· People

Sharon Benson, HR director, Studio Retail

Sharon Benson is an experienced HR executive with a proven track record of partnering with board members and private equity stakeholders

Benson joined Studio Retail (formerly Express Gifts) in August 2017 as the group’s first HR director, tasked with overhauling its HR approach and supporting wider business transformation to drive enhanced commercial return for shareholders.

Benson is passionate about delivering sustainable business growth by placing colleagues at the heart of the development programme. A specialist in transformation, she is an advocate of commercially-focused employee value propositions, helping businesses understand how improved customer numbers, profit and social responsibility start with colleagues.

In just two years with the online value retailer her strategic focus has enabled big changes in the culture and the business, as well as taking steps to futureproofing Studio Retail. This has seen the business move away from zero-hours contracts to annualised contracts and the mean gender pay gap reduced to 4%. She’s also implemented and overseen a major organisational restructure. This eight-month internal process has seen headcount increase by 50 permanent positions across the company.

A major part of her role has seen her lead the rebrand from Express Gifts to Studio Retail (consumer facing since April 2019) for internal audiences and bringing to life ‘the customer at the heart of everything we do’ ethos.

Benson has been instrumental in the digital transformation of provision of HR services, which complements the company’s ‘digital-first’ strategy with the HR ‘customer at the heart of everything we do’ vision. She has centralised core HR services through a shared services model, restructuring all transactional activity in one team to enable the streamlining and consolidation of HR processes. Benson has expanded the HR service offering beyond transactional and operational to include commercial strategic business partnering where her team work collaboratively and proactively with all business areas to maximise the performance and potential of colleagues.

As part of her commitment to the local community Benson is an active member of the Amazing Accrington Board, which aims to promote the Accrington region as a great place to live and work, encouraging the government to realise the North’s true potential and to invest further. She was also instrumental in brokering a deal with Accrington Stanley Football Club for Studio Retail to become an official partner.

Benson joined the business from Acorn Care and Education where she successfully made positive improvements across all key people metrics to enhance the commercial value of the group, prior to its successful sale to NFA. Increasing employee retention by 23% and reducing turnover to a care sector low of just 20%. Benson supported business growth by hiring 43% more colleagues than forecast within the original budget, saving the business more than £1 million in ongoing operating costs.

Benson’s career highlights also include:

  • Leading the largest component of the Co-operative Group ‘OneHR’ transformation programme to develop phase one organisation design that would significantly reduce ongoing HR operating costs.
  • Supported Keoghs to secure private equity funding to expand and consolidate legal services market.
  • Secondment from HR to the strategy and transformation team of Northern Rock that oversaw the restructure and successful sale to Virgin Money, leveraging her strong relationship with Unite.
  • Voted Personnel Today’s HR Director of the Year in 2007 during her first year in directorship.
  • Voted DWF Outstanding Leader in HR in 2007.