Meet the MD: Oliver Shaw of Cascade HR

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

I am responsible for running IRIS’ human capital management division, of which Cascade is a part. We have a high growth plan for the next five years, so I’ve set the strategy to achieve that vision, and must now make sure we execute it. I’m also in charge of the profit and loss account and regularly communicate progress back to our shareholders, as we steer forward.



What is it the company does?

Cascade is an award-winning provider of fully-integrated HR and payroll software. Our intuitive tech is built so that it’s highly intelligent but incredibly easy to use.

This empowers HR and payroll professionals so that they spend less time burdened with long-winded admin, and more time undertaking the strategic elements of their role that add value to their businesses.

With software modules that help tackle everything from core HR and payroll, to training, auto enrolment, recruitment and absences, we’ve attracted more than 750 clients, each with anything from 25 to tens of thousands of employees.

And that number is growing by the day, largely because of our reputation for customer service as well as great tech.



Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I began my career as a process and business analyst, responsible for re-engineering organisational procedures and driving change. I spent the next seven years with Capital One when it was the fastest growing credit card issuer in the UK. I developed new business units, built new sales and operational infrastructures, and managed varied stakeholder relationships. I’ve always worked in large scale, human capital heavy businesses.

I joined IRIS in 2009 to run their 35,000-customer payroll division and moved to Cascade in 2015, with 15 years’ board director experience under my belt, a keen eye on the bottom line but truly people-centric values.



What do you believe makes a great leader?

I have a strong strategic vision, which every leader needs, but I can articulate it and give my team the tools to execute it. As a colleague of mine wisely said – ‘vision without action and execution is just a hallucination’.

I allocate my time wisely so I can remain focused on what’s really important each week, but leave enough time to manage progress, nurture and empower employees, and rest.



What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

It sounds pretty clichéd but I’m fairly relaxed in most situations – much to my wife’s frustration! As stressed as a challenge can make you, you still have to solve the problem so I try to remain positive. That’s why thinking of a recent challenge is actually quite tough.

I suppose when IRIS acquired Cascade in 2014, we knew there was a strong business culture which was largely responsible for the company’s impressive organic growth to that point. We’ve been able to retain this, whilst introducing a new management team and further improving performance – we’ve grown by two thirds in two years and we’re not finished yet!

Such a pivotal transitional phase is never easy but, through good management, we turned a potentially big challenge into an opportunity.



How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I learned a few years ago that if you have a stressful job it’s crucial to have something else in life that you’re really passionate about. I used to play rugby but now I have horses. When I’m out riding, I can’t use my mind for anything other than the job at hand.

This means, when I come back to work, I’m more focused, efficient and productive – not only do I have a clear head but I also don’t want work to encroach on this riding time.


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I had a number of ideas when I was young – a fighter pilot, a policeman or an engineer like my dad. The qualifications didn’t quite go as planned though but I don’t mind!



Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?

I bet everyone says procrastination, but that’s because it’s hugely frustrating.

I also think a lack of planning is unforgivable. If there’s a risk of something going wrong, there must be a strategy in place to deal with it. That’s why I try to encourage people to think “so what?” It’s important to really thoroughly consider a scenario and what could happen next.



Where do you see the company in five years time?

We’re among the top five HR technology providers in the UK, and that’s alongside huge global brands such as Sage and Oracle. But not many people know about it.

With 5% of the market share we’re already in a completely different league to other UK competitors, yet in the next five years I want to cement our position in the top three.

I believe by this point, people will look to IRIS as being able to provide the infrastructure that truly realises the value of effective human capital management.



What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Know what you want to do (vision), define how you’re going to do it (strategy) and get it done (execute)! Great ideas are nothing without action.  You must have an individual, personal plan too, so you know where you want to be in X years’ time.

Finally, it’s important to recognise your individual values (i.e. who you are) as this will help you make the right decisions in difficult situations. 



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Published: 22 August 2016

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