Top 30 HR Most Influential Practitioners 2011

In 2011, there has been much change in the rankings, in particular in the Most Influential Practitioner list. A dozen HR directors have moved up the ranking since 2010, while 19 are new additions this year. This partly reflects some high-profile changes in the sector, with the likes of Alex Wilson from BT, Anne Minto from Centrica, Martin Tiplady from the Metropolitan Police, Paula Larson from Invensys, Tom Brown from Rolls-Royce, Catherine Glickman from Tesco and Angela O’Connor from the NPIA all stepping down in the past 12 months. Some thinkers have also changed roles, notably Penny de Valk from the ILM, who started last month as CEO of Cedar/Fairplace. All these people would have scored highly if they had still been in their previous full-time positions.

However, it also reflects the changing face of HR internally. Many of our high climbers or new entrants are seen as having a major impact on their organisation during challenging times, in particular leading change and transforming not only HR but the business. People such as fourth placed John Ainley, group HR director at Aviva, described as “leading a function that is truly part of the business” and “being fluent in explaining what this means”. Ainley is praised for introducing global talent management that actually works.

Or our highest climber: Ann Almeida, group head of HR at HSBC. She has had a “consistent impact on a major global organisation in challenging times” and, according to one person, is “the wisest person I have ever come across in HR”. Sandy Begbie, group transformation director at Standard Life and our highest new entry from the private sector; Tanith Dodge, HR director at Marks & Spencer; Stephen Lehane, group HR director at Alliance Boots; Hugh Mitchell, chief HR and corporate officer at Royal Dutch Shell; Ronald Schellekens, group HR director at Vodafone; and Angie Risley, group HR director at Lloyds Banking Group – all are noted for their transformative effect in volatile environments and their ability to clearly articulate the link between people objectives and strategy in the boardroom.

However, top of the HR Practitioner ranking this year is David Fairhurst, chief people officer Europe at McDonald’s. This is the fourth year he has topped the list and his influence does not appear to be waning. In the past 12 months, he has been promoted to this newly created role within the fast food giant and was appointed in August to act as commissioner for the UK Commission for Employment and Skills by business secretary Vince Cable.

Described by one respondent as “one of the most innovative HR practitioners whose novel HR policies and projects make a real difference”, Fairhurst is responsible for all people strategies and practices for more than 6,900 restaurants, employing over 375,000 people in 39 countries. But, as well as influence within his business and for changing the whole image of a career at McDonald’s, he is seen as a “masterful” articulator of what HR means to the bottom line, future business dynamics and strategy.

One person described him as having “brought dull old HR out of the backroom to have national relevance”, while another said he “remains a high-profile HR chief who is always coming up with new ideas and links HR firmly to the bottom line”.

Fairhurst is also keen to impart his thoughts and approaches to others, in order to raise practices in the profession as a whole, leading one person to say: “He is a thinker and initiator of great ideas, which he readily shares with the profession.”

As well as being vice president of learning, training and development at the CIPD, Fairhurst is also chairman of People 1st, a fellow of the RSA, a fellow of Lancaster University Business School, chair of the advisory board to the Centre for Professional Personnel and Development (CPPD) and a fellow of the Sunningdale Institute – a virtual academy of leading academics and thought-leaders created to advise and advance public service. He is also a visiting professor at Manchester Metropolitan University and a frequent commentator in the media.

While Fairhurst is regarded as having much external influence, the second Most Influential Practitioner for 2011 is seen as having greater influence internally. Clare Chapman, who begins a new role as group people director at BT this month, was primarily judged highly for her impact in her previous role, as director general workforce at the NHS, Europe’s largest employer.

“She has carried out under difficult circumstances a major and significant change to the NHS” is the view of one of those who ranked her top, while another pointed to the fact that she was focused on keeping HR at the forefront of change in the organisation. The reality that she was in what was widely seen as the most challenging role in UK HR gained her many votes.

But Chapman, who has more than 20 years’ HR experience in the UK, US and continental Europe, was also regarded highly for having top-line experience in both the public and private sectors. Before joining the NHS, she was group personnel director at Tesco, while previous roles include vice president of human resources at Pepsi Cola International’s central Europe operations offices and dean of Quaker University at Quaker Oats, where she established the company’s worldwide learning institute.

With Chapman joining BT as group people director, the telecoms company is going to have great HR talent at the top as, jumping seven places this year, going into the number three slot in our ranking is Caroline Waters, its director of people and policy.

“Smart and influential in a big, difficult-to-change organisation” and with a “pragmatic and down-to-earth approach to HR and equalities” that is “an example to us all”, Waters is a leading voice both within the company and externally for diversity and equal opportunities. She has led BT’s flexible working agenda, encouraging a greater understanding of how working patterns can empower workers and organisations and, crucially, providing the evidence on performance.

She has long championed equal pay and sits on the board of the UK Resource Centre for Women, encouraging women into technical careers. As a trustee of the Employers Forum on Age, she was instrumental in the introduction of the 2006 age regulations and is founder and chair of the Employers Forum on Belief, allowing employers to share best practice, as well as the architect of BT’s volunteering programme, which last year delivered more than 49,000 days to charities; and of Work Inspiration, which gave work experience to 3,600 young people.

Waters has been actively involved for some time in affecting the political agenda and public policy, notably as chair of Employers for Carers, where she was influential in changing legislation to extend the right of employees to request flexible working.

Respondents called her “unique”. She “highlights the conscience of HR brilliantly and is formidably capable in representing the value of exceptional people in business” says one, while another says Waters “consistently talks sense and is known as a strong CSR practitioner”.

The ability to tell it how it is is also rated as an important quality of influence this year. Fourth-placed Vance Kearney, VP HR EMEA at Oracle, who has jumped seven places up the ranking this year, is praised for stating his mind on issues others steer clear of. “There is no jargon from Vance, who has a great track record at Oracle,” says one of our voters. Likewise Graham White, HR director, Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, is noted for being “bold and unafraid to challenge norms and ignore HR’s primal survival technique of only saying what others want to hear”, while Helen Giles, HR director of Broadway and the only third-sector HRD on the list, has been “prepared to come out and say what many employers think but are too afraid to say about the adverse impact on business and public services of employment regulation and the tribunals system”.

Top 30 HR Most Influential Practitioners 2011
2011 2010 Name, title and company
1 1 David Fairhurst, chief people officer Europe, McDonald's
2 2 Clare Chapman, director general - workforce, NHS
3 10 Caroline Waters, director of people and policy, BT
4 13 Vance Kearney, vice president for HR, Oracle EMEA
5 11 John Ainley, group HR director, Aviva
6 3 Tanith Dodge, HR director, Marks & Spencer
7 21 Gillian Hibberd, strategic director (resources & business transformation), Buckinghamshire County Council
8 9 Therese Procter, HR director, Tesco Retailing Services
9 = new Chris Last, director general HR, DWP and head of HR operations for government
9 = 14 Graham White, HR director, Brighton & Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust
10 30 Ann Almeida, group head of human resources, HSBC
11 new Sandy Begbie, group people and communications director, Standard Life
12 29 Jean Tomlin, HR director, LOCOG
13 18 Helen Giles, director of human resources and consultancy, Broadway Homelessness & Support
14 new Angie Risley, group human resources director, Lloyds Banking Group
15 15 Rachel Campbell, global head of people, performance and culture, KPMG
16 new Geoff Lloyd, group human resources director, Serco
17 new Anne Gibson, head of HR and organisational development, Norfolk County Council and president PPMA
18 new Sue Swanborough, HR director UK and Ireland, General Mills
19 new Stephen Lehane, human resources director Alliance Boots
20 new Richard Bide, group HR director, Co-Operative Group
21 new Ronald Schellekens, group HR director, Vodafone
22 new Hugh Mitchell, chief HR and corporate officer, Royal Dutch Shell
23 = new Gwyn Burr, customer and colleague director, Sainsbury's
23 = 26 Gareth Williams, global human resources director, Diageo
24 27 Stephen Kelly, chief people officer, Logica
25 new Claire Thomas, senior VP, human resources, GSK
26 = new Celia Baxter, director of group HR, Bunzl
26 = new Dean Shoesmith, executive head of HR, London Boroughs of Sutton and Merton
27 = 23 Sara Edwards, director of human resources worldwide, Orient Express
27 = new Alistair Imrie, group HR director, BAE Systems
28 = new Sally Bott, group HR director, Barclays
28 = 8 Stephen Dando, EVP and chief human resources officer, Thomson Reuters
28 = new Frank Douglas, executive VP and group HR director Misys
29 new Alan Walters, VP HR Unilever UK and Ireland
30 new Norman Pickavance, HR director, Morrisons