CAREER SPOTLIGHT: I’m a Head of People. Here’s what you should know.

Prudence Stamp, Head of People & Culture, ULG (Urban Leisure Group) 

We often talk about the ways in which you can move away from the taxing physical labour of the cheffing coal face, working long shifts and late hours. But it’s less frequent that we talk about the paths that FOH heroes can take as they move up in their careers, wishing to work towards a more office-based role, or shift towards something that really plays to their passions.
Hospitality is a career that many people pursue because of their love of people, and so working in a people-focused role can be a really rewarding and positive move. But how do you take those first steps towards that direction? Prue Stamp is here to guide you. She started with Urban Leisure Group just over 10 years ago, starting as an AGM and Barista Trainer having moved to the UK from Australia with a background in the specialty coffee industry and a love of all things food, drink, hospitality – and people. She’s a fantastic example of how that passion can really be focused into a meaningful career which not only fulfils you, but also makes a huge difference to the lives of the people around you and forms the crucial axis of company culture.
Think HR is all about firing people, or being the stooge for the owner’s dirty work? Think again. Times have changed, and people like Prue are at the forefront of that positivity. A pivot into a People / HR role means that you could be part of that wider force for good, too.

How did you get into your current role?

I’ve always been in hospitality – waitressing and working in coffee shops back in Australia before coming to the UK (planned a two year trip, now approaching 13 years….).

It’s cringe and everyone says it, but hospitality just got its claws in me. I did my degree in International Relations and Politics, but when I looked at the legal/political career it just felt suffocating. I’m a bit of a hedonist – food and drink are the things I find the most joy in (apart from my family lol) and I feel really lucky to be able to combine the profession of HR/People with what I really enjoy doing – which is eating, drinking, going to pubs and restaurants, talking about food, reading about food, thinking about food, drinking wine and coffee – it’s just all good stuff.

What’s been the hardest thing about your career journey so far, and how did you get through it?

What’s the salary range for your role?

When I got to London I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars crammed into one city. I wanted to work in them all. Everything was so shiny and buzzing and alive. I got straight into barista work, running a small cafe in Shepherd’s Bush then moving on to be group Barista Trainer for a Kiwi chain of cafes. I joined ULG in 2013, first as an AGM, then as the barista trainer for the group, before moving into General Management and being heavily involved in new openings. It was during these openings that I got the training bug. I loved building teams and finding out where people really shone – be it behind the bar, on the floor or sometimes pivoting into the kitchen. From here I took on the role of Group Training Manager before landing safely in People about 6 years ago.

The pay in HR and People is extremely varied. Bigger companies have whole People Teams where an entry level HR role (like an administrator, officer or advisor) might sit around the £35k to £40k mark. As you move up the HR ladder, People Director roles can easily carry six figure salaries. What I like about HR and People work is that there is a lot of scope of growth and varied pathways for progression. If you’re a more operational type person, HR advisory roles could work for you. If you’re more on the creative, strategic side, you might find yourself leaning towards L&D, Diversity and Inclusion roles or go for a combination in a HR Business Partner role. It all depends on who you are, what you’re good at and the size of your company really.

What’s the most unexpected thing about your role?

What’s the best thing about it?

Something that always surprises me is just how misunderstood HR is! So many people hold the outdated, untrue (and frankly annoying!) view that HR are robotic pencil pushers or hired guns who are wheeled in to sack people. It’s just not true (or at least it’s not true anymore). What people don’t see are the oftentimes fluid elements of the job, where you need to pivot from consoling or supporting someone who’s having a hard time at home or with their mental health, to interviewing a prospective chef, to writing up a training plan for someone or having a coaching session with a new manager. HR does it all, sometimes all in one day (or hour)! It can get crazy – there have been too many weird things to name and some stuff you couldn’t print! Some of the more….bizarre things have happened at team parties – managing a group of nearly 200 happy, drunk bartenders together with an open tab is always interesting!

I love, love, love people. I really do. I find everyone fascinating – what makes people tick, what motivates or inspires someone, how do people best learn? You do really need to like other human beings and have a generally positive view of people to get by in HR. There can be challenging times and tough conversations, for sure, but there is something so satisfying about helping someone find their way through an issue, seeing their confidence grow or just really clicking and connecting with a new hire. It’s magic. The other MAJOR perk of my job is that I get to be surrounded by fantastic food and drink all day. It’s the best.

What’s the worst thing?

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’ll be honest, firing people is absolutely horrible. It never gets “easy” and it’s never nice. Sometimes it is absolutely for the best that someone moves on and leaves the business (for them and for the team) and there is ALWAYS a right way to deliver bad news, but it still doesn’t feel good. When I did my degree I wanted to be a Diplomat! There are surprising similarities – talking to people, often through tricky situations, finding common ground and figuring out how a group works best together? Kind of politics!

In this job there truly is no typical day – if you love a really varied environment, which people who work in hospitality mostly do, then this is a fantastic role. I commute in from home in East Sussex about three times a week and head to a venue – my days can be a mix of meetings (often with our Operations Team, People and Ops go hand in hand), training sessions, screening and interviewing candidates, supporting managers on any people issues that might have popped up or working on projects (think pay bands, training pathways, succession planning etc). Very often I get on the floor or bar in the venue I’m working from. I find it genuinely enjoyable to stretch my legs and work alongside the team – you can often see and find out things from getting stuck in with the team and it keeps my connections with our people nice and strong.

What advice would you give to someone hoping to get into your profession?

If you want to get into the People/HR department, you’ve got to be curious about people and be on their side. Besides this – read, sign up to People newsletters and blogs, listen to HR podcasts (my faves listed below) and join any and all HR/Hospitality groups you can (the Countertalk HR whatsapp group is here) – networking is hugely beneficial as HR can sometimes feel a bit lonely. Intentionally build a great support system around you and lean on them – the chances are, someone else has been in the exact same situation as you and will have insight, advice or answers.

HR Coffee Time for confidence building, strategic topics.
Disruptive HR for innovative ideas and chats about what’s coming next in People world.
I also love Off Menu for funny dream food talk and have recently discovered Humans of Hospitality for some deep dives into interesting hospo people (farmers, chefs, founders etc).

Daniel Barnett for up to the minute (literally) employment law updates.
People Management Daily from the CIPD is brilliant for info on UK trends, survey & poll results (cross industry), anything that’s in the news re HR etc.
The Good Life newsletters from Madeleine Geach are absolute gold dust. Proper practical tools for leadership and self development, I love her.
Countertalk (obviously).

What’s the best piece of advice that YOU were given?

The best piece of advice I have been given is that ‘clear is kind’. By this they meant, “being honest and giving clarity is the kindest thing you can do for someone”. Too often we let people down by not telling them the truth and letting them carry on doing the wrong thing or heading down the wrong path, out of fear of confrontation or a wish to be “nice”. Telling sweet lies helps nobody. Kim Scott’s book “Radical Candor” sets this idea out beautifully – give it a read!

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