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From HRD to... divisional MD: Warrick Beaver

We asked former HRDs how and why they moved into roles at the top

“Commercial curiosity is very important irrespective of whether you want to make the transition away from HR. You have to be financially literate and understand the drivers of the business. More in HR don’t make it to CEO or MD because they lack that.

I credit my own strength here to nothing other than when I started my career in HR I started in retail. The organisation didn’t let me do anything in HR for the first four weeks. I started in the stock room, then I was in the cash office, then on the floor with the merchandisers. I’ve always taken that with me.

At Thomson Reuters I’d been with the business for some time and had an executive sponsor when the vacancy [as MD, financial crime and third-party risk sector] came up. I was within an organisation that had pedigree in moving talent as part of exec development. So it wasn’t an alien concept.

There was certainly a challenge around establishing a new rhythm and recontracting with people who had been erstwhile peers. The other challenge was just the diversity of the issues that cross your desk. When you’re in an MD role that diversity of issues means that your level of problem-solving, the time management, the management of relationships, fundamentally changes because you have to operate with a lot more ambiguity.

You’re no longer the expert necessarily on these things. And you have to leverage your team to problem solve in a way that is a very different muscle from operating in a centre of excellence.

In a traditional HR mindset you’d go into a dark room and put a wet towel on your head and come up with the answer. This is far more on the hoof; you’re having to act in real time. You’re having to provide people with support, direction, escalation, problem-solving, and strategic direction-setting. So I think the pace for me was a huge step up.

I moved back into HR because there was some delayering, but I would absolutely cross the line again. Today I think of myself as just a senior leader responsible for HR.

It’s OK to come back into HR. I think when you do that you’re a different HR person from when you left; you’ve got the stripes and certificate. It really fundamentally changes the dynamic. You have a lot of empathy with people in your peer group with what they’re going through.”

Warrick Beaver is currently global head of HR at Thomson Reuters

Further reading

Your organisation needs you: HRD to CEO

HRD to... third sector CEO: Jon Sparkes

HRD to... private sector MD: Esther O'Halloran

HRD to... deputy CEO: Jo Land

HRD to... acting MD: Anne Gibson

HRD to... interim CEO: Guy Pink

Check back tomorrow for some expert tips on preparing for the top role and actually making the switch