Top job: John Athanasiou, director of people, Harper Collins Publishing

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

I have worked in various roles in either a generalist HR capacity or a specialist area such as talent acquisition. Most recently at Time Warner International, I focused on both executive search and recruitment operations strategy.

What qualifications do you hold?

I have an MA in human resources management, a BA (Hons) in finance and I am a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

What are the duties in your new role?

To provide leading-edge strategic HR input to support the business plans to achieve continued and above-market sector growth. And continuing to build a business that is ‘best in class’, bringing creativity to the forefront, to attract, develop and retain the very best authors and employees to Harper Collins.

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

The skills shortage is one of the toughest challenges – so talent management will become a key priority. The challenging market conditions with the ‘credit crunch’ mean that sensible business planning is even more essential than before.

What is the most overrated tool in your job?

The BlackBerry. It’s addictive but means there is less face-to-face communication or phone calls, and quiet holidays are a thing of the past.

And what work tool would you like to see invented?

A time tool that allows you to buy time, rewind it to look backwards or forward it to the future. I think I’ll have to settle for Mystic Meg until then.

What is the worst thing about HR?

When the function is not integral and partnering with the business.

How do you wind down after a bad day in the office?

A workout at the gym, or a visit to Soho House with good friends, and a low-fat salad and a large glass of wine.

What is the strangest situation you have been in at work?

A disciplinary that I managed which involved a Christmas party, lots of alcohol, staff and some other behaviour. Need I say more?

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Positive, commercial and decisive.

What was your lucky break?

Personally, meeting my amazing partner, who is also my best friend. Professionally, meeting Rachel Denning, my HR mentor and friend for 10 years plus, and Fiona Dent, my commercial mentor and friend for more than three years now.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Businessman Alan Sugar, the Dragon’s Den panel, author JK Rowling, Madonna, football coach Arsene Wenger, pop impresario Simon Cowell and former prime minister Tony Blair. A bit of a creative/commercial mix, but truly fascinating. Oh, and the chef would be Gordon Ramsay.

What advice would you give someone starting out in HR?

Work hard and play harder. Work and life experiences add value to the whole person. So don’t just read the text book.

What job would you like your children to do?

I do not have kids, but if I did then it would be completely their choice and I would support them fully.

What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?

Swimming with sharks in South Africa. The risk was the icy cold Atlantic Ocean, not the sharks.

Sum up your philosophy on life in one sentence.

Listen and learn from people around you, while thinking positively. Anything is possible with the right attitude and aptitude.


Athanasiou’s CV

  • Oct 2008-present – Director of people, Harper Collins Publishers
  • Aug 2005-Sep 2008 – Director executive search and recruitment operations, Time Warner International (media)
  • Apr 1999-Jul 2005 – HR director, Warner Music (media)
  • Aug1997-Mar 1999 – HR manager, Dixons Stores Group
  • Sep 1995-Aug 1997 – Personnel and recruitment officer, Camden and Islington NHS Trust

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