Power Players 2008: Personnel Today’s Top 40 Power Players in HR

It’s that time of year again, when HR’s finest are given the recognition they deserve in Personnel Today’s Power Players 2008.


Now in its eighth year, the Power Players list aims to recognise HR’s most influential; the people who have played a part in bringing people issues to the top of the business agenda and been a shining light for the HR profession.


This year we wanted to focus exclusively on frontline practitioners – rather than policymakers – who demonstrate strong business acumen and represent both the HR function internally and their profession as a whole. Our top 10 are all leading HR practitioners in their own right but also media-friendly figureheads for the industries they work in. Thank you to everyone who sent in nominations and to our editorial advisory board for defining what they think makes a power player.




Liane Hornsey, HR director at Google, says: “A Power Player is someone who makes things happen and who is not afraid to question the status quo and see things differently, someone who generates creative solutions and ideas. Most importantly, Power Players are never afraid of change.”


Nick Holley, executive director of the HR Centre of Excellence at Henley Business School, believes it’s people who can make the link between HR and the bottom line. “Power Players are defined by the difference they have made not to HR itself but to the business either in a specific company or more widely. They don’t worry about their position at the table, they get on and make a real difference.”


Alan Warner, director of people and property, Hertfordshire County Council, adds: “For me, a power player is someone who speaks and people listen because what they have to say makes sense. They influence what is going on and become a point of reference for others.”

Sally Jacobson, group HR director, London & Quadrant Housing Trust, says it’s “leading HR in a company where people really love to work and are prepared to go the extra mile because they feel valued and recognised for their contribution.”

Our top 40:

40. Wendy Cartwright, head of HR, Olympic Delivery Authority
Following the success of the Beijing Games, the media spotlight now falls on London and the preparations for 2012. This means a raised profile for the ODA and HR chief Cartwright. The inevitable political pressure to have the infrastructure ready in time will also see Cartwright’s team tasked with controlling long working hours and employee burn-out.

39. Sharon Benson, HR director, Trinity-Chiesi Pharmaceuticals
Voted Personnel Today’s HR Director of the Year in 2007, Benson has gained plaudits for her work in increasing performance levels and reducing employee turnover – initiatives so successful they have been adopted by Trinity-Chiesi affiliate companies across Europe. She is also an advocate of flexible working, especially for mothers returning from maternity leave, and has actively encouraged new fathers to consider similar arrangements.

38. Claire Walton, HR director, Ventura

Walton enters this year’s Top 40 after being shortlisted for Personnel Today’s HR Director of the Year award in 2007. Then HR director at Currys Supply Chain, she played a key role in keeping staff engaged as the company went through major organisational change. She has continued her work at outsourcing giant Ventura, which this month picked up an occupational health and safety award from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.

37. Sara Edwards, HR and change director, Liberty
Charged with bringing about a culture change at luxury fashion retailer Liberty when she joined the company at the start of the year, Edwards has moved her entire department into the heart of the Regent Street store, so they can interact with staff more effectively. She has also instructed her team to dedicate at least an hour a week to walking the floors so they can better understand employee concerns.

36. Paul Pagliari, director of change and corporate services, Scottish Executive
Pagliari has been responsible for an extensive modernisation programme since he joined the Scottish government from the Home Office. Having slimmed down the HR department and devolved more responsibility to line managers, this year has witnessed the bedding in of a new £3m online system, which allows employees to monitor records, and HR staff to take on more strategic responsibilities.

35. Nadine Jones, group head of HR, Baugur

Responsible for HR policy across investment company Baugur, Jones makes our top 40 primarily for her work in improving employee engagement at supermarket chain Iceland – one of Baugur’s main investments. Having introduced 360-degree reviews for managers and a ‘Talking Shop’ for employees, two-thirds of Iceland staff now say they are highly engaged.

34. Ewan McCulloch, HR director, Staples UK Retail

McCulloch is committed to developing a high-performance culture at stationery supplier Staples and has spent the past year taking managers through a comprehensive leadership development programme. With major brands such as Nationwide and Comet on his CV, McCulloch’s dynamism is a key reason why the UK arm of Staples is expanding at a rate of five stores a year.

33. Kevin White, director-general HR, Home Office

White has been unusually low-key since he joined the Home Office last year – a marked difference from his previous role at the Department for Work and Pensions, where he oversaw a major programme of job cuts. However, as a leading voice in central government HR, responsible for the workplace welfare of people making decisions about national security, his place in this year’s top 40 is assured.

32. Ann Gillies, HR leader, WL Gore

Responsible for implementing a raft of innovative HR policies, Gillies has been central to helping manufacturer WL Gore topping the Sunday Times’ list of 100 Best Places to Work for the past four years. With the firm’s 450 UK employees accountable to each other and colleagues helping to determine each others’ pay, 80% of its workers think the company makes a difference to the world we live in.

31. Stephen Dando, chief HR officer, Thomson Reuters
Change specialist Dando has had his hands full this year integrating the work practices and HR departments at information suppliers Reuters and Thomson, following an £8.7bn takeover in 2007. But there’s no doubting Dando’s pedigree, having steered the BBC through a massive transformation before joining Reuters and boasting extensive experience at major brands Guinness and Diageo.

30. Martyn Phillips, HR director, B&Q

In May, B&Q scooped a Gallup Great Workplace Award for the second year running – proof that Phillips’s commitment to making line managers responsible for improving motivation among staff has borne fruit. What’s more, Gallup’s results revealed this approach is having a positive effect on the company’s bottom line.

29. Bob Blenkinsop, HR director, Ford

A Business in the Community award in June recognised the numerous corporate social responsibility initiatives Blenkinsop has led at Ford in recent years. Notable projects include chairing the Ford Britain Trust, which donates more than £200,000 to good causes each year, and working with local training providers to up-skill hard-to-reach sections of the community close to the company’s main Dagenham plant.

28. Tim Miller, director, people, property and assurance, Standard Chartered Bank
Credited with reorganising Standard Chartered’s management structure and enabling the smooth integration of numerous acquisitions, Miller has put HR issues at the centre of the bank’s growth strategy. Vice-president of organisation and resourcing at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, he has spent the past year at Standard Chartered focused on employee engagement and ensuring high standards of governance and ethics.

27. Richard Smelt, HR director, Northern Rock

Having joined Northern Rock shortly after it announced plans to axe 1,300 jobs, Smelt faces a turbulent time. Formerly group HR director at Carphone Warehouse, he will need to use his 20 years’ experience as the firm embarks on a major restructuring exercise after a harrowing year for the mortgage lender.

26. Chris Last, director-general HR, Department for Work and Pensions

Last makes the top 40 after taking up this post at the DWP in January, following 28 years in HR at Ford. Responsible for building a top-performing HR function, he has talked a lot about organisations boosting their own talent. And he has put his money where his mouth is after announcing last month that the HR department plans to develop a number of graduates internally rather than rely on external recruitment.

25. Stephen Sidebottom, HR director, Nomura International
This has been a challenging year for Sidebottom who, as chairman of City HR – the industry association for HR professionals in the financial services sector – has had to offer direction on HR best practice in the wake of the credit crunch. He has also led a number of key initiatives on talent management and employee engagement at the investment bank, which is in talks with Lehman Brothers about a possible takeover.

24. Alan Warner, corporate director (people and property), Hertfordshire County Council
Warner is the best paid HR practitioner in local government and widely-regarded as a cutting-edge leader. As public lead on talent at the Public Sector People Managers Association, Warner has encouraged innovative thinking on how the sector should attract new recruits and has also been outspoken about why HR should embrace technologies such as Facebook to relate to the younger generation joining the workforce.

23. Deb Clarke, joint HR director, Tower Hamlets Council and PCT

As HR supremo for Tower Hamlets’ council and the primary care trust, Clarke’s role is unique in the public sector and one she is making a real success. Since her arrival, the council has won awards for its work on community cohesion and integrating ethnic groups, while Clarke has focused on areas where her two organisations can work together, such as leadership, diversity and improving skills.

22. David Amos, director of workforce, University College London Hospitals (UCLH)

HR chief at one of London’s largest NHS trusts, Amos has extensive HR experience in the health service and was deputy director of HR at the Department of Health before joining UCLH. A member of the Prime Minister’s Public Services Forum and the National Employer Advisory Board, he is an influential figure in a sector that continues to face major people management challenges.

21. Madalyn Brooks, HR director, Procter & Gamble UK and Ireland

Regarded as a leading advocate for encouraging diversity in the workplace, Brooks has helped implement a system where managers at the consumer goods giant have their pay linked to the way they manage diversity. Leadership and accountability is central to the firm’s strategy to increase its diversity, she told a CIPD summit on the issue in May.

20. Sally Jacobson, group HR director, London and Quadrant Housing
Thanks to its progressive HR policies and Jacobson’s lead, London and Quadrant Housing has become a mainstay on the Sunday Times‘ 100 Best Companies to Work for list. Jacobson’s initiatives include a comprehensive fast-track training programme to help staff progress their careers, and the offer of an extra day’s holiday to staff with a 100% attendance record – a strategy that sees sickness absence at the housing association hover at an impressive 1.9%.

19. Vance Kearney, vice-president HR EMEA, Oracle
Widely respected by his peers, Kearney is a straight–talking HR leader who regards the function’s value as all about the bottom line and not just HR for HR’s sake. His contribution in helping Oracle successfully integrate numerous acquisitions, including software firms Siebel and PeopleSoft, and his on-going commitment to demonstrating that HR can make a difference, sees him move in this year’s roll-call.

18. Gill Hibberd, corporate director, people and policy, Buckinghamshire County Council

A shining light in public sector HR, Hibberd has been a pioneer in local government people management practices since she joined the council in 2005. This year she pledged that the local authority would be one of the first to introduce total reward statements for its staff in a bid to boost the value employees put on their benefits.

17. Saudagar Singh, HR director, RWE NPower

With fierce competition for the latest skills in the energy sector, Singh makes the Power Player list for his proactive approach to winning the war for engineering talent. His department has set up apprenticeship schemes, organised competitions among university engineering undergraduates, sent in top staff to give lectures, and put senior company figures on the boards of engineering faculties, ensuring NPower has its pick of the top student engineers entering the workplace.

16. Matthew Brearley, HR director, Vodafone

Brearley crashes into the top 20 after bagging Personnel Today’s annual employee engagement award last year. But he hasn’t rested on his laurels, and this June introduced a scheme where UK employees can apply to work at any charity around the world for up to a year. Brearley remains focused on events at home as he tackles a major reorganisation that will see 20% of senior management jobs replaced by retail staff.

15. Neil Roden, group HR director, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)
A former top Power Player, Roden’s position slips as external factors take precedence. With the credit crunch forcing RBS to offer a record £12bn in discounted shares, he has had his work cut out communicating the situation to worried employees. But having been named a leading player in improving racial diversity in June, RBS has shown it remains a progressive employer of note.

14. Jim Savege, corporate director for organisational development, Cumbria County Council

Staff dissatisfaction over pay awards has been the key issue across the public sector in 2008. This has propelled Savege into the limelight after playing a leading role in pay negotiations. At the PPMA he has preached a total reward approach where reward frameworks are included in pay negotiations. The subject of pay also dominates his day job at Cumbria County Council, where concluding the single status [equal pay] agreement and bringing in modern pay arrangements have been his priority.

13. David Smith, people director, Asda
With more than 130,000 staff and plans to open more superstores this year, employee retention is essential to Asda’s success. Smith jumps up the list after overseeing the introduction of a number of initiatives aimed at reducing staff turnover, such as apprenticeship schemes and flexible working benefits, which include allowing employees to take an unpaid career break for up to three years.

12. Tony McCarthy, director, people and organisational effectiveness, British  Airways (BA)
With the credit crunch hitting BA’s profits, McCarthy has had a testing time since he joined BA, and worked hard to avoid job cuts. A dispute with pilots over the launch of a new European subsidiary, Open Skies, has kept the former Royal Mail HR chief busy. His inclusion in the National School of Government’s Sunningdale Institute, centre of excellence for learning and development, confirms his status as an HR big-hitter.

11. Helen Giles MBE, HR director, Broadway

Awarded an MBE earlier this year for her contribution to homeless charity Broadway, Giles has brought out-of-the-box thinking to a sector not known for its HR innovation. The inclusion of homeless people on staff selection panels is just one example of her pioneering work. “For too long the sector has relied on the idea that the positive motivation of people wanting to work in homeless charities is a substitute for effective people management,” Giles told Personnel Today.

10. Stephen Kelly, people director, BBC
Kelly’s experience in change management has been essential as the Beeb continues to undergo the biggest shake-up in its 86-year history. Preparations for a major relocation to Manchester by 2011 and the management of a £100m HR outsourcing contract with Capita have kept Kelly busy in a year where the broadcaster also launched a major drive to improve diversity. Kelly, who joined the broadcaster in 2006 after seven years at BT, claims it’s “a privilege” to work for the iconic media organisation.

9. Gill Rider, head of HR, Civil Service
Against a backdrop of Whitehall reviews that exposed worrying HR failings, Rider has got on with the job of ‘professionalising’ the function in the Civil Service. A former Accenture executive who describes herself as a “hard-nosed businesswoman”, she has encouraged colleagues to take secondments outside central government and has welcomed new recruits from the private sector, as well as urging the profession to convince chief executives of the need to take responsibility for improving diversity in the workplace. Rider’s leap across sectors is just one example of a spate of high-profile HR professionals who have been attracted to the challenge of working in the public sector.

8. Angela O’Connor, chief people officer, National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA)
Less than two years after taking the job as head of the profession for police HR staff, O’Connor has been at the forefront of some highly-influential initiatives. This year she has overseen a new leadership strategy for all 43 forces in England and Wales, as well as revealed plans to introduce national, compulsory standards for HR directors in the agency to improve consistency and efficiency. O’Connor, former president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, made her mark as HR director at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the government department responsible for the prosecution of most criminal cases, and is one of the most recognised and respected faces in the HR community.

7. Stephen Moir, director of people and policy, Cambridgeshire County Council, and president, Public Sector People Managers’ Association (PPMA)
An eloquent champion for modernising public sector HR, Moir has this year used his tenure at the helm of the PPMA to hit out at “HR dinosaurs” and promote faster, fitter and more flexible public-funded organisations. Speaking at the PPMA annual conference in May, he demanded that public sector HR “stop feeling sorry for itself” and get to grips with the brave new world of outsourcing, shared services, technology and efficiency targets. Already a high-profile HR figure at 35, Moir has held a number of important roles in three local authorities and three police forces.

6. Liane Hornsey, HR director, Google
As the HR head of arguably the world’s best-known brand, Hornsey was always going to have some kudos. Sending financial and managing directors down to face questions at staff gatherings on Fridays may be unconventional, but such progressive workplace practices saw Google named best employer by the Great Place to Work Institute earlier this summer. Hornsey says this type of leadership is key to the internet behemoth’s success, and it fast-growing workforce seems to agree – with the company boasting a voluntary turnover rate of only 4.3%.

5. Caroline Waters, director of people and policy, BT
Waters’ key role in the formation of membership group Employers for Carers, which launched in June and is aimed at influencing government employment policy, sees her at the vanguard of a movement to help the three million workers juggling work and caring responsibilities. She has also pioneered flexible working at BT where seven out of 10 staff work flexibly and more than 13% are home-based.

4. Imelda Walsh, HR director, Sainsbury’s

Walsh’s star is rising after championing the cause of 4.5 million workers who are set to benefit from her recommendations on flexible working rights. Having led an independent review, Walsh’s proposal that staff with children up to the age of 16 should have the right to request variable working hours was accepted by the government in May. How many parents take up their new rights, set to come into force in April 2009, remains to be seen. HR director at the supermarket giant since October 2001 and appointed to the board when it was formed in May 2004, Walsh previously held a number of HR roles at the Barclays Group.

3. Clare Chapman, workforce director-general, Department of Health
HR big-hitter Chapman remains in the top three after a year where she has gallantly attempted to change the culture of Europe’s largest employer by engaging with frontline staff. It seems she’s heading in the right direction according to a recent employee survey, which found that almost three-quarters of NHS staff are at least satisfied in their work. The publication of a draft NHS constitution in June, which lists rights and responsibilities for staff, has also been broadly welcomed. Chapman caused a stir when she left Tesco, the biggest private sector employer, in 2006 to join the NHS.

2. Martin Tiplady, HR director, Metropolitan Police
Tiplady recently hailed his department’s achievements over the past 12 months as “one big highlight”, citing an increase in diversity among ground forces and the introduction of training programmes to improve job performance. His achievements have been called into question over the past month, however, as the Met finds itself embroiled in on-going accusations of institutional racism from senior managers. Such a high-profile role doesn’t come without major challenges and a transformation programme will see the Met shed a third of its HR jobs this year. Its HR team has won dozens of awards since Tiplady took up the helm in 2002, including the PPMA’s award for Best Work for Improving the Intake of Graduates to the Public Sector.

1. David Fairhurst, chief people officer (northern Europe), McDonald’s
One of the UK’s most respected HR chiefs, Fairhurst remains firmly ensconced at the top spot for the second year running after another 12 months where progressive people management practices have been at the heart of the fast-food giant’s incredible resurgence. Despite fears of a recession, the fast-food chain has pledged to keep spending on staff and in August announced plans to hire 4,000 more workers to cope with an extra two million customers per month.

Employee development has also been super-sized on Fairhurst’s watch with the company now spending about £15m a year on training in the UK alone. The group’s involvement in employer-accredited training schemes – launched this year – signals how seriously it takes its role in developing its people.

Fairhurst has also been instrumental in boosting the McDonald’s brand and perceptions have changed to the point where the once much-derided “McJob” label is now being used successfully in the firm’s recruitment ads.

Ones to watch



  • Claire Tiney, HR director, Woolworths
  • Therese Proctor, HR director, Tesco
  • Dale Haddon, HR director, Royal Mail
  • Anne Stevens, global head of HR, CMC Markets
  • Jean Tomlin, HR director, London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (Locog)
  • Paul Reynolds, HR director, Elior
  • Suzanne Taylor, HR director, Dreams
  • Barry Hoffman, HR director, ComputacentrenTanith Dodge, HR director, Marks & Spencer


Opinion formers



  • Duncan Brown, director, HR practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers
  • John Hutton, business secretary, Department for Business, Enterprise and Reform
  • Ed Sweeney, chairman, Acas
  • Linda Holbeche, research and policy director, Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD)
  • Trevor Phillips, head of Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
  • David Frost, director-general, British Chambers of Commerce
  • David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy, EEF
  • Cary Cooper CBE, guru, author and professor of organisational psychology at Lancaster University
  • Jan Parkinson, managing director, Local Government Employers
  • Professor Dame Carol Black, national director for Health and Work
  • Mark Serwotka, general secretary, Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union
  • Richard Lambert, director-general, CBI
  • Tony Woodley, joint general secretary, Unite
  • Derek Simpson, joint general secretary, Unite
  • Paul Kenny, general secretary, GMB
  • Dave Prentis, general secretary, Unison
  • Brendan Barber, general secretary, TUC
  • Kevin Green, chief executive, REC
  • Jackie Orme, chief executive, CIPD
  • Chris Humphries, chief executive, UK Commission for Employment & Skills
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