HR Most Influential 2008

Now in its third year, HR’s Most Influential ranking has been created using a new methodology.

What makes someone influential? According to HR’s Most Influential ranking 2008 it helps if you share your first name with the Biblical second king of Israel, best known as the shepherd boy who skilfully slew the Philistine giant Goliath with a single stone to his forehead. Or with the Patron Saint of Wales, who spread his message far and wide and whose shrine in South West Wales was an important pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages.

Both the above clearly demonstrate elements of influence: consistent visibility, originality, the ability to lead others and gain followers, relevance and impact. And for the first time in our annual ranking we used these same criteria to discover whom leading HR directors, academics and commentators rated as the top 25 most influential practitioners and top 25 most influential thinkers in the field of human resources.

For this, the third Most Influential survey, in association with global human resource service provider Ceridian, HR magazine devised a brand new ranking methodology in partnership with Henley Management College. Henley’s School of HR, Leadership and Change prepared and validated a set of criteria to measure influence in the field of HR, based on current ideas of leadership in HR, including promoting HR’s role within the business, as well as looking at external measures of influence, such as position held, and internal measures including originality of thought, clarity of ideas and demonstrations of leadership. The school also investigated other popular published rankings of admiration, influence and leadership.

Three standard criteria were developed for both practitioners and thinkers, with one additional criterion for each category. A shortlist of influencers in each category was drawn up following nominations from HR’s readers. These were then put to members of HR’s exclusive Leaders Panel, which comprises leading HR directors, academics and commentators, who were asked to rate each of the shortlisted names on the criteria.

Doug Sawers, managing director of the UK arm of Ceridian, comments: “As our industry develops and the standards by which we judge ourselves rise, it’s impressive to see such a wealth of talent fielded across so many different organisations. Ceridian is proud to support the role the Most Influential plays in recognising the best thinking and achievements in HR. As a provider of HR services, I find it particularly powerful to see so many HR leaders realising their potential in terms of their personal impact on UK business success.”

Top 25 practitioners
2008 Name, title and company Overall Visibility Originality Personal influence Impact on practice
1 David Fairhurst, senior VP/chief people officer, McDonald’s Restaurants Northern Europe 4.66 5.48 4.34 4.31 4.48
2 Neil Roden, group director HR, Royal Bank of Scotland 3.96 4.58 3.42 4.03 3.81
3 Martin Tiplady, HR director, Metropolitan Police Service 3.95 4.37 3.72 3.90 3.83
4 Vance Kearney, vice-president HR, Oracle EMEA 3.83 3.96 3.69 3.85 3.81
5 Duncan Brown, director of HR practice, PricewaterhouseCoopers 3.80 3.76 3.64 4.00 3.79
6 Clare Chapman, director general of workforce, Department of Health 3.76 4.38 3.29 3.86 3.50
7 Angela O’Connor, chief people officer, National Policing Improvement Agency 3.72 4.21 3.32 3.86 3.50
8 Imelda Walsh, HR director, Sainsbury’s 3.52 3.69 3.36 3.57 3.46
9 Jackie Orme, HR director, PepsiCo, and CEO, CIPD 3.34 3.59 3.10 3.38 3.28
10 Philippa Hird, group HR director, ITV 3.28 3.23 3.24 3.34 3.31
11 Bob Stack, chief HR officer, Cadbury Schweppes 3.21 3.23 3.07 3.31 3.24
12 Therese Procter, HR director, Tesco Stores 3.12 2.82 3.19 3.30 3.19
13 Beverley Shears, director general of corporate HR, Ministry of Justice 3.01 2.96 2.85 3.19 3.04
14 Stephen Kelly, director of people, BBC 2.97 3.17 2.79 3.00 2.90
15 Jean Tomlin, HR director, London 2012 2.91 3.10 2.68 3.04 2.82
16 Caroline Waters, director of people and policy, BT 2.71 2.73 2.76 2.76 2.60
17 Tim Miller, director, people, property and assurance, Standard Chartered Bank 2.62 2.63 2.66 2.66 2.55
18 Rachel Campbell, head of people management, KPMG 2.37 2.30 2.31 2.38 2.50
19 Stephen Moir, director of people and policy, Cambridge County Council, and president, PPMA 2.34 2.30 2.28 2.36 2.44
20 Paul Chesworth, European HR director, Vodafone 2.34 2.35 2.32 2.48 2.20
21 Beryl Cook, chief human resources officer, News Corporation 2.25 2.19 2.36 2.40 2.04
22 Hugh Mitchell, global head of HR, Royal Dutch Shell 2.17 2.11 2.04 2.30 2.26
23 Helen Giles, HR director, Broadway 2.07 1.85 2.16 2.04 2.24
24 Christine Lloyd, executive director, people and organisational development, Cancer Research UK 2.02 2.00 2.00 2.07 2.00
25 Madalyn Brooks, HR director, Procter & Gamble UK and Ireland 1.96 1.78 2.04 1.92 2.12

So, who has topped our poll this year? If you haven’t guessed yet, the top spots go to two Davids: at the practitioner level, David Fairhurst, senior vice president and chief people officer at McDonald’s Restaurants Northern Europe, stood out a mile; and David Ulrich, professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, emerged supreme among HR thinkers.

The private sector dominates

HR directors from the private sector dominate our practitioner ranking, with 16 out of the top 25 coming from business. Unsurprisingly, global companies are well represented, with the UK and European HR directors of giants such as Procter & Gamble, Vodafone, News Corporation, Oracle and Royal Dutch Shell all on the list. The food industry is the most represented sector, with McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Tesco, Cadbury, Schweppes and Sainsbury’s HR directors all among the top 25 practitioners.

However, the inclusion of seven public-sector HR directors is proof of thegreat strides made here in strategic HR over the past five years, while Helen Giles, HR director at homelessness charity Broadway, and Christine Lloyd, executive director people and organisational development at Cancer Research UK, show that the third sector is also beginning to make waves in HR.

While the change we have introduced means a direct comparison is difficult, it is worth recording that number one practitioner Fairhurst jumps from the number four spot last year and from 32nd place in 2007. His relentless efforts to position McDonald’s as one of the most innovative employers in the country has ensured he continues to have high visibility, as can be seen by his score on this measure in the table above. Fairhurst is not only a keen speaker on the conference circuit, but he is also vice chairman of People 1st, the sector skills council for the hospitality, leisure, travel and tourism industries.

When it comes to commercial impact and originality, Fairhurst stands head and shoulders above other practitioners, according to our ranking. No wonder. During the past 12 months he has campaigned to change the dictionary definition of ‘McJob’ with a high-profile petition that attracted 105,000 signatures from employees and the public during its three-month duration. Some 35 MPs supported the initiative and signed a Parliamentary Early Day Motion protesting about prejudice in the service sector while more than 130 major local stakeholders, including MPs and councillors, pledged support during a tour of 37 towns across the UK. The petition has now been submitted to the Oxford English Dictionary for review.

If that wasn’t enough, McDonald’s was one of three employers to be given official awarding body status by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in January this year. Announced by prime minister Gordon Brown, the ground-breaking move means that restaurant managers at the company, which employs 67,000 people, will be able to put their in-house qualifications towards other academic qualifications. Fairhurst robustly defended the move amid media reports ridiculing the ‘McDonald’s A level’.

Second place Neil Roden, group director of HR for Royal Bank of Scotland, comes closest to Fairhurst on personal influence. He was the highestplaced practitioner in the 2006 ranking and came fifth overall last year.

This year Roden continues to enjoy the admiration of his peers. Heading a huge HR function, there is no doubt he has the emotional intelligence and business knowledge to lead others and his ability to align HR with the business strategy is almost unrivalled.

He retains high visibility but our respondents felt that our highest-ranked public-sector practitioner, third place Martin Tiplady who is HR director at the Metropolitan Police Service; fourth place Vance Kearney, vice president for HR at Oracle EMEA; and fifth place Duncan Brown, director of HR practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, were more original (see graph, above). As the graph shows, when ranked for each criterion, the practitioners appear to divide into an upper eight, middle group and lower eight. PwC’s Brown shows the most visible shift in ranking with his high originality and personal influence ranking despite relatively lower visibility. Sixth place Clare Chapman, director general of workforce at the Department of Health, topped last year’s ranking but, only a year into the job, her impact on practice has yet to be proved. However, when our executive panel was asked separately to rate their individual top threes, Chapman rose to second place, thanks to her high number of number two votes.

Elsewhere, there are 11 new practitioners in this year’s ranking. Jackie Orme, HR director at PepsiCo, jumps into ninth place, thanks to the increased visibility being chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development brings.

Other new entries are Tesco’s Therese Procter; Beverley Shears at the Ministry of Justice; the BBC’s Steve Kelly; London 2012’s Jean Tomlin; BT’s director of people and policy Caroline Waters; Vodafone’s European HR director Paul Chesworth; News Corporation’s chief human resources officer Beryl Cook; Royal Dutch Shell’s global HR head Hugh Mitchell; and Procter & Gamble’s Madalyn Brooks.

Of these Tesco’s Procter has little visibility at the moment but is regarded as original, as is Shears, while Tomlin has high visibility but her originality is yet to be shown. Meanwhile, both Cook and Chesworth are regarded as being highly original with great personal influence but have not convinced our panel that they have had similar impact on practice within their corporations.

The top 25 thinkers
2008 Name, title and company Overall Visibility Originality Personal influence Impact on practice
1 Dave Ulrich, professor of business Ross School of Business, University of Michigan 5.43 5.97 5.16 5.58 5.00
2 Charles Handy, witer, broadcaster and lecturer 5.29 5.26 5.61 5.26 5.03
3 Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School 4.80 5.29 4.39 4.84 4.67
4 Stephen Covey, head of Franklin Covey, and author 4.57 4.67 4.27 4.60 4.76
5 Cary Cooper, professor 4.52 4.67 4.67 4.43 4.31
6 Linda Holbeche, director of research and policy, CIPD 4.08 4.35 3.94 4.00 4.03
7 Will Hutton, chief executive, The Work Foundation, and author 4.05 4.37 3.87 4.13 3.83
8 Trevor Phillips, chair, Commission for Equality and Human Rights 3.86 4.60 3.37 3.97 3.50
9 Richard Donkin, author and journalist 3.85 4.00 3.83 3.86 3.72
10 Andrew Mayo, professor of human capital management, Middlesex University Business School 3.79 3.87 3.81 3.61 3.87
11 Rob Goffee, professor of organisational behaviour, London Business School 3.74 3.60 3.90 3.76 3.72
12 Lord Leitch, author of the Leitch skills report, and chairman BUPA 3.64 4.00 3.31 3.83 3.43
13 David Guest, professor of organisational psychology and HR management, King’s College London 3.63 3.87 3.67 3.43 3.55
14 David Clutterbuck, senior partner, Clutterbuck Associates 3.62 3.48 3.58 3.65 3.77
15 Brendan Barber, general secretary, Trades Union Congress 3.45 4.26 2.77 3.61 3.17
16 Fons Trompenaars, co-founder, Trompenaars Hampden-Turner, and author 3.44 3.32 3.68 3.35 3.40
17 Adrian Furnham, professor of pscyhology, University College London 3.43 3.21 3.74 3.44 3.33
18 Shaun Tyson, professor of HR management, Cranfield University 3.21 3.03 3.31 3.07 3.43
19 Chris Brewster, professor of international HR management, University of Reading Business School 3.21 3.00 3.60 3.20 3.03
20 Gurnek Bains, founder and CEO, YSC 2.92 2.35 3.17 2.86 3.31
21 Dame Carol Black, national director, Health and Work 2.80 2.86 2.68 2.96 2.70
22 Paul Sparrow , director of the centre for performance-led HR, Lancaster University Management School 2.69 2.55 2.76 2.72 2.71
23 Mee-Yan Cheung, judge Founder and director, Quality and Equality 2.62 2.10 2.96 2.59 2.81
24 Paul Stolz , CEO, Peak Learning 2.28 1.82 2.22 2.39 2.69
25 Maria Yapp, founder, Xancam 2.22 2.11 2.22 2.19 2.35

Thinkers rated more influential

Overall, our panel was less inclined to rate practitioners than thinkers as influential, suggesting that they felt thinkers had a greater level of influence on HR as a whole. However, this is not surprising given that our panellists are likely to have greater knowledge of those on the Most Influential thinkers list.

“Whether someone has ‘influenced’ a whole field is a tough concept to pin down,” say Henley’s Ben Reid and Liz Houldsworth, who co-authored the Most Influential 2008 report. “From the data it seems that only a few people are having a strong influence over the whole field but, on the other hand, nearly all senior HR managers and thinkers can point to mentors and gurus who have strongly influenced them. It may be more accurate to say that there are a number of smaller, stronger networks of influence in HR in the UK that are having the real influence on the direction of HR thought and practice.”

Top placed thinker Ulrich scores highly on visibility, personal influence and commercial relevance. Author of seminal books on HR, Ulrich hardly needs describing. As Chris Roebuck, ex head of global talent management at UBS, says in our special essay on page 38, Ulrich has “found a place in HR folklore”. His three-pronged model of business partner, shared service and centres of expertise is the basis of many organisations’ strategic HR approach. The Michigan University professor’s list of clients comprises more than half the Fortune 200 companies and reads like a Who’s Who in the world of blue chips. As one of our panellists says: “In terms of thought leadership Dave Ulrich continues to lead the day.”

However, second placed Charles Handy, co-founder of London Business School and a veteran author and lecturer, pips Ulrich in the originality stakes when individual criterion are analysed. Perhaps Ulrich’s new book, HR Competencies, will change that next year. This takes his thinking about how to create an organisation that adds value to employees, customers and investors alike a step forward with the concept of ‘branded leadership’. It is based on the idea that leadership is not about individuals but a bigger system.

Academics dominate the top 25 Most Influential thinkers list, with 10 professors from eight business schools. No doubt this would have increased had we not excluded Henley Management College principal, Chris Bones (who came sixth in 2007), on grounds of vested interest.

Last year’s top thinker, London Business School’s professor of management practice Lynda Gratton, falls behind Handy but is still rated as the most influential UK academic. In particular, she scores highly on visibility, helped by the launch this year of her new book Hot Spots and her accompanying hot spots movement. However, she falls behind on originality. The individual criterion ranking gives Lancaster University’s professor of organisational psychology and health Cary Cooper a higher score than Gratton on this (see graph, above).

In fact, the thinkers list shows the most divergence in terms of individual criterion. Fons Trompenaars, author and founder of Trompenaars Hampden- Turner; UCL’s professor of psychology Adrian Furnham; London Business School’s professor of organisational behaviour Rob Goffee and University of Reading professor of international HR management Chris Brewster all bat above their overall rankings when it comes to originality.

Work Foundation chief executive Will Hutton jumps up the ranking in personal influence. Conversely, Middlesex University’s professor of human capital management Andrew Mayo and King’s College London’s professor of organisational psychology David Guest fall below their average ranking for personal influence.

Repeat appearances

The majority of thinkers on our 2008 list have appeared in the previous two rankings. However, we have four new entries this year: Mee-Yan Cheung Judge, founder and director of organisation development consultancy Quality and Equality; professor David Clutterbuck, senior partner at global mentoring and coaching company Clutterbuck Associates; Linda Holbeche, director of research and policy, CIPD; and Paul Stoltz, CEO of Peak Learning, who has introduced the idea of Adversity Quotient (the science of human resilience) to the world of HR. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, also re-enters our list, in fourth place, having dropped off last year.

It is also encouraging to see that 20 of the top 25 Most Influential thinkers are UK-based, with four from the US (Ulrich, Covey, Stolz and Bains) and one (Trompenaars) from Holland. Influential thinkers and practitioners have a sustained impact. They do not just indicate the latest fad or headline- grabbing initiative. Yet, despite major advancements in recent years, many people outside HR have profoundly negative views of the impact of human resources management.

A highly influential person in HR needs not only to balance their knowledge with original ideas, but also to exert strong personal influence to be able to overcome such scepticism among other business functions.

We think all those who have made it onto our Most Influential ranking 2008 demonstrate the ability to encourage and articulate HR’s connection and alignment with the broader business, helping to counteract its sometimes negative perception. We welcome your feedback on the the ranking. Please email the editor on