· Features

Interview with Anne Minto OBE, ex-group HRD at Centrica

Is it the sign of the times – or the mark of the profession – that an HR director, leaving the profession forever, would rather talk about the people she has developed that discuss her own career developments?

Anne Minto OBE, has just weeks to go before her retirement as group HR director at Centrica when she meets HR magazine. "I keep having 'last lunches' with colleagues" she says, visibly emotional about leaving the company she joined 10 years ago, so one of the UK's most successful and influential HRDs is finally wrapping things up.

"I didn't want to be here when I was 60 [she is 57];" she adds. "Or for people to think I was never going to go. I wanted to pass the baton on. This year was the right time to do it."

What clear, is that while Centrica may have lost Minto, the processes and practices she put in place will be there for some time yet. "I'm not going to be worried about who's running the business," she says confidently. She knows she's done a good job, the profession thinks she has too.

And the HRD community will not be without her for too long. She says it's virtually certain we'll see her in some governmental advisory role soon. Watch this space…

But it's not quite over yet for the former qualified lawyer. Minto has previously been a non-exec at Northumbrian Water and SITA UK, and she will continue being a non-executive director at Shire, where she is chair of its remuneration committee. She says doing this brought many new skills back to Centrica, and her last piece of advice is that she wants more HRDs to do the same:

"It enriches you; it's a missed opportunity not to try something like this," she imparts. "But it's also a poor reflection on chairman of companies, if they don't see HRDs as being able to give them something back."

For the most part, Minto is coy about exactly where she'll be seen next. "I'm in discussions to take on other NED roles," she confirms. "And any company I did join would have to have exemplary ethical and CSR credentials. That's something I'm not prepared to compromise on."

Minto, formerly HRD of Smith Group, says setting up the Centrica talent pipeline will be her lasting legacy, and while making passing shots is not her style, she is critical of HR professionals that forget about what being an HRD is all about: rolling up their sleeves up and talking to people.

"You can't leave talent in organisations that hasn't been spotted," she says. "There was a time when Centrica looked outside for practically all its roles; not anymore. If HRDs spent all the money they give to head-hunters, they could have their own grad scheme with cash leftover." She adds: "I've made a point of talking to everyone in my career; because everyone may be high potential. It's given me a huge buzz giving people the opportunity to have great careers. I'll miss these people the most."

Minto may now be outside the Centrica family, but she is generous with her advice, saying HRDs must: "have instinct". She says only by "peeling away the veneers of people, to find the real person underneath," will HRD contribute to help in what she calls "taking the business to bigger and dizzier heights." She says her [and other HRDs'] real job title is that of 'chief scout', and that doing this properly is all about having something which might sound old-school in today's fast pace of business life: time. "I don't understand HRDs who think they know everything about someone after 45 minutes," she huffs.

And, while modest about her own career aspirations, the woman who has quietly made a huge impact in HR - not least in campaigning for flexible working, equal pay (she was one of the first FTSE 100 HRDs to introduce equal pay audits), and female board representation (Centrica chairman, Sir Roger Carr, heads up the 30% Club, aiming to raise the current 12% of UK boards with a woman on it to 30%), is much more enthusiastic to talk about Centrica's new group HRD.

"Jill [Sheddon - who has taken over the reigns from Minto] joined as a grad 23 years ago; I'm so pleased the boss chose an internal candidate to succeed me," she continues. "It sends a very strong signal to our top 50 that there are career paths here."

But how does she sum up her career in HR? The highs, she says, include knowing that 30% of Centrica's grads now come from its summer placements, or that 500 apprentices train each year. Even the lows (such as when its call centres were consistently voted the worst), have provided her opportunities. Today its Cardiff contact centre has just been voted best in Europe for an unprecedented 2nd year running.

"I think the point is I've always been pragmatic," she says. "You have to have credibility, and you have to do your homework, and you have to ask all the questions of stakeholders. Only then do you have the right to be able to say you've helped your company become an employer of choice."