Hewden has been making the headlines recently and Mark Goldsmith our Head of Building Products was keen to meet with one of their long-serving directors Susan Shardlow to get an overview of her time with the company. During her 15 years there Susan has managed the finance, commercial and new business introduction areas of the business. Here is what they discussed:
Mark: During your time at Hewden, you have witnessed the role of Finance Director evolve. Certainly in my experience recruiting such roles, companies are no longer looking for FD’s to solely balance the books and manage a team of clerks. Which areas of the modern day FD role have you particularly enjoyed managing?
Susan: For me the exciting part of being an FD is the opportunity to be part of shaping the strategy of the business, providing the tools and support to help the business to grow in both revenue and profitability. This has been both through organic growth and acquisition of new businesses/disposals where appropriate. This also means that the finance team has to continually challenge its size/constitution/skillset and I have managed a number of projects which have delivered new systems and back-office structures to effectively support the business. One of the most significant and most challenging was the project I led in 2004 to create ‘One Hewden’ – a project which dramatically changed the structure of both the customer facing and back office side of the business.
Mark: Combining the seven separate entities into the ‘One Hewden’ name back in 2004 must have been quite a challenge. What key ingredients would you say makes up an efficient integration team?
Susan: It is critical to plan effectively and comprehensively for all aspects of the integration. Also to identify the resource required to complete the project with the appropriate skills. I brought in a limited external resource to complement the skills of the project team, but also secured the release of the critical internal resource from their day jobs. This size of a project cannot be successfully completed if team members are trying to balance the significant workload of a complicated major project with their day job.
Mark: What were the main challenges to integrating these seven, individually successful, companies and how did you overcome them?
Susan: Surprisingly even though the 7 companies were part of the same parent, the processes and more importantly the cultures were very different. It was important that whilst we planned for the more technical side of the integration, that was also considered and planned to take the people with us. I had to ensure that where depots had been physically segregated into separate companies, that we carefully managed people through the change curve, communicated effectively and managed the practical issues that arose. From a back office perspective, I recognised the challenge to manage the handover from the old team to the new. A number of roles were to be made redundant and we made sure to communicate and treat people with respect for their contribution and experience. Support was also put in place to help employees to find their next role, which made the transition much smoother
Mark: For many years you have been fronting large teams within various departments. Who has been your most inspiring manager and what have you taken from them when managing for yourself?
Susan: I have worked with a number inspiring managers in my various teams, but have probably learned the most from a couple that were not so good! In these cases the managers did not understand the impact on their teams of over controlling and lack of empowerment and trust. My mantra has always been to treat people in my team as I would like to be treated myself – this includes good two way communication and empowerment, but with full support as and when required.
Mark: When communicating any change programme to the company, what key elements do you stick to in ensuring it achieves maximum, maintainable results?
Susan: In my experience regular, relevant and honest communication is critical to keeping employees engaged. Someone once told me that messages have to be communicated at least 7 times before they are heard by the recipient and this is so true. It is always best to communicate face to face or through a call, email is a really bad way to communicate since there is no opportunity for feedback and questions. People need that chance to express fears and concerns and to ask for clarity.
Mark: Aside from Hewden you have been a Non-Executive Director of Staffordshire Housing Association. Over recent years, how have housing associations advanced into becoming more commercial bodies and what has your role been within this?
Susan: The funding landscape for housing associations has changed considerably over recent years as a result of the various austerity measures. The desire to continue to provide affordable social housing continues, but boards are now realising the need to refocus into more commercial areas to subsidise the development activities. I have worked closely with the Chief Executive and Board to change the shape/focus of the senior leadership team and the board to provide a different/broader skillset to challenge the strategic direction of the business. The team has now refocussed on its priorities, to ensure that the organisation can continue to have sufficient funds to satisfy its objectives to support the vulnerable people in Staffordshire.