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Star Interview

A classic brand,
a New Era


With roots back to 1920, New Era is a brand with a lot of heritage. However, that isn’t stopping HR Director Anna Lloyd from innovating...

Words by Kieran Howells | Design by Matt Bonnar

 

New Era holds a unique place within the fashion industry. Founded in Buffalo, New York in 1920, when Ehrhardt Koch borrowed $1,000 (circa £770) from his sister and another $1,000 from a colleague to make his idea for a new sports hat company a reality, the brand quickly made a name for itself as a purveyor of quality, producing 60,000 units in its first year. Whilst a lot has changed at the company in the 100 years since, including becoming the exclusive baseball cap of Major League Baseball, HR Director Anna Lloyd states that in her view, New Era has retained much of that original spark from which grew its popularity and following – including remaining, defiantly, family-owned.

 

Companies are starting to see those links between wellness, culture, happiness, engagement and productivity

 

Unique company, unique HR

With a unique company comes unique HR, defined in the UK by a leader keen to instil flexibility within the business, who believes that New Era’s people define its success. Lloyd has led a team of practitioners with the aim of honing New Era’s HR for over five years, and states that her history in fashion HR has completely defined the direction she’s chosen to take within the company. Yet interestingly, she feels that far from being a hindrance, retaining family ownership has allowed the brand to remain agile and forward-thinking.

“The heritage and the story are fantastic, and quite rare in this day and age. New Era is still a privately-owned business as it has been since 1920. But the owners, the Cook family, are very forward thinking. They put a lot of trust in us to protect that brand identity, but also do the best for this business. No one has ever said that we can’t do something because they trust us to make the right decisions. Trust is the most essential thing in HR; building that trust is the first step,” she adds.

Demand more from work

Over the past five years, Lloyd has become a bold advocate of the people agenda. She’s used the trust handed to her from New Era’s owners and combined it with her own knowledge, honed from her career at fashion brands such as Monsoon Accessorise, New Look and AllSaints, to ensure that New Era is a company in which people feel valued and respected – part of a global corporate shift toward a people-focused culture, which she champions.

“Generally speaking, I think that people demand more form their workplace,” she says, noting that retention is a core goal for her. This, she presses, isn’t just the case because of the company’s compact size, or to keep talent inside of its creative processes, but also as assurance that HR is doing a good job of keeping people happy. “Someone else is going to benefit from all of that talent that you’re losing, so I think companies are waking up to this concept. People want more of a work-life balance. People are aware that if they have a good balance they’re going to perform better and their companies are going to get better performance out of them. Companies are starting to see those links between wellness, culture, happiness, engagement and productivity.”

We actually punch massively above our weight

Flexible HR

When questioned on how she’s achieved this within her own company, Lloyd recalls a situation in which the necessity of retaining good staff influenced her decision to instil new policies. “A couple of years ago, we had two employees with children leave the company to go and work for different companies that offered flexible working. It wasn’t something we offered at the time, but I realised that it was an important policy. People shouldn’t have to choose between their families and their job, and we shouldn’t be losing people to those who are taking this into account. So, we trialled flexible hours – not everyone was on board, but I explained to heads of departments that if we didn’t roll this out, we’d lose people. In this current ‘war for talent’ other companies were going to win. Everyone agreed and the trial went very well, so we rolled it out permanently.”

 

Anna Lloyd on attracting key talent: “I’m pretty happy with the approach we use at New Era. It’s nothing complicated. In terms of talent acquisition, I take a very human approach. I like to make people feel very relaxed and ultimately, what I say to our hiring managers is that I want people to have a great experience when they come and see us. I want them to leave considering their time here well. I do feel like with these new data-driven processes, we’re taking away the human element. We can’t leave everything to computers or robots. I think that maybe that the whole thing is somewhat superficial in some ways and I can’t see it working long-term.”

And whilst New Era may be a globally recognised brand Lloyd admits that it’s never been her aim to instil a corporate-focused culture within it. Her aim is instead focused on ensuring that the relatively small team of professionals who work for New Era in the UK are talented and comfortable. not just in their roles, but also in the way they operate day-to-day. For example, staff are aware that they can dress however they like, so long as they’re productive. “We’re a very casual but professional business. In our head office, you have people coming into work in tracksuits, because we want people to feel comfortable whilst at work. If we’re forcing people into a suit, we’re not celebrating them as individuals. Respect isn’t about looking a certain way, it’s about investing in what you do and it’s important to remember that,” she states.

Trust is the most essential thing in HR; building that trust is the first step

Engage with your people

And Lloyd doesn’t leave her policies up to chance, explaining that she’s aware for the need to hear from her employees. Yet rather than bombarding staff with in-depth surveys she prefers to ascertain their perspective through a simple annual questionnaire. “We do an engagement survey every year at New Era. It’s short and to-the-point - around 10 questions. The reason I started doing that is that I just wanted to get a sense of how people are feeling about their jobs. I know other companies have very in-depth engagement surveys, but the problem is, most of the time you have this vast load of data, and nothing is done with it. So, I thought I’d keep it short and simple. That’s been so beneficial so that’s a great place to start.”

 

And she believes the ultimate key in understanding the needs of her team is to simply be present. She spends the vast majority of her time engaging with those for whom her policies make the most difference and ensures that they feel seen and heard – something which she says is massively aided by New Era’s tight-knit team. “We have quite a lean structure but that’s not a bad thing; everyone at New Era has their say, has a chance to make real change and contribute to our success. I actually think it’s really quite unique for us to be this prolific and iconic, but not be a company with thousands of faceless workers. We actually punch massively above our weight. It’s not only about what we offer, it’s about the experience and the culture we provide – and I have no doubt that we excel in this area,” Lloyd concludes.


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