A classic brand with a modern people strategy
Hunter may have a history that dates back to the 1800s, but that doesn’t mean that HR Director Gary Wright isn’t focusing on the present when it comes to the brand’s culture…
There are few brands that can attest to having such a storied history as Hunter. With roots dating back to 1856, when partners Henry Lee Norris and Spencer Thomas Parmelee landed in Scotland with the goal of making quality rubber-based products, the brand has gone on to match quality products with some pretty famous names. In fact, the firm has received Royal Warrants from both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. However, rich heritage hasn’t prevented the organisation from installing progressive people-focused HR policies, spearheaded by a leader, CEO Vincent Wauters, who, according to Group HR Director Gary Wright, “inherently understands people and how to be compassionate.”
Speaking to HR Grapevine, Wright explains why leaders need to be serving their people – for the benefit of HR and the business – how the military set him up for people function success and why progressive policies can complement the heritage of a firm.
Henry Lee Norris arrives in Scotland from his native America to look for a new factor for his company
The brand is registered as a limited company
Not your average HRD
At first glance, Wright doesn’t appear to be an average HRD. Although he has clear links to the Hunter brand – Wright grew up next to the original Hunter factory and remembers his grandfather working there in his childhood: "It was probably the first brand I ever knew,” he tells me – his professional life started in the army.
“I went straight from university to Sandhurst, where I spent a year being trained as a leader and as a manager, as a communicator,” he tells me as we sit in the main UK hub of activity for Hunter – a stone’s throw from the edge of Hyde Park and the bustling streets of the capital. These beginnings gave Wright skills that most HR practitioners would be proud to have. “The upshot is that when I left the course, the very next day I was responsible for a platoon of 30 paratroopers. This included their training, their development, their communications, their management and pretty much everything to do with their management and welfare in their day-to-day.”
The pioneering spirit of our founders is something that we bring into the current day Hunter
Boot production upped as company is commissioned by War Office to make footwear for flooded World War I trenches
80% of company production is taken up by materials for World War II effort, including ground sheets and life belts
Linking business and HR
On leaving the army, his positive working relationship with one leader – Wright went on to work for several blue-chip companies between the army and Hunter – by the name of Vincent Wauters led to a proposition that Wright couldn’t turn down. “[In 2016] he called me out of the blue with the opportunity. I explained to him that I wasn’t an HR Director and he explained to me that the job role is exactly the same thing that we’d just done for four years together. Transforming a brand and taking it from where it is to line it with the vision. So, I accepted.”
Wright was surprised to find that his role within Hunter was, in many ways, vastly similar to his experience in both his position within the army, and as a business innovator. More importantly, he would be given remit to explore how to create a symbiosis between the HR function and the business’ key objectives. “It was incredibly natural. I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed it from the get-go. My experiences from the military taught me that everything that I need to achieve as a leader must be tied in with what my [own] leader needs to achieve. Those two elements need to be unified, and so long as I have a solid understanding of their intent and I’m free to act within that intent, then off we go," he says.
Company moves to bigger factory to account for increasing demand
Company starts producing Green Hunter (Original Hunter) and Royal Hunter boots
We make it very clear that Hunter is a family
Aligning culture with heritage
At Hunter, Wright is determined that the brand’s heritage is aligned with its people – a fact that is keenly felt in every area of the HR process, from hiring to communicating, not forgetting wellbeing. “The pioneering spirits of our founders is something that we bring into the current day Hunter. That spirit of innovation is important; if you take a look at our brand today, it’s still evolving and pioneering. It’s a great place to come and work, but equally it’s a place where mavericks can come and excel," he shares.
“We’ve made sure our vision is aligned with the standards of values and behaviours that we expect from those who come through our induction and onboarding. We make it very clear that Hunter is a family; it’s incredibly close knit and we’re very fortunate that this happens naturally, but we also help it along as much as possible and because of that you naturally find bonds between people. It comes down to personal trust. If you have that personal trust, which we encourage, then you feel empowered to share any issues you have.”
Royal Warrant awarded by Duke of Edinburgh
Company awarded Royal Warrant from HM The Queen
Being flexible for their people
Being a fashion brand means that Hunter’s biggest markets, and therefore key corporate locations, include London, New York and Tokyo – all of which are known for either being stressful to either commute into or live in. For this reason, Wright chose to implement a flexible working scheme to ensure that its staff feel empowered to enjoy their lives outside of work.
“If you were to come here on any given Friday afternoon, you would see work-life balance in action; we’re great believers in flexible working. For example: new mothers might want to work four days a week for a period of time, or permanently going forward, we regularly have those discussions, we also have people who may have to work with the American office, so it makes sense to start later and finish later – other people have travel arrangements that mean it’d be hard to travel in peak times, so they may choose to work flexibly too," Wright explains.
“For our team to be as productive and healthy as they can be, we understand the need to work with them to ensure that their careers work around their lives, not the other way around.”
Hunter launches in the US market
Hunter launches flagship shop on London’s Regent Street
Company launches Core collection in an array of colours
Learning to lead
Yet, all HR leaders will know that for all the schemes in the world – flexible working and wellbeing initiatives among them – it doesn’t stand for much if the leadership isn’t on board. For Wright, it is this leadership that is fundamental – for both a successful people function and the business as a whole. “I automatically reach back 26 years to Sandhurst, whose motto is ‘Serve to Lead’,” he explains, citing his belief that leaders should be serving their people. “I have seen many leaders who put themselves, or the business needs, before the needs of others but by role-modelling selfless commitment, a servant leader puts the needs of their people first, thus gaining their trust, loyalty and reciprocated commitment.”
In fact, Wright is communicating what all high-performing HR departments, and HR leaders, should be doing – serving what their staff want so they, in turn, can power the business. “Smart, motivated employees are empowered to act independently within a mutually understood intent, promoting a virtuous cycle of efficiency and productivity which generates high morale. If leaders stand up and lead, excellent results naturally follow,” he concludes.
My experiences from the military taught me that everything that I need to achieve as a leader must be tied in with what my leader needs to achieve