Making a change

Roger Trapp meets one of the major players in the 'outplacement' boom who is shifting her focus from redundancy to positive career management

Frances Cook likes to describe her job as helping people - organisations and individuals - to deal with change. And since most management gurus and other sages are agreed that change is about the only certainty of the coming years, it is a fair bet that she will will be busy for some time to come.

As managing director of Sanders & Sidney, Ms Cook is a big player in the burgeoning business of outplacement. Originally seen as a cynical reaction by recruitment consultancies to the recession of the early 1990s, it is increasingly regarded as a necessary adjunct to any business process that leads to change.

"Outplacement is about change. It's about reacting to change. It can take place as a result of technology, mergers or acquisitions, or as a result of restructuring," she says, adding that most "good" employers are happy to provide help in dealing with that change. Indeed, some approach the company before announcing a restructuring or similar initiative in order to gain advice on how best to go about it.

Ms Cook is convinced that change is not going to go away and points out that people are generally beginning to realise that it is not going to happen to them once.

Accordingly, the company - which has a turnover of about pounds 120m - is moving towards career management, rather than purely focusing on putting people made redundant into other, often similar, jobs. This typically involves helping people to appraise themselves and assess what they need to do in order to move into another field.

Having - like many of her 170-odd colleagues - gone through this process herself, Ms Cook feels well-equipped to help in this respect.

In her first career, she spent 19 years buying and selling in the fast- moving consumer goods and retail fields. As she says, her marketing days - though successful - saw her experiencing "considerable change". But even this choice followed a dalliance with journalism.

She ended up as a director in the grocery division of Nabisco before - as she puts it, in a reference to the book about the RJR takeover - "The barbarians came to my gate".

Prior to that she had been merchandise director at the convenience store chain 7-Eleven when it was owned by Guinness, and before that a director with Fine Fare before it was taken over by Gateway.

The Nabisco affair convinced her that there was no point in merely seeking a similar position elsewhere because the same thing was likely to happen again. Consequently, she moved into consultancy, first with a strategy firm before "networking" led her into contact with Sanders & Sidney, which had provided outplacement services at Nabisco, though she had not taken them up.

Her predecessor at the head of the company, which is part of Pena Holdings, had felt that her marketing skills would be useful in people terms, so "after the initial shock about moving into a different field", she trained as a consultant and spent the next couple of years helping people find new jobs and careers.

But then the organisation set about repositioning itself for moving into the Nineties and Ms Cook's professional skills were once more called into play. She initially became marketing services director and then - when her husband's work took him there - moved to the West Country and oversaw the opening of offices in Bristol, Swindon and Cardiff. "I found myself becoming a manager again as regional director," she says.

In 1994, she returned to London to become sales and marketing director and took over as managing director a year later. "It's a joy to run a company whose service you totally believe in and feel really good about providing," she says of the move.

Though she accepts that "it can be quite stressful helping people all the time", she points out that the company is committed to helping the people working for it to achieve a balance between work and play.

Now in her mid-forties with two young daughters, she emphasises that a variety of working arrangements are welcomed as a contribution to helping employees to meet their family commitments. Some people work part-time and others take longer holidays to deal with school vacations. "Just as we recognise that people are going to have to be flexible in the workplace, so we are a model of flexible working," she says. "We're trying to be caring employers. I think it's important."

This flexibility also extends to the way the company is run. With such activities as payroll and information technology outsourced, the employees work closely together, sharing whatever skills they retain from their previous careers as and when required.

As well as operating through 17 offices around the country, including two in London, Sanders & Sidney is seeking to operate "as a virtual company throughout Europe".

It has forged links with similar consultancies in mainland Europe via an organisation called European Career Partners. The venture, which has existed since 1989 and stretches from Finland to Spain, does not involve any formal shareholdings, but the members meet every quarter and take part in monthly teleconferences with the aim of providing pan-European services and taking part in joint consultant training initiatives.

With more and more organisations going down this route, Sanders & Sidney is well-placed to advise on the personnel implications. And, since this trend is bound to result in more people working for themselves or for small organisations, it can also help there.

Already, says Ms Cook, about a quarter of the people using the company's services consider self-employment as an option and 14 to 15 per cent actually do it. "Most who've done it find it very satisfying," she adds, with clear satisfaction herself

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Guru Careers: Business Analyst / Digital Business Analyst

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Analyst / Digital Bus...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'