Jane Usherwood has been appointed to the newly created post of director of
personnel at Birmingham University. She was previously deputy director of
staffing, a post she held for six years. She joined the university as a
recruitment officer in 1989.
What is the best thing about Birmingham?
The Symphony Hall which is a delight.
And the worst?
Most looking forward to in your new job?
The ability to influence the agenda and be part of the decision-making
The biggest challenge?
Letting go of what I did before and moving on to the bigger picture.
What is the biggest challenge facing personnel in higher education?
Getting the importance of good people management accepted in our
institutions. For many years we have provided an ancillary, administrative
function and this needs to change. This was recognised in the Bett report and
makes perfect sense as we professionalise in the face of increasing demands on
What advice would you give an aspiring HR director?
Don’t lose your enthusiasm, your drive or your sense of humour. It is
important to get to grips with the environment you work in and come out of the
box marked "technical expert" so you can play a full role in the
management of the organisation.
Your greatest achievement?
Walking the Inca Trail in Peru. More than 50 miles at altitude in the Andes
is no joke, but an experience I would not have missed, despite the blisters.
Your most embarrassing moment?
Losing my stocking while talking to a senior member of the academic staff. I
had recently had an operation on my leg and as he looked down to ask me how it
had gone, my hold up stocking gave up the ghost and ended up around my ankle.
Describe your management style.
I try to include staff in the decision-making process and make them feel
part of the team. I am hands on if there is a problem.
Who do you admire?
Which celebrity irritates you?
What do you do when you are not working?
Spend time with my lively two-year-old son, travel, garden and drink copious
quantities of red wine. Not all at the same time.
Name your top three books or films of the 20th century.
Quarantine by Jim Crace (wonderful, and he’s a local man too), Lord of the
Rings by JRR Tolkien (another Brummie) and Casablanca (difficult to find a
Brummie connection for that).
Your new year’s resolution?
Life is too short to drink cheap wine.
End 1999 appointed director of personnel, University of Birmingham
1993-1999 deputy director of staffing
1991-1993 employee relations officer
1989-1991 recruitment officer
1986-1989 training officer, Birmingham City Council Housing Department
1985-1986 personnel assistant, West Midlands County Council