· 9 min read · News

Leaders of the pack


Human Resources puts the spotlight on 10 senior HR professionals who are making a big difference in their sectors. Stefan Stern explains why they stand out from the rest

They are the people in demand. Headhunters rarely leave them in peace. And, yes, they get written about in magazines. They are the HR professionals who are making waves, getting noticed, making a difference. This month Human Resources magazine shines the spotlight, sector by sector, on the HR figures leading their fields. Who are the people we shall be hearing more about in the future? What have they achieved already? And just what are they going to do next?

This is not the place for a navel-gazing debate about the role of HR and the battle for credibility within businesses and organisations. Here are 10 people who we think are simply getting on with the job of making HR make sense. There are, of course, plenty other more famous faces in HR blazing a trail for the function that dont feature here, but these are the few that made us sit up and take notice. Let the arguments commence.

Do you disagree with our choices?Annoyed that youre not one of them? Email us at human.resources@haynet.com

Publishing and media

Peter Meier

Channel 4

In the sometimes fraught world of television, where egos and reputations clash on a daily basis, it takes a cool and rather grown-up head to keep strong personalities under control. Contracts and terms of employment are studied as minutely here as in any other sector.

Peter Meier has been bringing a steadying influence to Channel 4 television since his appointment at the beginning of 2001. He has had to cope with the usual comings and goings of senior executives, not least the departure of former chief executive Michael Jackson only seven months after Meiers arrival.

Meier was previously director of personnel and administration for United Broadcasting and Entertain-ment, an independent production company and owners of Anglia Television. In fact, Meier has more than 25 years experience in HR, including a 13-year stint with Anglia Television. When the company was taken over in 1994 he became director of personnel and administration for the new parent company, MAI Media, which subsequently became United Broadcasting and Entertain-ment in 1996.

Media isnt always a glam place to be. Meier has had the unpleasant task of pushing through over 120 job cuts as the channel retrenched last October. In the longer term, the biggest challenge is the development of talent. There is no shortage of people who want to work in this industry, says Meier, but there is a limited pool of talent. And the organisation has to realise that talent can be found in all parts of the business.

Also worth watching:

Daniel Cloke is the new HR chief at News International, and all eyes will be watching how he settles in.

Mark Allen, senior vice-president of HR at MTV Networks Europe, has his hands full as MD of its broadcast services business too.

Leisure, food and drink

Sara Edwards

The Savoy Group

Anyone who has enjoyed the gleaming and immaculate hospitality at Claridges in London should acknowledge its debt to Sara Edwards. For four years, between 1999 and spring this year, Edwards was HR director there,

and oversaw a remarkable transformation in performance.

In this time staff turnover fell from over 70% to around 20%, while customer satisfaction levels doubled. In April this year Edwards was promoted to head of HR for the entire Savoy Group of hotels, which includes other prestigious properties such as Simpsons, the Connaught and the Savoy.

In this job you have to get people on your side, Edwards says. If you show that you are trustworthy and that you care, people will understand that while you want whats best for the business you also want whats best for them as well, she adds.

Edwards introduced Investors in People to Claridges, and worked hard, in her own words, to introduce best practices.New leadership training and communications structures helped drive through this improved performance. We need the right people here with a passion for what they do, she says. We have worked very hard on that.

Now she says she wants to establish the Savoy Group as the first choice employer for the luxury hotel sector. It would be unwise to bet against her.

Also worth watching:

Ros Barker, human resources director at betting giant Ladbrokes, has driven through change successfully, as has Sue Malti, HR director at the Thresher Group (formerly First Quench).


Maria Antoniou Jaguar/Land Rover

Over-capacity dogs the global auto industry. Before taking over as HR director of Fords prestigious Jaguar and Land Rover marques in February this year, Maria Antoniou had to drive through a redundancy programme in her former role as HR director for Ford UK. Five thousand jobs went but not one of these redundancies was compul-sory. Antoniou also worked on developing Fords ailing Dagenham estate and providing an alternative future for the community there.

It says much for her management style that she was able to pull this off, and then make way for Sean McIlveen, her former director of training, education and development, to succeed her at Ford UK. Succession planning seems to be working for Ford on this side of the Atlantic at least.

This is a high-skill business where continuous learning and improvement have to be pursued rigorously. Antoniou has been part of Fords modernisation work since joining the firm in 1986. Between 1994 and 1996, she worked on the transition team in the US, which was set up to develop Ford into a genuinely global organisation.

Also worth watching:

Ian Iceton, head of HR at Volkswagen UK, has worked hard to support VWs drive to be an employer of choice.

Philip Ashmore, personnel director at Nissan, is helping push through CEO Carl Ghosns revival plan in the UK.

Public sector

Angela OConnor


Just in case she had forgotten it, Angela OConnor received a sharp reminder of the complexities of recruitment in August this year, when it emerged that Ken Macdonald, newly appointed director of public prosecutions (and her new boss at the Crown Prosecution Service), had an earlier conviction for posting marijuana to a student friend lurking in his past.

OConnor has rarely been out of the public-sector pressure cooker all her career. Starting out at the DHSS, she has been head of HR in three London boroughs Haringey, Hackney and Enfield. At Hackney, her team was short-listed for an HR Excellence Award for Best HR team in the Public Sector. And her Enfield team was awarded the title of Best HR Team at the Local Government Chronicle Awards in 2002.

She was headhunted from Enfield into the CPS in 2002. Defying the public-sector stereotype, she is said to be a breath of fresh air, refusing to be bogged down in bureaucracy.

Also worth watching:

Alan Warner has helped Hertfordshire County Council to throw off the shackles of the old public-sector ways and adopt a customer-focused approach.


Claire Thompson Lever Faberg

If you spend your time working with products such as Persil, Impulse and Lynx, you should come up smelling of roses or maybe just rose essence E1233. In April this year Claire Thompson was flown back from Mexico, where she had been HR director for Unilever de Mexico, to take on the biggest challenge in her 12-year career at the firm as Lever Fabergs new HR director.

Lever Faberg is the personal goods side of global giant

Unilever soaps, washing powders and deodorants. Taking on such a big job in a company renowned for its serious HR tradition puts Thompson squarely in the spotlight.

She seems undaunted by the challenge and with good reason. In Mexico, Thompson was helping to run a 1 billion business with 5,000 employees. She had to manage a post-acquisition environment, bringing staff from the US firm Bestfoods into the Unilever family, and coping with the cultural challenges of expatriate management. Aligning cultures is what Thompson does best. The secret of her success? Harmonised communication and good listening skills are essential, she says.

At a time when CEO Niall Fitzgerald is calling for more from his staff more innovation, more productivity Thompson will have to stand and deliver.

Also worth watching:

Nikki Rolfe, has impressed all as UK HR director of LOral with her enthusiastic approach.

The City

Randal Tajer


There has been gloom (and its traditional partner, doom) in the City of London these past two years. Con-servative estimates suggest that over 30,000 jobs have gone as revenues have fallen. So when UBS announced in August that its second quarter profits had risen 35% to 750 million, people sat up and noticed.

Randal Tajer played his own part in that success. He is currently managing director, human resources for UBS (Wealth Management & Business Banking), responsible globally for the areas of compensation, benefits and strategic solutions.

And he is mad about metrics. He describes his work as an attempt to define a new structure for categorising the human capital assets of the institution. In plain terms that means identifying the effective competency measures that are aligned with the overall business goals of the

bank. Sheep-dip training and development is out. Targeted, relevant development is in.

Tajer adopts a tough-minded approach to HR. He is in a high-pressure environment, and he wants to be able to look finance directors and business managers in the eye as he discusses his work. Almost evangelical in his approach, Tajer is a keenly sought-after conference speaker. He is also an active member of the European Human Resources Forum and its executive committee.

Also worth watching:

Kathy Harvey at Nomura,who sits on the operating board of Nomura International , is another figure banging the drum for modern, effective HR in the City.


Ishbel Morrison


It took Ishbel Morrison 12 years to get out of the brewery. Perhaps we should re-phrase that. In August 2000, after a 12-year career with United Distillers, in roles that encompassed the entire range of activity in the drinks industry manufacturing and packaging, teamwork, industrial relations, people management, sales Morrison made a break for the cleaner and perhaps less intoxicating air of Apple, the computer company.

The move came at an interesting time, just as the high-tech boom was beginning to stutter and eventually fail. Morrison was attracted by the possibilities of the new economy but, like her firm, she has come through the worst of the downturn.

Her role at Apple gives her responsibility for HR for the UK sales business, and also at strategic level for sales functions across Europe. So when you are being soft-sold that next gorgeous piece of Apple kit by one of Morrisons team, remember it is her training that lies behind the patter. And make sure you havent imbibed too many of her former employers products before you get your wallet out.

Also worth watching:

Pauline Best, Vodafones HR director for UK and Ireland, will be supporting staff as they face a new era now that Chris Gent and jobs have gone.

Over at T-Mobile, Penny Davis, head of HR operations in the UK, has been reshaping HR at the mobile phone firm since she was promoted earlier in the year.


Sarah Dormer


Sarah Dormer wants to know what makes you tick. We are not talking about simple happy sheets or basic employee satisfaction surveys. Dormer is at the leading edge of the new thinking which says that employee engagement and commitment is what counts, and therefore HR measurements should be designed to identify what will really achieve this goal.

Working with the Institute for Employment Studies, and also with the Empower Group, Manpowers employee relations consultancy, Dormer has worked hard to understand Waterstones staff. With the likes of Amazon and Tesco piling books high and selling them cheap, getting her people to perform could make all the difference in a tough marketplace. Committed staff sell more, and are better advocates of the Waterstones brand.

The route to commitment is different for different people, Dormer says. Finding what the levers are for your people is the challenge. Her current role as HR director includes responsibility for the design and delivery of HR strategy for the firm going forward.

Retail is in Dormers blood. She has held several senior roles within major retail organisations. Most notably she was employee relations and HR policy manager for Sainsburys.

Also worth watching:

Now that Philip Green has added Arcadia to his empire, group HR director Kim Morton will be kept busy making sure that its stores such as TopShop and Dorothy Perkins please both staff and customers.


Alastair Imrie

BAE Systems

There was jubilation in Brough in East Yorkshire this summer when the Government finally announced the 800 million deal to buy up to 44 Hawk fighter trainer aircraft from BAE Systems. In September, the Indian government announced that it too would purchase Hawks another 66 of them for 1 billion. Failure to clinch the deals could have meant 470 immediate redundancies. Now as many as 2,200 jobs may be safe over the longer term.

BAE Systems is in the middle of a huge overhaul of its HR strategy, under the auspices of Alastair Imrie, group managing director, shared services. He has been with the company since 1989, and has held a number of operational roles in mergers and acquisitions and merger integration. He had overall responsibility for the integration of BAE and Marconi Electronic Systems after the merger in 1999. He was also formerly commercial director for BAEs commercial aerospace division.

And although, with nearly 100,000 employees and turnover of 12 billion, BAE Systems is hardly a minnow, preparing the firm for eventual cross-Atlantic merger is very much on the agenda. Imrie will be at the heart of that too.

Also worth watching:

Its not been an easy time for this sector, but Rolls-Royce has been boosted by new orders. Now it is back in the FTSE 100, and director of human resources John Rivers will help to make sure it stays there.


Clare Smith Leonard Cheshire

It is a rare trick to combine the best caring instincts of the charitable sector with the need for organisational efficiency and businesslike behaviour. In her practical and no-nonsense way, this is exactly the trick that Clare Smith has pulled off.

Smith is director of human resources for Leonard Cheshire, the UKs largest voluntary sector provider of care for disabled people, with over 7,000 employees worldwide. Smith joined Leonard Cheshire in 1997, becoming HR director two years later, with responsibility for personnel, training and health and safety.

She has introduced innovative training schemes such as modern apprenticeships and Caring as a Career, which ensures that care staffs skills are recognised, and enables them to develop their own career path.

There is a two-way commitment between us and our people, Smith says. We try to offer real job satisfaction, and in return they become highly committed to the organisation and to the people they care for. Our next challenge is getting more disabled people into employment with us, she adds.

Also worth watching:

Highly regarded in this sector is Alan Jeffs, head of human

resources at the British Heart Foundation, an organisation that plays a vital part in funding heart research in the UK.