5 mins with... Stephen Foulger, HR Director
1. Tell us about your business?
allpay Limited is the UK’s leading payment specialist based in Hereford, collecting more than £6bn a year from more than 60 million transactions. We pride ourselves on offering the widest range of payment collection services, working with central government departments, social housing, education, credit unions and debt collection agencies, to facilitate the collection and receipt of revenues.
Our aim is to work with clients to save them money through creating modern payment and card systems that are both cost-effective and convenient for the end consumer. In addition to bill collection, allpay Limited also operates prepaid cards and cashless technologies for a range of sectors.
2. What excites you most about the work you do?
Helping others comes high up the list. Learning something new every day would also be close, but it’s probably the business itself. Payments is a really exciting place to be right now. Having a commercial mindset, making it fascinating and somewhere I can really add value.
3. How do you make your employees happy?
I’ve learned over the years that you can’t make everyone happy all of the time. Leadership will take you so far, but ‘followership’ is just as important. You have to show a level of faith in the people that are charged with setting the course of the business when you come to work, and the success of the business certainly boosts that. As with the great fish markets of Seattle, if you follow the ‘fish’ philosophy, a philosophy and set of techniques that have become popular across the world in helping companies work with their teams to make the work place a great place to be, you realise you can choose your attitude and work can be fun. We hire some brilliant people, who have great attitudes and behaviours, which make it a great place to work. The fantastic facilities like the gym, two restaurants and bar, certainly make a big difference.
4. What qualities do you look for most in your employees?
Attitudes and behaviours are key. You can give someone qualifications, opportunities and experience but, if they have the wrong attitude and behaviours, it’s pointless. I would always prefer to have a person in the team that I have to pull back from a piece of work over one I have to push. Hiring people with the right social and emotional intelligence makes a big difference too.
5. Tell us about a challenge you faced in your business and how you overcame it?
We are a very secure site because of the work we do. It’s such a great facility and place to work that I wanted to open the doors and get people in to sample it for themselves. Too often we were described as a hidden gem, so I was initially told it wouldn’t be possible. With a bit of imagination, a focus on making the impossible possible (our business mantra), and some interesting solutions to the logistical challenge, we managed to do it. We were inundated with potential applicants and filled more roles than we could have hoped for, including really tough to fill roles. Just as importantly we got all areas of the business working together. The camaraderie and the team spirit to make it work was brilliant.
6. Other than your own, which other businesses are exciting you right now?
I have been really fortunate to work for some amazing companies and some incredible bosses. I have to say that I keep a close eye on the companies I worked for and the companies these great people moved on to. Unsurprisingly, success seems to follow these great people. I love some of the things that Charter Court Financial Services are doing. I find that a lot of SMEs are interesting and are the genuine game changers. In a more direct way I am really excited about our sister business Rude Wines - it has gone up another level this year. It’s an exciting brand and concept which is really making a difference in the marketplace. Watch this space.
7. What's your best piece of employee management advice?
E + R = O.
Which is: Event + Reaction = Outcome
Sometimes an event can be disappointing, causing people to give up and assume it is the final outcome. In reality, however, your reaction can have a huge impact on the outcome.
A long time ago I was a mortgage consultant. I remember being brought in to a room to be told that there were going to be redundancies (the event). A colleague of mine burst into tears and he was dreadfully upset. I can remember supporting him, telling him how good he was, that he might look back on this as a positive thing (the reaction). Little did I know that this had been spotted by people in the HR team, who thought I could be redeployed to work with them and be really good in HR (the outcome). I hope I proved them right.
8. What are you driving right now?
In a business sense, we are doing a lot off the back of a recently conducted employee engagement survey and are preparing for Living Wage Week. We became a living wage employer in 2014 and we will be running a wellbeing week in conjunction with this.
9. What one business application/piece of software could you not live without?
I have a wider remit than just HR, that incorporates Legal, Learning and Development and Facilities. In all of the areas we are constantly trying to facilitate the best value for money solutions we can – solutions that make a real difference. We have developed a lot of bespoke tools, such as our in-house job evaluation tool. That’s pretty valuable and something we’re really proud of.
10. If you could employ one famous person who would it be and why?
I am a huge fan of having a scientific and/or economic approach to the world. It would be quite an indulgence in an SME to have someone like that in the HR team. In a big company however, looking at your data and the evidence available in the right way can be hugely beneficial and even help change the course of where the business is heading.
If I had an unlimited budget I would probably say the authors and podcast host for Freakonomics, Steven D Levitt and Steven J Dubner, would be great to employ. I love the way they look at the world in a different way. It opens up a whole new realm of opportunities.