Top job: David Webber, head of HR, Workers’ Education Association (WEA)


David Webber has been appointed as head of HR at the Workers’ Education Association (WEA), the UK’s largest voluntary provider of adult learning. In his new role, he will be responsible for all aspects of the HR function.

Where were you working before and what were your duties?

I was already working at the WEA, supporting the interim HR director in running the department and producing a new HR policy framework.

What do you hope to achieve in your new role?

Early priorities will include improving measurement to help decision-making, building the team and influencing the positive changes in our plans for the future at the WEA. To create a culture for success where all staff and voluntary members are fully engaged in our challenge to become the leading authority in adult education.

Which aspects are you most looking forward to?

The WEA by its nature has many dedicated and long-serving people. Getting around and meeting people across the association will be an early task. I could not justify this in my interim role, but it’s crucial to developing an understanding of the real business issues and the potential of such a large voluntary organisation.

What is the strangest situation you have been in at work?

I was co-running a development event with a director and met him in his hotel room at 6.30am – he greeted me wearing only his underpants.

How do you think the role of HR will change over the next five years?

People will increasingly be recognised as the only real competitive advantage and HR will become, and be seen to be, even more key in leveraging that.

Who is the ultimate guru?

Stafford Taylor – who was the managing director at BT Personal Communications between 1983 and 1997 – was the most inspirational leader I have ever met.

What’s the best thing about HR?

Having the opportunity to help people develop.

And the worst?

The negative impact of sometimes having to do things too slowly, even when you know they are right, to avoid the risk of procedural challenges.

What is the greatest risk you have taken?

Volunteering for redundancy after spending 20 years at BT.

What is the essential tool in your job?

Listening.

And the most over-rated?

The ‘reply all’ facility on e-mail.

What advice would you give to people starting out in HR?

Listen and seek advice from as many people as you can. Manage your professional development from day one.

What would be your ideal job?

I’d open the batting for the England cricket team.

What’s the best office party you’ve been to?

I met my wife at work and we had a great party just before we got married. One of my colleagues disappeared for 72 hours afterwards and, to this day, I don’t know if anyone has ever found out where he was.

Webber’s CV

2004 Head of HR, WEA

2003 Interim HR manager, WEA

2002 Interim HR policies manager, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

1998 HR business partner and head of development & training, BT Cellnet

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