Interview with Rod Foster-Hill, Travers Smith

March 23, 2019

Rod Foster-Hill is an experienced Senior HR Business Partner who has been working for the prestigious law firm Travers Smith since July 2018 on a 12 month fixed term contract. Supporting the Business Services population this was his first HR position in a law firm. Here at Frazer Jones we took the opportunity to pick Rod’s brain on the challenges of switching industries, experiencing a partner-led business model and thoughts on anyone else looking to make the move.

Q. What were your initial trepidations about switching industry?

A. For me the main worry was would I understand the business and be able to adapt to a new culture. Would it be too different and could I adapt? I was recruited for my experience for a maternity cover, would I be able to quickly get up to speed as would be expected? However this is where I was able to rely on my EQ (emotional intelligence) and experience to integrate and after an initial short period of induction was able to hit the ground running.

Q. Having moved into a Partner-led environment for the first time, can you talk me through the key challenges and how you adapted?

A. With Travers Smith we have about 80 Partners, or effectively 80 “owners.” Each individual has their own agenda and views on how to approach things, so creativity and adaptability are essential. When dealing with this type of stakeholder you must almost look at HR as a function that offers guidance, advice and that create subtle strategies to suit its client base.

Q. What would you say have been the most transferrable skills (cross-industry)?

A. General HR and employment law knowledge. One thing I have always maintained is that people are people regardless of where they work, the same issues will crop up. My stakeholder management and my ability to read people and form relationships by adapting to their style needs has been essential. Heavy vs light touch and seeking to understand which way to lean.

Q. The legal industry has classically been very process orientated, how did you adapt to this?

A. Fortunately my previous role in financial services was very process driven and risk averse so I adapted in that environment. In relation to this question though there are no hard and fast rules to being a business partner, it is about taking “HR” to the business in a way that meets its needs whilst maintaining credibility and integrity.

Q. How did the Travers Smith SLT (Senior Leadership Team) help you find your feet?

A. I have to say that Travers Smith had an extremely impressive induction process, the onboarding was methodical and steady allowing me to find my feet. It took me a while the first few weeks to understand the business model, but my team would often sit down with me and explain, whether one-to-ones or as a group to make me feel involved.

Q. What was it about the interview process that made you feel confident about joining Travers Smith?

A. This was one of the best interview processes I have ever been a part of. Through everyone I met (six people in total) they were very professional but also warm and friendly, following more of a conversational interview style. This created a relaxed atmosphere and I felt a belief in the business, which permeated into my idea of what working there could become.

Q. Do the cultural values at Travers Smith translate into reality?

A. The culture is a big feature of who Travers Smith are as a firm, it is important to them that anyone recruited can fit into their culture. The cultural values are absolutely living and breathing in Travers Smith. During my interview process the interviewees mentioned the business was non-hierarchical. With a law firm that was my only concern going in, however the leadership really sets the tone of inclusivity and that filters down through all levels of the organisation. Not only within HR but across the business authenticity runs through the workplace.

Q. Has this experience made you feel more confident for the future and considering roles outside your comfort zone?

A. The one thing I have always believed and love about HR is that if you are a seasoned HR professional you can take your skills anywhere, it just becomes essential that you understand and respect the business you work for from a culture, values and vision perspective. For my next role I am always open to different sectors, it is about the opportunity rather than the sector it sits in. Having worked across telecommunications, retail, leisure, financial services and now law I feel I can operate in most sectors.

Client Testimonial from Carly Hubbard, Head of Human Resources at Travers Smith

It is fair to say that Rod’s CV did not reflect experience gained in environments which are typically compared with the world of a law firm. I have to admit this made me hesitate when initially considering whether to interview Rod. Rod’s contract was for a 12 month period so I was of the view that the lack of legal experience would make it harder for him to get up the curve quickly. However, George’s pitch on Rod prevailed and after taking time to listen to what it was that made George believe in Rod as a strong candidate, I realised it was all the attributes that we were really looking for. Upon meeting Rod, it was all made clear that he was absolutely right for the role.

Rod has such an open character and he is bold and brave, yet remains aware of cultural sensitivities. Those are just some of the great attributes that Rod possesses that has helped him to integrate into the business so well. He was able to explore and constructively challenge the status quo with such a fresh pair of eyes. The diverse experience base that Rod brings to the team has inspired a lot of us, and he has added such a delightfully interesting twist to the conversations around the table.

Will this recruitment experience change the way I recruit into my own team going forwards? Yes, I think it will. I am very much an advocate of promoting diversity on every level across the business and this experience has made me even more aware than before that diversity comes in so many different forms.