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Neal Meets.... Firstsource Solutions

Laura Hourican Web

Name: Laura Hourican

Title: Head of HR UK & Ireland

Company: Firstsource Solutions

Years in Post: 6.5

Firstsource employees: 4,500 in UK with 30,000 globally  

Best thing about my job: Variety and challenges, no two days are the same

Previous jobs: Before my role in HR I worked for 7 years in retail and leisure in various management positions

Key Responsibilities: Strategic and operational HR delivery, which covers 4500 employees across eight delivery centres in UK and Ireland.

Career Highlight: Having the opportunity to travel to India

If I didn’t work in HR: Food critic!




  1. What are the key aims for Firstsource over the next 5 years? What challenges do these aims present to HR as a function?


Firstsource Solutions is a global Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company specialising in customer management services for leading UK brands. It is one of the UK’s top ten contact centre providers with four contact centres in Belfast and Derry, employing 2,365 people across the province.


Our aim is to become one of the two top providers in our market segment and become an employer of choice. HR has an important role to play in this development as we contribute to building a brand that employees aspire to work for.



  1. What impact does HR have on the wider Firstsource business strategy?


HR feeds into the business strategy from the outset, as it is integral to attracting and retaining talent across the sites. Firstsource differs from other contact centre providers because as a company we are committed to offering opportunities to employees, which help to create meaningful career paths.


In the last year the HR team have introduced a number of innovative schemes to benefit both employees and the business. Home working was introduced last year to expand diversity within the workforce. It enables people who have difficulty travelling to the office or who have childcare or dependents responsibilities, to work more easily. We offer more home-working opportunities than any other NI contact centre provider with over 150 employees opting to be home-based at the moment. Other flexible working schemes such as Term Time, Flexible Working and Back to School have enabled Firstsource to continue to provide excellent service to clients, boost motivation and reduce attrition rates and absenteeism.


  1. What are the key inhibitors to you implementing this strategy?


It is not so much what inhibits us but it is about getting the right balance. When moving to an organisation people assess the company, the job suitability, location, development opportunities and so on. In the HR department, we in turn need to continually review these factors and improve to set the company apart from competitors.


  1. How do you motivate your own team in delivering your HR strategy


I am very fortunate to have a great team at Firstsource who are all highly driven, have passion for what they do and are extremely motivated. I feel that it is always important to empower employees and give them ownership and responsibility to deliver results to the best of their ability.


  1. What impact does the wider Firstsource Group have on the site in Northern Ireland?


In NI we employee 2,365 people across four centres.  The growth we have experienced over the past six years shows the value that NI has to offer a global organisation. In fact, many of our innovative strategies and CSR schemes are piloted here before roll out to other regions. Being part of a wider group in turn offers excellent opportunities for career progression, empowerment and experience in a wide range of disciplines like finance, operations, IT, HR and workforce management.


  1. What sort of culture do you try to create for your employees and how do you go about sustaining this?

I am often asked when interviewing candidates to describe the culture at Firstsource, in short one of our six values is ‘People Centricity’, and our culture is centred on this core value. We are a people business, everything the organisation does has to have our employees at the centre of it and we like to have some fun on the way!


  1. What advice would you give to aspiring HR professionals to help them advance their career?


You need to fully understand the business you are supporting. HR needs to be fully aligned to the business strategy and is often a vital part in advising on core decisions.


Neal Meets.... Alpha Marketing

20131119 EHP 0753

Name: Paul Black

Job Title: CEO

Company: Alpha Marketing

Established: 1972

Employees: 87

Previous Jobs: Warehouse Op/Driver/Fitter/Sales rep (all with Alpha Group)

Hobbies: Avid follower of Ulster Rugby

Proudest Moment in Career: Heading up the internal M & A team which brought two large competing businesses into the Group


Neal Lucas, Managing Director of the leading executive search and selection company Neal Lucas Recruitment, talks to the individuals behind some of Northern Ireland’s leading companies in this popular Ulster Business series. This month, he talks to the CEO of one of NI’s smaller, yet thriving private businesses.


What markets do you operate in and what is your position in those markets at the moment?

We currently operate in NI, ROI and GB. We are market leaders in NI, very strong in ROI but quite modest in GB. We have plans currently rolling out in ROI to grow our business into new markets.

How have your markets changed over the years and why did you target these?

Our markets have changed rapidly during the last number of years. In ROI during 2008 our market sector reduced by 45% within six months. This forced us to look at things differently and diversify to a certain extent relatively quickly. As a result we have a much stronger business today, despite the fact that trading conditions are still extremely different. During 2009 we brought 1080  - our corporate interiors arm - into our NI business structure, which in itself changed our capabilities dramatically, and as a result we have not only targeted a new audience of clients but also incorporate some different ways of delivering great solutions to all of our customer base. In GB we are currently reviewing how we do our business there, and have options on where we go next with it.

What process do you use for strategy formulation?

Depending on the level of strategy required, we look at things with the next 2 to 3 years in mind. Our industry changes so quickly now that even 3 years can seem light years away! We have one main strategy meeting for the whole Group once per year, with localised business centre strategy sessions every 6 months. It is never ‘my’ strategy, but a team view of things.

What key attributes of your own leadership do you feel have been important in delivering on the strategy?

I firmly believe in customer care and good service, and this has been strongly carried through our strategy at every stage. Our entire business is focussed on our relationships with our customers, and we will not rest until the client is happy. I also ensure that I don’t always have the final say on customer facing issues, which means that I don’t have to be involved at every stage so that issues are sorted rapidly. I am able to do this as I have a highly skilled team who work with me.

How do you manage risk in the organisation/how important is corporate governance to you?

We never go ‘gung-ho’ with big decisions – we will discuss amongst the various teams depending on the nature of the issue and come up with a strategy. In 2007 we employed a non-executive director for the first time in the history of the company, and he has instilled a major level of importance on corporate governance. To be honest I have personally learnt more in the last 5 years than I did in the previous 25 working for the company, and I have benefitted hugely as a result of practices we have employed.

Is there anything you would like to change about business in Northern Ireland market?

The 56 million dollar question!! I guess from our perspective we would like to see the whole corporation tax issue resolved so that we could start to see some of the inward investment coming to NI that we would be aware of in ROI. I know this is a weighty issue for Government, but we really need to kick start the whole private sector and get away from the over dependence on public sector. We all know that we have some of the best employees in this part of the island, who have a great attitude to work and performance. This point would not be lost on inward investing companies.

Dealing with redundancy - the job of finding a job

This month, the Labour Market Statistics released by Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) showed that redundancies are on the rise with a total of 2,037 confirmed redundancies, an increase of 1% compared to the previous year (2016).

At the beginning of April, Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action also warned of mass job losses in the voluntary sector as a result of government budget cuts. According to a report carried out in 2013 by PWC for DETI, just under 30,000 people in Northern Ireland, excluding volunteers, were employed by the 3,821 organisations in the voluntary sector.

It is important for people who find themselves out of work to ditch the wrongly perceived stigma of 'unemployment'. Adapt the attitude that your job now is finding a job, dedicate the majority of the working day to doing so and remember that this is likely to be a temporary situation.

Some larger companies who are making employees redundant offer assistance in the form of outplacement whether provided in house or through a specialist agency. Outplacement helps redundant employees with their career search.

If you've been made redundant, it's worthwhile asking if outplacement services are available, but if not there are a few key things you can do independently to help you on your new search for employment.

Understanding the local employment market is crucial as is an understanding of your value, your skills and your expertise. The jobs market in Northern Ireland is small, which although this is a disadvantage it can also work to your advantage in terms of keeping up-to-date on the jobs market as a whole.

Be open to change, you may have been doing the same job in the same company for years and quite happily so, but it's unlikely that you will find the exact same position again. Don't be too strict on your requirements, would you consider roles in ROI? Accept a lower salary closer to home? Be realistic and ask whether you were under or overpaid in your previous role and accept that you may have to take a cut in salary if the latter applies.

Having an impressive, up-to-date CV is vital, tailor it accordingly depending on the position or company you are applying to. This is why research is key, not only in helping you understand exactly what the role is, but if you get invited to interview stage you will already be up to speed and well versed in the job role and company requirements.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, don't be deterred if you are unsuccessful. Use the experience to learn from it, ask for feedback and find out where you underperformed and use it for better preparation next time. Being unemployed isn't an ideal situation for anyone, but try to make the best out of it. Whilst job hunting is a full time job in itself, it's not 24/7 and so you can use the spare time to enjoy the hiatus as, forced or not it can still be a time in your life to enjoy.

Diversity is crucial to your organisation

Diversity in your business is hugely important.  Aside from being morally and ethically correct to not discriminate, it actually helps your organisation perform better.

Organisations are driven by the desire to appeal to a market and customer base.  If your business is not represented of a particular section of that population; be it on a gender, race or a religious basis, you run the risk of ostracising those groups in your decision making or offering to them, which can have a damaging effect on your bottom line.

How do we align this sentiment when recruiting for our businesses; as organisations must always recruit and promote on merit?  Top jobs - any job for that matter - should be filled firstly by those with the appropriate skills, drive, energy, attitude and track record.  For me, recruitment is about appointing the right person, which doesn’t always mean the best person.

Boards have been engaged in the gender diversity debate for some time.  Lord Davies’ third annual review of Women on Boards shows that the proportion of females on FTSE 100 Boards is now 21%.  This has increased encouragingly since 2011.  With this steady growth over the last few years, the FTSE 100 may meet Davies’ target of 25% in 2015.  

The drive to encourage companies to put women on their Boards progresses at pace and anecdotally I have not experienced any let up in the appointment of female directors.  This has been largely due to the increase in the number of women with the appropriate skills and experience and also the publicising of the issue itself, which has given this career progression greater visibility as an option for women.

With more and more focus on eradicating inequality throughout organisations, the next few years could see things start to balance out with the rise in female board members, directors and CEOs as well as the elimination of pay gaps.

However, diversity in the workplace is evolving to a much broader notion, one that also encompasses a range of experiences, demographics and cultures.  Organisations are very conscious of the reputational issues for them as a whole, and as individuals.  Equally, I think Boards are clear that they need to make the right decisions for their businesses and not be driven to the wrong decisions by the media.

In order for your business to become the best it can be; it must decide what employees, directors and Board members it needs to attract, who will possess the right skills and be able to continuously adapt and evolve to meet the challenges of the future. 

Neal Lucas is Managing Director of Neal Lucas Recruitment, specialising in the appointment of Director and Senior Management level roles (including Chair and NED positions).  He, or a member of the team, can be contacted on 028 9268 8818, followed @NealLucasRec or connected with on LinkedIn