North stars: four top HR professionals on living and working in Manchester

This year’s CIPD conference, which starts today, is being held in Manchester for the first time, bringing the city firmly into the spotlight for HR professionals. Nick Martindale asks four Manchester-based HR directors to outline what the city has to offer, from superb networking opportunities to a great quality of life.


Jacq Lunardi, HR director, Kellogg’s UK

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Lunardi says Manchester boasts excellent facilities and networking opportunities for an HR director, with plenty of events held in the city by the local CIPD network and commercial organisations.

“There have been a lot of one- or two-hour workshops this year, so people can either do breakfast meetings or 4-6pm in the evening,” she says. “In the past there’s been the view that to do that you have to go to London, but there are a lot more of those happening within Manchester city centre now.”

The city’s central location and great transport links mean other big cities such as London, Leeds and Birmingham are all within easy reach, while on a personal level it can offer both city and country living.

Lunardi moved to the city in 2007 with her role at Kellogg’s, and admits she shared some of the preconceptions many still have about Manchester. “Coming from a smaller place I wondered if it would be a dirty, horrible place, but it’s a really lovely city and there are lots of entertainment facilities and places to eat and drink,” she says.

She firmly believes she will be able to remain in Manchester for the long term, if that is what she chooses to do. “One of the great things from a Kellogg’s perspective is that the European HR department is also based in Manchester, but there are other large companies here as well.”

Ken Lee, head of HR, BBC North

Lee is currently overseeing the relocation of 1,500 staff from London to the new Media City development in Salford, where they will join 750 people currently employed in the corporation’s Manchester office.

“The vision for Media City is hugely ambitious and reflective of the city which is rapidly inventing a new style from its heavily industrialised past,” he says. “It’s showing all the signs now of an upcoming and modern conurbation, with new industries sitting alongside the more established ones.”

A key part of Lee’s job is to sell the benefits of the city to those people whose posts are being relocated. “We have a fantastic industrial heritage in Manchester, but some people assume it’s a bit like a Lowry painting or the opening credits on Coronation Street,” he says. “We’ve taken more than 1,000 people from London, and it’s been fantastic watching some of those old-fashioned stereotyped images disappear.”

He also believes it would be possible to develop an HR career in Manchester without having to relocate further down the line. “Realistically, if you look at senior HR roles across the UK there is, and will probably always be, a weighting towards the South East, but it’s sometimes too easy to assume there’s very little elsewhere,” he says.

Originally from Lancashire, Lee has also held senior HR positions in Bristol, Leeds, Edinburgh and Birmingham. “The one thing that distinguishes Manchester for me is the sense of community,” he says. “People will talk to you on buses and trains, which adds a real character to the place.”

Andrew Mullen, deputy director of HR, University of Manchester

Mullen has spent his entire working life in Manchester, at what was then Co-Operative Insurance Services and the now defunct GEC Alsthom before his current position, and he believes it is possible for others to build a successful career in the region. “Having moved here 22 years ago, it would take a lot for me to leave,” he says.

Professionally, he also points out the networking opportunities that are available, and stresses the easy access to professional services and employment lawyers.

A key element of his role is to convince academics from overseas to consider a move to Manchester. “We make play of the cultural attractions and the access to the Lake District, the Peak District and the Pennines,” he says.

“We’re only two hours from London on the train now the improvements to the West Coast line have finished, so if you’re part of a broader sector or with an organisation that has a hub in London, you can go down for a two or three-hour meeting without any problem at all.”

On a personal level, Mullen says the local schools are good and the city boasts affordable housing, particularly in the less fashionable parts. He admits, though, that the public transport infrastructure does not compare favourably to cities such as London. “We’ve got a tram line that runs north-south through the city, but if you don’t live on that it’s not great,” he says.

Richard Bide, director of HR, The Co-Operative

Originally from Liverpool, Bide moved up to Manchester with The Co-Operative in 2003 after spending 20 years in the South East.

There is a strong HR community made up of peers from other organisations, he says, but he has also made an effort to keep in touch with his London network. Yet it is the quality of life that initially attracted him back up north.

“You can compare it to anywhere in the Home Counties for the quality of accommodation and lifestyle, and within an hour you can be within some pretty desolate parts of the world,” he says.

Working outside London also brings some practical benefits. “Anywhere compared to London – even a big city – is small,” says Bide. “If you choose to drive it’s a shorter drive. If you choose the train it it’s a much shorter journey. You lack that stress and pressure that is associated with long commutes.”

Bide is adamant he wouldn’t be interested in a move south again, and sees a non-executive position as a possible long-term option. “There are plenty of opportunities to do something like that, and if it was someone earlier in their career who wanted to come north and then move south again, then that’s possible as well,” he adds.

Those attending the CIPD conference should check out the city for themselves, he says. “The facilities where they will meet will be fantastic, but people should walk around the city and have a look at it. It’s changed remarkably over the past 10 or 15 years, and it’s really very impressive.”

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