Angus MacGregor - Head of Global HR at MUFG Bank

Human Resources
09 November, 2022

Angus MacGregor is the Head of Global HR at MUFG Bank. He has been in senior HR roles for 16 years, having started his career as a solicitor. Angus moved into Human Resources in the banking sector in 2006, with Barclays Bank.

How do you feel that the workplace and working styles have changed post-pandemic?

We are not quite out of the pandemic. Thinking globally, I have travelled around most parts of the globe, so I have seen it in action. The major change is absenteeism in the office; there’s generally lots more space. I’ve been able to see about 15 different countries in Asia, Americas and EMEA, and the common theme is there’s a lot less people in the office: it’s an obvious statement that’s happening everywhere.

Employers and employees are currently both trying to work out the most efficient and productive way of working, rather than just focusing on compliance or safety. So, it’s moved to trying to benefit the firm around getting the right balance.

I don’t think it has worked itself out yet; a range of employees are adjusting to how they want to work, which requires time and discussion.

I think the workstyle change will move to less office time. This will include using the office more effectively and “selling” it as a place to come and brainstorm, have on-the-job training, and the necessary social interactions. Sometimes, it will be a requirement to be in the office to get something done, for example, a transaction.

I think it will work itself out into a range of full-time, hybrid and remote for most workers in most businesses. However, there’ll be stresses when individuals make demands which are different from the company’s requirements - a gap between what the employee thinks and what the employer thinks - and that will be assessed by performance and outputs. That is very difficult to measure, because most jobs are a discretionary effort and quality of product.

The last comment I’d make is about travel appetite. It is currently quite low - I’m referring to international travel predominantly. You would think that lots of people want to jump on a plane, but I think a lot of those trips are now seen as not necessary and the worker feels that they probably don’t need to make the trip, because they can do it remotely. Add to this that it's currently very expensive to travel. Obviously, there are certain trips that are required, but they are either revenue-based, risk-based or control-based, rather than about engendering purpose and engagement.

The main worry I have is about levels of engagement and purpose of workforce, because - if there’s not something positively done to address - it won’t manage itself. Like before, we all came to work and engaged with each other in various ways; now it’s more disparate and people have got to have active strategies to engage with other team members.

In terms of the role of leadership, I think a lot of people have managed remote working in some sense, but some people found it quite difficult, so I think the big element is trust. New training will come out over the next few years, such as “productive hybrid” management. This training needs to find a way to discern between (say) two employees' performance and adjudge fairly who is the better employee over time for promotion.

We are respecting local management and local teams as to what they require, and I think the sense is there is an importance of the office, but it is about articulating that in the local market. Currently, people are still not certain about returning to the office, and it is a mixture of concerns for their safety and current remote working being perfectly suitable in the situation, from the employee perspective.

How do you think the HR function and the wider discipline is likely to evolve if we fast forward five or ten years? What does the function look like and how does it serve its purpose for the business?

COVID has put it further up the corporate pecking order, no doubt.  

I think, over time - let’s say ten years - most businesses of size should have reasonable systems, digitalisation and probably some robotics within their HR services. So, all the services of payroll, plus anything required for the employee, should be self-service and usable by most levels in the organisation.

You will get fewer “dinosaurs” at the top who will want their HR person to do their admin, but I think - supposing you get the systems pieces right - then you must get into what I would like, which is basically the strategic advisory OD [organisational development], talent management, proper conversations about talent and their careers.

Each employee will have more rights and maybe options, so the HR function needs to think about a bespoke plan of learning, development, talent, career, pay for these individuals. So, the HR function needs to work out how to add value to the manager. There’s basically an execution of service and then there’s a total deep understanding of the asset, which is the employee. Of course, we would say we do that now, but we don’t. There are pockets of people we put in talent and there’s a massive middle “belly” of the organisation, which gets left out – they are not actively developed.

One future strategy that I am working on is more like a consultancy team sitting in HR with some different hybrid skills. This team of HR professionals will then be agile enough to go and work on a project within a business or within an HR process cycle, like the performance management cycle, rewards cycle, or the talent cycle. They would go in and hit the spot in a country and do something for the business quickly - it’s in and out.

That’s more where I’m heading - I think there’ll be more of a HR business solutions consultancy team. Traditionally, we have most people running this sort of model of business partner and the COE [centre of excellence] pillars. I think it comes closer together to have an advisory team, which has all the skills available, to be able to provide solutions for the client.

So, you might see some structural change and I think there’ll be a play for ESG [Environmental, Social and Governance] as the other change. I think all of those have an HR relevance; not just the social aspects, but it might look at governance, it might look at environmental within the HR frame – but the key question is how we orientate our people around the ESG agenda, because all the businesses are going to go for it.  

ESG is going to become huge, so how does HR align other than just following the business? I think there’ll be some ESG teams, and the health and wellbeing agenda may even become even bigger, and we’re starting to see Chief Wellbeing Officers or Chief Welfare Officers.

If you’re looking at recruiting into your team, what are the things that job seekers can do to really make themselves stand out in the HR market?

It depends what level, but for the general audience, there is no substitute for networking, so, being active in all your networks. LinkedIn is good, but think where else can you play to any level, meet people, go to events, all that activity. It depresses me how few people seem to do it; they often say, “I haven’t got time”, or “I don’t know how”. Make the time and find out how - ask someone who’s good at it. Don’t make it an excuse that you don’t do it, because even at a junior level, people who are well-networked suddenly become quite well-known.

At a junior level, I’d write an article, or I’d give an opinion, or I’d speak or ask a question at a conference. Putting yourself out there is obvious stuff, and you don’t have to ask a clever question; it’s most of the obvious questions that people want to ask. Play above the parapet.

I think in terms of CVs, I always like the shorter ones. The history - you’ve got to show your credibility with your great academics – is as important as, what makes you tick? What’s your make-up? What type of person are you? What are your key strengths and values and what can you bring to the party? These sorts of things are immediate go-tos and a hiring manager thinks, I’m buying a team player with strong attitude, a self-starter. I think, right, I’ve got a focused person and I am interested.

There is no harm in writing to senior influencers, for example, some contacts from LinkedIn. I’ve had maybe 50 “cold” emails just saying, “Hi, I’ve just graduated, and I’m interested in HR, can you help me? What sort of directions should I go in? I’ve done these things, etc.” and, actually, I’m often quite interested in that. I`m always flattered to be as to help.

I’d maybe send them to someone and say, “Have a look at this person in London or in New York, or APAC”, or wherever it is. I’d say ten or so out of 50 have progressed in this way. Not bad odds. I’m particularly interested in junior talent, so if someone is showing themselves to me in that way at quite a young age, I think it’s very brave, so I’m going to read it and reply. It’s nothing terribly creative - it’s obvious stuff - but it does resonate with me if I’m hiring.

In terms of your own career, talk me through anything you’ve done that you maybe felt was a risk that’s really helped you to get to the level you’re at.

I’ve worked for seven different organisations. I’ve left six companies on my own terms to enhance my career. I always say to people, “You’ve got choices and you’ve got to back yourself.”

That’s hopefully not arrogant, but, if you think about your strengths and believe you’re going to be good in the job - and, when you finally get in the job, you give it good go, try your hardest, as well as work your hardest, to become good in the position. It’s not a risk, but I’ve looked at other jobs and said, “Yes, I can do that.”  

I’ve worked with someone who had their 34-year work anniversary, and she was extolling the virtue of staying in one place, but she’s done seven jobs in that place and, of course, is brilliant. If you can do that and you like the environment, the culture, and the people, then fantastic.

There are two different models. There’s bravery and risk in both, because you’re obviously pushing yourself in both. One of them is to come into a new environment, but the other one is almost braver if you stay, and you’re judged. They know you so well from the past that you’ve got to recreate yourself within a same environment, which can be equally brave.

A general comment - I’d say I would always take something, even if I’m not ready. I would always mostly say yes to something. It’s not a fear of missing out, it’s more, if there’s an opportunity, you weigh up the person offering it, your capability and then, in a way, is it good for me and my career? You do an assessment and then you go for it, and you take that risk.

I’ve always been open about my gaps and needs, so that means I’ve been responsive to coaching and/or mentoring, which I’ve always thought as a good thing – so there’s a vulnerability. You don’t have to go into a meeting aged 25 and know everything - you can say, “I’m not sure I know that”, and that’s quite a skill to be in a work environment and say that you don’t know something. Nobody trains you to do that. I am just used to being quite open and, if I don’t know something, then people will say, “I’ll come and help you with that” and you go, “Okay, that would be good.”  

I’ve also tried to add skills. For example, I did an executive course on Finance for non-Finance people; I’m a lawyer by background, but started to do HR. So, I had a gap in Finance, so I did two weeks in that - I was sponsored by one of the firms, but I pushed for it, because I saw this as a gap quite early on – and I use it most days.

If I need to say something in a meeting, I’ve got that knowledge from that course. Again, it’s not a risk, but I’ve called it out myself and got sponsorship, so that’s what I’d say on the risk. I’ve basically jumped from a law firm to a bank, and then from a bank law job to an HR job, so I’ve taken a few jumps. They’re risky, but I’ve gone with some comfort in knowing the job; I knew some of the job, so I took the risk on the rest of the job, and I weighed up the leadership above me and the sponsorship, and I thought, I’ve got the backing, so I’ll go. Be open-minded and a bit more relaxed.

If someone is an aspiring leader, what advice could you give to them? What skills should they be trying to develop?

It’s linked. This vulnerability bit I’m proud of – being yourself and not masking. In leadership, people like to see the person. I always say to people, “Ask a lot of questions, but be courteous and make them engaging.” Don’t be a nuisance - there’s a fine line. Be someone who has talent, then you can have an enjoyable conversation.

Leaders can be more personal about stuff; they don’t need to talk about the business or the transaction fully for 30 minutes. You can have a chat and feel comfortable talking about how you’re doing, what you’re doing this weekend, and have a conversation – even using some emotion and storytelling as part of that!

That personal connection is very valuable. I think there’s a few business leaders who feel that’s not relevant - you’re not maximising time - but I’m not of that ilk. I would say, be pushy about your own career, make demands of your manager, and take all the mentorship. Be eclectic from looking at the leadership that you have in front of you, which bits of them do you rate? Then ask someone to be a mentor and, at some stage in your career, ask if you can have a coach for the current challenges or next step acceleration.

Who would you pick as being particularly inspiring to you within business, but maybe also in broader life? Are there any individuals who are personal heroes?

As a family, we all ask, “Who’s your crush?”, meaning, who’s that person that we all know that you rate so highly? Then, for fun, we have a bit of conversation about why. I’m not going to name him, but there’s a guy in my set from college who has been reasonably successful and happy. It’s his values and behaviours that sets him apart. He is someone who’s approachable and is a good listener.

From the business world, the person I look to is Warren Buffet. The reason I say that is, when you listen to him, he uses a very simple approach. He’s obviously intelligent, but he makes quite simple long-term decisions, and he sticks to them. When I think about it, I’m not into [stock] markets like that, but stick to your guns and your judgment. I just quite like listening to him and he’s done extremely well from lowly beginnings.

Then, there’s a woman – again, I won’t name her - she was my first HR mentor. She basically took me in at Barclays and said, “Why don’t you come and work in HR?”. She said to me, “I think you could do this job.” A lot of the time, I buy into the person, and her work ethic was just unbelievable.

Her time management, her approach to work, but also, she would go “deep”, and she knew how to work a long day, but she did it in a way that was positive, and was very data-driven and analytical about her decision-making. The significant bit - her focus actually - when she was talking to me, I was the only guy in the room: “What do you think about this?” and I’d give an answer. There was no distraction; that’s quite a skill to be at that level - she’s got 110 things on - so I tried to bring that skill into my job.

Are there any books, podcasts, blogs that you particularly enjoy that you could recommend?

I listen to quite a lot of podcasts, and I also read quite a bit. There’s a guy I’m really into now called Tim Ferriss. Basically, he interviews people. He’s done about 600 now. He’s a 42-year-old American, he’s semi-famous, as he wrote the 4-Hour Work Week, which distils down how you can do your job effectively in four hours, and the content is very good.

The podcast that I’m listening to now is on the three brains, which is basically your brain, your heart, and your stomach are all brains; they’ve all got brain cells and they all operate as a brain, and he was just talking about how you manage those three, so that’s quite interesting.

There are two books that I’d recommend to everybody. One is Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Gladwell writes a lot of stuff on psychology, mostly personal work, and Blink is about taking a short-term view and then a long-term view and acknowledging your gut reaction. The last one is Think Again by Adam Grant. The basis around that is changing your mind and why that’s not a bad thing. It’s quite good to dip into those books.

Thank you to Angus for speaking to Katie Insley, Associate Director in our HR recruitment team in the Netherlands. 

Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment