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Will Hutton

Will Hutton

Principal, Hertford College, Oxford University and chair of the Big Innovation Centre

Wednesday 02 Nov 2011
Sara Edwards brings HR to the boardroom table at Orient Express Worldwide

Sara Edwards brings HR to the boardroom table at Orient Express Worldwide

Slowly but surely, the HR function is changing, moving from an administrative function to a strategic operation, and every time a global business realises this, the whole industry takes a step forward.

Sara Edwards, formerly director of HR worldwide at the company, has been promoted to vice president, human resources and will attend board meeting and group executive meetings, making sure plans for innovations around its people are included in the business's most senior strategic discussions.

HR has never previously been included on the board at Orient Express Worldwide, but given the company now employs 8,000 staff in 50 businesses across 24 countries (Brazil, Russia, North America, Peru, the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, southeast Asia, South Africa, Botswana and Mexico) and has an ambitious growth strategy in place, there is no time like the present.

"There is a need for an HR strategy," says Edwards, who was ranked number 27 on the 2011 Most Influential rankings and shortlisted for HR director of the year in the HR Excellence Awards 2011.

"But I have had to prove my business knowledge, I have had to build relationships with the board and participate knowledgeably and fully in conversations. This move is a recognition for all of us in HR. We are not just HR managers - I tell my department we are business managers."

The next year for Edwards will focus on "massive plans" for HR and "growth strategy for the hospitality company". In January next year, Edwards is poised to launch a training academy for the company's salesforce, in a bid to achieve stronger financial results by enhancing staff skills - this will be delivered in 11 languages across the world. In 2010, an online talent management programme was introduced in 25 countries.

"We have work to do on talent management, engagement, reward, succession planning, nurturing talent in the regions," says Edwards.