Where were you working before, and what were your responsibilities?
I was at Aviva as director of learning and development.
What qualifications do you hold?
I have a degree in English literature and history, and I am a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).
What are the duties in your new role?
Initially, brand embedding, leadership development and resourcing, plus overall skills development.
What are the main challenges HR faces in the next five years?
Keeping the focus on employee retention, engagement and development during this downturn. Delivering simple and cost-effective solutions in doing so. And, at the same time, behaving and acting commercially in running our own HR functions. More generally, HR must view employees (past and present) as the brand ambassadors for their organisation, and ensure that they are treated as such – it makes commercial sense.
What is the most overrated tool in your job?
E-mail. A phone call works wonders in cutting through.
And what work tool would you like to see invented?
Hologram meetings – they would cut carbon emissions and work wonders for work-life balance.
What is the worst thing about HR?
Complex over-engineered solutions being developed by ivory tower HR functions.
How do you wind down after a bad day at the office?
I pound it out in the gym.
What is the strangest situation you have been in at work?
Travelling to the Isle of Wight to speak to a lady who was on sick leave after losing her memory retention as a result of a car crash. I called her a couple of days later, and she’d forgotten all about it. Was I pleased that I’d got her agreement to tape the discussion!
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Energetic, fun and pragmatic.
What was your lucky break?
Norfolk County Council agreeing (post-begging letter) to fund my CIPD postgraduate course.
What do you regret about your career?
Not starting my own business – yet.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Madonna – she’s iconic.
What advice would you give someone starting out in HR?
Get out from behind your desk, meet your customers, and keep talking to them.
What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?
At Tesco, as a very green assistant personnel officer, I volunteered to manage the head office closure of a recently acquired retailer. It was a hostile and challenging environment to walk into, and I learned a lot. It’s also a risk I have never regretted taking.
Sum up your philosophy on life in one sentence.
Do as you would be done to.
Jan 2009-present: Director of group resourcing and development, The Co-operative Group (retail, pharmacy, funeral care, travel and farming)
Feb 2001-Dec 2008: Director of HR, Aviva (insurance)
May 1989-Jan 2001: HR vice-president, JP Morgan Chase (banking)
Dec 1987-May 1989: HR manager, Thorn Emi (IT)
Dec 1985-Dec 1987: HR officer, Tesco