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HR director of the Year 2011 - Catherine Taylor, HR director, Mercedes-Benz UK

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Since 2008, Catherine Taylor has transformed an outdated function that was being considered a candidate for outsourcing – and that operated the practices of old ‘personnel’ – into a truly integrated business partner.

Previously, HR had no presence at Mercedes-Benz UK board meetings, nor even featured on the agenda. But by 2011, Taylor was considered an influential voice in driving the culture of the prestige car business forward.

She joined Mercedes-Benz UK just as the automotive market collapsed and car sales went into free fall. As part of her baptism by fire, one of the first challenges was to find a way of reducing salary costs while minimising redundancies. This was achieved when 100% of staff agreed to forego a consultation process and accept an immediate temporary reduction in salary or no bonus, in return for guaranteed employment for 12 months. This saved millions of pounds, saved jobs, helped retain talent and set the tone for Taylor's people-centric, troubleshooting approach to HR.

Since then, HR at Mercedes has become more closely aligned to business strategy and more results-oriented. Taylor has introduced leadership development at all levels, new recruitment and induction processes, new employee benefits, a new academy, new career paths, employee engagement programmes, improved communication and new employee awards schemes - all of which are interconnected, with a clear strategy inextricably linked to the business plan.

She is a regular contributor at board meetings, and her team sits in on senior management team meetings across the business, ensuring HR will never again lose its clear connection with business strategy. Managing director of Mercedes-Benz Retail Group, Neil Williamson, says: "Three years ago, I would not have believed this to be possible and now I am absolutely convinced. As a managing director of a large business, I can give no higher accolade."

Chief financial officer Andy Williamson agrees: "Taylor has done a tremendous job in the past 12 months, bringing the HR function closer to the business, driving cultural change and creating first-class training and development programmes. Through her efforts, the management and staff at MBUK are seeing the benefit of a collaborative relationship with the HR function, the likes of which we have not previously been used to."

It is not just the business that is impressed with Taylor. Suppliers talk about her enthusiasm, fairness, commerciality and strategic focus. People who worked with her in previous companies, such as when she was HR director at RS Components and at Johnson Diversey, say she inspired them and led positive culture change.

Taylor's leadership and clear HR strategy contributed to the success of the Mercedes-Benz UK HR team's first ever National Training Award (Greater London winner) - and the company being the first to gain this accolade in the automotive industry. She can now proudly add HR Excellence Award HR Director of the Year 2011 to her mantelpiece.

 

Finalists

Simon Dodd, commercial and people director, Orchid Group

Sara Edwards, director of human resources worldwide, Orient Express

Bethany Evans, HR director, Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust

John Handley, divisional HR director, International Markets Bupa

Dina Knight, group HR director, e2V

Derek Lindars, HR director, Avante Partnership

Jabbar Sardar, HR director, Cafcass

Sue Swanborough, HR director, General Mills UK & Ireland

Neil Tune, HR director, Fitness First - South Europe & UK

Methodology

A shortlist of 10 HR directors who had proved their business acumen and developed high-performing organisations within the past year was produced, following nominations from readers. This list was then put out for votes. The winner is the person with the most number of votes based on a methodology that weights votes from other HR directors most highly but also recognises votes from the business and from external sources. Votes from members of the finalist's own HR department are discounted, to prevent those with large HR departments having an unfair advantage.

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