HR director of the year 2019 shortlist

We are delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2019 HR Excellence Awards HR director of the year award

These 10 people professionals have all made a significant impact on their organisations in the past year, and – in the case of many – long before this.

This shortlist is compiled via reader nominations and input from industry experts and the HR magazine editorial team. We are looking for excellence in these awards, and so would like to offer our congratulations to all of the HR leaders on this shortlist.

Here we give a snapshot of what makes each of our shortlisted HR directors so special. But don’t just read this. Please go to for more detailed profiles and supporting statements from their CEOs, fellow HR professionals, and themselves.

You can then vote for who you think should win the HR Excellence Awards 2019 HR director of the year.

Jon Dawson, director of HR, Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London & One Hyde Park Residences

Just weeks before the lauded reopening of the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London a fire broke out, closing the hotel and putting 600 jobs at risk. Dawson was then faced with a significant HR challenge. He is credited with steering the HR team through this turbulent time and the changes it brought. This included developing an HR strategy to retain all colleagues and – after presenting a business case to the organisation – remunerate them during the closure. Staff were also given the opportunity to experience working overseas in another Mandarin Oriental hotel or to volunteer in the community at this time. Through this approach staff loyalty and morale has been maintained, there has been significant year-on-year reduction in labour turnover and absence rates, and an 11-point year-on-year increase in engagement.

Fiona Deal, executive director of people and culture, Network Homes

When Deal arrived in 2015 Network Homes had just emerged from unsuccessful merger negotiations and was trying to condense a federal group of companies into a single organisation. Deal led the necessary culture shift by creating a strategy with three key aims: inspiring leadership, strong cultural engagement and excellent employer brand. “Fiona has encouraged us to have difficult and courageous conversations and pushed us out of our comfort zones,” said CEO Helen Evans. Halfway through the transformation plan Network Homes had to react to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, as many of its buildings used similar materials. Maintaining employee and resident trust was paramount and Deal played a key role. She now leads the plan to modernise Network Homes, building on the structural changes already made.

Alastair Gill, people partner, giffgaff

Giffgaff is Gaelic for mutual giving, and that’s what Gill aims to instil in HR. He seeks to avoid ‘traditional’ HR where possible and instead focus on the human in human resources. Gill has been central to creating ‘the giffgaff way’, which outlines how people are expected to behave. Within this are many facets including personal development, an internally-led diversity programme, mindfulness, a feedback culture and playing to individuals’ strengths. Gill has made hiring values culture based, and emphasises the need for all employees to receive recognition, feedback and opportunities to stretch themselves. Gill has been at giffgaff just over four years, and in that time the business has won network awards several years running for its customer-focused way of working. It has also seen double digit year-on-year growth.

Kim Healey, people director, Everton Football Club

Joining Everton back in 2015, Healey was promoted to the newly-created position of people director. This reflected the club’s recognition that to be successful it needed to attract and retain the best talent both on and off the pitch. Key to Healey’s approach has been transforming reward and recognition. In 2016 the club became the second Premier League club accredited as a living wage employer. Citizens UK heralded Everton as a ‘shining example’ for other sports organisations to follow in paying all employees a living wage. Another highlight includes becoming the first Premier League club to be named in The Sunday Times’ 100 Best Companies to Work For. “Kim embodies everything that it means to be ‘the people’s club’ and makes us ‘proud to be blue’. She is an amazing leader, a lovely person and an inspiration to us all,” her colleagues said.

Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth, chief HR officer, BBC

The BBC has gone through a significant amount of change over the past few years. When Hughes-D’Aeth joined the organisation in 2014 there were a number of policies that weren’t fit to help the broadcaster compete with the growing dominance of online media platforms.Working jointly with unions, Hughes-D’Aeth updated parental leave and sick pay, raised the minimum wage, and changed the way working patterns are managed. Through an ambitious transformation programme she has achieved reoccurring annual HR savings of £10 million. A push for greater diversity on and off the screen has meant more opportunities for people from all backgrounds, while under Hughes-D’Aeth the BBC has made its biggest investment in leadership development for a decade. Her efforts have helped and will continue to help the BBC to produce world-class content.

Simon Linares, HR director, Direct Line Group

Linares oversees an HR team of 270 and a workforce of 11,000. This workforce must reflect the group’s customers, which is why diversity has been key to Linares’ approach. This has included introducing a series of development opportunities, and changing talent and selection processes to ensure that all talent is able to succeed in this traditionally male-orientated sector. These efforts have been reflected in the firm publishing a gender pay gap below the average for the industry. Wellbeing, in particular mental health, has been another key focus, with all managers trained in mental health awareness and more than 130 employees trained as mental health first aiders. Other efforts have included reviewing the firm’s pay structure and introducing a company-wide minimum base salary.

Pam Parkes, director of organisational development and people, Essex County Council

Parkes joined Essex County Council in 2016 and is responsible for a 140-strong HR team and a workforce of 6,700. Since coming on board the sector has faced some of its most challenging times; in terms of changing demographics, skills shortages, technological advances, political uncertainty and increased citizen expectations. Parkes has embraced these challenges and turned them into opportunities. This has included re-defining the council’s purpose, a re-focus on organisational design and structure, and encouraging a learning culture. There has also been investment in a people strategy that prioritises what is needed from the workforce today. In 2018 Parkes turned her attention to adaptive and systemic leadership, creating a place where trust and collaboration thrive.

Sue Shutter, pro-vice-chancellor and HR director, Regent’s University London

Modernising HR processes is a challenge for any organisation. For the team at Regent’s University London it was Shutter that helped make this a succsess. Since joining the university in 2008 Shutter has put open communication, trust and empathy at the heart of her work, and has the results to show for it. Her approach to wellbeing and involving staff in key decisions has resulted in changes to pay structure, employee benefits and management practices. Her full review into organisational culture ensures that two-way communication is in place from top to bottom. The team report that her open-door policy is fully taken advantage of at Regent’s – she’s never one to say no. But this is exactly the kind of commitment that makes her outstanding in her field.

Kerry Smith, director of people and organisational development, British Heart Foundation

Smith joined the British Heart Foundation (BHF) five years ago and has focused on putting the charity’s 4,500 employees and 20,000 volunteers at the centre of everything. She has developed a set of values and behaviours – Live it. Beat it – that are embedded throughout the organisation. The ‘Leading with Heart’ programme has resulted in a highly engaged senior leadership team who are on board with transformation and transparency. In 2015 an engagement survey revealed staff weren’t living healthily, so Smith created the Live Well, Work Well wellbeing group and the BHF Health at Work scheme. To encourage cross-charity collaboration and boost graduate recruitment, Smith worked with Macmillan Cancer Support to develop a shared graduate programme.

Jane Storm, chief people officer, Connect Group

Since joining Connect Group just over two years ago Storm has revolutionised the people agenda. Her arrival coincided with a new business strategy that led to numerous divestments and closures. Under Storm the group was able to deliver its vision of future-proofing the organisation, re-engaging colleagues and transforming culture. She has introduced a new in-house recruitment team, with significant progress achieved in addressing driver vacancies and halving retention despite a national shortage of drivers. Another achievement has been bringing colleagues together through a campaign to help the homeless. In the words of chairman Gary Kennedy: “Jane has taken the people agenda to a different level in her time with us… we now have a depth of quality of thinking for our people strategy that is unsurpassed.”

Cast your vote for HR Director of the Year