Stuck in a lift with… Gwen Ventris, group director, AEA Technology

How did you get to where you are now?

I wish I could recount some quick and easy secret, but it’s just been through lots of hard work, focus and determination. I’ve always been very committed to the roles I’ve had and each position has helped equip me for the next challenge ahead.

What takes up most of your time at work?

Recently AEA acquired US consultancy Project Performance Corporation and I am responsible for delivering our integration programme. This means I have systems, policies, organisation, performance and people to integrate, plus cultural changes. I am also responsible for HR throughout the group.

Which three attributes are needed to do your job?

Entrepreneurial spirit, people skills and patience.

What legislation causes you the most headaches?

Regulation and legislation are essential to set the frameworks by which businesses should operate and to ensure that both employees and employers are protected from risk and unreasonable behaviour. However there is a fine balance to be struck. The sheer level and complexity of new legislation, which is further complicated by case law, places a major burden on companies.

How do you keep up with new and changing legislation?

As a director with wide ranging responsibilities in a complex business you cannot know all the detail you maintain a good overview but rely on your professional support team. We employ a very experienced person who researches the introduction of new legislation and together we brief and train managers on the legislation and its effects.

What’s HR’s biggest legal challenge?

The sheer volume of legislation that is hitting business is without a doubt our biggest challenge. This, coupled with a continuing statutory approach to certain forms of legislation, which restricts flexibility, means the risk for line management of unintentional error or oversight is significant.

What’s the most challenging case/situation you’ve had to deal with?

Over the years there have been many and I’m not sure I could pick one, as they represent such different issues and problems. The most memorable and challenging cases always concern the handling of senior people in the context of complex and difficult situations, such as acquisitions, right sizing, mergers and major change programmes.

What would be in your room 101?

The motorway network and particularly M25 congestion.

What really annoys you in life generally?

People who do not accept responsibility for their problems or contribution to situations in which they are involved.

If you could wish one employment law away what would it be?

The Working Time Directive.

If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?

That mankind would get beyond war, aggression and conflict as a means of resolving differences.

When you were a youngster what was your ambition?

I always wanted to be a business leader. I remember when I was 12 I was inspired by a young accomplished woman called Jean Smith. She had just finished university and was in her first job as a marketing manager. When I met her she was impeccably turned out in a smart business suit. I recall thinking that I wanted to be a business woman and to be like her.

Who’s your hero?

In the business arena, the likes of Bill Gates and Marjorie Scardino, from Pearson Group. In the wider world the true heroes are people like Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, who have had a significant impact on the world and are truly inspiring figures of our time.


October 2008-present

Group director, AEA Technology

May 2007-October 2008

Group HR director, AEA Technology

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