His first boss was none other than the author Terry Pratchett, but for two decades, Patrick Francis-Lang has been helping to shape one of Gloucestershire’s best-kept secrets - Pro Global, a hugely respected insurance services firm that provides specialist services to some of the nation's biggest businesses.
SoGlos spoke to Francis-Lang about why he resisted following in the family footsteps with a career in engineering and went into HR instead, not least with Pro Global, as he heads up the fast-growing firm's latest recruitment drive.
About the expert – Patrick Francis-Lang from Pro Global
When HR specialist Patrick Francis-Lang joined Pro Global, he was eager for a new challenge after a decade working in the energy sector.
He has been part of the team responsible for transforming the Gloucester-headquartered business into one of the foremost specialists at handling high-risk, complex insurance products for major clients, with a reputation for its exceptional in-house knowledge and abilities.
For more information, visit pro-global.com.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Bristol and grew up in Plymouth. My father had a role at a power station. I’ve always lived in the south west and for some time now, Gloucestershire.
When I was at school, my father was an engineer, my eldest sister was convinced she would be a scientist and went down the PHD route, and engineering didn’t interest me. I think I liked the idea of working for a big company and learning from within.
Where did your working life begin – we understand you had a rather unusual first boss!
I spent some time at The Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) and British Energy – now EDF – and also at Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, which was interesting. But since 2003, I have been at Pro Global.
I went to CEGB as a trainee and did a number of roles – it was a great opportunity. I worked in finance, IT, human resources and public relations. While doing that, I also did a Higher National Diploma in business and finance, before I realised human resources was the role I wanted to pursue and began taking exams in that.
My boss when I worked in PR at CEGB was Terry Pratchett, the author. He was the regional press officer. He was great – funny, flamboyant. The company was full of engineers, who were very methodical. He was energetic and creative.
You talk modestly about how you focused on HR and set about learning all you could, but your rise to management was quite quick.
Yes, I was promoted to personal manager at Hinkley Point power station when was 26. It was great and I enjoyed the challenge, but I knew I wanted to experience another sector as well – and I took the opportunity to take a year out and do some travelling.
What led you Pro Global?
I had just finished my contract at the police and saw the role at Pro Insurance. It was an unusual business even then. It started life as English and American Insurance Company and was based in Gloucester, at Bruton Court, near Asda.
When insurance companies stop underwriting new business, they still have claims to manage and that was where Pro was. The business was being run down and that is how Pro came to exist. It was there to run that business off.
That sounds as if the business had a limited lifespan – what happened to completely turn that around?
Pro had started its work in the 1990s and was expected to continue until the mid-2000s, which would have been the closure stage for the original English and American business, but Pro had become very good at what it did and began handling the same “run off “work for other companies. It had built up an incredible amount of knowledge and specialist expertise and proved itself to be very creative.
We started to realise there was something in what we were doing which was not being done by anyone else, and we had an opportunity to improve things for many businesses in the sector. We had begun generating real added value and that helped make clients more efficient. Businesses which had complex pieces of work began asking us if we could handle it for them, which allowed them to focus on what they do best.
Pro continues to evolve and now, we are not just a ‘trusted provider’ but a ‘trusted advisor’.
As well as a complete 180-degree turn in how the business perceived its future, Pro also transformed itself culturally...
When I first joined Pro, there were a lot of experts and we simply looked to retain them. But as we have transformed, we began creating new opportunities and we are still on that journey. We are still after experts, but we realised bringing in new people and training them and helping them excel has huge benefits.
The recruitment here now is completely different. We have so much home-grown talent and we want more. We need to get the word out that this is really interesting work that can lead to a good and long professional career.
Pro Global has a footprint in Europe, the United States and South America and employs 600 staff in total – 350 in Gloucester. What is the potential for a new starter with no experience to rise through the firm?
We have had people who have started at Pro who are now in very senior positions in the insurance business globally, at some very big businesses. It's such a large and complex sector with huge opportunities. We will help staff identify the roles that suit their skills best and help them develop those skills into a career.
By way of example Richard Emmett, head of insurance services, is responsible for all the business in that area. He is part of the senior team and he joined the business from school.
Pro has launched a recruitment drive, extending an open invitation to potential staff to apply for an interview. What are your working practices like post-Covid?
The way we work is changing. I think that will continue to be interesting going forward. Not only are we one of those companies which has a successful work-from-home policy, with teams coming in on particular days, I can also see technology continuing to enhance that.
We have good pay, benefits and bonuses and are transparent. Ultimately, what we know is that if people are happy in their environment, they do a good job. It’s our culture and values; our team spirit; the quality of our people and the contribution we make to the communities in which we do business that make Pro such a rewarding place to work
You have stressed the importance of the people at Pro and never once talked about the bottom line – why is that?
Obviously for a business to be successful, it needs to grow the bottom line, but what makes us different is that our product literally is our people. It is their knowledge and experience and skills they have in their heads that helps them deliver for others. That is our intellectual property.
One of the best ways to help an individual grow is to give them knowledge. Then they become even more valuable for the business. Both parties win.
You sound genuinely excited by the future at Pro Global.
I am very proud of the organisation. We want to bring more people in to help Pro Global grow and share in that success. I really think it's a great place to work. I think we are somewhat hidden in the city, and we need to do something about that profile. We have hundreds of people here doing exceptional work and Gloucestershire is such a great place to work, too.