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HRMI 2019: Rupert McNeil tops list of influential practitioners

HR magazine unveiled its 2019 Most Influential rankings at an exclusive event at Claridge's last night

The HR Most Influential (HRMI) rankings, in partnership with LifeSight, recognise the HR practitioners and thinkers pushing people strategy forward. HR Most Influential is now in its 14th year.

In his speech as part of the presentation unveiling this year's top three practitioners and thinkers, senior director at Willis Towers Watson (parent company of LifeSight) Milan Makhecha said: "As the UK faces increasing uncertainty there can be no doubt about the importance of the role that HR will play. We are proud to be working with HR magazine for HR Most Influential, which recognises outstanding contributions in the profession."

Government chief people officer Rupert McNeil was revealed as this year’s most influential practitioner. McNeil was recognised for “exerting soft influence” while remaining “incredibly innovative" within the organisation, said HR magazine editor Jenny Roper, speaking at the event.

“[This is] an HRD who is undeniably, of all UK HR practitioners, the most at the centre of and affected by Brexit uncertainty, and who epitomises the need for HRDs to exert a steady stabilising influence through tough times,” she said.

“This person is a great example of an HR director exerting soft influence, achieving incredible amounts even though they don’t have a formal HR mandate over some parts of their organisation... Yet for all their calming influence this HRD is still being incredibly innovative – something no doubt enhanced by their cross-sector experience.”

Martin Tiplady, CEO of Chameleon People Solutions and one of the panellists helping to compile the practitioner rankings each year, accepted the award on McNeil's behalf.

"What a great role model Rupert is in this sector – talking to whoever will listen, talking about all that is great in HR," he said. "And from personal experience I know there is no more difficult climate than there is at the moment [in the Civil Service]... He undoubtedly holds the hottest seat in HR today, and he holds it with grace, with skill, and with aplomb in the way that he goes about his work. He is as good as it gets."

In second place was Sally Austin, former HR director at Costain and now group HRD at Wincanton. Austin was commended as a brilliant role model for other women operating in male-dominated sectors, and for her impressive work elevating HR to a strategic level at her former business. “I think you can tell how surprised I am. As many of you know, I have left Costain after a wonderful 14 years; I'd like to thank everyone I have worked with. I am absolutely thrilled," she said.

Group HR director at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank Kate Guthrie was ranked as the third most influential practitioner, in recognition for her work supporting the successful acquisition of Virgin Money in October 2018 - one of most complex organisational changes in UK financial services in the past few years. “This isn't for me, this is for all my team and for everyone I have worked with in my time at Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank. Thank you," Guthrie said.

Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth, outgoing group HRD at the BBC, joined the HR Most Influential Hall of Fame. Hughes-D’Aeth was praised for her achievements on cost saving, restructuring and gender pay despite facing intense media scrutiny over her five-year tenure, with this year a fitting time to be awarded the accolade following her announcement that she will leave the BBC at the end of 2019 to pursue a portfolio career.

Hughes D’Aeth said: "It's been a fantastic experience, and I hope that it [the BBC] is in a better place than it was when I joined. It's time that I spent a bit more time with my family. I'm sure I'll still be up to a lot of different things, but for me the focus is now to have some more balance. It's a real privilege and I'm thrilled."

Here are the HR Most Influential 2019 top 40 practitioners:

1 Rupert McNeil Chief people officer Government
2 Sally Austin Group HR director Wincanton
3 Kate Guthrie Group HR director Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank
4 Ann Pickering HR director O2 (Telefónica UK)
5 Leena Nair Chief HR officer Unilever
6 Eugenio Pirri Chief people and culture officer Dorchester Collection
7 Mandy Coalter Former director of people United Learning
8 Simon Linares HR director Direct Line
9 Jabbar Sardar HR director BBC Studios
10 Siobhán Sheridan Chief people director Ministry of Defence
11 Baljinder Kang Executive director of people services Midland Heart
12 Andrew Dodman Chief officer of HR Leeds City Council
13 Danny Harmer Chief people officer Metro Bank
14 Neil Morrison Director of HR Severn Trent
15 Natalie Bickford Group HR director Merlin Entertainments Group
16 Rachel Brace HR director Football Association
17 Emma Rose HR director Kerry Foods
18 Jane Storm Chief people officer Saga Group
19 Ella Bennett Group people director Easyjet
20 Karen Shepperson Director of people and operations Ofsted
21 Kathryn Austin Chief people and marketing director Pizza Hut Restaurants
22 Danny Mortimer Chief executive NHS Employers
23 Debbie Alder Director general, people and capability Department for Work and Pensions
24 Louise Smalley Group HR director Whitbread
25 Shokat Lal Assistant chief executive Rotherham Council
26 Kathryn Pritchard Chief HR officer Nord Anglia Education
27 Annette Andrews Chief people officer Lloyd’s of London
28 Carol Kavanagh Group HR director Travis Perkins Group
29 Claire Gore Director of HR and OD London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust
30 Des Pullen Group HR director Associated British Foods
31 Harvey Francis Executive vice president Skanska UK
32 David Frost Group organisational development director Total Produce
33 Paula Jordan Group HR director McCarthy & Stone
34 Jon Dawson Director of HR Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park London & One Hyde Park Residences
35 Helen Webb Chief people and services officer Co-op
36 Alison Rumsey Chief HR officer Associated British Ports
37 Tim Jones Group head of HR London Stock Exchange
38 Deborah Lee Group engagement director Compass Group
39 Geoff Tranfield Group HR director IMI
40 Will Serle Chief people officer Capita

Visit the HR Most Influential website for all our listed individuals and their profiles.