HR directors with a global or Europe, Middle East and Africa remit who occupy senior positions within the financial services sector will ordinarily have enjoyed a successful first career elsewhere, before moving across and starting their ‘second’ one.
As the strategic importance of HR – and all of its constituent parts, which includes talent attraction, retention and development – grows in recognition and importance in the world of financial services, the area is becoming increasingly alluring for true HR high flyers.
Whatever people say – rightly or wrongly – about trading floors still being bastions of male dominance, in these days of diversity and equality it’s gratifying to report that the typical financial services HR director is equally likely to be male or female.
And age is not a barrier to success either, with roles being filled by the brightest and the best who are typically aged between 35 and 65.
In terms of early career, such people will traditionally have had a strong educational background with at least a first degree gained from a red brick university.
In addition to the usual CIPD post-grad qualifications, they may well have been sponsored by their employer at the mid-career stage to study for further academic and commercial business qualifications such as an MBA, with the specific aim of bringing more commercial nous to the role and strengthening their CV at the same time.
More likely than not in their very first role, the financial services HRD of the future will have joined a graduate trainee scheme within a blue chip company such as Ford, Nestle, BP or Rolls Royce to name but a few.
It is not unusual for people to spend 10 or more years in blue chips of this sort – very possibly moving from one to another, before making a move into financial services at this 10 or 12 year stage in their career.
Assuming that they have moved directly into – or arrived from – the HR function, very few will immediately jump into a ‘head of’ position at this time, however.
They will instead be more likely to join their employer as a senior HR business partner in a defined business area – and it doesn’t make too much difference at this point whether the post is in the infrastructure or global markets arena.
As they progress in their financial services career, their remit will expand to cover larger population sizes, more geographical territories and more in-depth stakeholder management.
It is also highly probable that these future HRDs will spend some time on an international assignment within one of the major banking hubs (London, New York, Hong Kong or Singapore) in order to broaden not just their HR experience but their cultural understanding as well – something that is becoming increasingly crucial in this era of rapidly expanding globalisation.
To ensure that they are suitably well-rounded, however, another important consideration for a potential HR director is to become involved in various major cross-functional projects outside of their day-to-day responsibilities – and even their specialism. Possible areas here might include compensation and benefits or talent, learning and development.
But it is by gaining exposure to all areas of HR that people will really be able to climb the ladder to the top-of-the-shop position – and international experience will inevitably prove essential if the aim is to assume an EMEA or global role.
While there will always be exceptions to the well-trodden career path illustrated above, it is rare these days to find a financial services organisation that looks externally for a new group HR director.
Appropriate succession planning and internal talent management programmes (another key area of expertise for successful HRDs in this field) are progressively ensuring that people who are at a certain stage in their career are ready to step into the top slot.
And your typical senior HR director in this sector is an ambitious beast and real high flyer – after a suitable period successfully managing the human capital function, they are more than likely to be eyeing a move into the most senior of executive positions such as chief operating officer.
But it inevitably takes time to acquire all of the skills required to perform the head of HR role, both from a core skills perspective and in terms of gaining a deep understanding of how the organisation is structured and how it operates across multiple international geographies.
Nonetheless, the crème de la crème will have a true ability to lead and will have honed their relationship management skills in order to ensure that they are second-to-none.