Personnel Today’s top 40 power players list 2007

Read on to discover the Personnel Today Top 40 Power Players in HR, in association with Interim Performers. Kirstie Redford compiles the evidence.

This year we asked you to send in your nominations, which helped usher some fresh faces into the spotlight. All these influential figures have, through innovative people initiatives, made changes that affect not just how people work within their own organisations, but in the wider fields of employment law and politics. They are all leading where others follow.

But there can only be one winner.


Personnel Today Top 40 Power Players Photo Gallery

View pictures from last week’s event


The Top 40

40 Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School

New entry

A leading management thinker, Gratton has been at the forefront of major initiatives to help more women climb to the top of the career ladder. Last month, she called for targets to ensure that at least 30% of senior positions are taken up by women. On her website, she is described as “a global authority on the people implications of strategy”.

39 Wendy Dean, HR director, ANC Express

New entry

Dean earns her place in this year’s Top 40 after scooping the prestigious HR Director of the Year title at the Personnel Today Awards 2006. She achieved her mission to transform the HR department’s reputation for ‘sandwiches and bandages’ into being a strategic business partner on the board. The awards judge said: “She has a clear understanding of how to bring value back into the business through a range of interventions that can easily demonstrate benefits to the bottom line.”

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

Down 26 from 12

After transforming the HR function at the bank over the last five years, the last 12 months have been relatively quiet for Miller. However, the implementation of a human capital measurement process last year, and his continued work to demonstrate the impact of employee engagement in business performance, plus his appointment as a ‘special professor’ in HR and strategy at the Nottingham University Business School, means Miller still makes the Top 40.

37 Stephen Sidebottom, HR director, Nomura International

New entry

Nomura hit the news in January for its tribunal victory against City banker Andrea Madarassy, who claimed unfair dismissal and sex discrimination. However, Sidebottom’s profile has been raised for other reasons. The chairman of City Personnel Group, he has delivered key organisational change initiatives over the last couple of years at the bank, focusing on talent management and employee engagement.

36 Mary Canavan, HR director, British Library

Down 5 from 31

Having implemented a successful change management programme over the last few years, diversity and equality are top of Canavan’s hit list for 2007. Having published a gender equality scheme in May, and with a race equality scheme planned for later this year, she says success will lie with delivering on promises and communicating with staff.

35 Sally Jacobson, HR director, London & Quadrant Housing Association (L&Q Group)

Up 4 from 39

Jacobson has helped make her employer an employer of choice, appearing in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list for the third consecutive year. With growth reported in both housing stock and jobs, focusing on the people issues looks to be paying off.

34 Francesca Okosi, director, people and performance, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)

New entry

A new people strategy launched last year has seen Defra’s HR function modernised and its headcount cut to just 150. With Okosi at the helm, the department has devolved the management of services to a local level, put in place a 17-year IT outsourcing deal with IBM, set up an e-HR system, and launched a shared service facility. The next 12 months look just as busy as Okosi moves towards completion of this substantial programme of change.

33 David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy, EEF (Engineering Employers Federation)

Down 9 from 24

The voice of the manufacturing industry, Yeandle last year led calls for rises in the national minimum wage to be subject to a pre-determined formula. As pay rises in the sector remain dismal amid the continued squeeze on manufacturers’ profit margins and with tribunal hearings on the rise (the EEF handled 25% more cases in 2006), we will no doubt be hearing more from Yeandle this year.

32 Alan Warner, director of people and property, Hertfordshire County Council

Down 7 from 25

Local government stalwart Warner is widely recognised as being at the top of his profession, and leads a multi-award winning department. This year, Warner faces fresh challenges as the council bids for ‘pathfinder’ status to pioneer new models of working between councils at county and district level. With fears that this may lead to job cuts in local government HR, there could be a rocky road ahead.

31 Philipa Hird, group HR director, ITV

New entry

BSkyB’s controversial purchase of a 17.9% stake in the business last year prompted a drop in the ITV share price and an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading, doing little to reassure the workforce over the future of the broadcasting giant. With broadcasting union Bectu describing ITV staff as “ground down” by recent cuts to jobs and programmes, employee engagement will surely be a top priority for Hird’s team this year.

30 Martin Sawkins, HR director, The AA

New entry

A tough round of negotiations led to resolution over a pay dispute in April, strengthening relations with the AA Democratic Union. Sawkins’ HR team saw further success last year, winning two prizes at the Personnel Today Awards 2006. The AA won two demanding categories – the HR Impact Award and Best HR Strategy In Line With Business.

29 Stephen Moir, director of people and policy, Cambridgeshire County Council and PPMA vice-president

New entry

Moir has had a busy year raising the profile of Cambridgeshire County Council, and landed a diversity award for its recruitment campaign in February. A regular speaker at events around the country, he has been championing succession planning, talent management and leadership development. Lined up to be the next president of the Public Sector People Manager’s Association (PPMA), expect to hear more from Moir in the next 12 months.

28 Mike Cutt, HR director, Boots

Down 12 from 16

A massive restructuring programme following the merger with Alliance Unichem left Cutt with a big job on his hands. With 2,250 jobs to go over the next three years, and targets of cutting £60m in annual operating costs, it is down to Cutt’s team to keep employees updated and union discussions constructive. It remains to be seen what shape this will take after the £11bn takeover of Boots by private equity firm KKR, but Cutt certainly has a challenging year ahead.

27 Martyn Phillips, HR director, B&Q

New entry

Gallup’s latest employee engagement results reveal that B&Q has enjoyed three times the level of improvement the pollsters have ever seen in a global organisation within an 18-month period. Phillips puts it down to mystery shoppers, customer surveys and business performance measures. This impressive result sees Phillips fly in as a new entry – and notably, one place above his predecessor.

26 Mark Serwotka, general secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)

Down 6 from 20

Whether it is slamming the Department for Work and Pensions over management incompetence, or accusing the Department for Constitutional Affairs of engineering a North-South pay divide, Serwotka has barely been out of the news. With the launch of equal pay claims against the Ministry of Defence and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency heading for industrial action over low pay, this union firebrand is clearly in fighting mood, and will have a big impact on HR in the public sector in the year ahead.

25 Stephen Kelly, vice-president, people division, BBC

New entry

Kelly was lured from BT Global Services last summer and officially started this challenging role in October. After he led the change agenda at BT, the BBC has high hopes that Kelly is the right man to deliver the radical changes needed to motivate the workforce and make the HR team more strategic.

24 Vance Kearney, vice-president HR EMEA, Oracle

New entry

One of the most straight-talking people in HR, Kearney has a reputation for tackling challenges head-on. His HR department has had a busy couple of years thanks to Oracle’s acquisitions strategy (which has included the purchase of software firms Siebel, PeopleSoft and Portal). Kearney and his team oversaw the integration of new employees, as well as merging the newly acquired HR departments into Oracle.

23 Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison

Down 6 from 17

Prentis continues to keep public sector HR at the negotiating table. April saw Unison help clerical worker Ann Southcott win her job back – thus preventing the first ever age discrimination case to reach tribunal. With more industrial action on the cards this summer from teachers, NHS workers and civil servants, expect more fireworks this year.

22 Jan Parkinson, managing director, Local Government Employers

Up 7 from 29

The equal pay crisis in local government has racked up many a column inch this year, with councils under fire for failing to resolve the problem before it escalates into a potential £5bn bill. For every jibe, Parkinson has been quick to divert the blame from employers, but with more than two-thirds of local authorities missing the deadline, the crisis is not going away.

21 Duncan Brown, director, HR practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers

Down 11 from 10

The former assistant director-general of the CIPD’s move to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) may mean a lower media profile for Brown, but is by no means a backward step. With more than 6,000 professionals in over 100 countries, the PwC network is one of the world’s largest HR advisory organisations. If he brings the same energy to his new role, expect Brown to lead the HR practice to new heights.

20 David Smith, people director, Asda

Down 11 from 9

Recognition from the Department for Work and Pensions for going above and beyond best practice on age diversity keeps the supermarket giant in the top 20. On the flip side, drawn-out negotiations very nearly ended in a five-day strike by distribution staff last summer – the whole debacle has done little for Asda’s employer brand. Smith drops 11 places.

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

Up 15 from 34

Pagliari rises a well-deserved 15 places from last year’s Top 40. Among his successes this year, he has launched an HR shared-services centre and resolved a pay dispute with a three-year deal. Along with a new diversity programme and skills training programme, Pagliari is leading some big changes at the Scottish Executive.

18 Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology, Lancaster University

Up 8 from 26

Cooper is already regarded as a leading psychologist on workplace issues, but his latest project raises his profile to a whole new level. In October, he launched the Centre for Performance-Led HR at Lancaster University Management School, which will work with top HR directors on strategic projects. His new role as joint director of the centre will put him at the cutting edge of the latest strategic thinking.

17 Susan Anderson, director of HR policy, Confederation of British Industry (CBI)

New entry

As well as speaking out for the CBI on some of HR’s hottest debates, Anderson also sits on a number of influential committees. She is part of the Gibbons Review panel, looking into employee dispute resolution rules, she has joined the board of conciliation service Acas, and has also been appointed to the Low Pay Commission, which advises the government on the national minimum wage. With the CBI also focusing on education, skills and pensions, Anderson has a busy year ahead.

16 Liane Hornsey, HR director, Google

New entry

Its senior managers may spend 30% of their time interviewing people, but Hornsey says this is all part of Google’s retention strategy. A very thorough interviewing process (she herself had 16 interviews before being offered the job in January 2006) and sending presents to new recruits are all part of Hornsey’s master plan. Despite big recruitment pressures – Google’s workforce doubled last year and it expects the same again in 2007 – its staff turnover rate is just 3%.

15 Caroline Waters, director of people and policy, BT

New entry

BT has been somewhat of a pioneer when it comes to flexible working, and Waters looks like she will be spearheading more innovative policies over the coming year. Following the introduction of carers’ rights to request flexible working in April, Waters is driving the message in recruitment campaigns that there is a clear business case for targeting carers. She is providing some much-needed leadership in this field.

14 2012 Olympics team: Wendy Cartwright, head of HR, Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) andJean Tomlin, director of HR, The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog)

Up 24 from 38

Another year closer to 2012, and the pressure mounts for the two Olympic HR chiefs. There has perhaps never been such a high-profile HR project in the UK. People issues are crucial to the success of the Games, and both Cartwright and Tomlin will have to make tough decisions under the scrutiny of the press, the public and, no doubt, their HR peers. If they get it right, they have the opportunity to push a positive image of HR and leave a skills legacy that could make a real difference to the economy. But with the ODA already at loggerheads with construction union Ucatt over employment contracts, that day still seems a long way off.

13 Sir Digby Jones, government skills envoy

New entry

Last summer marked the end of Jones’s six-year reign as director-general of the CBI. By December, Gordon Brown had him driving a new initiative aimed at improving skills and training. This may be just a two-day-a-week, unpaid position, but it’s unlikely that anything Jones does will stay low profile for long. He has already slammed the government for wasting six months before launching the Leitch skills pledge.

12 Linda Holbeche, research and policy director, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

Up 23 from 35

Holbeche’s move from the Work Foundation marks a much higher profile role for the well-respected academic. Duncan Brown’s shoes may be hard to fill, but Holbeche’s appointment has been widely welcomed by the HR community because of her strong research background. Effectively the CIPD’s number two, Holbeche will lead management research and become the next big voice for the institute.

11 Trevor Phillips, chairman, Commission for Equality & Human Rights (CEHR)

Up 26 from 37

The ex-chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), Phillips has the top job in the new amalgamated body, and all eyes are on the diversity tsar to see what the CEHR will deliver. He also chaired the Equalities Review last year, and has repeatedly called for a change in law to allow employers to take ‘special measures’ in favouring ethnic minority job applicants. The CEHR is set to enforce current discrimination legislation, but could Phillips’ influence mean new laws are also in the offing?

10 Professor Dame Carol Black, national director for health and work

Up 13 from 23

A year into her role heading a government initiative to cut the number of people on incapacity benefit and promote health in the workplace, Black – the professor and director of rheumatology at the Royal Free & UCL Medical School in London – has her hands full. The coming year will see her lead a review on the health of UK’s working age population. Health has become a red-hot topic for employers, and with sickness absence costing the economy billions each year, the pressure will be on to deliver.

9 Tony Woodley, joint leader, Unite

Down 1 from 8

The former general secretary of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G), Woodley has just embarked on his new post as joint leader of ‘super-union’ Unite. He may already have two million members to look out for, but his next task is increasing numbers further. With £15m put aside to target new members, Woodley says that casual and younger workers are top of his agenda.

8 Tony McCarthy, HR director, Royal Mail

Up 22 from 30

McCarthy has risen an impressive 22 places from last year’s Top 40. It seems that hard graft to deliver massive organisational change at the Royal Mail is finally paying off. With McCarthy at the helm, it managed to scoop the Overall Winner title at the Personnel Today Awards 2006. McCarthy now has to prove that changes are sustainable. With pay strikes and modernisation on the cards, there will inevitably be more challenges ahead.

7 Martin Tiplady, HR director, Metropolitan Police

Up 6 from 13

Tiplady has had a tough year heading a diversity campaign to meet Metropolitan Police targets as the debate over ‘positive discrimination’ rolls on. While Tiplady himself branded current targets a ‘pipedream’ back in November, innovative campaigns, such as a recruitment bus to engage hard-to-reach communities, are helping the Met build a force that better reflects the city that it serves.

6 Gill Rider, head of HR, Civil Service

New entry

Another high new entry, Rider is putting her 27 years in the private sector to the test. The former Accenture executive, who took on her new role last year, is responsible for implementing the Professional Skills for Government programme, while improving leadership and bolstering professionalism in HR. With the latest Whitehall capability reviews uncovering worrying HR failings, Rider is already being widely praised for her work in ‘professionalising’ the function. It is a big job and Rider seems to be rising to the challenge.

5 Keith Cameron, HR director, Marks & Spencer

New entry

The highest new entry in this year’s Top 40, Cameron has helped lead the once ailing department store into an impressive three-year recovery programme, which last year saw a 47% increase in profits. He introduced a controversial £10m staff motivation exercise and embarked on a major recruitment drive to improve service in stores. The company’s latest earnings – which surged by 28% to just under £1bn – are evidence of the success of Marks & Spencer’s people strategies.

4 Angela O’Connor, chief people officer, National Policing Improvement Agency


After four years as HR director at the Crown Prosecution Service, last November O’Connor took the HR helm of the newly formed National Policing Improvement Agency. The immediate past-president of the PPMA, this turnaround specialist is already making her presence felt. Defending 500 job cuts in April, O’Connor said: “If we don’t see something delivering, we will cut it.” It looks like a challenging year ahead.

3 Neil Roden, group HR director, Royal Bank of Scotland

Down 2 from 1

Having been the top power player for the past two years, Neil Roden has slipped to third place. This year, the bank has been at the centre of a dispute with unions after suggesting staff could face disciplinary action if they fail to get their salary paid into an RBS account. However, judging by Roden’s track record, he’s unlikely to put up with negative press for long, and is already planning this year’s strategy to focus on engaging line managers to keep HR’s performance in check. And with the current takeover battle of ABN Amro, ‘raging’ Roden is still one to watch.

2 Clare Chapman, workforce director general, Department of Health


With more than 1.3 million NHS staff and 1.6 million people working in social care, Chapman’s new role should stretch her workforce management skills to a new level. But it looks like she is ready for the challenge and has already pledged to change the culture of the health service by engaging more with front-line staff. A Health Select Committee report in April said that NHS workforce planning had been “a disastrous failure”, with too few people with the ability and skills to do the task. The Department of Health will be hoping that Chapman is the one to turn this around.

1 David Fairhurst, senior vice-president and chief people officer, McDonald’s

Up 4 from 5

One of the highest-profile senior HR professionals in the UK, David Fairhurst climbs four places in our top 40 listing to earn the top power player title this year. It’s not often that HR directors front campaigns for their organisations, but Fairhurst has been at the forefront of the fast food chain’s drive to change ingrained views about the ‘McJob’. He’s already making headway: in January, McDonald’s was named Best Place to Work in Hospitality at the Caterer & Hotelkeeper awards.


Personnel Today Top 40 Power Players
Photo Gallery

David FairhurstPower Players winner David Fairhurst of McDonald’s in front of Wellington Arch, London, where the evnt was held.

And just last month, his campaign stepped up a gear by aiming to bring about a change in the dictionary definition of a ‘McJob’. Other efforts have included a training website offering its 67,000 UK employees access to GCSE-equivalent qualifications. Fairhurst has also bagged an internal promotion and has been appointed vice-chairman of People 1st – the sector skills council for hospitality. Whether or not burgers and fries are your cup of tea, Fairhurst has not shied away from one of the toughest employer brand challenges. At the awards ceremony, Fairhurst said he was “thrilled” to have won the top accolade.

What makes these individuals great HR leaders?

Gail Bell, managing director of our sponsor, recruitment specialist Interim Performers, outlines just what it is that makes our Power Players deserve their place in the Top 40.

“It goes without saying that these individuals demonstrate strong business acumen, market insight, communication expertise, technological competence, organisational behavioural expertise, and the ability to help create culture and drive values. However, it’s their ability to engage others and effect change that has ensured these unique individuals stand out from the HR crowd.

“HR leaders know the dynamics of their particular industry – key trends, threats, competitors – and know where, in that complex mix, their company needs and wants to be. From this flows vision, which forms the basis of the company’s strategic goals and objectives. Chief executives can expect their HR leaders to have a deep grasp of these dynamics, and to work as part of the executive team.

“Once they have created the vision, these leaders are responsible for setting the strategic direction, in alignment with the organisation’s goals. They will have the ability to explain the vision, the benefits and expected successes.

“Leaders are responsible for supporting change efforts by managing the resources – those that are available and those that need to be acquired to meet the timelines – and, through ongoing monitoring and communication, ensuring the changes are effective. This is achieved by influencing, inspiring and motivating people to go the extra mile to achieve and exceed the set objectives. They then nurture and grow that talent to develop the leaders of the future.

“Leaders need to be able to work comfortably within an ever-evolving business environment. They need to communicate these changes – often large-scale ones including new structures, processes and procedures – and to engage employees by sharing the reasons for change, and empowering them to deliver the vision.

“Finally, leaders must inspire by articulating and living a vision that is believable, and by behaving in a manner that is ethical and trustworthy.

“Being a leader is both simple and profoundly difficult. Great HR leaders will exert an enormously important influence on all people-related matters in their organisation. Average HR leaders will not.”

Ones to watch

…And it goes without saying

  • Guru
  • Secretary of state for trade and industry (currently Alistair Darling)
  • Secretary of state for pensions (currently John Hutton)
  • Lord Sandy Leitch, author, Leitch Review of Skills

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