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Janine Milne

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Talent spot: Philippa Kramer, country HR director for AkzoNobel


AkzoNobel, the world’s largest paints, coatings and speciality chemicals provider, is a truly gargantuan organisation operating in 80 countries and employing 50,000 staff. AkzoNobel in the UK is the home of leading brands including Dulux, Cuprinol Polycell and consistently ranked as one of the leaders in sustainability.

It’s the job of Philippa Kramer, country HR director for AkzoNobel, to help the 4,000 UK employees deliver to the best of their ability. “We believe we can only grow the business as fast as we can grow our people,” Kramer notes.

HR is Kramer’s second career. She’d left school at 16 in the late 1980s to work as a cashier in Barclays bank and had every intention of making banking a lifelong career. “I always thought banking would be my ideal job,” she says.

It seemed like she had made the right decision. She enjoyed banking and quickly moved on from a cashier role to join the bank’s development programme. But five years into the job, and still only 21, she began to feel that she’d missed out on the experience of going to university and the career doors it would open.

Studying economics and international relations at Lancaster University proved every bit as stimulating as she’d hoped and her previous work experience enabled her to boost her student income during the holiday by working back in the bank. It would have been easy to return to this world after graduation, but Kramer felt that it would this was the ideal opportunity to try something completely different.

So instead, in 1997, she joined the commercial graduate programme at British Aerospace in the North West. After a couple of years, she was seconded to Farnborough, Hampshire, to work for the graduate recruitment team, which partly involved visiting universities to encourage current students to consider a career with British Aerospace. This small step towards HR was quickly followed by a full on leap into the profession as an HR manager for the organisation. As it was a generalist role, she covered the full HR basics from recruitment to learning and development. Crucially, the organisation also sponsored her to take CIPD qualifications.

By 2002, Kramer felt it was time to try something new again and she moved to a small IT consultancy Axon Solutions. The move gave Kramer her first taste of total responsibility for HR. There was little in place already, so she was able to put in place a range of HR services, such as flexible benefits and compensation packages, performance management and learning and development. As the company was growing fast, recruitment processes were also something that needed immediate attention. “It was an interesting time and very fast paced,” she recalls.

In 2005, after four years with Axon Solutions, Kramer moved back to working for a big organisation, this time for ICI, where she was HR manager for the commercial division. “It was quite similar to British Aerospace in many ways: it was a large company, highly respected for learning and development and really looked after its employees and their career progression. I could see myself growing with the company,” says Kramer.

In 2008, ICI was acquired by Dutch-owned AkzoNobel,. Kramer became HR manager and then director for the decorative paints division. Then, in 2012, her role was extended to include HR country director, overseeing all the different UK business divisions, which range from Decorative Paints to Industrial Coatings. Her focus is now to create a cross-divisional HR agenda and unify them all under one HR strategy. That means setting up shared services and centres of excellence that all divisions can access.

One of the results of this new company-wide HR strategy, hopes Kramer, is that employees will not only look vertically in their own business for their next career challenge, but also be more aware of opportunities in other divisions. Kramer says “We are working in a really stimulating environment which offers a huge range of diverse opportunities from manufacturing, to R&D to retail enabling our employees to develop to their full potential in multiple businesses across the country.”

AkzoNobel is committed to diversity, but manufacturing is male dominated. With the launch of a new facility at Ashington in the North East by the end 2014, it has set an ambitious target of 25 percent women workers, compared with its current average of two percent to three percent. A targeted recruitment campaign and the introduction of more flexible working arrangements will hopefully open up opportunities.

Becoming certified as one of Britain’s Top Employers 2013 by the CRF Institute, which offers independent HR assessment and acknowledgement, is a sign to Kramer that the organisation is moving in the right direction – and bringing its people with it.

Who do you admire most and why?
Who I admire changes all the time, but at the moment, it’s Jean Tomlin, director for the London 2012 Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, who had to manage a workforce of 200,000. I’ve heard her speak and she was inspirational.

What’s your most hated buzzword?
“Let’s dial it up a bit.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
You can have a really good career and family life – it’s within your control and you can make it happen.

How do you relax?
Being with my family – and I love cooking.

What makes a great manager?

1. Seek the right talent.
Great managers are keen importers and exporters of talent who recruit for potential not just experience. They see talent spotting as a core part of their role and are ambassadors for the company.

2. Put real effort in to get to know their team.
They help team members be themselves at work and get to know them both outside as well as inside work. This leads to great conversations which help people say what they think, creating a climate of trust.

3. Give people the right roles.
Great managers know how to leverage the skills of all their team members to the get the best out of their people. They are able to unlock people’s potential by balancing both strengths and weaknesses of the team making everyone feel confident about their own performance, which leads to trust within the team, and pride about the team’s performance.

4. Constant communication.
This leads to absolute clarity of expectations, individuals know how their role contributes to the overall strategy. There is absolute certainty on what needs to be delivered without micro-managing someone.

5. Recognition is individual and tailored.
Great managers know how to motivate and get the best from their people and are consistent in their behaviors towards rewarding for excellence.


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