Who’s next for the top job of director-general at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development?

When Geoff Armstrong announced in April that he planned to retire as director-general of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) a year from now, it started a process that will mark the end of an era at the organisation.

Armstrong joined what was then the Institute of Personnel Management back in 1992, and will be remembered above all for helping to boost membership figures and bringing financial stability to the organisation, as well as securing chartered status in 2000. “The record speaks for itself,” said Armstrong. “The profession and the institute are streets ahead of where they have ever been.”

Less impressed

But others are less impressed. “He should take some credit for starting to sort out the CIPD’s finances,” said Paul Kearns, director at HR consultancy PWL. “But if you ask what Armstrong has achieved in terms of a professional body rather than a money-spinner, I’m really not sure at all.”

With the departure of assistant director-general Duncan Brown to Price-waterhouseCoopers in April, the CIPD has found itself having to recruit for its top two jobs within 14 months – leaving it open to accusations of failing to handle its own succession planning.

“The CIPD has lost its two leading people in effectively the same year,” Kearns said. “That’s atrocious for an organisation that spends half its life doing succession planning.”

Simon Howard, executive chairman of consultancy Work Group, and a leading HR commentator, agreed.

“Everyone can see that whoever takes over from Armstrong is going to have a very difficult role, so why hasn’t the CIPD got one or two internal candidates?” he said.

But Armstrong is not due to leave until June 2008, and the process of finding a successor is already under way according to Vicky Wright, CIPD president, who is heading the recruitment process. The organisation is on the verge of signing a deal with a headhunting agency, and will also be advertising the vacancy.

Some people believe that after 16 years under Armstrong, this could be an opportunity to bring the CIPD more up to date.

His former deputy Duncan Brown said. “He built an incredibly successful model for the organisation. But the need for change is evident.”

He suggested the CIPD qualification needed updating to incorporate more modern trends such as work-based assessment and distance learning. Brown also stressed the need to act as a public figurehead in an increasingly media-driven world.

Two top dogs

Others claim the CIPD should be looking for not one top dog, but two.

Howard said: “It is a huge challenge for someone to be responsible for income generation, charity management and leading the profession.

“You’re looking for someone with the entrepreneurial zeal of a small business owner, and the sophistication to lead a profession that is facing huge challenges. They are two fundamentally different skill bases, and there are precious few people with an HR background who could fill the role,” he added.

But Wright pointed out that splitting the job would mean the CIPD would effectively have to pay two top professionals to replace one.

“I think it would make both roles less attractive,” she told Personnel Today. “The strong advice we’ve had is that there are likely to be candidates who can fill the specification as it is.”

However, Wright is open to the possibility of tying the successful candidate to a fixed-term contract and, while she would prefer the ideal candidate to be a CIPD member, said non-membership would not be a barrier to getting the job.

“We’re looking for someone who can lead the profession,” she said. “We also need somebody who can run a £34m business and who can engage effectively with our members and understand what they are looking for in a changing profession.”

Strong candidates

Despite this specific brief, there are some strong HR candidates for the role. Possible names mentioned to Personnel Today included Keith Cameron, HR director at Marks & Spencer Vance Kearney, vice-president HR Europe, Middle East and Africa at Oracle Angela O’Connor, chief people officer at the National Policing Improvement Agency and Martin Sawkins, HR director at the AA.

Other big hitters touted for the post included Ruth Spellman, former chief executive of Investors in People, and Dianne Thompson, chief executive of lottery operator Camelot.

Whoever gets the position can expect a package of about £400,000 a year, said Wright, including salary, benefits and pension – a figure that has drawn some criticism from members who highlight the CIPD’s charity status.

Nick Aldridge, director of strategy at the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, said: “This would certainly sound like an exceptionally attractive salary, and the CIPD is clearly trying to attract an exceptional candidate.”

However, he pointed out that the average salary for chief executives of the largest voluntary sector organisations in 2006-07 was about £100,000 a year.

But Wright was unapologetic. “We’re not defensive about the salary. We need to pay the right amount to attract the right person,” she said. “If you compare that figure to the total packages of senior HR people in the FTSE top 50 companies, there is a reasonable comparison.”

Changing times under Armstrong

  • 1992 Armstrong takes over as director-general in July. Membership stands at 49,972. The organisation makes a loss of £1m, compared with £1.4m in 1991.

  • 1994 The Institute of Personnel Management merges with the Institute of Training and Development to create the Institute of Personnel and Development (IPD). Membership rises to 70,160.

  • 2000 IPD secures the Royal Charter in October to become the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

  • 2006 The CIPD turns over £34m.

  • 2007 Armstrong announces decision to retire in June 2008. Membership now stands at 130,000.

Source: CIPD

by Nick Martindale

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