Top Job: Margaret Cook, HR director, Napier University

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

I was HR director at Heriot-Watt University, where I was responsible for the provision of strategic and operational HR services.

What qualifications do you hold?

I have a BA in industrial relations, an MBA in public sector management, and professional qualifications.

What are the duties in your new role?

I am responsible, as part of the senior management team, for driving forward the university’s strategic vision, which is to become the best modern university in Scotland.

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

Recruiting and retaining the best people, particularly in a market such as Edinburgh.

What is the most overrated tool in your job?

My BlackBerry – I always feel guilty if I don’t check it hourly.

And what work tool would you like to see invented?

An e-mail filter which knows what I’m interested in reading and automatically deletes the rest.

What is the worst thing about HR?

It is easy to concentrate your time on the negative people in the organisation and this can be very disheartening. We should all spend at least half of our time with the people who will drive the institution forward.

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

I enjoy horse riding as you need to concentrate fully on what you’re doing.

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

At the start of my career I worked in an asylum – that was surreal.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

Hard-working, determined and fun.

What was your lucky break?

Getting a wide variety of HR experience in the NHS. This gave me the experience I needed to move on quickly.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Scottish comedian Billy Connolly – I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to eat for laughing.

What advice would you give someone starting out in HR?

Take on any task you can, as no experience is ever wasted.

What job would you like your children to do?

Anything, as long as they love it.

What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?

Getting back on a horse after a bad fall.

Sum up your philosophy on life in one sentence.

Live for today.

Cook’s CV

  • June 2008-present: HR director, Napier University

  • Jul 2004-Jun 2008: HR director, Heriot-Watt University

  • Apr 1996-July 2004: HR director, Bell College

  • Dec1991-Apr 1996: Head of personnel service, Stirling District Council (local government)

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