Interview with Claire Sykes, director of compensation and benefits at Molson Coors Brewing Company

Claire Sykes, director of compensation and benefits at Molson Coors Brewing Company, says good teamwork is essential to meet the challenges of delivering reward in a global firm

If anyone wanted proof that HR does not deserve its light and fluffy reputation, they need look no further than compensation and benefits. As the department responsible for complex calculations on elements of reward, numeracy and analytical skills are essential for a career in the field.

A background in finance and tax is therefore an ideal stepping stone towards a career in reward. That was the path taken by Claire Sykes, director of compensation and benefits at Molson Coors Brewing Company. Having begun her career with a professional consultancy firm, Sykes moved into industry when she become head of tax at brewer Bass – now part of Molson Coors UK.

She made the jump to reward after several years in the tax role. “The role of head of reward came up and I was looking for something new to get my teeth into,” she says. “I seemed to be quite drawn to it because it was still very numerate and analytical, but there was the people side to it. So I took on the role about five years ago. It started off as being head of reward, then it gradually grew to take on benefits, and at the end of last year [I took on] responsibility for pensions, too.”


But although there are many similarities between the two functions, Sykes has had to overcome some differences. For example, communication is far more important in her current role. “Coming from a finance background, communication was not quite so important,” she says. “To some extent it was in tax, because you had to talk to people and tell them how to do things in a tax-efficient way, but with HR and the processes you deal with that touch everybody in the company, like the annual salary cycle, you have to be very targeted with communication and open to different ways of communicating to get your message through.”

Some of the biggest career challenges Sykes has faced have resulted from the increasing globalisation of business. “That has evolved over the last five or six years,” she says. “One of the biggest challenges is to develop and work as part of a global team, as well as working and serving your own business unit. That is a huge challenge, and getting global projects to fruition as well as making sure they are relevant and good for your own business.”

Global business

Working within a global business means no two days are the same for Sykes. “When I come in [to work] in the morning, I have got all the overnight emails from New Zealand and Canada, so that is usually the start of my day, clearing through those and checking what has happened. But otherwise, it is completely varied. I could be attending a pension trustee board meeting, or spending some time with the team on a technical reward issue or on pensions. It really is varied and that makes it interesting.”

To ensure the reward function is as effective as possible, Sykes recommends compensation and benefits professionals ensure they do not work in isolation within an organisation. “It is about being an integral part of the HR team, so about taking opportunities to work with the operational HR people,” she says. “Make as many opportunities as you can to do that rather than being this technical person who sits in a corner and churns stuff out. I think you are much more effective if you are really, truly part of the HR team.”


How would colleagues describe you?
The thing my colleagues say about me is I am calm under pressure, so I am a go-to person to deal with situations. I am quite a strategic thinker as well. I think I am quite even-handed and a fair person.

What are your career ambitions?
Ultimately, I would like to be head of reward at a bigger global company.

Do you read management books?
I prefer to read publications like Employee Benefits – journals that are relevant to our areas of expertise, because I have picked up so much more from those about what other people are doing. Also, networking events and conferences, where you get to hear what others are doing, are more useful than quite technical manuals.

2007-present director of compensation and benefits, Molson Coors UK
2003-2007 head of reward, Coors Brewers
1999-2003 head of tax, Bass
1997-1999 tax manager, Bass (pubs division)