After five years at the helm of HR at the Royal Mail, Tony McCarthy is heading off to British Airways. But what lies in store for his successor?
One of the highest-profile jobs in HR is now up for grabs, and although the successful candidate will be suitably rewarded, they will also face a host of major challenges in the full glare of the public eye.
After five years as Royal Mail’s group director of people and organisational development, Tony McCarthy is to leave the organisation to become director for people at British Airways (BA).
Whoever succeeds him will effectively be responsible for 185,000 staff and will need a broad range of strategic HR skills as well as the tenacity to handle the intense media spotlight should industrial relations collapse again.
McCarthy hit the headlines during his time at Royal Mail as it coincided with a period of huge change and modernisation at an organisation that has never been far from controversy.
He also headed the team that was awarded the overall winner accolade at the Personnel Today Awards 2006, and was named in the top 10 most influential people in HR in the annual Personnel Today Top 40 Power Players list.
Despite this, the job has been far from plain sailing, with the organisation plagued by fraught industrial relations that reached a low point during this year’s widespread strikes by postal workers. Royal Mail also featured in a recent poll as one of the companies worst hit by negative publicity this year. McCarthy’s new employer, BA, was also in the top five.
His replacement will certainly need to work hard for a salary which, if it matches previous figures, will be more than £340,000 plus performance-related bonuses.
McCarthy joined Royal Mail in January 2003 from defence giant BAE Systems, and will leave the business next week to take up his new role at BA.
Royal Mail chief executive Adam Crozier credited the HR function – and McCarthy in particular – with a crucial role in the modernisation of the business.
“Tony has been a key player in the management team leading Royal Mail’s successful turnaround,” he said. “We would all like to thank him for his major contribution to the business during the past five years, and to wish him all the very best in his new role.”
The group is expected to appoint a like-for-like successor into the post, but a spokesman for Royal Mail said it was too early to talk about time scales or the exact nature of the position.
“A search has been launched for a successor and we’ll be making an announcement in due course,” he said. “The search process has started already, and we’ll see what emerges. We’ll be striving to make an appointment as soon as we can, and we will be looking for someone of a very high calibre.”
Dale Haddon, the group’s talent director, will step up to fill the role until a full-time successor is found. He said the key HR challenges now facing the company included industrial relations, change management, restructuring and modernisation.
“A lot of the challenges of the recent past will remain, and I think it will be about the ongoing transformation of the business in a newly liberalised [postal] market,” he said.
Haddon was quick to praise his predecessor’s reform of the HR function, particularly in creating a shared service centre, which helped save the organisation £57m. He is also convinced that the unrest seen this summer will be resolved thanks to a number of new industrial relations agreements currently being discussed with unions.
“Many of the reforms and policies are now in place, so we’re keen to get on and work with our people so we can get the job done. We’ll be looking for a big player for what is undoubtedly a huge challenge. The successful candidate will need vision, drive, passion and resilience,” he added.
However, some sources within the HR community suggested that more battles with the trade unions – and indeed their own workers -could lie in wait for McCarthy’s successor.
Although the organisation has made great strides in recent years, it is still mired in some real employment relations difficulties over open competition and workforce modernisation.
Billy Hayes, general secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), the biggest union within Royal Mail, said: “McCarthy’s successor will have to have integrity, honesty, and the ability to build trust among Royal Mail employees at all levels of the business. He or she will need to be sensitive towards the needs of the workforce and be able to conduct a productive working relationship with the CWU. We hope that these vital skills will be found, and look forward to working with the new HR director.”
David Craig, a director with executive recruiter Walker Hamill, said that many top jobs came with some potentially negative difficulties, but that rarely put off the best candidates.
“Lots of the senior positions come with heavyweight business issues that need to be addressed, but that just means you need to find a heavyweight candidate. Remuneration needs to reflect the challenge, but the top people always want to stretch themselves,” he explained.
He said that big jobs can attract negative media coverage and come with strings attached, but argued that the best executives are confident they can handle the issues and deal with the publicity.
“The issues will probably put off the kind of people who are wrong for the job, and attract those who can handle it,” Craig added.
All eyes will undoubtedly remain on the organisation in the New Year as the profession awaits one of the biggest appointments in recent times.