HR’s top 40 power players

In  reverse order, the top 40 HR  power players are:

40 Rita Donaghy , chairwoman, Acas

Its strong reputation for fostering better employment relations and resolving disputes took a nosedive this year after Acas was accused of failing to consult with staff over job cuts and office closures. It denied the claims, but poor morale and a vote of no-confidence from staff provided an unfortunate epilogue to the former union official’s final months in office – her tenure finishes in October.

39 Sally Jacobson, HR director, London & Quadrant Housing

One of only a handful of people who have been shortlisted in the Personnel Today Awards for the past three years, Jacobson also merits a ranking thanks to her acknowledgement of the importance of HR’s poor cousin: the payroll function. Only by paying people on time and rewarding them for what they do can HR hope to be valued by the whole organisation, she says.

38 2012  Olympics team

Wendy Cartwright, head of HR, Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) The less glamorous and lower-profile of two Olympic HR roles, but an enviable post nonetheless, not least because the ODA must ensure the 2012 Olympics leave a lasting legacy for London. Cartwright’s job will be to secure the best people to put in place the infrastructure and transport systems for the games. In her own words, she must provide the ‘theatre’ while Locog (see below) delivers the show.

Jean Tomlin, director of HR, London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog) Few HR roles provide a world stage for your talents, but Tomlin’s quite literally does. She must assemble a world-class team if London is to put on the greatest show on earth in 2012. Her unique HR challenge involves growing the workforce from 80 to more than 3,000 (plus 70,000 volunteers) in five years – and then dismantling it within days of the closing ceremony.

37 Trevor Phillips, chairman, Commission for Racial Equality (CRE)

Forty years of race relations legislation should be cause for celebration, but the head of racial equality’s most powerful body drops several places as the CRE continues its march into limbo to be replaced by a single equalities body. Phillips’ standing was affected in January when Personnel Today revealed he was a member of the advisory board for Rare Recruitment, a staffing agency that initially had a ‘no white’ candidates policy.

36 Jenny Watson , chair, Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC)

A tireless campaigner at the helm of the UK’s foremost gender equality body, Watson has shown that she has been able to step up to the mark following the departure of her former boss, Julie Mellor. But the big question is: who will get the top job when the EOC is replaced by the single body the Commission for Equality and Human Rights  next year? A formal recruitment process is under way.

35 Linda Holbeche, director, Campaign for Leadership (part of the Work Foundation)

To obtain world-class status, organisations need world-class leaders – but studies frequently show the UK is left wanting in this area. Holbeche, one of the UK’s top HR thinkers, will have a golden opportunity to put her theories into practice in her new role, helping to boost the leadership and organisational performance of UK business. Her former role was director of research and strategy at Roffey Park, which earned her a place at number 40 last year.

34 Paul Pagliari, director of change and corporate services, Scottish Executive

Pagliari signed off as HR director after only nine months at the Immigration and Nationality Directorate, but he moved to a bigger role by taking up a seat on the board that runs ‘Scotland plc’. But Pagliari is not in for an easy ride – a flagship e-HR project intended to deliver efficiency savings could be mothballed, and there are difficult decisions to be made on staff numbers.

33 Lesley Cotton, group HR director, Holmes Place

In the upmarket fitness and leisure market, customer service is often the only distinguishing factor. But how do you attract and retain the right people in a sector where attrition rates are eye-poppingly high? HR director of the year nominee in the 2005 Personnel Today Awards, Cotton has instituted a targeted programme of measures, including introducing a new appraisal and pay system and clear career paths. Staff turnover rates have fallen from 60% to around 42%.

32 Paul Turner, general manager (people), West Bromwich Building Society

Already established as a leading exponent of aligning HR with business priorities, Turner now has the chance to disseminate his knowledge to a wider audience. Appointed a visiting fellow to the University of Central England (UCE), Birmingham, he will advise the business school on developing a new ‘people factor forum’ and expanding its leadership and coaching programmes.

31 Mary Canavan, HR director, British Library

Before her arrival in 2003, the library was beset by strike action and major management problems. Canavan embarked on an ambitious HR modernisation strategy to create a consultative organisation with an empowered workforce. No easy job, but through a series of measures she has succeeded in making it fitter and leaner. Short-listed for HR director of the year in 2005, she merits inclusion for demonstrating the power of HR to be an effective agent of change.

30 Kevin Green and Tony McCarthy, director of people and organisational development, and HR director, Royal Mail

The Royal Mail’s greatest achievement in the past year is a substantial reduction in sickness absence rates and a record performance for postal deliveries. All this is thanks to a controversial incentive scheme where workers could win prizes ranging from shopping vouchers to new cars for good attendance. Absence rates have improved by 18%, and nearly 56,000 staff received £150-worth of holiday discount vouchers for not missing a day’s work in the last year.

29 Jan Parkinson, managing director, Local Government Employers (LGE)

With major pay rounds to settle and the ongoing dispute over local government pensions provision, public sector employers face an uphill struggle. The former head of the Society of Personnel Officers in Government Services  (now the PPMA) makes this list for the second year running as managing director of the new advisory body responsible for the pay, pensions and employment conditions of more than two million employees.

28 Sarah Churchman, director of student recruitment and diversity, PricewaterhouseCoopers

A clear and compelling value proposition is the key differentiator when it comes to attracting tomorrow’s top talent, and PwC has to be one of the most powerful. Under the expert stewardship of Churchman, the accountancy giant has been named as the company where graduates most want to work for the past two years running.

27 David Frost, Director-general, British Chambers of Commerce (BCC)

According to the BCC’s ‘burdens barometer’, 69 separate Acts, regulations and provisions cost businesses £50bn last year. The government needs to urgently reduce this regulatory and legislative burden and be seen to be on the same page as business. Frost has a pivotal role in getting it to do this – but challenges ahead are huge.

26 Cary Cooper, Professor of organisational psychology, Lancaster University

The occupational psychologists’ psychologist, Cooper continues to be the UK’s leading expert on workplace issues. Commanding respect, both in the UK and abroad, for his often groundbreaking research and insightful views, he moves up our list for his key role in encouraging organisations to adopt progressive employment practices and make work more rewarding.

25 Alan Warner, Corporate director (people and property), Hertfordshire County Council

A generous salary won’t necessarily make any of us happier, but it is indicative of the perceived value of the profession. Former PPMA chief Warner is thought to be one of the highest paid HR professionals in the public sector. He proved his worth at the start of this year when he rushed to the front line after the Buncefield oil depot explosion left many of the council’s areas of responsibility in chaos.

24 David Yeandle, Deputy director of employment policy, EEF

As an association representing 6,000 businesses employing 90,000 people, the EEF is not the largest of industry bodies, but what it might lack in size it makes up for in profile. Yeandle, a former personnel director, enters the list for establishing a reputation as a no-nonsense industry commentator who has been heavily involved in lobbying the government.

23 Professor Dame Carol Black, National director for health and work

Some 35 million days are lost annually to occupational ill-health and injury, at a cost of £12bn to UK plc. As the country’s first ever occupational health ‘tsar’, Black will be responsible for implementing the government’s radical strategy that proposes to improve the health and wellbeing of the working age population, and reduce the number of work days lost. This strategy will also herald an expanded role for occupational health in the workplace.

22 Vladimir Spidla, EU employment commissioner

Spidla’s drive to open up the European jobs market and encourage workers’ mobility around Europe might recall Norman Tebbit’s infamous exhortation to ‘get on your bike’ to look for work. But it has benefited the UK. An EU report shows an influx of 300,000 workers has helped relieve skills shortages and has boosted the economy.

21 Stephen Dando, group HR director, Reuters

Information services giant Reuters is emerging from a three-year business transformation programme, Fast Forward, which saw it cut 3,000 jobs and deliver cost savings of £440m. Having undergone a similar change exercise while head of HR at the BBC, Dando has proven he’s a heavyweight operator in the media sector. But as Reuters  enters the next phase of its turnaround strategy, he will still need to call on all of his HR prowess to restore it to former glories.

20 Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union

Serwotka is at the centre of a bitter row with the government about 30,000 job cuts at the Department for Work and Pensions, which sparked two 48-hour walkouts earlier this year. With hostilities continuing to intensify and a national Civil Service strike on the horizon, Serwotka’s potential to bring the country to its knees makes him a power player – of the most dangerous kind.

19 Richard Lambert , director-general, CBI

Lambert’s appointment has hurtled him into one of the most challenging and high-profile jobs in the UK – and for that reason straight into the top 20. UK business is increasingly frustrated with the government, and he must convince it to turn words into action to boost our competitiveness. As a former editor of the Financial Times, he has enormous experience of business, government and media, and may well pull it off.

18 Brendan Barber, general secretary, Trades Union Congress

Theoretically the most influential player representing the trade union movement, but Barber drops several places this year due to the forthcoming challenges to TUC supremacy. Since 1979, union membership has declined by almost half and there is some disquiet about the TUC being sidelined by the proposed ‘super-union’ – whose 2.5 million members would account for 40% of TUC membership.

17 Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison

In March, public services came to a standstill as one million government workers walked out in protest at changes to their pension rules. The largest union involved in the UK’s biggest strike action since 1926 was Unison. With Prentis threatening further industrial action over NHS job cuts, public sector HR professionals should fasten their seatbelts.

16 Mike Cutt, group HR director, Boots

Previously HR director at B&Q, Cutt has been brought in to oversee a massive restructuring programme at the health and beauty retailer that places him in the thick of the HR action. Cutt has been at the heart of its merger with Alliance Unichem, which involves some  76,000 employees. His brief to cut 2,250 jobs and reduce annual operating costs by £60m – not to mention managing a major HR outsourcing programme – might mean a bumpy ride, but he claims the HR department has become ‘adept’ at managing such change.

15 Lord Adair Turner, chairman, Pensions Commission

The highly respected former CBI boss was called on by the government to come up with a solution to the UK’s biggest workplace challenge, the pensions crisis. If accumulating headlines about the controversial aspects of his report was all that was required to influence our judging panel, he would have taken the top slot. As it is, the government has endorsed his main recommendations so, with his mission accomplished, he’s a contender for this year’s one-hit wonder title in our list.

14 Sam Mercer, director, Employers Forum on Age

October’s new age legislation is predicted to have an even greater impact on business than sex or race laws, and UK plc is woefully unprepared. As head of the leading independent pressure group on age, Mercer enters the list for the first time for her vital role in getting the message through that employers need to treat the issue of age seriously.

13 Martin Tiplady, HR director, Metropolitan Police

In three years, the Met has doubled ethnic minority policy officer numbers to 7.5%. Although Tiplady deserves praise for this considerable recruitment success, he is still a long way short of the 25% government target. He contends that the only way of tackling this seemingly impossible challenge is positive discrimination – a quick, but controversial fix.

12 Tim Miller, director, people, property and assurance, Standard Chartered Bank

Miller has made the engagement and motivation of 40,000 staff his top priority. This exemplary focus on people has paid off: profits at the international bank have doubled in the previous three years, passing the billion pound mark (£1.2bn) last year. It is also clear testimony to the HR dictum: ‘What is good for employees is also good for business.’

11 Workforce director, Department of Health

With a £4bn budget, direct management of 200 staff and responsibility for 600 HR divisions at 600 organisations, the post vacated by Andrew Foster is theoretically one of the most coveted jobs in HR. But with several top candidates appearing to have ruled themselves out of the race, it could turn out to be a poisoned HR chalice, especially with the recent furore over NHS reforms.

10 Duncan Brown, assistant director-general, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

In spite of a quietish year, Brown just makes the top 10 of the HR elite, chiefly because his influence comes with the territory. Although technically the second-in-command, he continues to be the leading ‘voice’ of the profession and as such eclipses his boss, Geoff Armstrong.

9 David Smith, people director, Asda

It’s been a gloomy year for the supermarket giant as a bitter dispute with the GMB over union recognition at its 21 distribution centres rumbles on. “Crippling” strike action looks inevitable amid allegations of union-busting activity (it has been fined £850,000 by an employment tribunal for attempting to induce workers to waive union rights). But innovative measures such as World Cup leave for staff, and unpaid time off for the Pope’s funeral last year, mean Smith clings on to a top 10 place.

8 Super-union team: Tony Woodley, general secretary, Transport & General Workers Union (T&G). Derek Simpson, general secretary, Amicus. Paul Kenny, general secretary, GMB union

If merger plans by the Amicus, T&G and GMB unions go ahead, the huge political and industrial muscle the so-called ‘super-union’ would command earns the trio their top 10 slot as players with massive influence over HR. If in-fighting about its leadership and structure doesn’t kill it off first, the message for employers and government is stark: be afraid, be very afraid.

7 Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet secretary and head of the Home Civil Service

Big jobs tend to automatically qualify their holders for a high ranking, and they don’t come much bigger or tougher than remoulding the Civil Service into a dynamic, high-performing organisation. O’Donnell has set about his task with relish: announcing capability reviews for all government departments; instituting a 10-point diversity plan and leadership qualities framework; and revising its employee ‘bible’, The Code. Crucially, he has also recruited an outsider with ‘extensive experience of change’ as his HR director – Gill Rider, a former Accenture executive. He’s only just begun, but expect a higher place next year if he succeeds.

6 John Hutton, secretary of state for work and pensions

By Hutton’s own admission, the pensions deficit is the biggest challenge on the government’s domestic agenda. But the workaholic has pulled off a remarkable feat with industry, politicians and trade unionists broadly welcoming his blueprint for pensions reform that draws heavily on Lord Turner’s Pensions Commissions report on the future of UK pensions.

5 David Fairhurst, vice-president (people), McDonald’s

Fairhurst is staking the fast-food giant’s reputation on an advertising campaign intended to challenge preconceptions about its career offering – also known as the ‘McJob’, a term traditionally associated with poorly paid, dead-end work. ‘Not bad for a McJob’, ‘McOpportunity’ and ‘McProspects’ are among the slogans used to highlight the benefits of working for the burger company. But the harsh reality is that shifting ingrained views could take considerably longer than the average stay of a McDonald’s worker – 22 months.

4 Angela O’Connor, HR director, Crown Prosecution Service and president of Public Sector People Managers Association (PPMA)

O’Connor has greatly enhanced an already high-profile career and reputation by picking up Personnel Today’s HR director of the year award in 2005. But as the new head of the PPMA (formerly Socpo), the turnaround specialist faces, quite possibly, her most urgent challenge yet: how to improve the sector’s poor record on talent management, particularly at director and senior management levels.

3 Alistair Darling, secretary of state, Department of Trade and Industry

His sideways move from transport places the ‘ultimate safe pair of hands’ into one of the trickiest portfolios. Cutting red tape and promoting business growth are among Darling’s top priorities, and his top-three ranking is an acknowledgement of how both can impact the profession. But his predecessor, Alan Johnson, hardly touched an overflowing in-tray in his brief stint at 1 Victoria Street – so Darling’s got it all to do.

2 Clare Chapman, group personnel director, Tesco

Tesco is the UK’s biggest private sector employer, making Chapman’s role the country’s biggest HR job outside the public sector. There has never been any doubt that Chapman’s HR strategies continue to play a pivotal part in the number-one retailer’s success, which, despite improved performance by some of its competitors, saw profits up 17% on the previous year to £2.21bn. With the planned launch of 125 Extra and Express stores, Chapman and her 1,000-strong personnel function will be busy recruiting 20,000 more workers this year.

1Neil Roden  Group HR director, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)

In eight years, RBS has been transformed from a provincial player into a global force that earns £15,500 per minute. This year, its profits stand at a record £7.9m, and staff will receive record profit-share bonuses averaging £2,000 each.

While it may look as if it’s been a year of more of the same for Roden, he’s also put in place an underpinning leadership infrastructure for the company that can be seen as the ultimate in succession planning – a multi-million pound business school to develop top talent. “It is a symbol of commitment and a statement of intent to make us the UK’s number one employer,” says Roden.

Training programmes will be based on those from leading institutions such as Harvard Business School. He fends off criticism about how the world’s fifth largest bank will measure return on its investment by describing the commitment to training as an “investment in belief”.

The school itself is sited on the new, £350m, global headquarters that RBS has built at Gogarburn, near Edinburgh. The campus-style complex is another example of the bank’s investment in its staff, offering them the ultimate in luxury working and living conditions including a crèche, bistro, sports club, dentist, doctor, conference centre as well as a hotel for senior employees and their guests. Staff were consulted over every aspect and regularly make use of the facilities at the weekend.

More than 40% of the bank’s profits come from overseas and, as part of its empire building, RBS has invested £900m in a 5% stake of the Bank of China, having identified the market as an important opportunity. Now the Bank of China has floated on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, RBS will be involved in improving its HR, corporate governance and IT, so it looks as if one other thing Roden can bank on is a busy future.

Last year’s top 40

1 Neil Roden, group HR director, Royal Bank of Scotland
2 Clare Chapman, group personnel director, Tesco
3 Andrew Foster, HR director, NHS
4 Digby Jones, director-general, CBI
5 David Smith, people director, Asda
6 Duncan Brown, assistant director-general, Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development
7 Alan Johnson, secretary of state, Department of Trade and Industry
8 Martin Tiplady, HR director, Metropolitan Police
9 Mark Serwotka, general secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union
10 Geoff Armstrong, director-general, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development
11 David Blunkett, secretary of state, Department for Work and Pensions
12 Paul Turner, general manager (people), West Bromwich Building Society
13 Brendan Barber, general secretary, TUC
14 Steve Harvey, chief operating officer, Goldsmiths
15 Tony McCarthy and Kevin Green, respectively HR director and
director of people and organisational development, Royal Mail
16 Ruth Kelly, secretary of state, Department for Education and Skills
17 Jan Parkinson, president, Society of Personnel Officers in Government Services
18 Vance Kearney, vice-president HR EMEA, Oracle
19 Rita Donaghy, chair, Acas
20 William Gibbon, HR director, Barclays South Africa
21 Stephen Dando, director, BBC People
22 David Frost, director-general, British Chambers of Commerce
23 Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison
24 European Union
25 Angela O’Connor, HR director, Crown Prosecution Service
26 Paul Pagliari, senior director, HR, Immigration and Nationality Directorate
27 Alan Warner, corporate director (people and property),
Hertfordshire County Council
28 Julie Mellor, chair, Equal Opportunities Commission
29 Ruth Spellman, chief executive, Investors in People
30 Paul Kearns, director, PWL
31 Mike Cutt, HR director, B&Q
32 Ann Gillies, Lyn Pearson and Vikki England, HR team, WL Gore Associates
33 Mary Chapman, chief executive, Chartered Management Institute
34 Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology, Lancaster University,
and founder, Robertson Cooper Consultancy
35 Trevor Phillips, chairman, Commission for Racial Equality
36 Guru, Personnel Today
37 Will Hutton, chief executive, The Work Foundation
38 Lynda Gratton, associate professor of management practice,
London Business School
39 Debbie Hewitt, managing director, RAC Roadside Services
40 Linda Holbeche, director of research and strategy, Roffey Park

What do you think? …Have we missed anyone out? Or do you think we’re spot on? Let us know your thoughts at personneltoday@rbi.co.uk

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