Interview with Ralph Turner, pensions and benefits director, Mars Group

Ralph Turner, pensions and benefits director at the Mars Group, says he and his peers are preparing to tackle the effects of “short-term politics” on pensions and tax

For Ralph Turner, pensions and benefits director at the Mars Group, working in employee benefits resulted more from a meeting of minds than a conscious decision to enter the industry.

Turner’s foray into the world of benefits began when he was interviewed for the role of pensions documentation clerk at Clerical Medical and General Insurance Company in 1977. “I liked the guy who interviewed me; it was as simple as that,” he says. “It was no active decision, but I ended up as a pensions clerk.”

During his career, Turner has seen a lot of change in the industry. “Pensions and benefits has become a big industry,” he says. “When I started out in 1977, it was a very static industry, there was not much happening. Things have changed and grown. You have got an array of benefits and a much more active pension industry than before.”

It is this ever-changing scenery that has kept Turner hooked on the industry. “There are far more benefits on offer nowadays than used to be the case, so there is always something new,” he says.

After Clerical Medical and General, Turner held various roles in pensions and benefits, including group benefits manager at Emap, during which time the publishing company became the first UK organisation to put government pension information onto benefit statements. “At the time that was quite an achievement, and certainly Emap appreciated it as well,” says Turner.

Inspiring leader

Emap’s company secretary at the time, Derek Walmsley, was an inspiring leader for Turner. “I learnt at lot from him,” he says. “He trusted me with the big decisions, but at the same time he kept close to what was going on, which is what I try to do for people who work for me. I trust them, I let them get on with their job but, at the same time, I keep a close eye on the big picture.”

In his role at Mars, Turner is responsible for the pensions and benefits of about 5,000 staff in the UK and Ireland. He says there is no such thing as a normal working week, travelling between Mars’ offices. For example, he sometimes works out of the Mars Petcare offices in Waltham on the Wold, Melton Mowbray, visits the Mars’ chocolate factory in Slough, attends meetings in London, and due to his responsibilities for Ireland, travels to Dublin.

One of the perks of working for a confectionery manufacturer is that staff are given free chocolate. However, the company has recently implemented a health plan encouraging staff to stay fit. “It really fits with the Mars culture,” says Turner. “It is very open, quite innovative and forward-thinking, so something like the healthcare plan, which is more about going forward with wellness, works well.”

Turner was named Pensions manager of the year by Pensions Management and Professional Pensions magazines in 2001, and served on the Government Pensions Task Force from 2003 to 2005 and the DSS Pensions Implementation Group from 1999 to 2001.

He believes one of the biggest challenges facing benefits professionals now is “politics winning over common sense”. He explains: “Because of short-term politics, we have got the high-earners issue where our high earners are going to be taxed upfront on pensions benefits they may not even receive, which is an untenable position. I, along with every other pensions and benefits director in the country, will be keeping an eye on that.”

Curriculum Vitae: Ralph Turner

  • 2008-present pensions and benefits director, Mars Group
  • 2007-2008 vice-president, benefits, ICI
  • 2003-2006 global pensions director, Brambles Industries
  • 1992-2003 group pensions manager and group benefits manager, Emap
  • 1984-1992 assistant pensions manager and international benefits co-ordinator, Thorn EMI
  • 1980-1984 senior pensions administrator, Swiss Life Insurance and Pensions
  • 1977-1980 pensions officer, CT Bowring and Layborn
  • 1976-1977 pensions documentation clerk, Clerical Medical and General Insurance


What are your attributes?

I am pragmatic; I have a get-it-done attitude. I am determined to push issues I believe in.

Do you read management books?

I would recommend anything by John Maxwell. He has written a book called 21 Irrefutable laws of leadership that is particularly good.

What is your ambition?

One of my long-term goals is to do an MA [degree] in theology, but at the same time not lose my links to the pensions and benefits industry.