Tesco group HR director Clare Chapman has emerged as the surprise frontrunner for the £130,000 job of workforce director at the Department of Health (DoH).
The job, vacant since Andrew Foster resigned in April, is seen as one of the biggest challenges in the public sector. The DoH has been looking for someone who has a “demonstrable track record of delivery, the ability to make a personal impact, and exceptional leadership skills”, according to the job ad.
Senior NHS sources told Personnel Today that Chapman is a leading candidate to replace Foster, as the NHS looks beyond the traditional pool of health professionals.
Chapman, 46, would certainly fit the bill. Tesco is the UK’s largest private sector employer, with more than 250,000 staff, making Chapman’s role the biggest HR job outside the public sector. Her strategies continue to play a pivotal part in the number-one retailer’s success. Its profits in 2005 were up by 17% on the previous year to £2.21bn.
The appointment of Chapman would be a massive coup for the public sector, which has previously struggled to attract top talent from the private sector.
Cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell is keen to instil more professionalism into the Civil Service. Earlier this year, Gill Rider, a former senior executive at consultancy Accenture, was appointed head of HR for the service – the first time the post had been filled by an “outsider”.
Charles Cotton, reward adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said it was acknowledged in the HR sector that Chapman had done a good job at Tesco. “[Chapman] is thought of very highly. Tesco’s success has largely depended on its people and processes,” he said.
Chapman’s handling of unions is also likely to stand her in good stead in the race for the NHS job. Unlike some of its supermarket rivals, Tesco has largely managed to avoid major staff disputes in her time as HR chief.
The DoH is tight-lipped about any appointment, while Chapman also refused to confirm or deny whether she has been interviewed
Prior to joining Tesco, Chapman was an HR vice-president at PepsiCo and had several HR roles in the UK and US at its Quaker Oats division. Described by colleagues as a role-model leader, she is renowned for setting high standards, effective collaboration and for developing people. Chapman is also a non-executive director of First Choice Holidays and sits on the board of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.