In conversation with Paul Turner, HR Director of Princess Yachts

Paul Turner is HR Director at Princess Yachts, a leading British luxury yacht manufacturer based in Plymouth. The company has been building exceptional ocean-going craft for 55 years, and has a passion for excellence, sustainability and ocean conservation.

Here Simon Betts, Senior Consultant and Practice Lead at executive search firm Edward Drummond & Co, asks Paul about the impact of both the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit – on manufacturing in general and HR/employment issues in particular.

Paul Turner

Paul Turner, HR Director of luxury yacht manufacturer, Princess Yachts

What lessons have you taken from the Covid 19 pandemic? Where are the opportunities now to improve culture, employee engagement and performance in a leading manufacturing business such as yours?

Firstly, we discovered how quickly our business could adapt to a situation that in the early months developed rapidly on an almost daily business. All our business areas, from production to support functions like H & S and HR, stood up to the mark and delivered.

Secondly – an obvious one but also crucial – communication is key. We had to introduce new COVID-secure shifts and large numbers of our support functions had to work from home. We introduced an all-employee email to send employee briefs and an employee-dedicated website to view all communications. We also worked with our managers to help them stay in regular contact with their remote working employees to monitor everyone’s wellbeing, especially their mental health, while our CEO issues regular video updates that are uploaded to the website.

In terms of culture, employee engagement and performance we have been working on this for some time and, for all of the challenges of COVID 19, it has helped confirm our belief that our workforce is our most valuable asset.

How do you see the role of the Human Resources Director changing in a post-pandemic world?

I don’t think my role will change per se. My team and I are clear on what needs to be done to support the production side of the business and deliver on cultural change, employee engagement and ensuring the business has the talent and resource to see it through the coming years.

I think what has changed is that the wider workforces now desire and focus on communication, employee wellbeing, working collaboratively and pulling together as a team. This can only help support the HR agenda, which is closely linked to what we need to achieve commercially and production wise.

Do you believe that some aspects of your operating model have now changed forever?

Yes. The way we set up our shift patterns has developed and evolved and this will continue. COVID aside, it has also helped with some existing issues such as limited on-site car parking spaces, travel to work and childcare commitments. We will also maintain a more flexible approach to home working, to help people enjoy a better work-life balance – on a practical note, this will also free up more space in our offices.

Supply chain continuity and effectiveness are key for your business. What steps are you taking to address this given the opportunities and challenges post Brexit?

Brexit and the supply chain have been on the agenda ever since the UK voted to leave the EU. We regularly brief our purchasing team, together with all internal stakeholders, and they work closely with our suppliers to ensure we know exactly what’s happening in the supply chain. This helps us to minimise surprises in terms of parts availability or factory shutdowns due to COVID. As a manufacturing business we export our product all around the world, so we needed a detailed understanding of the potential issues that would arise whether we had a deal or no-deal Brexit.

How is the deployment of the COVID 19 vaccine affecting your planning and confidence for 2021?

When we restarted production in May we had transformed our sites into COVID-secure environments and we’ve continued to evolve this in the intervening months. Whilst the vaccine roll-out is a huge step forward, our focus has been on ensuring that our 3,000 employees can come in and leave work safely.

We have a strong order book well in to 2022 and we are currently recruiting manufacturing roles to support this order book. We are taking a measured approach as, in my opinion, even with a vaccine, many of the restrictions and challenges are likely to stay in place into 2022.

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