Interview with Richard Higginson reward manager at Towry Law

A series of accidents have led to Richard Higginson, reward manager at Towry Law, ending up as a compensation and reward specialist.

A career in international banking was shelved in favour of a more alluring degree in Spanish and French, then a desire to edit the Sunday Times’ magazine supplement was kicked into touch when he was told that it would entail years of hard graft as a local newspaper journalist by a recruitment agency which then offered him his first job.

He found his way into HR after his boss at the firm, a former HR director, spotted that Higginson was frustrated with the way the recruitment process was sometimes handled by prospective employers, and suggested working in HR to turn things around from the inside. Higginson ended up doing just that. However, after taking a contract with Sun Alliance to run a recruitment drive to fill 100 posts, he was then invited to get involved in training and development as an HR officer. “It was an accident getting into recruitment, and then it was an accident getting into HR at Sun Alliance,” says Higginson.

In his next post in the HR department of the government lending body, the Commonwealth Development Corporation, another accident resulted in him taking on compensation as a specialism because no-one else wanted it. However, his time developing expertise in this field proved well spent because it enabled him to land his next job with British American Tobacco putting in place an international compensation and benefits policy to support its growing population of expatriates.

SmithKline Beecham then came calling and hired him to run international pensions and benefits, despite Higginson pointing out that he was not a pensions expert. “I took a deliberate decision to do it because it was going into the unknown and I would end up not only having expertise in compensation, but also a benefits specialism.”

This dual specialism opened up many possibilities for Higginson when it came to looking for a job on parting with GlaxoSmithKline following a seven-year stint with the organisation that included merging the benefits programmes worldwide of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham.

He took up his current post with Towry Law, a provider of financial planning services for individuals and benefits advice for employers, because it combined compensation and benefits. Higginson is also responsible for engagement and conducted an employee engagement survey last year, which resulted in a number of changes to how the organisation operates including the removal of individual waste paper bins and their replacement with communal recycling bins. “Engagement is very high here, there is a great buzz about the place,” he adds.

This was one of the factors that helped the organisation into the Sunday Times’ 100 best companies to work for list this year.

Other changes that have recently been introduced include a revamp of the flexible benefits scheme, to include discounted wine and travel insurance following feedback from focus groups. Higginson also took the opportunity to re-broker some of the firm’s insurance perks, saving Towry Law £150,000.

Another key area of responsibility for Higginson is Towry Law’s wellbeing strategy through which staff are given either access to the in-house gym at head office or private gym membership. He is a great believer in preventative healthcare and thinks that perks such as health screening are under-rated.


n What have been your greatest achievements?

Merging the benefits programmes worldwide of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham when they became GlaxoSmithKline without increasing spend. The other was setting up a reward programme for expatriates when I joined British American Tobacco.

n What have been your biggest hurdles?†

Getting managers to manage their people and manage their reward packages rather than relying on HR to do it for them. I have also been frustrated by the fact that the HR industry is not good at getting its voice heard, which means that individuals within it have to do more work than in other functions to establish their own credibility.

n What lessons have you learned?

Never make assumptions about what people want. When you do ask, you get some real surprises. I am a fierce advocate of surveying people and holding focus groups.

Also, never assume that your perception of what somebody wants is correct – always go back and check.

n How would you describe yourself?

Others have described me as passionate about what I do and have said I can be a bit too much of a perfectionist as I expect a lot from the people that work for me. I also have an ability to learn quickly and understand the business. I’m not afraid of new challenges and try to have fun [doing what I’m doing].

Curriculum Vitae†

2007-present Towry Law – reward manager†

1999-2006 GlaxoSmithKline – director, international benefits†

1996-1999 British American Tobacco, head of international assignments and policy†

1993-1996 Commonwealth Development Corporation, HR consultant†

1990-1993 Sun Alliance – HR officer†

1986-1989 Recruitment consultant/headhunter