Interview with Michelle Hatfield - Director of HR and Corporate Responsibility, George Best Belfast City Airport

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 25 April 2017 Issues covered:

Michelle explains that pushing through the boundaries of her comfort zone has really helped her to progress her career, how technology is the one thing that has really affected her role in HR and also gives an insight into the work that she and the George Best Belfast City Airport are doing to support and develop young people.

Michelle Hatfield, George Best Belfast City Airport

Name: Michelle Hatfield

Position & Organisation: Director of HR and Corporate Responsibility, George Best Belfast City Airport

Number of Employees:  1200 on site, direct employees 80

Time in Post: 10 years

Previous Job: Senior HR Executive – Teleperformance Ltd

Tell us about your business in a sentence

George Best Belfast City Airport is a regional airport catering for over 2.5 million passengers per year.

Give us an idea about your early life and career and your first ever job?

I have been a HR professional since graduating from university, starting my career in the North of England before returning to Northern Ireland. My first job was a Personnel and Training Officer for National Car Rental with responsibility for providing advice and support to a network of around 120 branches across the UK. Lots of travel but a great first job for 'cutting my teeth' in the challenging world of people management and development.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

I love my job at the airport as I work with a great team of people but, like any business, we need to stay on top of our game. We have built a strong management team where we live out our values and encourage everyone to `lead without title’. We believe in working within an environment, where a healthy challenge is a good thing and ensures we never remain complacent or miss an opportunity to grow our people and our business. Three times a year, our executive team have a strategic offsite session away from the hustle and bustle of a busy airport and we step back to ask ourselves, what do we need to be doing to take our business to the next level and more importantly, do we have the right resource and talent within the organisation to make this happen. 

What keeps you going when things get tough?

Laughter! I genuinely look for the positives in every situation and see the tough times as an opportunity to grow. I encourage my own team and my peers to step outside their comfort zones as this is their greatest opportunity to grow and develop. We all face challenging times both professionally and personally and there can be a fine line between the two in this day in age as we spend a great deal of our time at work. If you have invested your time, energy and emotions in building a strong team around you, someone has always 'got your back'.

If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?

My current job but with regular sunshine! My role at present is hard to beat as I have a great deal of variety, particularly with the corporate responsibility programme and stakeholder engagement. I feel privileged to work in a role where we are genuinely making a positive impact on our local community and changing young people’s lives through our High Fliers Apprenticeship programme. If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing currently, I would love to be a writer/author living between New York and Bermuda!

Who do you most admire in business locally and/or internationally? Why?

Rather than pinpointing one individual, there are traits and qualities I see in a number of different leaders that I admire. I admire individuals who lead with courage, bringing their teams with them through challenging times whilst retaining that team optimism and desire to succeed. Finally, one of the most universally appreciated leadership traits has to be humility, and President Barack Obama was a great example of this.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

I have been involved in athletics from a young age and now assist with some coaching twice a week with Lagan Valley Athletics Club. There is no better way to unwind than a beautiful run along the Lagan Tow Path, we really are spoilt with the beautiful trails and forests in that area. I also enjoy chilling out with my family or a spot of shopping and lunch with girls.

What’s your top office/business bugbear?

Getting to the paper shredder to shred a couple of pages and finding it at full capacity... every time!

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

For me, top performers have a clear purpose and vision and set and review their goals and objectives on a daily basis. They persevere, they ask for feedback and, more importantly, they deal with that feedback.

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever been given? 

The best piece of advice I was ever given was 'pick your battles'. This advice was given to me by my current boss Brian Ambrose, Chief Executive of the airport. It is something I take on board every day and has been even more beneficial in my role as a parent. Not every battle needs to be won, sometimes there is a bigger win ahead and we all need to learn the art of compromising and accepting defeat with humility.

Looking back at your career to date, what were the key elements in your jump from Personnel and Training Officer at National Car Rental to Director of HR and CR at Belfast City Airport?

Firstly, I am in a career that I love, seeing the potential in people and aligning this with business opportunity is a main driver and enabler to business success. I have always been very determined and learnt to deal with setback or disappointments as an opportunity for growth. I do believe in pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone because although it's uncomfortable and uneasy, it has probably been the single factor to my progression throughout my career. There is a saying I came across recently which says 'No-one believes in you, until you believe in you.' So true!

How should employers here deal with skills shortages in certain sectors, particularly IT?

Businesses cannot afford to deal with skills shortages as and when they happen. We must be working closely with schools, colleges and universities at an early stage to encourage our young people to follow a career in this area and the STEM agenda is a great example of this. At Belfast City Airport, our commitment to education and our formal partnerships with local primary and post-primary schools is absolutely key to our corporate responsibility programme. We offer work placements, airport visits and mentoring as well as apprenticeship opportunities across the site. This work is key to succession planning and ensuring we have the best talent and skill set in our business. I am also a great believer in collaboration with other businesses, key stakeholders and statutory bodies, this can truly be a game changer in making a difference regionally and nationally.

Thinking of your experience to date in the world of HR, what changes would you say have affected your role most?

Without sounding like a dinosaur, the changes in technology and how businesses choose to communicate internally and externally is very different now than when I started my career over 20 years ago. Social and digital media is becoming critical for businesses to not only profile their business but also in winning business and gaining feedback on how they can be better at what they do.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Winning the IOD UK Director of the Year for leadership in Corporate Responsibility (2014-2015) was a proud moment and well-deserved recognition for the great team of people at the airport who are so committed to delivering our community engagement plan. Most recently, I am very proud to have been appointed as the new Chair for Cinemagic Northern Ireland who provide amazing opportunities and experiences for our young people across Northern Ireland.

This article is correct at 25/04/2017

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