-2003: flexible benefits leader, PWC
• 2000-2001: consultant, PWC (nine months as flexible benefits administrator)

Read more about careers in the benefits sector