I joined the former British Gas in 1988 as a graduate trainee in Marketing. But the company I joined was very different from Centrica today.
I chose Centrica because I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of how businesses worked, and I quickly got that in British Gas. My two years on the graduate programme gave me the opportunity to think about where I wanted to take my career and I quickly realised that what fascinated me was people and what made them tick, so I made the move into HR.
Since the formation of Centrica in 1997, I've worked in Corporate Centre, different parts of British Gas and then Centrica Energy, before taking on my biggest challenge yet, moving in July to become Group HR Director.
It's a dynamic company going through an exciting time. One of the many things that have made me stay is that the passion I have for people is very much mirrored throughout the organisation, and I think that's been a key driver of our company's success. I can honestly say I've never been tempted to go anywhere else because I have been fortunate enough to get all the career opportunities and progression I needed. Even from early on, I had the chance to become involved in strategic HR and in working with leadership teams.
I did a four year course at the University College of Swansea studying a BSc in Management Science. As part of the course I spent a year at the University of Massachusetts. Starting out in Marketing I took a Post Graduate Diploma in Marketing. Since then, I've also gained a Masters in Management Development.
Probably in British Gas in 2007 when the business was suffering its biggest customer service issues as a result of the new IT system. We needed to reorganise ourselves completely and change the culture to one where our people were at the heart of everything we did as a leadership team, and our customers were at the heart of everything we did as a business.
We worked hard to make sure the people on the frontline, the people talking to our customers, were fully informed and supported. We gave everyone access to email, which they had never had before, and set up a blog from Phil Bentley, Managing Director of British Gas, giving everyone the ability to connect with him directly.
After a year, we saw a levelling off of customer losses. Then we saw employee engagement start to increase, and with it customer satisfaction, customer numbers and business success. Our own people then voted British Gas the 17th Best Big Company to Work for in the UK in 2009 in the Sunday Times, and the business has gone from strength to strength ever since.
There's a big skills challenge ahead of us in this industry; highly skilled people are moving towards retirement and we don't have the numbers of people coming through to replace them. In particular, we need new skills to lead the transition to a low carbon world and we still, of course, need the traditional skills. So attracting and retaining the best people in each of our businesses will continue to be a challenge we will have to rise to.
We are also looking at the future of work. The UK population is living longer, which means we'll be working together for longer. In ten years from now, we will have three generations at work at the same time. Also, technology is moving incredibly quickly, and it is having a considerable impact on the working environment, communications and people's work-life balance. For example, working from home is now increasingly accepted. All this combines to create some exciting HR challenges, and opportunities as well.
When I first started with British Gas, I was the only one in the room talking about people and engagement. Five years later, I found that I couldn't get a word in edgeways. Everyone wanted to talk about engagement. For me, that was a huge achievement and showed that we had started to change the culture of the business.
Over the years, we've continued to work very hard as a profession at having conversations that champion the belief that it is people who are central, and we need to maintain this focus in order to make the difference. As a result, the role of HR has become much more central, with leadership teams accepting that HR professionals have the skills to make change happen. I feel extremely proud to have played a part in that transformation.
We believe in helping people realise their full potential, so we continually invest in the development needed to ensure they have the skills that they and we will require in the future. Mobility is critical to our business, so we encourage people to experience new challenges and build a broader skills-set through secondments, placements and projects. My best tip for new graduates is to take advantage of everything that Centrica has to offer. After all, our graduates are part of one of the best graduate programmes in the UK and one of the best companies in the world.