Esther O'Halloran: making the jump from HRD to MD at Paul UK


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I began my early career in retail fashion management and worked my way up from the shop floor to general manager at H&M, Oxford Circus.

I had already gained a good insight into customer behaviour and what it's like to work in retail in both small and large teams. On deciding to change career direction slightly, I moved into the hospitality sector as an operations area manager, with Whitbread which involved multi-site management of a number of branded restaurants and pub hotels including Brewers Fayre and Premier Inns.

This experience helped me to broaden my management skills and practical business knowledge, I became very results focused and quickly developed a good understanding of business metrics and finance, which has helped me ever since. Whilst working in an operations role an opportunity arose in HR. I was successful in persuading the then HR director of Costa Coffee to take a risk on me and allow me to change career direction to become its recruitment & retention manager. I have successfully specialised in HR for the past 11 years and have been able to develop to a senior HRD level, working with great brands including Pret a Manger, EAT and SpaceNK..

My broad work experience; retail shop floor, area operational business, HR specialist and generalist roles, has given me a great insight into understanding the real impact staff can have on business, particularly if they feel unmotivated. I consider the way in which we implement changes and how we work and think about the end user at all times.

People often say the leadership at the top dictates the tone of the business, so the question to ask is what are senior managers or HR business partners doing to really engage their employees? How do senior managers behave in the business? Do they spend time encouraging their people to succeed and reward or acknowledge efforts? Do they really know their business and spend time in it? Are they approachable or do people dread it if they are coming down to the 'shop floor'?

HR business partners often set the people strategy and agenda but do they in turn know enough about the business and what its overall aims are and how the other functions link into the business strategy? Do they know the right questions to ask and understand some of the other key business measurements used in other functions to measure success? Are they curious enough to want to find out? Do they put financial numbers to the HR KPI's?

Being credible has been an enormous advantage to me and fully understanding all aspects of our business, not just the HR function, has enabled me to make the transition from HRD to MD at PAUL, effective from January 2012.

It has also been a real passion and conviction for me, without engaging people at all different levels you really won't have a successful business for very long. You don't have to have a complicated engagement strategy but you do have to have one that is right for the culture of your business.

Esther O'Halloran (pictured) was recently appointed Managing Director at Paul UK. Speaking at the CIPD HR Business Partner Conference, 15 March 2012 she will discuss the role of the business partner in engaging employees and the best practice approach to this.


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