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An interview with Martin Letherbarrow

Chris Turner, former Regional Chief Operating Officer of Clifford Chance, recently interviewed Martin Letherbarrow about his HR Career and MGLHR.  

Describe the first few steps along your career path.

Ironically, despite being a great planner, my career wasn’t something that I had mapped out in advance. However, when looking back at the path I took, and the experiences I’ve had, I can see that I have acquired skills and knowledge that are particularly relevant to my current role, and these certainly contribute to the success of MGLHR.

The route of my early career is not one you’d immediately think of for someone in HR. I started my working life in Finance as a trainee accountant. I then took to the road as an internal auditor for a multi-national composite insurer, conducting assignments in most of the UK’s major cities and as far afield as Hong Kong.

What led you to move into HR?

I moved into HR in 1987 to work on a major company restructure which involved changing the roles and locations of thousands of employees. The HR function wanted someone who could help them track staff movements, match individual preferences and manage budgets throughout the 18 month restructuring programme. Within weeks of being offered the role as a ‘staff planner’, I began studying for my CIPD qualifications. Since then, I have thoroughly enjoyed the HR roles I have undertaken – particularly on projects where people are brought together from different disciplines.

What led you to set up your own business?

Former colleagues from two separate HR consultancies asked me to help them out, on a freelance basis. So when the company I worked for was acquired in 1998, I took the opportunity to leave with the safety net of a voluntary redundancy package. My first independent assignment commenced after taking a break of just 2 days!

What was your initial business plan?

MGLHR was just me initially, so the goals I set were very simple. Firstly, I wanted to earn what I did in an employed role (especially as I had a young family to support!); secondly I wanted to see whether I would enjoy and be suited to independent working; and thirdly,  I wanted to see whether organisations that weren’t previously aware of me would want to pay for the services I could provide. Luckily they did, and everything worked to plan.

How have you developed your business?

There have been three distinct phases to MGLHR’s development and growth since 1998. Initially, I supported other HR consultancies in delivering services to their clients. Then direct requests started to come in from my own network of contacts, in various organisations. And finally, as my assignments got bigger and the portfolio of clients grew, MGLHR became more than just me. I now have a select group of close associates, who I trust implicitly, to provide the same quality of service that clients expect of me.  The team I have is exceptional!

How do you see the future of your business?

MGLHR’s clients buy our skills, knowledge and experience – so I or one of the team have to be available to deliver this service. The next phase of our business will be to offer HR related products to clients. This phase is in its infancy, but we are very excited about a number of ideas  that we are developing ourselves or in partnership with some great innovators. Look out for more news on specific products towards the end of the year.

I hear MGLHR is a regular sponsor of Cheltenham Town FC – I thought you were a West Ham United FC supporter?

I have supported West Ham since 1966 and lived in Cheltenham since 1986, so I have no trouble in supporting both clubs. It would be great to see them play against each other one day – as long as that possibility doesn’t involve the relegation of West Ham of course!!