John Fitzgerald, senior reward consultant, pensions and benefits at Aegon, sharpens his eye for customer service and value for money, before escaping to exotic holidays and pets
Depending on how you view your fellow employees, a degree in zoology may not seem like the most obvious starting point for a reward professional. And for John Fitzgerald, senior reward consultant, pensions and benefits at financial services provider Aegon UK, the path into the benefits world was far from straightforward.
After gaining a zoology degree with first-class honours at University College Dublin and later working towards a PhD, Fitzgerald spent three years working for the Scottish Youth Hostels Association before becoming an assistant general manager at an Edinburgh hotel.
“There is something about hospitality that gives you an eye for customer service that I think I have never lost,” he says. “No matter what you do and how well designed it is, if it does not meet the needs of your customers, it is irrelevant.”
In 1997, Fitzgerald walked through the doors of Aegon UK for the first time and has been moving upwards with the firm ever since. His first role was as a pensions administrator and technician, but he was also heavily involved in the employees’ union between 1999 and 2003, taking part in negotiating HR initiatives.
“Then a vacancy came up in our HR policy and employee relations team in 2003,” says Fitzgerald. “That was my foot in the door of HR. Getting into HR with relatively no experience is not easy, but perhaps they wanted the poacher to turn gamekeeper. Maybe I was causing them too much trouble from being in the union.”
Two years later, Fitzgerald seized the opportunity to move into the benefits field by taking the role of senior reward consultant. “I had no experience of benefits, but I think what got me in was an enthusiasm for the role,” he says. “I could see the benefits we had were good, but they were tired. They were not getting the attention they deserved. I had a real passion that came across to try to do something better than what we had.
“It was a good background having HR experience, but it was a little bit dry and academic, whereas benefits and pensions is a real subject that has a real impact on people.”
Having worked on implementing projects such as salary sacrifice pension contributions and bikes for work for Aegon UK’s 4,500-strong workforce in recent years, Fitzgerald says his biggest task now is trying to provide evidence of return on investment to the board and finance department.
“Times are pretty tight,” he explains. “If ever money mattered, now is the time. I am not under any immediate cost restraints, but I certainly would not be asking to increase our budget. It is not the time to be going cap in hand to the finance department.”
In his spare time, Fitzgerald likes to escape the stresses and strains of pensions and benefits. “I like spending time with my two cats and a pet snake. Oh, not to forget my wife.”
A recent holiday took him to Jordan, where he went horse riding and scuba diving, but not at the same time, he points out. “Who says real people don’t work in reward?” he says.
2005-present senior reward consultant, pensions and benefits, Aegon UK
2003-2005 HR policy and employee relations, Aegon UK
2000-2003 pensions technician, Aegon UK
1997-2000 pensions administrator, Aegon UK
1996-1997 night auditor and then assistant general manager, Apex International Hotel, Edinburgh
1993-1996 assistant hostel manager, Scottish Youth Hostels Association