Top job: Natalie Bickford

What is your new role?

HR director at the marketing arm of AstraZeneca UK.

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

I was HR director for a new retail business within home improvement retail group Kingfisher, called Trade Depot.

What qualifications do you hold?

I am CIPD-qualified and have a degree in French and international politics from Warwick University.

What are the duties in your new role?

I have full HR accountability for the marketing arm of AstraZeneca UK, which employs around 2,000 people and is based in Luton. There is a combined HR and learning and development team of 65 people, and I report to the UK company president.

What do you hope to achieve in your new role?

To continue the work of my predecessor in developing a highly professional HR function that genuinely partners with the wider business to deliver its strategy.

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

The key challenge for HR is to ensure that it is commercially aligned, and to create an organisational environment that allows ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

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

Make sure you get general experience first, and then dip into some of the key specialisms. If you start out in a specialist function, you might get stuck in that silo.

What is the essential tool in your job?

A simple performance/potential rating that can be applied consistently across the whole organisation.

And the most overrated?

Competency frameworks.

What is the worst thing about HR?

Over-complex processes that take up loads of management time and are just there to make the HR function feel important. One of the reasons I came to work at AstraZeneca was because it understands both the needs of the organisation and the needs of individuals, and takes a ‘common sense’ approach to HR.

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

Walking in on a senior executive standing in his office wearing nothing but boxer shorts, a dress shirt and a bow tie.

Who is your ultimate guru?

Mike Van Oudtshoorn, a South African organisational psychologist.

What is the most annoying piece of management jargon?

Any mention of ‘paradigm shifts’.

What is your essential TV viewing?
ER, Casualty, Holby City… anything with doctors in scrubs.

Who would you most dislike to work with?
Jo Cameron, the woman from the current series of The Apprentice who worked in HR at a car plant. I value team players, and she wasn’t one.

How do you fill your spare time?

I work full time, have two young kids, and a husband who sees his only household job as taking out the rubbish. I don’t have any spare time.

What was the last book you read?
Brian Dive’s A Healthy Organisation.

What would be your dream job?
Playing the piano and singing Cole Porter numbers in the American Bar at the Savoy. It will remain a dream, as I don’t know how to play the piano and can’t really sing.

Who would you most like to be stuck in a lift with?
Bruce Willis – I’m pretty claustrophobic and he found a way out in Die Hard.


2005-2006 HR director, Trade Depot
2003-2004 Head of HR, succession and development, Kingfisher
2001 -2003 Head of corporate centre, e-Kingfisher & Chartwell Land HR, Kingfisher
1999 – 2000 Head of talent management, Kingfisher
1998-1999 Head of corporate banking business leadership programme, Barclays
1996-1998 HR manager, group HR, Barclays

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