Member Profile Interview – Ian Pilbeam of The HR Dept

Published by Belinda Roberts MBE on


What was your first job after leaving school/further education?

I graduated in languages, but one of my lecturers told me that I spoke French like Inspector Clouseau spoke English! I knew I wanted to do something to do with management, and landed a temp job microfiching staff files in the Personnel Dept of a Shipyard in Southampton. Wind forward 30 years and here I am running a HR business in Edinburgh!

When did you start your business & what prompted you to do it?

I am just over 4 years into my “journey” as a business owner. We all know it is not a walk in the park building a business, and to that extent it has been as expected. Really liberating, enjoyable, never a straight line and rewarding. I realised that small businesses need somewhere to go for great HR support, and that call centres, lawyers and Google were not always the best bet. I love the impact that we are able to have for local businesses, and how we can help them stay safe and grow.

What did you find most challenging at the beginning?

Asking for money! I had been in house for 25 years, and was used to the monthly salary, and to work just coming to me. I soon learned that business owners really value high quality expert advice, delivered quickly, practicably and personably, and that they understand it is a commercial service. Those days are long behind me now!

Who did you ask for advice & why did you choose them?

As many people as I could. Although I knew loads about HR, I had never run a business before, so have learned that from the ground up. Every day is still a school day as my business continues to evolve and grow further.

How did you fund your business?

I was lucky enough to secure an exit from my last employed role, and that kept me going a while. I soon realised that I wanted to build a team (we are at 12 now) and have continued to constantly reinvest in the business.

What would you do differently now looking back?

I have no doubt that I have made many mistakes. In my first year I got my networking strategy wrong (no names, no pack drills, no more 6:30am breakfasts), and even now I am evolving it. As we all know, Edinburgh is a village, and the longer I operate, the more I know that everyone knows everyone, and that using contacts and building a reputation is the best way to grow a business here.

What or who has helped you to grow your business the most?

My team! They are amazing, and my clients tell me how lucky I am to have them. I chose them, and it’s up to me to lead them, they are a fantastically motivated and talented bunch who get what we do: helping business owners and managers to sleep at night and grow their businesses through their people.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced?

Managing my own expectations. I am driven to help as many local businesses as I can, and through this to grow my business. I have learnt that building a business is a bit like hill walking: you know there is a summit at the top, and that the journey may be cold and wet, and you may ache and get tired. Along the way you think you are getting there, but encounter false summits and scree. But the top is still there, and getting nearer. Sometimes I feel like I would like to be at the top of the hill, but truthfully I am still loving the journey.

What are the future plans for your business?

To keep growing. We have clear targets and plans in place, quite simply we want to be the go to local provider for local outsourced HR and Health and Safety. And to continue to work with so many great local businesses across such a wide variety of sectors

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to set up their own business?

Be clear on your Why, know your passion, understand your target market and how you can make a difference, build a business model that fits, and be prepared to work incredibly hard and be resilient. The personal rewards are awesome. I could never go back to being an employee.

Tell us something about you that isn’t commonly known.

Ten years ago I quit my secure HR director job and my wife and I went backpacking for a year around the world with our kids. I am now writing a book about the lessons I learnt from family travel and how I have applied them to growing a business.

And finally, why did you join WeDO?

I am looking forward to extending my network further, making some great new connections, and continuing my education in business.


HR consultancy

Absence management

Employment law

Appraisals process

Auto enrolment

Redundancy management

Contracts of employment

TUPE transfers

Disciplinary and grievance

Employee satisfaction surveys

Performance management

Employee counselling

Training and development

Staff discounts

Health and Safety

Outplacement and career management



Categories: Member Profile Interviews