Top job: John Wrighthouse

What is your new role?

I am divisional director, HR, at Nationwide Building Society. Put simply, this means that I have accountability for creating and developing the people environment that gives Nationwide competitive commercial advantage.

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

I was head of group training and development at Nationwide. I led a team of more than 100 development professionals focusing on career and leadership development, succession management, executive appointment, learning delivery, and gaining Investors in People status. We deliver more than 190 courses a month and 40,000 delegate days a year for 16,000 staff.

What qualifications do you hold?

A BSc (Honours) in business administration and an MA in employment law and relations. I’m also a chartered fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

What are the duties in your new role?

This is a very full HR role, spanning payroll and health and safety through to employee commitment, culture and creating a people environment that is truly a competitive advantage for Nationwide. I report to the chief executive, and have a team of 250 who cover learning and development, talent management, recruitment, people management advice and support, employee insight and engagement.

What do you hope to achieve in your new role?

If an organisation wants to ensure that its people can be their best, it needs to understand what, specifically, it needs to do to make a difference. There is no room for fads or doing things just because everyone else is – each organisation is unique and has its own DNA. It is the role of HR to understand that DNA, and use it as a force of competitive advantage.

Nationwide’s workforce will increase to more than 18,000 staff once the merger with the Portman Building Society is completed next summer. In the short-term, my focus will be ensuring that the UK’s largest building society merger is a business success, and that all employees are ‘fit to trade’ on day one.

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

If I were to be controversial, I would say that HR needs to settle the long-running debate about what it is there to do – is it supporting people transactions or strategy? But I don’t think the debate can be polarised in this way.

What advice would you give to people starting out in HR?

Get as much experience as you can, and search for opportunities to gain cross-functional experience. Develop a deep awareness of the business, and understand what it is good at, and where it lacks competitive advantage.

What is the essential tool in your job?

Business performance information – understanding what’s working, and what needs attention. There is a lot of information available, and it’s easy to miss the detail in the fog.

And the most overrated?

I am always amused when people use jargon to describe an ordinary event. I love ‘red-sky thinking’ – day-dreaming and thinking of home time. Such a good antidote to management speak.

What song gets you on the dance floor?

I’m not known for being the first on the dance floor, but Murder on the Dance Floor by Sophie Ellis-Bextor always makes me smile.

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?

Dawn French. She is intelligent and witty, and I imagine great fun to be with.

Wrighthouse’s CV

  • October 2006-present: Divisional director, HR, Nationwide

  • 2002-2006: Head of group training and development, Nationwide

  • 2000-2002: Head of personnel planning and development, Nationwide

  • 1995-2000: Head of operations, UCB Home Loans (Nationwide subsidiary)

  • 1989-1995: HR consultant, Nationwide

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