Race for top Olympics HR job gets off to a false start

On 6 July, the announcement that London would host the 2012 Olympics was met with euphoria and surprise. Paris had been the favourite and London was thought to be unprepared for the privilege.

In the weeks following the announcement, the government was unequivocal about the need for highly dynamic individuals to spearhead such a vast, prestigious event.

Tessa Jowell, secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said in September: “The 2012 Games will be a showcase to the world. All eyes will be on London and Britain and what we can deliver for the Olympic movement. We need to ensure we have the highest calibre candidates for these roles. I hope that some of the brightest stars in business and public life will want to take up this challenge.”

The recent advertisement for the head of HR suggested that the role would be pivotal to the whole operation with a highly strategic focus.

Pole position

The job description, issued by the Interim Olympic Development Authority (ODA) on behalf of the London Development Agency (LDA), stated that the head of HR would “work with the proposed ODA to lead on the HR and people management issues that will in turn support the strategic direction of the organisation”.

The HR director will also be responsible for setting the cultural tone from the outset, as “joining the proposed ODA at its inception, they will be a key individual involved in shaping the organisation”.

Welcome words. But the salary of circa 75,000 and a reporting line in to the finance director have disappointed many senior figures in the HR community.

Paying power

Alan Warner, corporate director of people and property at Hertfordshire County Council, said the salary was inadequate for the role, and criticised the reporting line.

“They should pay whatever it takes,” he said. “They need a serious salary if they are going to attract serious people with an impressive track record who can hit the ground running.

“It’s the highest profile event the UK has seen for many years,” he added. “If they are really concerned about their people management issues, it’s very surprising that [the head of HR] is reporting to finance.”

Bruce Warman, HR consultant and former personnel director at car manufacturer Vauxhall, agreed that the salary was a poor reflection of the job.

“At an estimate, they should probably pitch the salary at around 100,000 basic with an annual bonus of some kind – probably around 25% to 40% based on targets and completion dates,” he said.

The lack of focus on HR is further highlighted when compared with the marketing director role. This is expected to pay an annual salary of between 150,000 and 200,000, according to industry sources.

Financial hurdles

Salaries aside, Martin Tiplady, HR director at the Metropolitan Police, said the fact that the head of HR would have to report to the finance director was the most disconcerting issue. “I personally would not go anywhere near a finance director reporting line at all,” he said.

Angela O’Connor, HR director at the Crown Prosecution Service, agreed. “I don’t know any of my HR colleagues who would report to a finance director,” she said. “People are the only distinguishing asset that you have, especially in such a hugely visible project. But if HR is not a central focus, it makes it look as though the people do not matter. It’s so important for London and for the country, and the salary really does not show this.”

One experienced HR director said the job description was a “contradiction” of the call for the highest calibre candidates. Other HR professionals said the application material itself was likely to deter many candidates as it is overly detailed and bureaucratic.

A spokeswoman for the Interim ODA insisted that the position had been adequately benchmarked, and that there had been a great deal of interest since it was advertised in November.

“The role has been benchmarked against similar roles in other non-departmental government bodies and with the private sector,” she said. “The salary figure quoted in the advertisement was part of a broad salary band, and the final figure will be dependent on experience. The head ofHR reports in to the director of finance, which is normal for this type and size of organisation.”

Final heats

Interviews for the role will take place in January next year, when the role of finance director will also be advertised, in addition to positions for an HR manager and HR administrator.

There is certainly a great deal of speculation as to who will take these jobs – not least because the HR team will be fundamental to the success of this great event. Warman added: “A project like the Olympics will live or die by the commitment and capability of the people.”

Olympic Games: facts and figures



    • The Olympics will run from 27 July to 21 August 2012, and the Paralympics will run from 29 August to 9 September 2012.


    • London is expected to receive an extra 500,000 overseas visitors in July 2012.


    • The Olympics will feature 26 different sports, including aquatics, canoeing and taekwondo.


    • Over the next seven years, another 33,500 jobs are expected to be created in the construction industry alone.


    • The last time London hosted the games was in 1948 in the aftermath of World War II. Prior to that, it had gallantly stood in for Rome at the last minute in 1908, after a volcanic eruption prevented the Italian capital from hosting the event.


  • The UK is one of just five countries to have competed at every Olympic games. Only Australia, France, Greece and Switzerland share that distinction.


For more on the Games, click here

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