Top job: Rebecca McKenzie, head of HR, Swindon Borough Council

Rebecca McKenzie has been appointed as head of HR at Swindon Borough Council. An HR expert with top-level experience from Australia, she brings experience of a number of roles within Queensland State Government.

Where were you working before and what were your duties?

I was working with the National University of Ireland in Dublin as HR manager, with responsibility for staffing, promotions, workforce planning, performance management and change management. Prior to that, I was director of HR for the Department of Corrective Services in Queensland, Australia.

What will be the duties in your new role?

With Swindon, I’ve moved back into a head of function role. We’re a council that has been identified as a poor-performer, so my key role is to establish a level of corporate HR capability, and to work with directors and members in making sure we have people issues at the core of our recovery programme.

What qualifications do you hold?

I’m a chartered fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and I have a BA in Government and Sociology, and a Graduate Certificate in Business Administration. I am currently completing my MSc in HR management.

What do you hope to achieve in your new role?

I hope to be able to re-position HR in the council and develop a strong Swindon HR brand. While each of our key service areas has a competent HR/personnel function, there’s no strong leadership that brings it together and fits it within a corporate strategy.

Which aspects are you most looking forward to?

There’s so much! It’s not often that you get to take on a role in an organisation where there’s such a positive impetus for change.

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

When you spend a lot of time working in and around prisons, not much shocks you.

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

I’d like to see the continued development of shared organisational accountability for people management, and a strengthened relationship between HR and business outcomes.

What’s the best thing about HR?

Feeling you can make a difference.

And the worst?

Ninety per cent of the time spent on 10 per cent of the staff.

How do you fill your spare time?

I’m a travel junkie, and that’s part of the attraction of being located so close to [mainland] Europe.

What is the greatest risk you have ever taken?

Leaving my nice comfortable life, predictable career path and days full of sunshine, packing a suitcase and relocating to a country I’d never even visited as a tourist.

What is the essential tool in your job?

A sense of humour and a great team.

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

Take the time to get to know the basics. To provide good HR, you need to understand cause and effect.

What would be your ideal job?

Writer for the Lonely Planet guides.

Who would play you in the film of your life and why?

Cate Blanchett – she’s got the right accent and she’s always keen to take on a left-of-centre role.

What’s the worst office party you’ve ever attended?

Years ago, when I was working in Australia, we used to have office ‘sausage sizzles’. One time, the smoke from the BBQ was so bad it set off the fire alarms and the entire building was evacuated.

Mckenzie’s cv

2004 Head of HR, Swindon Borough Council

2001 HR manager, National University of Ireland, Dublin (UCD)

1999 Director, HR Services Branch, Department of Corrective Services, Queensland, Australia

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