Now in its ninth year, the Top 40 Power Players aims to recognise HR’s most prominent and influential professionals; those 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 the list again focuses exclusively on practitioners who demonstrate strong business acumen and represent both the HR function internally and their profession as a whole.
‘power player’? We asked members of the Personnel Today editorial advisory board for their views.
Over the past few months the Personnel Today team has compiled the list with valued input from the editorial advisory board members, a wide range of academics, opinion-formers and top HR directors, as well as our readers. Thanks to everyone for their input.
The Top 40 Power Players are listed below. Jump to individuals’ entries using the table (right).
Having held numerous HR roles since she joined the banking giant in 1992, Almeida has gained plaudits for her work in nurturing the company’s performance culture and improving employee engagement. But this year has seen her having to contend with back-office job cuts totalling about 2% of the 58,000-strong workforce, which is based in the UK, while also aiming to move half of all learning and development courses online by the end of 2009.
Amos made a surprise move to the Cabinet Office earlier this year to support efforts in developing key skills required by government departments coming out of the downturn. Previously workforce director at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, he is also a member of the influential Public Services Forum and the National Employers Advisory Board, as well as a visiting professor at London Southbank University for workforce development.
Appointed to the board of the DIY retailer in August, Bell immediately vowed to make employee engagement and qualifications top of her people agenda going forward. The quality of B&Q’s staff is already widely regarded as being a key differentiator for the company, which in March picked up a Gallup Great Workplace Award for a third time – the only UK organisation to do so.
A well-known champion for diversity in the workplace, Brooks has this year focused on improving the wellbeing of employees at the consumer products giant. Her team has introduced initiatives which have encompassed meditation training, nutrition, sleep and health advice designed to get the best out of workers. She has also been outspoken on the importance of continuing to invest in the personal development of staff during a recession.
Earlier this year, Campbell was instrumental in rolling out a scheme to safeguard jobs by using flexible working such as four-day weeks and sabbaticals to cut costs. This programme won professional services firm KPMG plaudits for its efforts. And the company’s status as an employer of choice was underlined in March when it was named Best Big Company to Work For for a third year in the Sunday Times Best Companies awards.
Since leaving the BBC, change specialist Dando has had his hands full integrating the working practices and HR departments of Thomson and Reuters which merged in 2007. This year, however, he has been involved in the roll-out of an innovative knowledge-sharing tool which uses functionality similar to that of digital music website iTunes. A dispute between staff and management over pay and working hours has also kept him busy.
Fisher joined the software giant at the end of 2008 after six successful years at Toyota, where she made a name for herself after bringing the Japanese car maker’s people philosophy – known as the Toyota Way – to the UK. She has pledged to improve opportunities for female developers and engineers but has also had to contend with redundancies – the first in Microsoft’s 34-year history.
Having spent more than 20 years at the top of his profession in one of the toughest industries, Kearney is much-respected for his no-nonsense approach to HR. Espousing the belief that the HR function’s raison d’etre is all about improving the bottom line, he has this year spoken out on how HR can make a real difference – through flexible working and talent management – to organisations struggling through the downturn.
Former BBC HR chief Stephen Kelly left the corporation to join the IT services company as group HR director and a member of its executive committee at the start of the year. Having overseen a major outsourcing contract with Capita while at the BBC, his new responsibilities include leading Logica’s group-wide HR practice and helping to drive the firm’s Programme for Growth strategy.
Ex-Ford man Last has had to draw on all his HR experience during what is proving to be a challenging 2009. With unemployment having reached its highest level in more than a decade, Last’s team – one of the largest in the UK – have been charged with recruiting an extra 6,000 frontline staff into the JobCentre Plus network to help to counter the downturn. He also has major plans to reshape the DWP’s HR function.
With more than 2,500 redundancies in the past 12 months, it has been a challenging year for McCarthy, as senior managers at the flagship carrier attempt to cut costs amid a severe downturn in the industry. And despite some imaginative tactics – the company wrote to all 40,000 staff in June asking them to volunteer for four weeks of unpaid work – further job cuts and industrial action look likely in the future.
Shortlisted for this year’s Personnel Today HR Director of the Year award, Mee became the first HR director to work at Barratt in more than a decade when she joined the house builder in 2006. Since then she has built the function and strategy from scratch; put HR at the forefront of the agenda; and has driven up engagement, despite a 35% reduction in staff numbers.
The ongoing postal strikes over pay and job security are evidence of the challenging year Millidge has faced as senior managers strive to modernise the service. Millidge wrote to the Communication Workers Union in May explaining the postal market was declining by about 10% year on year but the union has called the cuts unacceptable and has balloted for a national strike this autumn.
Mitchell took up his new dual role at the oil giant in July, a move designed to bring the HR function closer to the business. He holds a number of external advisory board positions in HR and education, and this year celebrates 30 years at the company, which has committed to keep graduate intake numbers steady a year after it posted annual profits of £21.9bn – the biggest in UK corporate history.
Former president of the Public Sector People Managers’ Association, Moir has done as much as anyone leading the drive to modernise HR within public-funded organisations. Leading by example, his recent achievements in Cambridgeshire include working with the CEO to restructure senior management and cut annual costs by more than £150,000 as well as setting up a shared services partnership with local authorities in Northamptonshire and Slough bringing £1m in savings for the council.
Another candidate for Personnel Today’s HR Director of the Year 2009 award, Nicholls’ progressive approach to people management is one reason why London & Quadrant is a regular on the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list. Innovative schemes he has launched include a leadership academy for 300 managers and team leaders, and a programme where residents can gain work experience at the housing association.
Having clocked up 24 years at the UK’s largest supermarket chain, Procter oversees people policy for more than 470,000 employees across 14 countries. One of her key achievements in the director’s role is the Tesco Week In Store Together programme, where senior managers visit the shopfloor to listen to and learn from staff. She has also pushed diversity and now one in five employees on the company’s management development programme is aged over 50.
Rider is perhaps the most high profile senior HR figure to cross over into Whitehall from the private sector. The former Accenture executive has continued her work on professionalising the HR function within the Civil Service, as well as overseeing and acting on recommendations in the latest round of Capability Reviews. She is also charged with developing leadership and was part of the Fair Access to the Professions panel which reported on recruitment into key professions.
An experienced practitioner, Risley joined Lloyds in 2007 after 18 years at hotel and restaurant company Whitbread, where she was also HR director. She took on additional responsibility following Lloyds’ takeover of HBOS last year, with 2009 undoubtedly one of the most challenging of her HR career as the economic crisis precipitated thousands of job losses at the troubled bank and the ire of trade union leaders.
It was a baptism of fire for Schellekens who joined Vodafone in January and by February was dealing with the announcement that the mobile telecoms giant planned to cut about 500 jobs in the UK, including some HR posts. Vodafone is also going through a major cost-cutting plan. An experienced campaigner, Schellekens was previously executive vice-president HR for Shell’s global downstream business, and prior to that held various senior HR roles at PepsiCo.
Simmonds’ commitment to ongoing staff training at TUI, the parent company of travel brands Thomson and First Choice, was recognised this April when the firm was named Employer of the Year at the Workforce Development Awards – an event run by the National Employer Service. The prize comes in the wake of the launch of TUI’s Be Special initiative aimed at prioritising staff training, empowerment and reward.
Singh is regarded as a leading innovator when it comes to attracting the most sought after talent and skills to the energy giant. His inventive approach to appealing to the best and brightest engineering students includes sending top staff to lecture at universities and putting senior company figures on the boards of university engineering faculties. His mantra when recruiting to his own team is “business people first, HR second”.
Appointed HR director in 2008, Thomas has wasted no time and earlier this year launched a three-year plan to transform GSK’s HR function after surveying the top 300 leaders in the business. The plan includes developing and upskilling the HR community in key roles and setting up centres of excellence in areas such as global talent management, leadership development, organisational sustainability and reputation.
Having joined Prudential in 2005, Vacassin has overseen HR policy during a period where the financial services group has made huge strides in Asia – to become the leading European-based life insurer in the region with operations in 13 markets. Prior to joining the Pru, she was executive director for HR at Abbey National and before that group HR director at BAA.
Having led an independent review last year, Walsh’s recommendation that employees with children up to the age of 16 should have the right to request flexible working became law – a move that could bring real benefits to about 4.5 million UK workers. Defying current economic conditions, the food retailer also announced it has boosted the number of graduate jobs available for its 2010 intake by 30%.
White personifies the new thinking of public sector HR chief determined to create a modern, streamlined HR function within their organisation. Following cuts at his HR department where the number of full-time posts was reduced by 25% to 15, he told Personnel Today in January: “HR has had to wake up to the realisation that it doesn’t have a long-term future as a large, top-heavy department.”
Wilkinson’s main focus this year has been rolling out the final stage of an ambitious change project, which is predicted to bring annual savings of £35m and radically improve how HR is delivered in this tough environment. The three-pronged project involves the development of a transactional shared service centre, based in Newport, Wales, supported by area-based teams of HR professionals and HR business partners in each prison.
This year marks a decade at the HR helm of the premium drinks company for Williams, who has pointed to talent management and nurturing leadership skills as his priorities over the next 12 months. Prior to joining Diageo, Williams held various senior personnel management positions at GrandMet, United Distillers & Vintners and Ford.
Wilson joined BT’s leadership team in July 2002 and has created a global HR function that is cost-efficient and commercially focused. This year has seen him concentrate on leadership development, an area he feels is key to enabling the telecoms giant to emerge strongly out of recession. An experienced hand, Wilson has held senior line and HR management positions in companies such as ICI, Ford, Grand Metropolitan and Guinness.
In a year dominated by the financial crisis, Wrighthouse, the HR chief at the world’s biggest building society, was outspoken in urging HR departments to be upfront with staff about the impact the economic crisis was likely to have on their organisations. With 20 years’ HR experience at Nationwide, Wrighthouse has also worked closely with Investors in People UK, most recently to create an understanding of human capital management within the business community.
The Top 10 Power Players
Responsible for workforce issues in the NHS and social care system, Chapman has made great strides at the Department of Health since she left her role as Tesco HR chief in 2007. This year her main focus has been on developing leadership skills in Europe’s largest employer, which, she says, is key to improved patient care, with plans for a National Leadership Council for the NHS.Chapman also sits on a panel of senior business figures promoting the benefits of employee engagement to business in the wake of the MacLeod Review.
It wasn’t the easiest of starts to 2009 for Dodge after M&S announced more than 1,000 job cuts following poor Christmas trading results. The move led to accusations the retailer had acted outside the Acas code when it decided not to allow voluntary redundancies. But Dodge has seen it all before having held senior HR posts at WH Smith, Six Continents Hotels and Diageo before joining Marks as a member of the executive committee last March. With ongoing economic uncertainty, she has spoken of the importance of being upfront with workers about the company’s situation. “Employees just want the truth and straight, honest communication,” she told Personnel Today in July.
Voted leading HR power player for the past two years, Fairhurst’s commitment to staff engagement and development has been instrumental in transforming McDonald’s employer brand. Employment at the restaurant chain is no longer seen as a dead-end job but an opportunity to acquire skills and a qualification, and he has committed McDonald’s to providing Level 2 apprenticeships for up to 6,000 of its 72,000 UK workforce in 2009, and then up to 10,000 per year from 2010. Appointed chairman of People 1st, the sector skills council for hospitality, last month, Fairhurst has also unveiled plans to recruit up to 6,000 people a year through the government’s Local Employment Partnership scheme – designed to get the long-tem unemployed back into work.
A shining light in the charity sector, Giles has in recent times been inundated with recognition for her contribution to homeless charity Broadway. Handed an MBE last year, she and her team are shortlisted in the HR Impact category for a Personnel Today award in 2009. But it isn’t just the people in Broadway who have benefited from her efforts. One her team’s major achievements has been the launch of Real People, a social enterprise HR consultancy, which helps other organisations in areas such as conflict management, people development and motivation with all profits being ploughed back into Broadway.
An inspiration to her peers in public sector HR, Hibberd took up the reins at the Public Sector People Managers’ Association earlier this year with a rallying cry to her fellow professionals. “I want HR as a profession to pursue purpose, passion and performance,” she told conference delegates in April. With cuts in public spending inevitable, Hibberd has said the development of shared services is a priority for local authorities over the coming years. Pay in the public sector, leadership development and finding sustainable solutions to attract and retain social workers are other areas she has vowed to tackle during her tenure.
Even Google has announced job cuts and recruitment freezes this year. But this hasn’t deterred Hornsey – renowned as an HR innovator – from turning a negative into a positive and using the recession to move people around the company to keep morale high and give them the chance to gain experience in other areas. Upfront and dynamic, she has emphasised the importance of senior managers visiting offices and meeting staff face-to-face.
Amidst the upheaval in the financial markets, Miller has this year headed a drive to redefine the role of the HR relationship manager in Standard Chartered, to ensure they remain customer-centric and business-focused. In 2009 he was also made a Chartered Companion of the CIPD, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the organisation. Committed to working with public sector organisations and universities to further their understanding of employee engagement and its impact on business performance, Miller is also a professor of HR strategy and a member of the school advisory board at Nottingham University Business School.
One of the most recognised and respected HR practitioners in the field, O’Connor has gone about her job as the head of police HR with relish since joining from the Crown Prosecution Service three years ago. This year she has talked about bringing in shared services for transactional HR across police forces eager to save money. She has also been active in promoting diversity: developing talent management initiatives across the service and announcing the launch of an annual employment report pulling together statistics on equality and diversity across all 43 police forces.
Tiplady holds one of most high-profile HR posts in the country at London’s largest employer. Dogged by continual criticism of racism in the Met, Tiplady hit back, claiming the force has done more to improve diversity in the past 10 years than any other organisation in the UK. And with some justification, the Met now employs about 2,600 black and minority ethnic officers, compared with fewer than 800 a decade ago. But fresh challenges await; in June, the Association of Police Authorities said the force needed to save £366m over the next three years, and Tiplady hasn’t ruled out cuts to frontline officer numbers. He is also finalising an HR transformation project designed to save the Met £15m a year.
A driving force behind BT’s progressive people strategies, Waters has been a tireless campaigner for diversity and flexible practices in the workplace. A regular contributor to a variety of employer bodies and working parties, her current responsibilities include co-chair of the Prime Minister’s National Strategy for Carers in Employment Task Force. In January she collected an award from women’s minister Harriet Harman in recognition for her efforts in promoting flexible working for returning mothers. While on average nationwide just 40% of new mums return to work after maternity, at BT this figure is around the 97% mark.
Personnel Today asked its editorial advisory board members what they thought makes a ‘power player’. Here is a selection of their responses.
- Someone who influences business strategy of their organisation, and understands the bottom-line reason for keeping people high on the agenda
- A business person first, an HR practitioner second
- Someone who is at the forefront of innovation and really works to advance the thinking of the HR agenda
- Someone who helps sustain business performance through the downturn
- A person who puts ‘doing the right thing’ ahead of political correctness or toeing the line
- Someone whose team members become HR leaders in their own right
- Someone who raises their own credibility and that of HR by the difference they make to the organisation
- Someone who makes things happen and is not afraid to question the status quo.