Maike Currie talks to Ingrid Waterfield about taking the road less travelled
When I arrive at One Lombard Street, a favourite haunt of City-types just a stone’s throw from the Bank of England, Ingrid Waterfield is already seated and waiting. I am not late but I am slightly flustered. She, on the other hand, exudes zenlike calm. Well-dressed and impeccably manicured, she greets me with a warm smile.
My questions sway from the personal to the professional as swiftly as the dishes arrive in the spacious dining room (I can’t help but notice that we’re the only two women in a sea of grey suits). The noise level rises as lunch hour gets into full swing, and all the while Ingrid stays composed and calm, thoughtful, open and insightful.
An auditor by training, she has spent the bulk of her career working for the big-four giant KPMG. Early in her working life, however, she made the decision to swap numbers for people. Her father was an accountant by trade and, after work experience in the local office marked by bank reconciliations and long pub lunches, she decided to study in the same direction. It was only once she started her first job, auditing financial services companies and pension schemes, that she quickly realised she wouldn’t be crunching numbers forever. “I got the best piece of career advice of my working life – a boss at the time told me I was in the wrong job.”
Today, Ingrid is part of the leadership team that heads up KPMG’s P3 People Powered Performance business. A convoluted name, but in layman’s terms her job is all about people – “the lifeblood of any company but also the biggest cost” – and helping employers get the most from their workforce.
She draws on years of experience, working with the auditor’s clients in coming up with the best solutions for their workforce, from reward strategies to share plans, executive pay, flexible benefits and employee communications. “I worked on the very first salary-sacrifice schemes – setting them up and auditing them. It was about doing something to help employees and it laid the groundwork for what I’m doing today.”
She’s a vocal advocate of getting HR directors onto company boards and points out that, while most boards have an older, white male majority, their biggest problem is not their age, sex or ethnicity but the lack of diverse skills.
“Only nine HR directors in the FTSE 350 sit on the main board, as non-executives, with fewer than 20 on executive committees. Some of those are not there in an HR capacity. Yet nearly every chairman’s statement proclaims “people are at the heart of our business”.
Boards need to understand what makes people tick, says Ingrid, but below the C-suite there is little focus on engaging individuals in this way. “People are seen as an amorphous group, there to perform a function.”
Ultimately, people issues will affect a business’s performance for better or worse and, as the workforce and its priorities change, employers need to adapt. In short: money is no longer enough. People want to feel that they’re learning and most of us want to take a more flexible and fluid approach to life and work.
Wave good-bye to the traditional life stages – school, university, work and retirement – and usher in free-flowing arrangements where people take opportunities as they appear, in a less predictable order. Ingrid refers to this as “agile working”, where flexibility in time, work location and careers becomes the norm.
A laudable but improbable pipedream? Step up Ingrid, who by a lucky combination of fate and design is a good example of someone who has taken a “fluid” approach to her career. It didn’t start out that way; in fact she was very much on the traditional treadmill– starting work straight out of university and getting married at the tender age of 21.
But she quickly realised that life is not always as straightforward as we might hope. Divorced by the time she celebrated her 30th birthday, and eager to start afresh, she moved from PricewaterhouseCoopers in Bristol, where she had started out as a young auditor, to KPMG. “Things changed very quickly – I was turning 30, single for the first time in my adult life and living in London.”
SEEING THE WORLD
A few years later, regretting that she had never taken time off to travel, she took a career break to explore the world. By then she had met someone through friends who joined her on her travels.
Together, they set out on a “pilgrimage”, starting with the Camino de Santiago, a 600- mile walk across the Pyrenees and Northern Spain. Ingrid fell ill on the trip but that didn’t deter her. After a brief stint recuperating in the UK, she was back on course, travelling across Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. By the time they reached the top of Machu Picchu, her travelling partner proposed. “It was almost the end of our journey – I guess by then I had ticked all the boxes. He knew it was safe to spend the next journey with me.”
On her ring finger is a creative (very untraditional) wedding band, set with Tanzanite stones – her other half had bought these earlier on their travels in Tanzania, keeping them tucked away in his ruck-sack.
“Did you worry what this ‘break’ would mean for your career?” I ask her. “No!,” she says and laughs at her brash, one-word answer. She’s clearly ambitious and had worked very hard to climb the career ladder but, as she admits, the experience was worth so much more.
After 15 months travelling the globe, she was ready to go back to the world of white collars and, as luck would have it, her old employer got into contact. Her previous boss had moved to a different role and she was the first person they contacted. “It all happened quite quickly – I had to go to the interview in a pair of jeans because after months of travelling I had no office clothes,” she laughs.
It’s clear the self-imposed “sabbatical” was a good move. She was offered a senior role looking after reward and performance for KPMG’s own people, laying the foundations for her current position, which she says is the most rewarding of her career.
More importantly, though, travelling not only expanded her world but also the way she approached challenges. “My perception of the world and of life changed. I learned to think more broadly, to take a different slant to solving problems and it definitely showed in my work.”
Ingrid’s understanding of her own path’s twists and turns is reflected in how she approaches the HR issues she helps companies deal with. It’s not just about numbers, but about understanding people. “People want to feel valued for what they do and to believe that what they contribute is understood. It’s not just about flexibility or fair pay, it’s about being able to take your whole self to work and feel accepted, understood and appreciated.”
KPMG operates in a competitive space and retaining staff means being at the forefront of initiatives from mortgage support for young employees to emergency childcare and elderly care. She points out a frightening statistic: 6,000 people a day in the UK become a carer and she now includes herself in that number – her mother suffers from Huntington’s disease.
Data analytics is another interesting area of research she’s exploring and she points out that there are around 5,000 data points that can be examined – from how many times you make a phone call, to your email behaviour and your LinkedIn profile – to show whether there are signs of disengagement and so an increased likelihood of someone leaving an organisation.
Of course, there’s no substitute for the human touch; but for a big organisation this type of support could be invaluable. As for when employees do decide to leave, it’s important to think of “boomerang workers”.
“They might consider coming back, so it’s important that they leave feeling that they have been supported as they go.”
In the UK, an ageing population is another factor likely to have a major impact on the workforce, and in financial services in particular. Ingrid points to one bank realizing that a part of its business would have 40 per cent of its workforce reaching retirement age by 2020. Changes like this mean employers increasingly need to explore initiatives such as phased retirement and retirement affiliates – a type of retiree “emergency service” where you can call on retired employees to step in when someone is ill or on maternity leave.
“Many people in their 60s and 70s are taking on non-exec or voluntary roles. In their minds, they have not retired, but simply shifted focus and that allows them to contribute and continue to be and feel valuable, as well as to enjoy the everyday interaction found in a workplace.”
As for the younger generation, it’s all about adopting a flexible approach to work, whether moving from job to job or taking time out to study or travel. This is already happening and, as Ingrid points out, requires a rethink of our financial planning. “A flexible approach to working requires an equally flexible approach to saving in order to fund these experiences. For example, if there is no more retirement, we need to rethink how we take our pension and manage our savings.”
As for her own savings, these have centred around some clever moves on the property market and, more recently, consolidating her pensions within a self-invested personal pension, where she can take more control of the underlying investments and ultimately of her own retirement. If that ever comes around, of course, because Ingrid has learned there’s no audit for life. She admits: “I have never really done things… kind of the normal route, I guess… but it’s worked out.”