Interview with Nicola Cherry - HR Director at Fusion Heating Ltd

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 13 August 2019 Issues covered:

Name:  Nicola CherryNicola Cherry profile pic

Position & Organisation: HR Director, Fusion Heating Ltd

Number of Employees: circa 100

Time in Post: 10+ years

Previous Job: HR Consultant (Nicola Brown Associates)


Tell us about your business in a sentence

Fusion Heating Ltd was established in 2005 to provide mechanical and electrical services to social housing clients and private customers. From a standing start 14 years ago, we are now 97 people strong - in the 2018/19 financial year Fusion completed 54,000 service and repair jobs, and 2,300 new boiler installations. We have grown the building maintenance side of the business in recent years and this division is growing and winning contracts in its own right now too.

What was your first ever job?

My first job (after the usual Saturday / holiday jobs) was a Graduate Management Trainee at Ulster Carpet Mills in Portadown. I knew I wanted to work in the people side of industry, but was vague about what this looked like – the late Mike Mills took me under his wing and remained a mentor for many years. I worked with Ulster Carpets for around 7 years and thoroughly enjoyed and benefitted from the Graduate Programme, getting experience and exposure to many sides of the business.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

Recruitment continues to be challenging in our industry. We have an award winning Apprenticeship programme which is really delivering great young engineers for us. It is incumbent on engineering organisations to help develop the talent of tomorrow – too many apprentices are taken on as first years only to be let go when their employer has to start paying them in Year 2. In Fusion Heating, all apprentices are paid employees from Day 1 giving security of employment to the young person, and ensuring they have access to all the training and development their colleagues have. Without investment in the staff of the future, the current skills crisis will become even more critical.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

I give myself a reality-check. I have my health, a loving family and good work-life balance (most of the time!). A good long chat with my husband or a close friend puts things back in perspective. We have a great bunch of people in Fusion who strive to do their best every day. You can’t ask more than that.

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

A Hollywood starlet of the 1940s or ‘50s please!

Having watched our business grow from an idea to develop an M&E organisation that was a little bit different to the norm 14 years ago, to the multi-million pound organisation it is today, I could not be more proud. I am very happy doing the job I am doing now.

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

I admire those who have a great idea and get on with it. Too many people chip in from the side-lines with advice on how or what you should be doing – those with the get-up-and-go to actually make the idea a business get my vote, from the local dog groomer to James Dyson.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

Weekends are generally spent taxiing children to various activities…  I love the theatre, so attend the MAC, Opera House etc frequently. Otherwise, an evening on the sofa with the kids playing around, a nice glass of wine to hand and something like Strictly on TV is an enjoyable Saturday night in.

What’s your top office/business bugbear?

People who continuously bring problems to my door, happy in the knowledge that they have handed over the perceived issue and it is no longer their concern. I have much more time for those who come to tell me there is a problem, but here is their proposed solution.

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

Taking ownership of the job and being prepared to roll their sleeves up and get on with whatever needs done. We champion those who bring a can-do attitude and seek out people who want advancement and development. My recruitment mantra is “Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill”.

How did you gain an understanding of a more strategic level of HR?

I have been very fortunate over the years to work with some fantastic CEOs who have been generous with their time and advice. Running my own HR Consultancy also made me focus on quickly getting into the nuts and bolts of a client’s business to be able to then step back and help them look more strategically at where they are going and why, and how their people can get them there.

What has been your biggest working challenge so far?

Last year, my husband and I sold Fusion Heating to SSE Airtricity Energy Services (NI) Ltd after a three-year “courtship”. While we took our time getting to know SSE and lined up our core values against theirs, it was a massive decision for us to sell. We know from staff surveys and direct conversations that our staff like working for Fusion and our company culture is one of the major reasons people stay with us when they could potentially earn more elsewhere. Ensuring we were doing the right thing by all our staff, as well as making the right decision for our family, caused many, many sleepless nights. We are very pleased with how it has all worked out.

What would be the key piece of advice you would give to people considering a career in human resources?

You do need to really like people! If you want to sit in an office, looking at a screen or analysing stats all day, a career in HR is not for you. You need to be interested in what makes people tick and understand that one-size does not fit all. I thought about training as a Social Worker when I left uni…. Some days it feels like you are in a role like that!!!


This article is correct at 13/08/2019

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