Continuing our Inspiring Leaders series, we caught up with Deb Franklin, one of our HR Business Partners. 

With 35 years’ working in HR, Deb brings a wealth of experience to Chubb, but she didn’t get off to the easiest start in life. Read about how her fierce independence, people skills, and eagerness to learn have helped pave the way for her career and why she believes taking small risks in business can earn you the respect of your peers. 

Growing up 

I was born in Balham, London, where my dulcet accent comes from. I have three sisters, of which I am the oldest, and the two youngest are from my dad’s second marriage. I was raised by my mum after my mum and dad separated around the age of 7. Prior to that, we lived abroad, as my dad worked at a high level in IT. 

From the age of 7, my sister mum and I moved to Surrey whereas my dad stayed working abroad. There were many difficulties at home and therefore when I finished my school education at 15, I left home and went straight into working. 

Early working life 

I was unable to consider further education after school as I was living independently and needed to pay rent. Instead, I took a role as a marine underwriter for an insurance company. Although I had no prior experience in the field, the company offered a good salary for a 15-year-old, and I stayed there for a couple of years. This role was to underwrite cargo-carrying ships. 

I always knew that I had more academic ability, so while I was working, I enrolled in adult education classes to re-sit my O’Levels. After completing these, I went on to do A-Levels, which opened up more opportunities for me. I had since moved on to a role in a computer company and had enrolled in a degree program in Finance. I became interested in this topic because I transitioned from a marine underwriting role to a finance role. Although it wasn’t my passion, it was a natural step for my career growth. The degree focused on Credit Management, and after a year, I realised that it wasn’t for me, and I didn’t enjoy it.   

I went onto working in sales for Kimberly Clark – the people who make the toilet rolls, but again, it wasn’t my love. I didn’t have a vision of what I wanted to do.  

My next role was working for a company called International Procurement & Logistics, which supplied all fresh produce to the Asda chain. We were working on an integration project where Asda said, “If your supply chain can cut out the middleman within a 5-year period, then we’ll purchase the business.” 

I worked there in a variety of different roles, and then the HR Director approached me to help with the integration and subsequent TUPE project. Further to this, the HR director took me aside one day and said: “You’ve got a real hang for this; you’re really good at interacting with people, and people respect you. I think this could be a career for you.” As he was talking about the academic possibilities for me, I was referring back to the finance degree I had started and had not enjoyed. He encouraged me just to do a CPP foundation course for one year and said it would be very practical. I gave it a try and absolutely loved it, and my role evolved from there. 

Starting out in HR 

I started as an HR Administrator, then moved into an HR Advisor role. Next, I became HR Manager and then Regional HR Manager for the South of the UK. During this time, I started my 3-year post-grad degree in Strategic People Management and then a further year to achieve my master’s in strategic management & Leadership. 

From IPL I wanted exposure to other industries, so I took a role at the South distribution centre for  Morrisons, as their HR Manager. I led a team of 13, supporting more than 2,000 people in total. 

Although I had already led a team at IPL, this role enabled me to identify what opportunities were available to my team from an academic point of view and their own development. In IPL and Morrisons members of my team went through CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) of which I offered informal mentoring. Four of these are now very successful HR Business Partners in their own fields, and we’ve all remained close friends. Whenever I’ve moved on, I’ve always maintained really strong friendships with the people I’ve worked with. 

After Morrisons, I decided to work for myself and started to do consultation work. I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom this provided however my circumstances changed and I needed to return to the security of a full-time permanent role. This is where my journey with Chubb began. 

Joining Chubb 

I joined Chubb in January 2016 as the Regional HR Business Partner for London and Southeast. After a couple of years, the business changed to value streams, so I moved on to become HR Business Partner for the Fire value stream nationally. A further change in 2021 resulted in my current role, which is to support Chubb Systems and our brands – Frontline, Vipond and Mentor. 

Working for one company for eight years is a milestone for me. I will always remember an HR Director who suggested that if you stay in one place too long, you can become generic in your approach. As I have moved around the various different value streams, it has been like starting a completely new job, so it’s kept that interest burning for me. I can get restless if I’m not challenged or if the business I work for is not committed to progressing. 

Who has inspired your leadership journey? 

As someone without any clear direction, from the beginning of my career journey, I didn’t have anyone I looked up to or felt guided by until I met that one HR Director at IPL. They really guided me and made me see the contribution I was making and to believe in my abilities.  

When I was interviewed for my degree, the interviewer took me aside and said: “This is not going to be an easy ride”. Everyone seemed so much more academically advanced than me, so I came back from that interview and spoke to the HR Director, I mentioned.  

They made me see that it’s not all about academic ability but equally demonstrating the right mindset and attributes. The ability to empathise, understand, be fair, and make the balance between what the business needs and standing firm on what people need is inherent in me.  

Having that person there, who was with me every step of the way, made me feel supported. I haven’t seen him in over 12 years, but I still get messages from him and motivational quotes; he’s in the background. They, to me, are a true role model. 

How do you incorporate continuous learning? 

With any company, it has its processes and policies you need to follow. But for me, continuous learning is more of a common-sense thing – how you apply what you learn in your job and everyday life.  One solution does not fit all. 

If I had remained in the branch structure, I would never have had the exposure to acquisitions and mergers. But in HR, you’re a bit like a GP. You have to know a little bit about every illness, but you’re never going to be the one to cure each individual.  

With that broader knowledge before coming to Chubb, I am comfortable going into that grey area that doesn’t perhaps fit the black-and-white rules. I know that it’s sometimes worth taking little risks if it’s the right thing to do for that person – it can actually gain you the respect of your peers. And it’s that confidence to make these decisions that comes with continuous learning.  

What advice can you offer someone on progressing in an HR role?  

Gain a really good understanding of the business they are working in.  Use the policies and procedures as your guide but keep an open mind and be prepared for unexpected situations that may arise. Most importantly, if you do not know the answer, then say you don’t know it.  You will only gain the confidence of your colleagues if they can trust you.  

How can leaders stay up to date with changes in people’s needs? 

I am often surprised by how aware our business leaders are of the conversations taking place in HR. They are starting to recognise employees’ crucial role in our company; it’s our number one priority. Without the support of our workforce, we cannot achieve anything else. 

I’m impressed that all of our leaders know how important engagement is. They must be bombarded by the information they get from outside the business. Still, the leaders I work with are taking proactive approaches to keep their knowledge up to date without relying on someone or waiting for something to happen.  

We have an MD who truly believes in our People-First culture. Our Senior Leadership Team meetings are largely focussed on the people, and for me that’s very positive move forward.  

What does our purpose, Building Great Leaders, mean to you?  

It means ownership, autonomy, and having your voice heard. Prior to joining the APi Group, many felt that there was a lack of positivity and investment in the business. With Building Great Leaders, if you want to develop in your role and be a strong leader, people now feel they have the support of Chubb. 

What one word describes your leadership style? 

Honest. Regardless of who I’m dealing with – from senior leadership to an apprentice, I think people would say my advice is honest. I don’t let the personal relationships I have with people sway that. 

Which one of Chubb’s values do you hold dear? 

Ownership – ‘own what we do.’ All other values are achievable if someone owns what they do. We protect people, think steps ahead, bring energy to challenges and win together if we own what part we play in that. 

Do you read books or watch films? 

I am terrible at reading, other than when I am laying on a sunbed with a cocktail. My fiancée John owns his own business and works most days so anytime together is spent sitting at the dinner table talking and catching up. Lesley has given me a book for Christmas, though, so I had better read that! 

Do you have any hobbies or interests? 

I absolutely love live music, and we go to many festivals. John works at festivals including Reading and Leeds so there are always opportunities to see live bands.  We love our holidays and also have six grown-up children and four grandchildren between us, so socialising with family is always important to us. 

What is your favourite destination? 

Antigua was my favourite beach holiday – the people were absolutely amazing. I also love a city break. We went to San Francisco last year and did loads of walking. I’ve mountain biked in Utah and gambled in Las Vegas – everyone has to do Vegas at least once! 

We’re getting married this year, and we’re struggling with where to have our honeymoon. I’d like to go further afield to somewhere like Australia, but I’m absolutely petrified of spiders. 

My daughter is an avid traveller, has travelled around Southeast Asia for a few months. I watch in admiration how she plans all her trips. I’d probably be ok roughing it for a few days, but then I’d want to go to a nice hotel somewhere. 

What do you do to destress? 

Our social schedule is always fully booked. I like watching crime documentaries, and we go out a lot for meals with friends. I have also just started to have regular massages, which have made me feel great. 

Do you have a favourite cuisine? 

Greek – I love Greek food! John is the cook, and I eat it. I’ve never enjoyed cooking; John is the foodie, and I’m the follower. I also love a good cheese board which is not the best craving for someone who is lactose intolerant! 

What star sign are you? 

I’m a Leo. Some of my friends would say I can be quite direct, but it all comes back to my honesty. I will tell them how it is – but I’m empathetic too.