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Interview: In the O2 spotlight

Sian Harrington , 08 Sep 2008

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As head of HR for AEG Europe, US owner of high-profile live music venue The O2, Genevieve Glover's priority is to ensure staffing and customer service stand up to scrutiny. Sian Harrington reports.

What do you do when you have already been lauded as the world's most popular venue for live music? Host the world's biggest and best nightclub of course. At least that is what London venue The O2 will be hoping when the 2,600-capacity Matter, run by one of UK clubland's top operators Fabric, opens its doors on the bank of the Thames this month.

The launch has been creating waves in London's club scene since it first emerged that Fabric would be taking its second site, under the former Millennium Dome. Both The O2's owner, US sports and entertainment giant Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), and Fabric's founder, Keith Reilly, can be praised for taking risks - the former for having the foresight to take what had become a national joke and some £600 million later turning it into a venue of international standing; the latter for accepting the advances of AEG and developing its first purpose-built club in not-yet-regarded-as-fashionable south-east London.

If all the talk is correct, Matter will be impressive, with a body kinetic dance floor that vibrates with the beat, 3D visuals and interlocking screens as well as performing arts and the top DJs and dance acts in the world.

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For The O2, sponsored by the mobile phone company for £6 million a year, it will build on a successful first year that has seen acts ranging from Prince, the Spice Girls and Led Zeppelin to Dolly Parton and Barbra Streisand bring in more than 800,000 ticket sales to the 20,000 seat arena in the first six months (ahead of Wembley's 248,000 and New York's Madison Square Garden's 313,000). A million tickets were sold even before it opened. Add in the tickets sold for the Tutankhamen exhibition in The O2 Bubble, plus those for the smaller live music venue Indigo2, and visits to the multiplex cinema and plethora of bars and restaurants, and London's first purpose-built music venue since the Royal Albert Hall in 1871 can certainly be deemed a success.

All of which makes head of HR Genevieve Glover proud to work at The O2. But, two years after joining AEG Europe in the role of executive director human solutions, she barely has time to reflect on the achievements, for plans are now taking shape for phase two (there is still 860 sq ft of space on the 28-acre site to develop within the next four years, which will take investment to the £700 million mark). Oh, and there is also the small matter of the 2012 Olympics: the venue will be hosting gymnastics and basketball.

Not that all this worries her. After all, prior to joining AEG Europe she worked in the fitness industry for 11 years and got used to a fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment in which every action has a direct impact. As director of HR and client services at corporate health management company Businesshealth she compiled all HR processes and policies, oversaw recruitment and training programmes, tripled staff numbers in 12 months, contributed to sales and marketing strategy and product development.

She was therefore well placed to take on the challenges of developing AEG Europe's HR strategy. Initially the focus was on creating the foundation for the delivery of operational HR and ensuring The O2 opened on time, on budget and with the right team in June 2007. However, Glover also supports other AEG companies: AEG Live (music promotion) based in London, Sheffield, Sweden and Dubai; Kilimanjaro (music promotion), The David Beckham Academy and Thames Clippers. AEG Europe acquired a majority shareholding in the latter two years ago. During the past year Thames Clippers, which operates the capital's largest fleet of commuter boats, has purchased six more boats and doubled staff numbers. Glover also maintains responsibility for AEG's CSR approach and customer services.

As if that isn't enough, there is the issue of dealing with head office in the US. The O2 is AEG's first foray outside its native market so the chiefs were keen to be involved at the beginning. But this did not put Glover off. "I spent the first six months getting them to trust me," she says. "Much of the role was about managing American expectations. We wanted their support but needed our autonomy. Luckily I was able to keep them at arm's length in my job." What did strike Glover was the different approach between the US and UK when it came to HR. "I spoke at the Global HR forum in LA and shook things up a bit," she laughs. "There is quite a difference between their approach and what we wanted to deliver. They tend to recruit admin staff to be HR professionals while we are more strategic over here."

For example, the US still had paper-based systems for its 3,000 staff. Glover immediately wanted an HR information system. Also, AEG in the US has a stronger link with sports and runs 179 sporting events at which the audience tends to be regular attendees with their own seat.Here the company is focused more on music so the service element needs to be designed accordingly.

"The US had processes but I chucked them in the bin and started from scratch," says Glover, adding that she'd "love to get her teeth in over there".

With so many spotlights on The O2, any weakness is sure to be revealed. So ensuring staffing and customer service are up to scratch is a priority for Glover.

"From the beginning Mike (Potter - The O2's general manager) was clear that customer service should be aligned with five-star hotels," Glover says. In fact, the recruitment and training and development managers both came from five-star hotels. "Customer service is what really marks us out," she adds, conceding: "I am not saying we have got there yet but we're significantly different from others in this area."

One of the ways this has been achieved is through implementing what Glover calls a "sustainable recruitment" strategy. At the outset she set up a relationship with GLLaB (Greenwich Local Labour and Business) to maximise job and training opportunities for local people. The idea was to bring a legacy to the local area, which has an unemployment rate 0.7% higher than the average for London. "Now 42% of the operations team are from the local area," she says, "which is good for us as we are putting something back into the area. Also, a lot of front-line staff are local, so they are already proud of the building and many actually worked at the Dome before we took over."

Keeping things local has helped retention. Instead of the industry average turnover of 50%, the company's is 21%.

But committing to such an approach can often mean a compromise on standards in order to fulfil the 'quota'. Glover stresses that this has never been the case in Greenwich, mainly thanks to the partnership with GLLaB, Greenwich Community College and London Leisure College. Together with AEG Europe a pre-employment training programme was developed to prepare Greenwich residents for opportunities at The O2 and increase the likelihood of them achieving employment on the completion of the externally accredited courses. Those who passed were fast-tracked into the selection process.

The programme was promoted in roadshows across the boroughs, during which interested residents could be registered for the pre-employment training scheme. Some 1,500 jobs were initially available, of which 200 were permanent roles with AEG. The remainder were with its tenants and contractors. "It helped us to get to hard-to-reach groups and focus on areas such as customer service, diversity and health and safety," Glover explains.

It also meant that AEG was able to pull from a ready-made labour pool for its tenants and contractual partners. This commitment to local recruitment has since been included into the tenants' terms and conditions and has helped the company to pick up a number of awards.

But Glover is not content with sitting back and looking at the past. "We need to show we can continue to raise the bar in the sector and that we are not just a first year venue," she says.

For that reason, succession planning is her new focus. Developing local employees is one strategy, making the leadership team aware of the opportunities beyond the UK is another. On 13 September The 02 World arena in Berlin opens and other sites are earmarked in Europe. And there is the chance to get the Olympics on the CV of course.

In addition to all this Glover will this month be reviewing the company's benefits package. She is also looking to fill middle-management and more junior positions having recruited more senior people in the past few months.

Certainly she knows a thing or two about teamwork, having been vice president of Wasp FC and a member of England A women's rugby team. She is still honorary secretary of Wasps and keeps up the fitness with pilates, "going to the gym a lot" and surfing.

So how does playing with Wasps measure up against working at The O2. "I have never worked with such a determined and focused team," she says of the latter, adding that in the lead-up to launch: "No one had bigger bags under their eyes than anyone else."

The sleepless nights were worth it when, without a hitch, rock band Bon Jovi kicked off the launch of The O2. "When we got Jon Bon Jovi off the boat I got goosebumps," Glover admits.

When not keeping fit, Glover enjoys eating, drinking, socialising and music: "Prince was amazing and I would like to see Michael Jackson here next." So all her needs are on her doorstep. You could say Glover has the perfect job.

CV

1970: Born Royal Leamington Spa; educated Sheffield City Polytechnic - BA in recreation management; University of Westminnster - MA in human resource management

1991: Fitness instructor/assistant manager roles, Fitness for Industry

1993: Fitness gallery manager, the Savoy Hotel

1995: HR and regional account manager, Bladerunner Corporate Fitness

2001: Director of HR and client services, Businesshealth UK

2006: Executive director, human solutions, AEG Europe

Outside interests: Keeping fit, music.

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