“You don’t need to be an over-the-top salesperson; you just need to be personable and respectful. A ‘Thank you’ goes a long way in terms of getting things done.” Roy Douglas, Employee Benefits and Pensions Professional at Sony, speaks to us about developing a career in HR Leadership.

As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited some HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.

This week, we had a great conversation with Roy Douglas from Sony, who began his career in retail banking before working for an oil company in employee benefits.

Can you tell us how you got into HR and why?

It wasn’t a conscious decision at all. More by default than design. I started out in the retail banking environment where I was employed as a Cashier. I then moved to a building society and eventually an oil company. After a few months at the oil company, I saw an opportunity in HR dealing with housing subsidies and employee benefits. Then as time went by, I got more and more involved, and as people came up for retirement, I started taking over their work, and so on. I came to the UK from South Africa 20 years ago, and my first UK role was for JLT, doing pensions administration. That was where I learnt about UK pensions, and then I moved on to Citigroup as Pensions Analyst, and then State Street, and now Sony. So, over the years my career in the UK has evolved to the role I’m in now.

Can you tell me about the themes and challenges that you’re seeing across the sector?

It’s probably easier to talk about the UK than the rest of Europe, simply because there’s more going on. In the UK, the Pensions Regulator is really starting to bare its teeth more, which is a good thing, making sure companies and trustees are compliant with the legislation. I think we’re going to see more and more companies appointing professional trustees to run their pension schemes, which is a direct result of the increased regulator involvement. The TPR is now also considering whether a professional Trustee is a requirement for all Trustee Boards and has launched a consultation around this and other Trustee duties and responsibilities.  Also, on the back of pension freedoms that came into force a few years ago, there’s been a lot of media publicity about people taking their £400,000, or whatever it is from a Defined Benefit Pension Plan, and essentially managing that money themselves, or through a financial adviser. Sometimes this route may be better for the person, sometimes not. But this is something that has gained a lot of traction lately.

On the defined benefits side of things, a trend we’re seeing is ESG funds (Environmental, Social and  Governance), so ethical investing, for want of a better word. The whole agenda is furthered by the recent demonstrations in London and all the coverage of environmental issues in the media recently. And pension funds on mass can actually influence corporate behaviour – in terms of, “Well, we’re not going to invest with you unless you change your outlook on the environment”. If they come together in the right way, pension funds can be a real force for change. We are already starting to see this impact with RSC and other artists wanting the relationship with BP to end. The National Trust has also decided to terminate their investments with companies they deem go against their ESG beliefs.

On the defined contribution side, more and more schemes are moving into the ‘master trust’ arrangement, simply because of the increased regulation. There are obviously significant economies of scale to be had by doing so, reducing costs for companies and for members. Master trusts are now being authorized by the Regulator and there are a lot of small schemes out there as well, which can be consolidated into master trusts. Overall, my opinion is that this shift is going to provide better retirement options for members.

From an employee benefits point of view, financial education and financial wellbeing is definitely gaining more traction. There’s a lot of media publicity around stress and depression at the moment and linking that into financial wellbeing. Therefore, more and more companies are starting to see the benefit of putting financial education, financial wellbeing and overall wellbeing initiatives in place. However, my personal opinion is that this is all too late in the day and education on this level needs to start in school as part of the maths module, teaching kids about mortgages, interest, savings, credit cards, loans, leases – real life examples which they can translate into their everyday lives when they’re adults.

What career advice would you offer to someone either working towards a career like yours, or someone just getting started in their HR career?

Firstly, I think you’ve got to embrace the fact that it’s not exactly the snazziest job out there! You do get the opportunity to act with a large degree of freedom though, which suits me.

To be successful in this role you have to be able to build and maintain strong relationships both internally and externally and develop trusted advisers. People often say that a lot of decisions are made in corridors or on the golf course! It is really helpful to be able to talk to people informally and bounce ideas off them. Obviously, if you’re in a position to have a formal mentor, then that can be invaluable. In Sony at the moment, a lot of the Reward and Pension work has been outsourced to colleagues based in other parts of the EU. and so you have to rely on third parties to do the work for you. This is where the strong relationships really come into play. You don’t need to be an over-the-top salesperson; you just need to be personable and respectful. A “Thank you” goes a long way in terms of getting things done.

It’s also very important if you’re applying to a company to fully understand the culture of that company, because going to work for an investment bank, may not suit your personality, whereas coming to work for a Sony or another technology company may well do. I think a person has to look internally and say, “What am I like and what are my values, etc.? What is the company like, what are their values, etc.? Will I be able to cope with the way they work?” Also, there’s absolutely no harm in saying, “I don’t know” or “I’ve got this wrong.” That’s the only way you’re going to learn. On the other hand, I would say that if you come up with a bright new idea, take ownership and run with it! I think in any career you have to show initiative, and once you get your manager on board, you have to take some risks.

My final thoughts on working for a company like Sony is that the organization is so culturally diverse, you’re working with people of various nationalities each and every day. To thrive in this environment, you need to have the awareness and flexibility to adapt to different ways of thinking as well as working. You also need to accept that there will inevitably be change, especially in Reward. Furthermore, the Pension and Employee Benefits department in an international organization may well consist of only one person – you! You will therefore need to be comfortable working in a standalone position.

Roy has been working for Sony since February 2013 and provides strategic/policy advice and vendor management for the Employee Benefits and Pension function across the EU.

If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.

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“You don’t need to be an over-the-top salesperson; you just need to be personable and respectful. A ‘Thank you’ goes a long way in terms of getting things done.” Roy Douglas, Employee Benefits and Pensions Professional at Sony, speaks to us about developing a career in HR Leadership.