· Features

HR magazine names 2020 people-focused CEO of the year

Founded in 1852, construction company Willmott Dixon is now led by its fifth generation of the Willmott Family.

Rick Willmott started as a management trainee before rising through the ranks of the company to become its CEO.

Under his leadership, the company has achieved several notable achievements for being one of the UK’s best, most inclusive and diverse employers, including ranking fifth in the Sunday Times’ Best Companies list in 2020, the highest placed UK company in the first ever FT Diversity leader’s list, and named as one of the Times’ top 50 employers for women for the past two years.

Willmott’s approach to his people is one of openness, approachability, empathy and humility. This was especially evident when the pandemic resulted in the company taking swift action to safeguard the wellbeing of its people.

With a need to put a proportion of its people on furlough, Willmott decided to give Willmott Dixon’s employees the opportunity to apply on a voluntary basis. This resulted in a higher proportion of women applying, the feedback being they found it beneficial to help balance competing pressures for their time, especially during lockdown.

From the start of the lockdown restrictions in March, the government made it clear that construction sites should stay open as long as they followed social distancing measures and other guidelines to ensure they provided safe working environments.

Willmott provided decisive leadership in this time to ensure Willmott Dixon projects could move quickly to adjust to the new restrictions and continue operating.

This meant that practically every Willmott Dixon site remained open during and beyond lockdown. Local supply chain partners also remained active, while protecting jobs, and benefiting customers with minimal delays.

Both in and outside the pandemic, our judges felt Willmott takes a very personal approach to leadership. Employees clearly respect and appreciate him.

The ways in which he goes the extra mile to implement positive values throughout the organisation and introduce novel schemes to the construction sector as a whole made him the clear-winner of our people-focused CEO of the year.


Matt Cheung, Clarasys

Carmine Di Sibio, EY

Rajesh Gopinathan, Tata Consultancy services

Alison Lowe, Touchstone

Steve Marshall, Reassured

Anne-Marie Canning, The Brilliant Club

Daya Thayan, Kingsley Healthcare

Find the full list of the 2020 HR Excellence awards winners here. You can also watch the event on demand and register your interest in the 2021 event here.