What keeps Edward Fitzmaurice, CEO of Hastings Direct, up at night

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We have to have the type of people that will absorb our culture and turn that into performance.

The recession may finally be over, but we're still in tough times, and in tough times it's my belief that businesses need to manage people much more (not less), intensively, but they need to do it with a lightness of touch.

It's all about being able to move on, and being able to adapt to changing circumstances. For while we all need to acknowledge that some employees will have moved on, we also need to remember that if the people that remain are not able to respond to change, business will still struggle to survive.

I talk about this from first-hand experience. In 2009, when the management team and I bought Hastings Direct, the business had been travelling backwards for a couple of years. So much so that we had seen staff numbers fall to 600. But in the last year, we've grown back up to 900 employees because I believe we have gone back to basics - we're concentrating on doing things better, and growing our customer service.

This is just the attitude all businesses need to take. We, like many service-sector suppliers nowadays sell very similar products. The only way we can genuinely differentiate our products is by how motivated our staff are. What has helped us grow is having the right people who share our values. That's why my HR director sits on the top table; because she intuitively helps middle managers improve their management skills, and this helps improve the business.

When you come from a supply/operations role - as I did working for Dixons for three years - you know what it's like to make sure you do your best for distribution centre workers, people who are working for you in the middle of the night. It really grounds you; it still ranks as one of my most formative periods in my career. Why? Because the best way to go through any type of business transformation is to have staff who already know what you are thinking, and can respond quickly to the change.

Business in general will continually have to change, and will do so much more rapidly to respond to the new demands of an ever-changing market. This means getting the right culture in place is vital. I know we could not have achieved what we're achieving without our staff helping us in going through the journey.

I talk to my HR director daily, mainly about the values we want to create in the business. The next task is how we properly align ourselves behind it. To ensure this happens we've recently introduced performance reviews around our values, for example. We also now conduct 'values reviews', rather than just people ones. With a business that is growing, you have to have the right type of people - people that will absorb our culture and turn that into performance. We're only 13 years old; we're a relative newcomer to the budget insurance market, but if we align goals, right from myself to the everyday call-centre worker, this is what I believe our future success will be based on. It's what other businesses success could be based on too. One of the reasons I love working at Hastings Direct is that we're still a small company. That means we're still able to treat people like individuals - from our customers, to everyone who works here.

Edward Fitzmaurice is CEO, Hastings Direct

Hastings Direct in a minute
Established: 1997 offering car insurance
2009: Management buyout
2009: Entered the high street
February 2010: 600,000th customer milestone
Volume of business has grown by 50% in the past year
Staff numbers: 900

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