Sara Edwards, vice president HR at Maybourne Hotel Group, has a formidable background in the leisure sector, and has seen HR become more commercially driven.
If it wasn’t for untimely defence cuts, Sara Edwards, vice president, human resources at Maybourne Hotel Group (formally The Savoy Group), could have started down a very different career path as a catering officer in the Royal Air Force (RAF).
Between 1993 and 1985, Edwards did a higher national diploma in hotel management with the view to taking up a catering role in the RAF. She was selected to enter the service but defence cuts delayed her entry for a year. While waiting for her call-up, Edwards embarked on a trainee management scheme with Swallow Hotels and the RAF’s loss became HR’s gain.
For the last 25 years, Edwards has worked in HR in the hotels sector, but that is about to change, as she moves into the retail sector, taking up the role of human resources and change director at Liberty Group from January next year. She will be tasked with implementing a cultural change within the business to help it become a recognised leader in luxury goods retailing.
Her experience in the hotel industry and its emphasis on quality service should stand her in good stead. During her career, she has worked for Select Country House Hotels, Inter-Continental Hotels and The Savoy Group, which was bought by property and investment group Quinlan Private in 2004. The Savoy hotel was sold off in 2005, leaving The Berkeley, Claridge’s and The Connaught operating under the banner of the Maybourne Hotel Group.
Although Edwards started out working in personnel and training, her more senior roles have involved dealing with employee benefits and business issues. This reflects the shift in HR that Edwards has witnessed during her career. “[HR] was more of a tea and sympathy type of approach, an administrative function, whereas now it’s definitely not that. It’s much more commercially driven,” she says.
To ensure credibility within an organisation, the HR professional, she adds, needs to be involved with all aspects of business.
Although Edwards believes that reward and benefits should support the business strategy, this approach does not require embarking on expensive initiatives. One of her favourite benefits is a recognition scheme that offers employees instant gratification through rewards readily available to the hotel group.
Going for Gold was created by Edwards on the back of an employee survey that showed employees wanted an immediate reward system with non-monetary prizes. A manager can invite an employee who has performed well, for example by delivering exemplary service or helping a colleague, to pick a card describing a reward from a lucky dip jar. Prizes include: an extra day’s holiday, shopping vouchers, a lie-in or the general manager’s parking space for a week. The top prize is a night in a penthouse.
Although employees have responded positively to the scheme, financial reward is also important, according to Edwards. “I wouldn’t say I value non-monetary rewards over money, I think sometimes it’s a combination of the two.”
She also supports rewards linked to the performance of the business and believes that benefits play an important role in ensuring employees’ sense of pride and loyalty in their employer by reinforcing the organisation’s culture. This, she says, will prove significant going forward in the increasingly-competitive fight to recruit and retain staff.
Perhaps an even bigger challenge than keeping top talent, Edwards says, is keeping up with legislative change and implicated bureaucracy. However, she warns that changes such as age legislation are sometimes over-hyped in terms of their possible impact. She says: “It’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be, just be aware of changes.”
- 2005-to present Vice president HR of The Maybourne Group, formerly The Savoy Group†
- 2003-2004 Group director of HR at The Savoy Group†
- 1999-2003 Director of HR at Claridge’s, part of The Savoy Group†
- 1994-1998 Regional HR manager, Benelux Region at Forum Inter-Continental Hotel†
- 1991-1994 Personnel and training manager at a Swallow International Hotel 1990-1991 Personnel and training manager at Select Country House Hotels†
- 1985-1990 Various hotel management roles with Swallow Hotels in different business areas, including HR.
What have you learned along the way?
Don’t take yourself or situations generally too seriously. Apply logic, common sense, the law, be empathetic or understand the issues.
Do you have any tips?
Don’t sit in your ivory tower and just push paper. You have to get out there, talk to people, find out what’s going on and listen. Once you have listened, you have to react.
How do you prove the value of an initiative?
You have to understand what it is your audience needs from you. If I’m presenting a new initiative or benefit, I need to know what buttons to press to engage everyone round the table. It’s important to show it’s in line with your company’s vision and values, and with budgetary requirements.