"To maximise one’s potential as an HR practitioner, it is a great asset to have spent some time within an operational unit."

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Taking on a new role is as challenging as it is exciting. In this series we will be talking to HR professionals who are getting to grips with a new job and finding out what attracted them to the role, as well as what their key priorities are for the months ahead. Want to tell us about a new role you're getting stuck into? Get in touch.

Tim Williams has recently been appointed as Group HR Director for Grace Hotels, bringing 25 years of international experience in his field, with over a decade at Accenture before assuming roles in Asia Pacific at Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts followed by Minor International.

Shonette Laffy, HRZone: First, tell us a bit about your past roles & experience.
 
Tim Williams, Grace Hotels: I spent the first 11 years of my career as a management consultant with Accenture, participating in and leading Accenture engagements as a Consultant, Manager, and Senior Manager. There was a diverse set of industry experiences, including Airlines, Food Retail, Utilities, and the Financial Services sector.  At the time I specialised in talent and change management activities, with the goal of helping companies to become more successful by maximising the performance of their people. 
 
Following that, I had always wanted to experience life and working opportunities in Asia, and went out to China and Hong Kong, using my network to explore opportunities. I was fortunate to join Le Meridien Hotels based in Hong Kong, as the Regional HR Director for the Asia Pacific region. That was my first experience in an HR leadership role, and there was a lot to learn, both professionally and operationally.  

After 4 years I relocated to Thailand in 2006 to work with a very fast growing and entrepreneurial organisation called Minor International, which gave me exposure to residential property development, spa operations, as well as a larger portfolio of hotels and resorts across different brands. The company had operations in South East Asia, China, and the Middle East. 

I think the early consulting experience was a great advantage because it exposed me to early direct responsibility for the profitability of a business unit

There were also some interesting political and economic challenges during that time, including coups in Thailand and the Global Financial Crisis. In 2014, wanting to return to the UK for family reasons, I joined the leadership team at Aman Resorts, responsible for all people-related matters of that Group, reporting into the CEO and the sole shareholder of Aman, and sitting on the Executive Committee. It was a time of great change for the organisation, following a change of ownership. In late 2016, I accepted the invitation to join Grace Hotels in the HR leadership role, and am very much looking forward to the new challenge.
 
I think the early consulting experience was a great advantage because it exposed me to early direct responsibility for the profitability of a business unit, and also for delivering client/customer satisfaction. I think to maximise one’s potential as an HR practitioner, it is a great asset to have spent at least some time within an operational unit, with those direct responsibilities.
 
Shonette Laffy, HRZone:What attracted you to the role with Grace Hotels?
 
Tim Williams, Grace Hotels: From the earliest point in my discussions with the CEO and the ownership interests of Grace Hotels, it was very clear that they placed a high importance on the HR function as a key enabler of the overall business objectives. At Grace, the Human Resource function is seen as key to the success of the business, not just the people within the business.

It was very clear that they placed a high importance on the HR function as a key enabler of the overall business objectives.

In addition, both Grace Hotels and its parent company (The Libra Group) justifiably take an enormous amount of pride in the Company’s role as an important and contributing corporate participant in the communities in which we operate. Our CSR programme includes ‘Give with Grace’, where we donate $1 for every night a guest stays at a Grace hotel. We invite our guests to do the same, and the combined funds are donated to SOS Children’s Villages, a global organisation which provides homes and support to children who have lost or who are at risk of losing parental care.  

The Libra Group runs an extensive and diverse variety of programs, which have helped a lot of people, in a lot of different ways.
 
Shonette Laffy, HRZone:What aspects of the role are you looking forward to getting your teeth into first?
 
Tim Williams, Grace Hotels: My immediate priority will be to come up with an HR strategy that supports the delivery of the business strategy for 2017 and beyond, under the leadership of Robert Swade, the new CEO of Grace Hotels. At the same time, we need to ensure that the HR function of the group meets the needs of the Company’s operations around the world.

We will be looking at how we articulate who we are and what we believe in as a Company, and how we communicate that message, both internally and externally.
 
Shonette Laffy, HRZone:What will be your main priorities for the coming year?
 
Tim Williams, Grace Hotels: The operational priorities will include making sure that the current hotel properties continue to surprise and delight our many guests from around the world, both those that are new to Grace, and those old friends who return year after year.  

Beyond that, we have an exciting pipeline of new properties, including Grace Marrakech, which will need to be staffed with a talented and highly motivated team who understand our key brand messages and core values. 
 
Shonette Laffy, HRZone:What are you main passions within HR?
 
Tim Williams, Grace Hotels: Personally and professionally, I get great satisfaction from those occasions when we complete the recruitment conversation with a candidate who we believe will be transformational to the business. Convincing top performers within our industry to bring their talents to our organisation is obviously a key to competitive advantage, and it often needs a Sales mentality as much as a traditional HR mentality.  

I also enjoy the career planning role, working with the people already in the organisation, understanding what they want to do and agreeing a plan that reflects what they are capable of in the context of that company. But ultimately, it is about business performance.  

I also enjoy the career planning role, working with the people already in the organisation, understanding what they want to do

At the end of each year I look at the full range of business objectives for that year, which we define in terms of financial metrics, guest satisfaction and staff engagement scores, brand programs to measure the effectiveness of our internal processes, and certain other KPIs.

If those metrics are met for the business, and HR has taken a leading role in delivering those objectives, then I can close the year with a strong sense of satisfaction that we have done our jobs – and then the process begins again!

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