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Janine Milne

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Talent Spot: Carol Carson, HR director at Autoglass

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After nearly three decades of working in the health and beauty sector, Carol Carson took the plunge two years ago and moved to Autoglass as its HR director.
 
Windscreen repair/replacement and cosmetics may sound like industries that are chalk and cheese, but Carson has found a surprising amount of commonality between the two.

“On the surface, they are different, but actually the way they are set up and the whole feel of the companies are very similar,” she says. “Quality products and service are key to both industries.”

At Autoglass, Carson is responsible for the whole of corporate HR and policy development, from pay and rewards to learning and development. But a key area of focus at the moment is talent development.

 
For instance, the company has its own workshop in Birmingham where staff can practice fitting glass into many different types of car. “Autoglass has very strong customer service – it’s global and its focus on people and engagement is greater than I’ve seen anywhere,” Carson says.

The firm is celebrating its 40th birthday this year and one of the ways in which it has marked the occasion is to produce a video, which includes staff from across the company highlighting 40 years of automotive innovation. In fact, it prides itself that all of its advertisements feature people who actually work for it.

 
International experience
 
As to where Carson started her own career, it was on the shop floor at Boots as a management trainee. Within a year, she was running a small team and, by her early 20s, she had 30 staff reporting in to her.
 
From there, she stepped into an area manager role, recruiting and training sales staff, before moving into training and developing the fleet of pharmacists that worked for the company. 
 
A restructuring exercise, which led to separate Boots optician shops being incorporated back into the main stores, saw Carson head up a major retraining programme for its optometrists. “In every role, there’s always been a mix of the people aspect of the job, but also operational or commercial roles as well,” she points out.

For the next 10 years, Carson worked abroad, setting up Boots outlets in Taiwan, Hong Kong and other parts of the Far East. With each store roll-out, her role was primarily to run HR as well as hire and train people, but typically she would also work as a member of a small team, getting involved in all aspects of setting up a new enterprise.

In the early 2000s, Carson returned to the UK briefly in a global development role before jetting off again, this time to the US as vice president of new markets and training for four years.

 
The fact that the US seemed much further ahead in terms of online recruitment than the UK at that time was one of the many differences that she noticed between the two cultures. As a result, she says: “The first thing I did was hire a local HR manager.”

But family reasons drew Carson home again and so she joined The Body Shop as director of global learning and development, handling 65 countries in which 31 languages were spoken.

 
Learning and development
 
It was a time of great change for the high-street retailer as it had just been purchased by big US beauty brand L’Oreal, and the company was going through a rebranding exercise. Although The Body Shop was not as diverse in its products and services as Boots, it was clearly an industry with which she was very familiar.
 
A key difference, however, was the amount of effort that The Body Shop put into ethical considerations, not only its well-known stance on animal testing, but also its commitment to ethically source every product that it either used or sold, from printers to cosmetic ingredients.
 
While there, Carson set up The Body Shop Retail Academy to ensure that the entire workforce understood the firm’s product line and could provide customers with consistently high-levels of service.

And since joining Autoglass in October 2010, Carson has given a similar focus to learning and development, implementing a new learning management system in order to help staff plan and hit their career development goals. She is likewise in the process of introducing a new coaching programme for senior and middle management.

One aspect of her role that is different from the other organisations for which she has worked, however, is the closeness of the relationship between the HR and marketing teams, as HR plays an integral role in communications.

There is also a big focus on the ‘giving back’ agenda and, every year, the firm puts together a team with its parent company, Belron to run in the London triathlon and raise money for charity.

 
It was also involved in the last ‘Children in Need’ charity event, volunteering its contact centre facility and staff to man the phones. “It creates a really great buzz around the business,” Carson notes.

And finally…

 
Who do you admire most and why?
 
Richard Branson. He’s not only a great entrepreneur, but I like the way that he reads people around him. He’s surrounded by great people.

What is your most hated buzzword?

‘Bandwidth’ – I’d rather people said: “We don’t have enough budget for that.”

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received?

The importance of being objective and being fair in HR is vital. The other one I was told when I was a new manager, which has stuck with me, is to come up with a solution not a problem.

How do you relax?

Pottering around in the garden and shopping.

  

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