In last week’s article on the seven essential skills, HR professionals were
urged to take time out to widen their business knowledge. We profile six people
who have done just that, with a great deal of success
HR professionals are always being told that to get on they need to get out
of HR for a spell. And the trend is growing. As Angela Baron, policy adviser
employee resourcing at the IPD, points out, "It is quite common now to see
people develop zigzag career paths. The generic skills which are part of
personnel training transfer well to a range of other jobs."
And the suitability of HR professionals to make the transition to more
senior roles is further highlighted by Ward Griffiths, assistant director
general of the IPD, who predicts a great future of opportunity for HR
professionals looking to a wider range of organisational roles. "Business
leaders are going to be increasingly concerned with the people aspects of their
organisational frameworks," he says. "It will have a premium over the
technical and financial considerations."
The successful professionals in people management, he says, are those who
will be able to keep pace with stakeholder expectations and learn and act at a
pace which matches, or is ahead of, the rate of change taking place.
For some, a tactical career break has paid dividends with them moving to the
highest echelons of their organisations. Their profiles follow.
Sir Michael Bett CBE
First Commissioner, Civil Service
• Sir Michael’s first major role was as managing director of BTUK, the
forerunner of BT, overseeing a 200,000 workforce for a firm with an annual
turnover of more than £12bn.
Sir Michael, 65, is also chairman of a diverse range of trusts and bodies,
including the Inspectorate of the Security Industry, the One World Broadcasting
Trust, and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, but he claims that HR has
been his mainstay of his career.
"I went into HR on the first day of my working life," he says.
"I never left it. I just did it in different roles. I never ceased to be
involved in managing people."
Sir Michael’s first job was at the Engineering Employers’ Federation where
his baptism of fire was coming up against union negotiators like Hugh Scanlon
and Ken Gill. He says that they joked that they were putting him through his
He puts it down to "a sort of restlessness" to find new challenges
which keeps him moving on. "I have always thought that five to seven years
is long enough to do any one job. One enters as an agent for change. But if you
stay too long, you end up protecting those changes."
The best people in HR are usually subtly political thinkers. "But I’m
talking about constructive politics. The HR person is the one who thinks
through how to take people with them through change. This is what I have done
and I have enjoyed it immensely."
President and managing director of Alstom UK
• By the time Connor was 25 years old, he was managing 2,200 people as personnel
manager of the engineering firm the Dowty Group. Seven years later he was
appointed personnel manager for GEC’s Power and Transport sectors, where he
remained for almost 20 years.
On the formation of GEC Alstom in 1989, Connor became corporate human
resources director based in Paris. Well known for high-speed trains such as
Eurostar, Alstom is one of the world’s leading suppliers of components, systems
and services and was successfully floated on the Paris, London and New York
stock exchanges in 1998.
The career change for Connor coincided with the flotation when he was
appointed to his present position. By then the company had a turnover of
approximately £10bn and employed 120,000 people in 60 countries. "I had
not planned any of these developments," he says. "Opportunities have
just come up where I have happened to be."
He claims his own "internal framework" and motivation in his work
remains the same. "I have always had more problems meeting my own
expectations of myself, than other people’s."
A current senior team member has apparently told him that some of his
younger colleagues find him intimidating. He maintains that he takes these
comments seriously and will be guided to- wards a more teambuilding approach.
Kent county councillor and chairman of the Dartford and Gravesham NHS
• King, who reckons his hobby is politics, says that his early days spent in
HR helped equip him for the full-on scrum of political life. "I have
always been highly competitive," he explains.
After a management traineeship, he was promoted to personnel manager for the
Hendon factory and northern Home Counties distribution depots of Cadbury
Schweppes. This was followed by being made group personnel manager for
Bristol-Myers Co, UK and Eire.
Today he has a "portfolio career", with three offices – one at
KCC, another at Joyce Green Hospital and the third in Cranbrook, Kent, where he
runs The King Partnership, an IMC registered consultancy company, with his wife
Susan. The company specialises in recruiting teachers and educational managers
for overseas posts.
"I suppose I have never seen myself as just a personnel person,"
says King. "I have always been interested in the broader perspectives of
business – in the dynamics of making things happen.
But the personnel function is an excellent preparation for being a general
manager. It requires all the skills. Un- fortunately a lot of HR professionals
do not have the bite, or the ambition."
But he has high regard for the personnel function. If run properly, he says,
it is "part of the conscience of a company" but it needs people who
are prepared to stand up and be counted.
"The thing about managing anything is being able to give people the
impression that you know what they should be doing – and getting it done in
such a way that they want to do it."
Strategic director, organisation and development, Kent County Council
• Mallett had intended to become "a blue stocking" when she
emerged from Leeds University with a degree in English. She was preparing to
study for a PhD, when a career adviser noted that her "noisy, rather than
outgoing personality" would be suited to public relations work or human
As strategic director her remit is to lead organisational change and to
co-ordinate countywide initiatives and projects designed to improve the
effectiveness of the authority.
She took up the post in November last year, moving from Birmingham City
Council, where she was director of personnel and organisation. The departmental
budget was more than £10m and the IT capital/facilities management spend was
£20m. In this post she acted as the council’s lead negotiator representing
50,000 employees, involving 14 recognised unions.
She likes straightforward communication and acknowledges that she has
acquired a reputation for plain speaking. She wanted to work in industrial
relations. "I enjoy the cut and thrust of union negotiations," she
"My career may look coherent on paper, but it has really grown out of
one thing into another. The beauty of working in personnel management is that
you work across all sections of an organisation."
Professional courage is a quality she always looks for first in her
"I enjoy ‘sparky’ people, with a lot of bottle." She says her next
obvious step before retiring would be a chief executive role.
Associate director, Christian Aid
• Moulds came into HR late in life, having spent most of it in investment
banking. His first senior position was as local director where he was
responsible for 10 people. He was then appointed regional director for north
east England and Scotland, responsible for 45 people, six offices and for all
of 3i’s investment activities in the region.
At 40 he was appointed group personnel director and member of the Group
Executive Committee at 3i Group.
Investment banking was for Moulds "all good fun", but a growing
unease had developed over the years. "I found it increasingly difficult to
reconcile the fabulously wealthy world of finance with the outrage of 1,000
million people living in desperate poverty," he says.
He was attracted to the essential philosophy of Christian Aid which aims to
work with people in their communities for long-term change.
He pressed the charity to employ him and in 1989 was appointed head of personnel
services. He was also made chairman of the Debt Crisis Network.
"We build up awareness among our supporters, encouraging them to write
to the managing director of the IMF or to the Chancellor of the
Exchequer," he says. "Tackling poverty is a very political business.
Gordon Brown is respectful to the churches’ efforts towards international
Five years ago Moulds was appointed associate director in charge of church
and community. Now, he maintains, it would be hard to think of doing anything "more
Chief executive, Investors in People
• Spellman reckons she is in a post which provides her with the opportunity
to fulfil one of her lifelong commitments on a daily basis. "I have a view
about what people can achieve," she says. "A lot of people do not
achieve their potential."
She wants to take Investors in People into Europe. "We are home here to
a lot of multinational companies. An identity within the EU would mean that
others could also aspire to the standards of excellence of IIP."
A Cambridge economics graduate, Spellman’s first job was in the City. But
her interest in negotiation drew her towards industrial relations.
Her second job was with the National Coal Board, where she spent five years
in a variety of roles.
As an adviser to the National Economic Development Office, Spellman
contributed to government policy on employment, training and education and
published influential reports which impacted on business performance in the
late 1970s and 1980s.
From there she moved to the consulting practice of the former Coopers &
Lybrand, specialising in HR, corporate strategy and change management.
She admires the culture of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, noting it as a
good example of encouraging individuals. "That is my version of good
HR," she says.
She is less impressed with the technical side of HR. "It seems to me a
pseudo-science – always trying to prove itself."
Spellman has had a lifelong passion for politics and stood for Parliament in
1976. A children’s author, lecturer and contributor to professional journals,
she has also written on HR policy.
By Jenny MacKenzie
10 possible career paths
Jo Bacon, consultant occupational psychologist with The Peachell Group,
points to knowledge sharing and people skills as important motivators for HR
professionals. "They are often up against people who are resistant to
change," she explains. "And they have learned how to respond to that.
They want to be able to sell the ideas they have, and see the results. So new
career paths would need to accommodate those qualities."
Jobs which would be unsuitable, she says, are those in which they would be
required to work in isolation, or which would need a significantly different
set of skills, such as accountancy, engineering or actuarial roles.
The following are 10 professions suggested by Bacon and Margaret Stead,
managing director of Career Design International, as being ideal for HR
professionals to move into. All would require some further training:
Strategic operations management
Management development Consultancy
Personal development consultancy