Claire Fox filled out one application for a graduate training scheme to Unilever and landed the job, the next time she made a bold move and approached a solo publisher for a book deal she also got it. This has been the theme of Fox’s career, to call it ‘luck’ would not serve Fox justice because she is incredibly hardworking, determined and talented. Fox looks back at her career, the decision to trade in the corporate world for the third sector and the reasons why she doesn’t feel the need to be at the office late into the night.
Fox began her early career in a start-up consultancy. The exposure to anything and everything was invaluable whilst she was getting to grips with her new career and she gained a deep understanding of how businesses work, quickly. “One of the founders was ex-Goldman Sachs so his background and his teaching was great. It was a really fun time,” says Fox.
A taste for HR began and Fox drew on her degree in Sports Science and Recreation Management and her MSC in Management both from Loughborough University, the principles of psychology, what makes people motivated to go to work and engage in their work.
Whilst working as a fitness instructor and, before Fox moved to London, she was training a client who was an HR consultant and he gave some good advice to the young Fox who was by now moving closer to a decision to step into HR: “I asked him what the best path to take was in terms of getting into HR and he suggested that I go on a good graduate scheme like Unilever’s.” Fox pondered over this and after a two-year spell as an HR and Office Manager at Infonic, Fox decided she would apply to the Unilever graduate scheme. It was the only application she made and she was offered the role, starting with the consumer goods business in 2002.
“I had the most fantastic time. I moved around locations and focused on different skills. In 2004, Fox was appointed as the HR Manager for Unilever Cosmetics UK/Ireland. “I do thrive on taking the big jobs so it was great for me,” says Fox. She steadily moved through the ranks from her initial position ending her time there having delivered in three sizable HR Director roles – one National, one European and one Global.
A year on and Fox found herself with a new challenge. This time it was abroad. She became an HR Manager for Unilever Europe based in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The assignment that was supposed to be 12-18 months turned into four and a half years and, it was, Fox says, “A fantastic and fun time.” But Fox was keen to start a family and felt that she needed to get back to the UK so in 2010 she moved to Leatherhead to be the HR Director for Unilever Food Solutions UK and Ireland.
The job had been created for Fox who had requested the transfer but she admits that, “It never really worked very well. I felt I wasn’t really getting stretched as much as I’d like to have been. In a positive way though the workload was manageable and I had to take stock because it was the time when I had both my children and I was given the time to think about what I really wanted to do next. At the time, Tracey Rogers who was the MD encouraged me to focus on nurturing my external relationships, it was something she is very good at herself and it led to me speaking at the Women 1st Conference, 2014.”
Presented with a very wide brief on what to talk about, Fox decided she would speak about how to attain a healthy relationship between work and home. “I talked about four principles and one of the delegates in the audience asked me for an interview for a magazine and from that conversation she said she thought I had enough for a book and put me in touch with a publisher.”
It was an exciting move because Fox, again struck gold first time as she had done when she applied for just the one job at Unilever. The publisher loved it and Fox decided it was too good an opportunity to turn down so she left her employer of almost twelve years and wrote her book, Work Life Symbiosis: The Model for Happiness and Balance. It was published by LID publishers in August 2015.
Never one to waste time, the book took her just three months to write, “I wrote it quickly because I was drawing upon my personal experiences and it’s not heavily academic. At the same time, I also tried my hand at HR consultancy as I’d always fancied it but I decided it was not the right time with two very young children to take a financial risk.”
It was time, however, for a new chapter and Fox was intrigued by a job advert for Global HR Director for Save the Children International. “For years I’d felt that I wanted to make a positive contribution and I’d thought about doing charity work at the weekends but the right opportunity never came up. It’s funny really because it was a global role and, in many ways it was everything that I didn’t want given my children are so young.”
After such a long time in the private sector it was quite a leap but Fox says she found more similarities than she initially expected: “Influencing skills were key in both sectors, the thing that perhaps struck me as very different though is the systems and processes in the charity sector are just that much slower. They haven’t had the investment put into them and that does have an impact on our people data which is so critical for strategic decision making because it’s just not as good, so we do have some work to do there. Although a great thing has been the way we work with partners, governments, local authorities and donors, there is just a different mind-set about working with others and it is much better.”
Fox has recently been working on an employee engagement survey which has been distributed to the 17,000 strong workforce that are located in 120 countries across the globe. “It’s the first of its kind so that is exciting,” Fox does admit, however, that getting buy in for the charity’s work is a done deal and she says it is a pleasure to work in a sector where, “You don’t have to invest lots of money to ensure your staff are committed to the purpose of the organisation.”
Top tips for HR Charity candidates:
Fox believes that her time at Unilever was invaluable, she benefitted from the many leadership programmes on offer and the opportunity to rise up the ranks of management. Her advice to others looking to transfer to the third sector is: “To do some thinking about the skills that you have that would be useful in the charity sector. I think it’s a good thing to also talk to people in the sector to understand their perspective but most importantly it’s really about your HR skills and expertise. They need to be relevant to the job.”
Fox also suggests that for those thinking of changing sector, it is important to consider the adjustments you may need to make – this is important for you personally but it also shows a prospective employer you are thinking about the adjustments you may need to make. A great thing about working for a charity, says Fox, is that it really is very easy to see what you are doing and why you are doing it: “Last Friday I travelled to New York for a Trustee meeting over the weekend. I was tired, it was a long-haul flight and I was away from my family but as soon as I got there and started the meeting it reminded me how great it is to work for Save the Children and the important job we do.”
Fox also says that working in the charity sector is a great way for meeting likeminded people and whilst she looks back at her corporate career with great fondness she is glad she made the move: “It is a less competitive working environment, and we have a good laugh in the office!”
The next chapter:
Fox who works a four-day week, is very excited to be taking on the role of Acting Chief People Officer whilst the charity formalises its recruiting process. She was also recently listed in Time Wise Magazine’s, Top 50 Power Part Time List, “I’m very proud of that because it shows both women and men that you can work part-time and get to the top. I was also one of just two HR professionals to be listed.”
Save the Children International continues to challenge Fox and if that weren’t enough she is also living proof of her book that a positive work-life balance can be achieved. She is a self-confessed exercise addict, working out six to seven times a week, whilst also spending time with her two young children and, says that when she does so it is very important to her that she is ‘present’ with them and not distracted by phones, emails and other intrusions. It is perhaps this ethos of being completely engaged whether at work, home or doing exercise that has been part of Fox’s success. She is hungry to achieve her best in all areas and the energy she puts into it is plain to see.