Personal profile

John Johnstone began his career as a corporate lawyer then opted to change career and work in HR. He worked in various HR roles in the NHS before becoming employee relations manager for Standard Life Assurance. He is now head of personnel for Standard Life Bank.

Most important lesson

Look for the diamond inside people – it gets the best from people and there’s always a way to manage around the rough edges.

Strangest situation

Some years ago I had to give feedback to a very masculine looking transsexual who had mistakenly applied for a job as "company secretary" thinking it was a secretarial job. I was profoundly relieved when he was able to see the funny side.

Dream holiday location

A log cabin in the Canadian mountains by one of the great lakes with my family and a few friends.

Three wishes to change my company

Many of our managers are outstanding leaders – I hope all our managers will some day be as accomplished as our most talented ones. Like many of my colleagues, I’d like to see more diversity in the workforce. It would be great if we could read our customers minds.

Best thing about working in HR

Handling issues which are both fascinating and crucial to the sustained success of the business.

Worst thing

Securing buy-in from multiple stakeholders who, just occasionally, may have competing interests.

Object from burning house

I’d save the videos of my children growing up – pretty much everything else can be replaced.

Least appealing characteristic

As a lawyer I sometimes use a dozen big words when a few small ones will do.

Historical character

Nelson Mandela. His dignity, quiet but unshakeable conviction and his strength to forgive are inspiring qualities.

Travel to work

If the weather’s good I’ll walk the three miles to work but I often drive because it’s quick and I can get so much done early in the morning before the phone starts to ring.

More spare time

I would write my long planned novel.

Mastermind special subject

Mistakes I have learned from.

Greatest strength

I have a natural change orientation and a restless curiosity to find a better way to deliver for the business without compromising my people values.

Greatest risk

When I left a career as a solicitor in a big commercial law practice to pursue a career in HR. That was a big risk at the time but I’m glad it worked out.


1998-present head of personnel, Standard Life Bank

1997-1998 employee relations manager, Standard Life Assurance

1996-1997 director of HR, NHS Trust, North Scotland

1993-1995 assistant director of HR, NHS Trust, Dumfries

1991-1993 organisation development manager, NHS Trust Glasgow

1986-1991 corporate lawyer, City of London and Glasgow

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