Small Business Owner Interviews

Small Business Interview: Ian Pilbeam from the HR Dept

In my Small Business Interviews series, I’m chatting to Edinburgh business owners to find out more about the ups and downs of running a small business. This time, it’s the turn of Ian Pilbeam who founded The HR Dept, an outsourced HR and Health & Safety provider, five years ago.

With nearly 30 years of HR experience, Ian has a wealth of knowledge to help businesses ensure success through their people, be legally compliant and handle tricky people issues. As a business owner himself, he understands the challenges that come with running and growing a small business.

Ian’s straightforward, honest approach has made him a trusted partner among dozens of organisations, across a wide range of sectors, looking to avoid people problems or manage difficult situations.

He is known for his ability to explain complex concepts simply and to make learning fun and enjoyable. When he’s not at work, Ian is a huge sport and music fan, with an insatiable appetite for world travel fuelled by his round-the-world trip with his family a few years ago.

Why do you do what you do?

Although I fell into HR by accident (not many little boys ran around the school playground in the 1970s saying they wanted to do HR when they grew up!), I love the fact that we make a real difference to people’s lives. Business owners sleep better and have more successful businesses, employees have better working lives and there are fewer accidents because of what we do.

What are you most proud of?

Having spent 25 years in the public sector, I knew that the only way the private sector would employ me would be if I started my own company and employed myself. Wind forwards five years and I have learnt how to run a business, I have a great team of ten amazing people, and an expanding client list that includes some great Edinburgh names and some inspirational businesses.

What keeps you up at night?

I am probably not the only business owner who has experienced “Imposter Syndrome” occasionally – the fear that I am just getting away with it and that the whole house of cards could fall down at any time. Fortunately that fear is much less than it used to be, and in any case, fear is just excitement with a less positive mindset.

What was the best business decision you ever made?

That’s easy: starting my business five years ago. This stage of my career is by far the most rewarding, and I feel that through my team we make a real difference to people’s lives, and I am freed from the shackles of being the in-house HR Police.

And the worst?

Probably staying in the public sector for so long. I have nothing against the public sector per se, and some amazing things happen there which we all depend on. But for me, I think that my entrepreneurial spirit was lurking below the surface for so long and I wish I had started my business ten years earlier. But I am still a lucky guy, so no regrets really.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?

Never assume. I learnt that to be good at HR you need to have an enquiring mind and to ask interesting questions. Things are not always what they seem and people never cease to amaze, inspire and sometimes baffle me.

How do you attract new clients or customers?

When I started the business I had few SME contacts, so I got myself out there and met loads of people. Work came from this, and we then looked after these businesses well and over time word has spread. Most new work comes from referral these days. Scotland is a village, Edinburgh is a street, and that certainly helps. My family are sick of the fact that I can’t go anywhere without seeing someone I know. I quite enjoy my pseudo-celebrity status!

What do you enjoy most about your marketing?

Meeting people. Whether that is networking, follow up chats or sales meetings, I love finding more about people, what makes them tick and the story behind their business.

I also love writing copy. Once the son of an English teacher, always the son of an English teacher.

How do you relax?

I am renowned for the amount of holidays I have. I have been fortunate to visit 65 countries so far and have plans for much more travel in the future.

I also love listening to music and going to gigs, with next summer already being cleared for the next Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band World Tour.

What is your favourite brand?

Boring answer I know, but it has to be Apple. I love the clarity of their purpose, the simplicity of the brand and the synchronicity of their products.

What’s something you dream of doing?

Slow travelling around the world for many years, with regular trips back home. I did this for a year ten years ago with my kids when they were 8 and 10, and my wife and I would love to do it again on our own. As part of this, I would like to take in all the major sporting events.

What’s next?

Keep on building the business. We know how much SMEs value local and pragmatic HR and Health & Safety, and the whole team is driven to help many more businesses as we continue to make a difference to people’s lives.

To find out more about Ian and The HR Dept, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


To read more of these interviews, have a look here:
Lucy Cardwell from Lucky Cloud Skincare
Andrew Morrison from AM Bid
Caroline Walsh from Archipelago Bakery
Gino Crolla from Anima

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.