Interview with John Mayor, head of UK rewards and HR project management at Danone

John Mayor, head of UK rewards and HR project management at Danone, has spent his entire 15-year career with the food products multinational.

Mayor has always believed in the virtues of developing specialisms in many different professional areas, and it was this ambition that led him into the world of HR and reward three years ago.


Since joining Danone in 1998, Mayor has held a variety of roles, including sales, customer service, supply and logistics. His managerial positions with the organisation have included supply chain projects manager and physical logistics manager.

But it wasn’t until April 2011 that Mayor moved across to HR, taking on the role of HR project efficiency manager. “The roles were all a bit project-based before,” he says. “I wanted to do something different, so I embarked on the wonderful world of payroll.”

One of the biggest HR projects Mayor has handled was outsourcing 13 different payrolls across the business to a single provider.

In September 2011, he added a further string to his bow by becoming head of UK rewards. “The reward role became vacant and I said to the HR stakeholders across the organisation that it sounded really interesting, which is how I got the opportunity to take all this on,” he says.

In his current role, Mayor looks after all elements of reward and benefits as well as salary reviews, plus HR for 100 expatriate employees, as well as continuing to work with payroll.

Multiple-function activities

“I enjoy the variety and multiple-function activities,” he says. “I was close to becoming a specialist in an organisation, having worked here for a very long time. But I love a challenge and coming to the HR function was just that.”

When he assumed his new role, Mayor was given the opportunity to change the organisation’s benefits structure. Having done similar work with the payroll function, he was keen to centralise Danone’s reward and benefits across its various business units.

“It was a big challenge because there was nothing concrete in the way of strategy,” he says. “They said to me ‘don’t feel constrained with what you can do in the benefits role’. It was up to me to build it, restructure it, take it to the business units and deploy the benefits equally.”

Pensions is just one area in which Mayor has achieved this aim. Danone implemented auto-enrolment in February 2014 after postponing from its November 2013 staging date, and all employees now have access to the same group personal pension (GPP) scheme, provided by Scottish Widows. Previously, the organisation offered a GPP provided by Friends Life and a group flexible retirement plan, provided by Standard Life, to different parts of the business.

The best of everything

“We had so many gaps where one business unit had different providers in place, that the objective was to give the best of everything to each business unit and to every employee,” says Mayor.

For such projects, Mayor lives by his ‘hygiene factor’ motto, believing that aligning benefits consistently across the business helps to minimise problems. “If I get the hygiene factor right, someone we employ can start work without worrying that their pension is different from someone else’s,” he says.

“By living by the motto of these hygiene factors being clean [and consistent across the business], then the employees can focus on doing what they should be doing.”

Mayor says he and other reward and benefits managers are becoming specialists in a number of areas.

“We are becoming specialists,” he says. “There are a number of benefits to tackle, but there are certain things we have to get to grips with, such as taxation. We have to be detailed, accurate, but also gregarious. This job is about making decisions.

“I get more satisfaction in this role than I did in my commercial days. I enjoy being able to improve an employee’s benefits package. It is more rewarding than selling a million tons of yogurt. The scope I have been given is very broad, and I love that.”


What has been the biggest focus in your role?

What I have found most satisfying was being able to agree a double-matching pension scheme for our employees and rolling it out across all sites within 18 months, as well as delivering a smooth auto-enrolment process.

What single tip would you give someone looking to get into your current role?

Never say no and prepare for the unexpected. But also know what constitutes the difference between right and wrong. The key is not to be a specialist, but be a specialist in lots of different areas.

What would you like your next career move to be?

I enjoy Danone, and I have been here long enough, but I don’t look at it as though I have been here for so long. We are a global organisation, so regardless of age and skills, there is always an opportunity to move, whether to a larger role or something local. It is something to look at, but I would like to stay in HR.

Curriculum vitae

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September 2011-present head of UK rewards, Danone
April 2011-present UK HR projects and efficiency manager, Danone
September 2008-April 2011 sales capabilities manager, Danone
December 1998–2008 Various roles at Danone, including sales, supply chain project managing and logistics