Priscilla Vacassin, former group HR director, Prudential

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​It was no surprise to find Priscilla Vacassin, then group HR director at Prudential, on Cranfield University School of Management’s first 100 Women to Watch list in 2009

Developed out of its annual Female FTSE benchmarking report, launched 10 years earlier in 1999, the 100 Women to Watch list identified women who were on the executive committees of FTSE 100 or 250 companies who were poised and ready for a board position.

Two years before Mervyn Davies launched the first Women on Boards review and some seven years before targets were set for FTSE 350 companies to have a third of their boards and executive committees made up by women by the end of 2020, Vacassin was already an inspiration to women in business. In fact, you could argue that, rather than being a Woman to Watch, Vacassin was already there back in 2009. As well as her role at Prudential, she was a non-executive director at the Ministry of Defence and had previously held directorships at Heathrow Airport Holdings (BAA) and Superdrug among others.

As a self-proclaimed FTSE 100 person, loving the complexity and scale of challenges found in some of our largest businesses, she had a somewhat unusual path to the top, having become a full-time mother straight out of university. At 26 she took a temporary role at an Italian restaurant chain, which led to her first move into personnel when the chain was acquired by United Biscuits.

In 1986 she became the first woman and youngest ever personnel manager of United Biscuits company Terrys of York. Headhunters lined up to put her forward for big HR roles, and she made her way through Kingfisher and BAA to land at Abbey National in 2003 as the financial company’s first HR director on the board. It fitted her love of a challenge well: the company had suffered pre-tax losses of nearly £1 billion the previous year and had to slash costs by £200 million by 2005.

When the job was done, Vacassin joined Prudential in 2005 and stayed as group HR director until 2011. In 2012 she became non-executive director of Direct Line Insurance, retiring in 2016, and director of leadership consultancy Indigo Gold, which was founded by her son Daniel.

Earlier this year (2018) Vacassin suffered a stroke from which she never recovered. Her death leaves a large hole in the HR world and Vacassin will be remembered as a pioneer, both in the fields of HR and in advancing the role of women in the corporate world.

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