Top Job: Laura Whyte, personnel director, John Lewis

Where were you working before, and what were your responsibilities?

I was divisional registrar on the John Lewis management board. I was responsible for ensuring the principles of our unique co-owned business are integral to our ways of working. I also held board responsibility for corporate social responsibility

What qualifications do you hold?

I read English at Oxford University.

What are the duties in your new role?

Setting the personnel strategy for the John Lewis division, including recruitment, retention, personnel policy and procedure, learning and development and driving high performance.

What are the main challenges HR faces in the next five years?

Managing the people agenda for the long-term against a difficult economic background.

What is the most overrated tool in your job?

There are times I could do without my BlackBerry – you can be too accessible.

And what work tool would you like to see invented?

A fast-forward button for the diary would be great some days.

What is the worst thing about HR?

Whatever it is, I haven’t found it yet.

How do you wind down after a bad day in the office?

I try not to get wound up in the first place. But I am lucky enough to own my own horse and find riding very therapeutic – it’s a great combination of fresh air and exercise.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Energetic, organised and fun.

What was your lucky break?

Being involved in the launch of our first employee attitude survey – a great opportunity to set new ways of working.

What do you regret about your career?

Absolutely nothing – I’ve been very lucky and worked with some truly inspirational colleagues.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Three-day eventer Mark Todd, and actors Dame Judi Dench and George Clooney.

What advice would you give someone starting out in HR?

Understand the business you’re serving and keep customer focus front of mind at all time.

What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?

Moving in my early John Lewis career to work to work as a selling manager – but it was really worthwhile.

Sum up your philosophy on life in one sentence.

If you’re not sure, ask yourself ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ – it makes you braver than you might think.

Whyte’s CV

  • Nov 2008-present: Personnel director, John Lewis (retail)
  • Nov 2003-Nov 2008: Divisional registrar, John Lewis
  • Apr 2001-Nov 2003: Assistant chief registrar, John Lewis
  • Jul 1997-Apr 2001: Registrar, John Lewis, Kingston

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