Interview with Sara Davies, reward and HR services director at Ladbrokes

Sara Davies, reward and HR services director at Ladbrokes, is keen to get the message across that the reward function is very much more than just ‘pay and rations’, says Ben Jones

As befits the reward and HR services director of bookmakers Ladbrokes, Sara Davies spent some time at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, one of horse racing’s blue riband events.

Davies, whose company won the award for ‘Most effective motivation or incentive strategy’ and the overall ‘Grand prix’ title at last year’s Employee Benefits Awards, admits to having some understanding of betting and odds, but reward is certainly more her area of expertise.

“My personal pride is around being enthusiastic about reward and getting other people enthused about it,” she says.

“They are lots of things that I have been proud of, but each is a ‘moment’ and then you move on to the next thing.”

Hurdles to overcome

One similarity between reward and national hunt racing is that both have hurdles to overcome. “The challenge is that more areas fall under the remit of reward but you do not always get the awareness from businesses of that,” says Davies.

“You have got to know things from tax to shares to executive remuneration and bonus plan design. That is a lot for one function.”

Davies argues that, at times, reward can be dismissed as ‘pay and rations’, but it is actually much broader than that.

“As reward specialists, we have to take hold of that and try to promote the area a little bit, stressing that it is not that simple. It is vital to the business.”

Like the training regime for a prize thoroughbred, Davies believes aspiring benefits professionals should pay great attention to detail, and meet the need to be creative and commercially aware. “Employers are obviously constrained by whatever the financial piece is, and they need to be aware of that and work with that,” she says. “It is about using what they have got really, really well and communicating it in such a way that people understand why things are the way they are. They have to explain to people how the journey works.”

Like all good reward professionals, Davies is always looking for a way to improve the offering for her company’s staff. “It is very interesting to see how other people tackle problems or challenges and everyone has got a different perspective, so I think that is pretty useful.”

Visits to betting shops

Ladbrokes has a network of 2,075 betting shops across the UK, and a total of 2,600 owned and operated sites in the UK, Ireland and Belgium, so it is perhaps not surprising that Davies is “occasionally but not often enough” able to carry out shop visits. She is based predominantly at the company’s head office in Rayners Lane, Middlesex.
However, on her travels she has picked up a basic understanding of betting. “I am OK with the simple bets,” she says with a hearty laugh. “But I do not know how the shop staff learn it all; they are really good.”

Although Davies may never become an arch tipster, reward and recognition is one field where she will continue to pursue high standards. “I have chosen something that I am really interested in,” she says. “I love coming to work and my goal is to be really very good at this. I know I want to stick with it and really develop my skills.”

Everything suggests she is an odds-on favourite to achieve that goal.

Curriculum Vitae

November 2009-present reward and HR services director, Ladbrokes
September 2007-November 2009 HR director for reward, Ladbrokes
September 2006-September 2007 head of strategic reward, Travis Perkins
2003-September 2006 head of reward and management information, Focus Wickes Group
January 2000-2003 group reward manager, Focus Wickes Group

Questions and answers

Describe yourself
Enthusiastic, very engaged in reward. I love my job. Humorous: you have to be.†

Who is your role model?
A guy called Alan Watkinson, who I worked with at Focus Wickes. He is now in charge of reward at Cheshire Building Society. He was cool, calm and always very fair and pragmatic.†

Do you read management books?
I like The seven habits of highly-effective people by Stephen Covey. It talks about how to develop yourself around leadership, communication and self-awareness.