Having become interested in industrial relations while studying for his A-Levels, Bob Ferneyhough enrolled in BA Business Studies with Labour Law and Industrial Relations at Middlesex. Upon graduating Bob's HR career took off and by 1991 he was an HR Director for Unisys World Trade, before becoming HR Director for Henkl UK & Ireland in 1995. Having recently taken on the challenge of becoming a freelance HR Consultant, Bob talks to Middlesex Alumni Relations Team about how he launched his career in HR, and gives some valuable advice on career-building.
Since leaving Middlesex you have built a very successful career in HR. Tell us about your day-to-day work as a freelance HR Consultant.
Having been an HR Director for over 20 years in big corporations, I decided that I wanted to use the Charles Hardy approach and create a portfolio where I was doing a range of different things. So at the moment I am working with JSB Group Ltd, where I run workshops on HR's role in mergers and acquisitions, and with DD Consulting helping clients with the people and cultural aspects of post-merger integrations. I am also a Board Director for the Institute of Event Management.
As a consultant your work is always varied, and I enjoy the variety. Working in HR, you never know what will land on your desk next and that is one of the things that I have always found exciting and rewarding about it. HR is never routine.
What was it that drew you to HR in the first place, and what made you choose to study at Middlesex University?
I became interested in industrial relations while I was studying Economics at A-Level at Brockenhurst College. I had the opportunity to do an economics field course there, where we visited various organisations in and around Southampton , including the Esso Oil Refinery at Fawley. I found it really interesting how there was such a small and yet powerful workforce with such a rich and powerful company. This was also the late '60s with services grinding to a halt because of strikes, which were a real headline topic.
Middlesex was the only place offering a combination of business studies with industrial relations and labour law, and the course offered leading lecturers and got excellent recognition.
How did you get your career off the ground post-university?
When it came to getting a job, I felt that I was ahead of other candidates, both because of my Business Studies degree, and also because of the year in industry that formed part of the degree. During my year with the British Waterways Board I worked all over the country and re-vamped their Apprentice Training Scheme.
One of the really good things about Middlesex was the industry links. The close links meant that I was really prepared for job interviews, and I was given excellent careers advice from tutors as well, which really helped me get placements and my first job with Cape Industries upon graduating
My tutor said to me "You want to send out 100 CVs. That way you might get ten interviews, and one or two job offers", so that's what I did!
What would you say has been your secret to success?
Hunger, drive and ambition. It's all about being self-motivated and taking charge of your personal development.
You've spent most of your career in one company, however it is becoming increasingly common for people spend just a few years at each employer. Which would you recommend?
The advice from my tutor was "Get three blue chip companies on your CV before the age of 30."
This was great advice for that stage of my career and I would still advocate getting a breadth of experience that will help you with what you want to do. I managed to do that early on and it stood me in good stead. My advice would be plan your own career and move around to gain the experience you need. After that don't move around too much. Seven or eight years with one company is probably ideal.
What have you found to be the most effective ways of enhancing your professional profile?
It's obviously good to work hard and do great things, but you need to make sure that you're telling people about it.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
It's always about recognition. While I worked at Henkel the global Head of HR introduced something called the Global HR Excellence Awards Scheme, which my team and I went on to win on several occasions.
I organised a trip to Huntingdon Races in October 2001 as a congratulations to the team. Tony (AP)McCoy, national jockey champion, won the race and I was given the honour of presenting him and Jonjo O'Neill the trainer with champagne!
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
If you make a commitment to do something, make sure you do it and then tell people you've done it. Follow up on things. The key currency you're dealing in is trust and, especially in HR, if people don't trust you you've got no credibility and you can't operate.
Would you give the same advice to others hoping to pursue a career in HR?
I would, and I would also say get a mentor. There are a lot of mentoring schemes around for people working in HR. I myself am a member of the CIPD and the local branch runs a mentoring scheme which takes people like me, and puts me in touch with students, opening the doors for all sorts of learning opportunities and guidance.
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