Interview with Stephen Dumbleton, reward manager at Airbus Operations

Stephen Dumbleton, reward manager at Airbus Operations, has seen his career climb steadily after implementing a flex scheme and other initiatives to prove the value of reward, says Tynan Barton

With a career spanning two decades at Airbus Operations, reward manager Stephen Dumbleton has faced his fair share of challenges in getting projects off the ground.

He joined the aircraft manufacturer in 1989, and found his analytical skills and previous experience of managing the Hay Job Evaluation Scheme while at the Welsh Development Agency were put to full use in his initial role as an organisation and planning analyst.

Since then, Dumbleton’s role in reward has steadily evolved at Airbus. “I have been quite fortunate because the time I have been in reward here is the time that it has been seen as an essential part of the HR function,” he says.

In his time with the company, Dumbleton has held a variety of roles and has successfully implemented a number of initiatives. For example, as compensation and benefits manager, he introduced a revised grading and reward structure for Airbus’s white-collar workers. He also developed and implemented revised variable pay and income review processes for senior professionals and managers.

In another role, as HR business partner, Dumbleton built a strong working relationship with Airbus’s procurement organisation, an experience he considers invaluable and recommends to other reward professionals. “For somebody who is new to the centre of expertise, it is good to get some experience in an HR business partner client-facing role,” he says. 

“My key customers are in a client-facing organisation, so it is helpful that I have done that sort of role myself so I can see things from their point of view.”

Flexible benefits plan

The reward function’s status at Airbus has also been boosted by the successful implementation of schemes such as the flexible benefits plan that was introduced for 1,000 management staff this July.

Dumbleton says it is this understanding of reward’s role that smooths the way for further projects. “My own experience is that it is not until you deliver something that you are then recognised as a professional who has credibility, and it is much easier to get future achievement. Obviously, expectations will be higher, but people will be more prepared to listen.”

He says the flex scheme is his biggest achievement to date. One of the challenges he faced was the need to gain approval from both the UK board and the corporate HR board in France, because Airbus is a trans-national organisation. 

He now wants to use the lessons he learnt from implementing flex to drive differentiation between all levels of staff. “I want to build on that strategy and say, ‘we have got the managers in the right place, so now let’s look at the other populations and see what we can do for them’.”

Dumbleton says reward professionals must be persistent and challenge the status quo. Airbus, like many organisations, is not cash rich, so to implement a scheme, he has to make a good business case. “In reward, we have the opportunity to be creative and change things,” he says. 

“There will always be people who say, ‘no, we will carry on as we always have and everything will be fine’. It is about having the courage of your convictions to follow things through.”


What would you change about yourself?

I would delegate better. Part of that is my fault because I tend to do too many things myself. But some of the more senior executives know that if they give me a role, I will get on and do it, even if it means working long hours.

What is your career goal?

It is not so much about climbing a ladder, but developing my role now and keep making improvements. I know a lot of the people here at Airbus, so if I can deliver something positive for the guys that work here, then for me, that is clearly a good thing.

Who is your role model?

Being a Bristolian, Ian Holloway, the manager of Blackpool Football Club. He is always enthusiastic and his team really want to play for him.

What is your favourite benefit?

My personal favourite is our green car scheme because I have got a new Volkswagen Passat. So I am happy, but my wife is happier because she drives it all the time.

Curriculum Vitae: Stephen Dumbleton

2008-present reward manager, Airbus
2007-2008 HR business partner (procurement), Airbus
2001-2007 compensation and benefits manager, Airbus
1995-2001 HR adviser, BAE Systems (now part of Airbus)
1993-1994 HR manager (aerostructures), BAE Systems
1989-1992 organisation and planning analyst, BAE Systems
1986-1989 Personnel officer, Welsh Development Agency
1984-1986 Unit personnel officer, Hillingdon Health Authority

See more career-related articles