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Jean Tomlin: A Jamaican on a (Recruitment) Mission

Sunday, August 26, 2012    

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HEAPS of praises have been showered on the organisers of the recently concluded summer Olympics, and rightfully so, as London pulled off a brilliantly orchestrated event. Names that are frequently bandied around are Lord Sebastian Coe, David Beckham and Mayor of London Boris Johnson. There's another name you definitely need to know -- that of Jean Tomlin, human resources director of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) and Paralympic Games Limited, who had the daunting task of recruiting the right people for this historic event. This elegant executive, wife, mother, and grandmother traces her roots to The Rock. Tomlin's parents are Jamaicans, and our athletes in their Cedella Marley for PUMA designs made her as proud as those of Team GB in their Stella McCartney for Adidas.

SO finally caught up with this dynamic woman a day before leaving London for an exclusive interview.

SO: Jean, what exactly was your role in the Olympic Games?

Jean Tomlin (JT): I had overall accountability for the recruitment and mobilisation of the largest workforce seen in the UK during peacetime, comprising approximately 100,000 contractors, 70,000 volunteers and 6,000 paid staff. In addition, I have accountability for training, accreditation and uniforms, employee engagement and trade union liaison. My role was to lead a superb team of individuals, setting strategy, developing plans, and ensuring implementation was achieved to the highest level of detail and accuracy.

SO: How did you land the job?

JT: I was headhunted in early 2006 and competed against a 500-strong application pool. I was delighted to get the role and was able to set a clear vision and transition the organisation from start-up through to maturity and now, after the Paralympics, will embark on the dissolution programme.

SO: Tell us about Jean.

JT: I was born in London. I am one of four children and am of Jamaican parentage. My parents, Daisy and Cinrell Tomlin, came here in the late 1940s/early 1950s. My mother is from Clarendon and my father from Mandeville. I have a BSc honours; however, by attending Loughborough University I was able to combine my passionate interest in sport with the pursuit of my degree. I started my career as a graduate trainee at Ford, starting in personnel, training and labour relations. I then worked at Prudential for 16 years, progressing from project management and handling large change programmes to becoming sales and operations director of Prudential Direct. Whilst there, I was also part of a team of 10 who set up Egg, the first Internet bank in the UK. Following Prudential, I moved to Marks & Spencer as HR director. I am also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

SO: What, if any, were the (recruitment) challenges?

JT: Starting with a clean sheet of paper, this was a fantastic opportunity, however, quite daunting. The UK is one of the most volunteered nations in the world, therefore, we felt confident about expecting a high number of volunteer applications. We received a fantastic result of nearly 250,000 applications and the biggest challenge then lay in funnelling these down to a pool of 70,000 well-trained volunteers.

In London, there are more than 200 languages spoken. We knew we would be welcoming the world to our city, and no matter where our athletes, spectators, broadcasters come from we must be able to host and welcome them to this fantastic, multi-cultural centre. I was keen to ensure that the volunteer team was as diverse and inclusive as the population in London, and this has been clearly demonstrated during the Olympic Games with visual representation of individuals from all walks of life, ethnic backgrounds, religions, working together like never before.

We also had to ensure that over our six-year planning horizon we enabled individuals living in the six host boroughs the opportunity to apply for the paid jobs, both on LOCOG's payroll and with third-party contractors. These objectives were achieved with record participation in our Games. In addition, we wanted to impact on the lives of individuals who hadn't volunteered before. Volunteering can lead to enhanced pathways to find paid work, but also in its own right is a rewarding activity, particularly at an Olympic and Paralympic Games when you are contributing to the reputation of your nation.

SO: The staff, volunteers and general organisation of the Games have received rave reviews. Mission Accomplished and well done!! So what's next for Jean?

JT: Whilst the Olympic and Paralympic movement creates an exceptional opportunity, providing immovable deadlines and delivery goals, I believe there are immense parallel lessons that can be implemented in the business environment to deliver exceptional results. The whole idea of being able to mobilise and engage a nation through the efforts of a team of athletes has been unprecedented and provides unrivalled learnings that I believe can be applied right across the board. I am also keen to ensure that inclusion, in the broadest sense of the word, is applied and delivered through the working environment and transferred into the working lives of millions by creating an organisation in which individuals can truly be themselves. This, in itself, has provided a unique and rewarding challenge at London 2012.

SO: Jamaica has done brilliantly at the Games and the nation has just celebrated its 50th year of Independence. How does this make you feel?

JT: It makes me feel immensely proud of my heritage, and to see Jamaica punching way above its weight on the medals table, particularly when one considers its relative size when compared with much larger nations, is fantastic. It provides a clear example of how hard work, determination and a huge amount of confidence and ability can be turned into something meaningful, creating a distinct and professional image, which Jamaica has achieved and which has been witnessed across the globe. I hope that there will be a legacy developed from this exceptional performance; where Jamaican athletes can demonstrate to the next generation how excellence can be achieved, but most importantly how this base can be built upon to expand opportunities and ensure sport continues to change people's lives in the wider society.

Editor's Note - Special thanks to Aloun N'dombet-Assamba, High Commissioner To The Court of St James, and to Jean Tomlin's PA Oliver Sweeting.

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