A minute with… Ian Ruddy, European people services director, Telefónica Europe

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How did you get into HR?

When I was a student studying government at the University of Essex, I got a part-time summer job in British Telecom’s personnel department – that was pretty much the start of my HR journey. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do career-wise at that point, but I was interested in British industrial relations and HR, so I decided to do a Masters in personnel management at the LSE.

What do you enjoy most about HR?

CV: Ian Ruddy

Feb 2010 – Present
European people services director, Telefónica Europe plc

March 2004-Feb 2010
Head of HR operations, Telefónica O2 UK

2000-04
Head of HR UK & Ireland, Cisco Systems

1995-2000
Personnel manager, Siemens Communications

1991-1995
HR manager, Honeywell

The nature of my role is really varied. What I really enjoy is having an opportunity to innovate and design new HR initiatives for the business. We’ve just created a new HR portal, which will soon be rolled out to our other European businesses. We’re also in a unique and very lucky position of having our own HR technology team. I work alongside some incredibly bright people, who really understand how to use technology for the benefit of our employees.

What do you find most difficult about working in HR?

Misconceptions of what HR is can be frustrating. People tend to focus on very specific elements of the HR function, for example payroll and recruitment. Of course these are important, but there’s actually so much more involved. My brother-in-law works for an IT services company, and when I tell him what I do, he says: “But that’s not HR!” We have a role to play ourselves with marketing the function better, to help people realise the ways in which HR adds real value to a business’ success.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career?

Be who you are. That may sound corny, but I’ve learned that people will respect you for the person you are, rather than the person you pretend to be. Leadership needs to be authentic, and that means being confident about your own strengths and capabilities, and acknowledging your weaknesses.

What is your greatest career achievement?

The establishment of Telefónica’s European People Services Centre in Dublin in October 2010. This saw us developing a completely new HR service offering and building a team from scratch, hiring more than 100 people in just over two years.

What was your biggest career challenge?

The same as above! We decided to set up the European People Services Centre in May 2010 and imposed a pretty aggressive deadline on ourselves, aiming to have it set up within five months. That meant hiring a team, creating the environment and setting up all the systems in a very short space of time. It was a very demanding period physically, mentally and emotionally, but everyone really believed in what we were doing and we pushed ourselves to make it happen.

What’s the next big thing in HR?

Technology has been and will continue to play an increasingly important role in the delivery of HR services and activities. Life is becoming more and more digital and in HR we should be a reflection of the world around us. At Telefónica, we’ve already come a long way towards helping our people use technology in their working lives – be it using technology to take part in meetings remotely or helping people feel comfortable using their own devices at work. What technology can’t replace, however, is the human contact needed to form relationships.

Who do you most look up to in the industry?

People like Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO – his whole ethos and ruthless consumer focus is unique. Everything starts with the customer and works back from there.

If you didn’t work in HR, what would you be doing instead?

A gardener. As with my job, I like to see the fruits of my labour and gardening lets me be strategic – deliberately choosing where I plant the seeds so I can plan exactly where I want flowers to grow and what I want the garden to look like at the end. Whenever I have spare time, that’s where I’ll be.

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