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Adnams' HRD: junior talent should be encouraged to aim high

Junior talent should be encouraged to aim high, Karen Hester, chief operating officer and HR director at brewer and distiller Adnams, told HR magazine.

“What I have learnt over the years is if you can spot talent early and bring that person through so they progress with the company you get a lot of mutual respect and loyalty, because I’m not asking someone to do something I’ve not done,” she said.

Hester started at the business as a cleaner in 1988, and has progressed through various roles, including head of logistics, director of customer service and operations director, to become, in 2014, the first woman to sit on Adnams' board since it was founded in 1872.

Once potential has been identified it’s about giving people the autonomy to fully demonstrate and deliver on it, said Hester, who was trusted with leading the relocation of the Adnams headquarters to a new site in 2000, after pitching the idea to the board.

“It’s about giving people the opportunity to shine,” said Hester. “When you have 400-plus employees you don’t want to miss the quiet ones.

"I never judge a book by its cover. I don't think someone in a delivery uniform has any less potential than someone in an Armani suit."

Developing talent involves offering diverse training opportunities, explained Hester, reporting that the business has people undertaking all sorts of qualifications from wine courses to MBAs. For those being primed for senior roles mental resilience training is vital, she said.

Hester emphasised that it’s important not to push people into development opportunities. “An individual has to be treated as an individual. Some people will stay in the same job for 40 years. As long as they are happy with that I’m happy with that. But then some other people need a challenge.”

She added that although 70% of the Adnams senior management team started on the shop floor, it’s also important to bring in external talent. “Otherwise you can get too entrenched in your way of doing things. That can be very dangerous and can breed complacency,” she said.