Top job – Alan Cairns

HR director,

Where were you working before, and what were your duties?

I worked for Littlewoods Shop Direct as group director of performance and capability. My responsibilities were to build capability through strategic recruitment, development of talent and robust performance management.

What qualifications do you hold?

I am a professionally qualified engineer. In HR, I hold a diploma in training management, and a CIPD diploma in human resource management.

What are the duties in your new role?

I manage seven people, reporting to our chief executive and founder Simon Nixon. My initial focus will be to establish the recruitment brand, develop an HR strategy, and make this a great place to work. And, in my second week…

What are the main challenges HR faces in the next five years?

The ever-blurring boundary between what is your private life and what is in the public domain – for example, whether to Google a prospective interview candidate. Second, HR must keep abreast of the web. Recruiting is increasingly about marketing yourself as an employer.

What is the essential tool in your job?

My legs (it’s not a job you can do from an ivory tower) and my ears (listening to people).

And the most overrated?

The Blackberry. I could give it up tomorrow.

What is the worst thing about HR?

Making people redundant is never pleasant, no matter how it is handled.

Who is your ultimate hero?

Captain Lawrence Oates (British Antarctic explorer).

What is the most annoying piece of management jargon?

‘Bulls**t bingo’ captures them all admirably.

How do you fill your spare time?

Keeping fit, cooking, and spending time with my children.

What is your favourite web page?

What song gets you on the dance floor?

Smells Like Teen Spirit, by Nirvana.

What is your worst habit?


What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?

Jumping out of a plane while attached to a parachute instructor who told me after we had left the plane he had an injured ankle, and I would be landing us both.

What three items would you take with you to a desert island?

My partner Nicole, a good stove and a set of knives.

Who would play you in the film of your life and why?

Robson Green, apparently.

Sum up your philosophy on life in one sentence.

You sometimes need the lows in your life to truly appreciate the highs.


Dec 2007-present
HR director, (price comparison website)

Dec 2006-Dec 2007
Group director, performance and capability, Littlewoods Shop Direct (shop-at-home retailer)

Feb 2005-Dec 2006
Executive vice-president, HR, Servisair (baggage handling and passenger services provider)

Aug 2002-Feb 2005
Vice-president, global talent and development, Exide Technologies (stored energy systems business)

Dec 2000-Aug 2002
HR leader, Northern Europe, Hercules/GE Water (specialist chemicals and service company)

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