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Janine Milne

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Talent Spot: Fiona Lawlor, HR director at Jack Morton Worldwide

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During Fiona Lawlor’s time at Jack Morton Worldwide, she has seen the HR function develop from being a lowly back-room admin operation to become a strategic partner of the business.

Today, Lawlor is HR director and a senior vice president of the brand experience agency, but when she joined 18 years ago, it had no HR department at all.

But becoming an HR professional had not been part of her career plan. Lawlor had originally started out as an account manager for a publishing firm but, after seven years, felt that it was time for a change.

 
Although she wasn’t exactly certain of what she wanted to do, she was sure about the type of company that she wanted to work for: a dynamic, creative agency. Lawlor also knew that she wanted to work on the commercial side of the business, doing something that involved lots of interaction with people.

So, she joined Jack Morton – although back then it was known as Spectrum Communications, followed by Caribiner, before it was finally acquired by Jack Morton in 2000.

Jack Morton is the creative brains behind a number of big-name brand and product launches as well as major public events such as London’s New Year fireworks display. It has also devised the opening and closing ceremonies for various significant international sporting events, including the Athens Olympics.

 
Lawlor was the HR lead on that particular project, which involved setting up a company, growing staff numbers from four to 300 and then finally closing it all down again. “Things never stand still. It’s not a company that makes widgets: every project we undertake for a client is different,” she explains.
 
Carving out a role
 
Initially, Lawlor joined the finance team in a support role that was more junior than her publishing position, but at least meant that she got a foot in the door in the kind of company that she was keen to work for.
 
But because Spectrum, as was, didn’t have an HR person, some of the paperwork involved in creating job offers landed in her in-box.
 
Lawlor did more than send the offers out, however. She took the opportunity to expand her part in the recruitment process over time until she had carved out a full-blown HR role for herself.

The company was really supportive and helped her get the HR training that she required from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. She also added to her skills armoury with a degree in counselling, which has likewise proved useful in the workplace.

Today, Lawlor has an assistant to help her manage the firm’s 80 permanent UK staff (although these numbers can double due to temporary staff being hired at peak times) and is part of a global HR team.

 
Her main role is to source and manage talent for the company. Staff turnover is low, however, and Lawlor herself has been with the organisation for nearly 20 years.
 
People tend to stay, which means that she gets to follow – and hopefully help shape – their careers closely. “It’s fascinating to watch someone develop and help them,” she says.

Lawlor puts their loyalty down to the variety of the work on offer as well as the fact that the company tries to listen to its employees and use their feedback to improve the business. It also helps that Jack Morton has remained relatively unscathed by the ongoing economic climate and is still managing to grow.

 
And finally…

Who do you admire most and why?
It has to be my mum. She offers such sound advice.

What’s your most hated buzzword?
“I need to put that on the backburner and get back to you. End of.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Listen 80% of the time and talk 20% of the time. You get a lot more out of people if you listen to them.

How do you relax?
Spending time with my children. When you walk through your door, you have to switch off from work when you’ve got children.

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