Role models for HR

all look for them – individuals we can model ourselves on, who can give us
confidence, set us on the right career path, lead by example and spur us on to
high achievement, writes Scott Beagrie.

come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life, and age not
withstanding, our role models are just as likely to be Richard Branson or
Martha Lane Fox as Jamie Oliver or David Beckham. Very often, however, the most
inspirational role models are the people we work with.

Today quizzed six HR directors – including our guest editor – all of whom have
had a major impact within their organisations, about their role models, and
where they gained their inspiration. You may be surprised at some of their


Director of HR and culture at telecommunications consultancy Mason, on her
CEO, Terry Flanagan

joined Mason as office manager, which included responsibility for HR and all
support functions and, as the company grew, focused on HR. She was promoted to
the board in 2001.

believes Flanagan, a former Oldham and Great Britain rugby league forward, is
an ideal role model, because of his willingness to share the benefits of his
experience. She is also inspired by what he has achieved.

of the key things she feels she has learned from him is how to enable people to
reach their full potential by motivating and stretching them.

Vice-president of HR EMEA at Oracle, on US playwright, Arthur Miller

he was a young personnel manager, Kearney found the works of Arthur Miller
particularly inspirational, and believes they should be mandatory reading for
the HR profession. The Crucible, in particular, is a "marvellous piece of
drama" that goes to the heart of a "really important matter" for
HR, which is that evil only triumphs because good people fail to act.

things happen because good, honest, decent people fail to act and don’t speak
out because they perceive [someone] to be more powerful or influential than
them. So it’s quite a good lesson in bravery for HR," he says. "HR
must be prepared to be unpopular with senior management at times, and to point
out [for instance] that it isn’t appropriate for the boss to receive a £1m
bonus when the employees are on the minimum wage."

Group HR director of SHL, on her first boss Tony Ryan, manager of
management development at IBM

says she didn’t have one particular role model, but cites Ryan as an influence.
First and most importantly, he told her that work was to be enjoyed, and that
it should be fun. The other key thing that has stayed with me is [the need for]
integrity, and in HR you certainly have to do what is right and seek the most
appropriate solution," she says. "I have always tried to follow that
with my team and when trying to build a team."

adds: "I think you can learn from people, but in HR, I don’t believe you
should model you own behaviour or try and emulate someone else, because your
style needs to be linked to the business and its culture."

HR director of the All Leisure division of the Compass Group, on Cathy
Smith, global HR director of the US support services division of Compass

was the HR director of the unit she joined as an HR manager 14 years ago. On
Williams’ second day, Smith offered her a piece of sound advice: if she got
herself known by everybody within her first year, she would have a good future
within the organisation. Williams says her career has since followed a similar
trajectory to Smith’s, who has been promoted seven times.

gave accountability to her people. She allowed them to take responsibility for
decisions, and believed there was never a wrong or right, just different

HR director, South West Trains, on Madonna and John Cope, chief
industrial relations officer at London Underground

says one of her role models is Madonna. "I think business could learn a
lot from her," she says. "She is a successful product, anticipating
trends and moving before the trend, so she is always adapting to keep in the
limelight and to be different. As an organisation, she has had a makeover every
two to three years and has been successful in terms of flexibility,
adaptability, innovation and performance."

also admires Madonna’s personality, and "her sheer grit and determination
to succeed".

terms of work role models, Shears says that they tend to be extremely senior
and experienced people who are confident enough in their own ability and
experience to mentor people who are much more junior to them and just starting
out. This is what happened to Shears herself, citing John Cope, chief
industrial relations officer at London Underground, as her role model.

was his PA. His immortal words to me were: ‘Young lady, if you persist in
telling me what to do, I must insist you are qualified, and we will fund it’.
That started me on the route to becoming professionally qualified."

Group HR director of Whitbread, on professor Michael Beer, who she first
met seven years ago, and Dave Ulrich, who she heard give a talk eight years ago

has chosen two individuals who have had an influence on her rather than who she
considers to be role models. Michael Beer, honorary professor at Harvard
Business School, has worked with Risley and the top team at Whitbread, and had
a "very significant impact" on her career.

he has given me is a very good understanding of how to achieve a high
performance, high commitment organisation," she says. "Basically, his
philosophy is that you can’t achieve that unless you have an organisation that
has honest conversations. And that you are able to identify and discuss the
barriers to your goals and knock them down."

Ulrich was really able to articulate the role of the HR professional. Not just
in terms of making sure that all the decisions have a people angle to them, but
actually being able to influence the overall decision and the scope of
it," she says. "It was very significant in my learning at that time.
And I think it’s still very relevant for HR today."

Shears guest editor
Why I chose this topic

have been really lucky to have worked with people who encouraged me to do more
than I thought I was capable of. My message to all directors is that you owe it
to your organisation to do the same for your up-and-coming people. They will
reflect well on you, and are not a threat.’


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