HR Most Influential 2009

Our readers have spoken, and in the most in-depth investigation of its kind ever undertaken, have revealed who they consider to be the most influential names in HR in 2009. Siân Harrington examines the results of our exclusive survey, discovers why some practitioners and thinkers stand out from the crowd – and hears what fellow HR professionals really think about them.

Top 30 practitioners
2009 Name, title and company
1 David Fairhurst, senior VP/chief people office, McDonald’sr McDonald’s Restuarants Northern Europe, McDonalds Europe
2 Clare Chapman, director general, workforce, National Health Service
3 Martin Tiplady, director of human resources, Metropolitan Police Service
4 Imelda Walsh, HR director, Sainsbury’s
5 Angela O'Connor, chief people officer, National Policing Improvement Agency
6 Liane Hornsey, HR director, Google
7 Vance Kearney, vice president HR (EMEA), Oracle
8 Caroline Waters, director of people and policy, BT
9 Theresa Proctor, HR director, Tesco Stores
10 Richard Smelt, group HR director, Northern Rock
11 Catherine Glickman, group managing director, HR, Tesco
12 Helen Giles, HR director, Broadway
13 Stephen Dando, executive vice president and chief HR officer, Thomson Reuters
14 Stephen Moir, director of people and policy, Cambridgeshire County Council (and ex-president of PPMA)
15 Ann Almeida, group managing director, human resource, HSBC
16 Dave Gartenberg, HR director, Microsoft UK
17 Gillian Hibberd,corporate director (people and policy), Buckinghamshire County Council and president of the PPMA
18 Rachel Campbell, head of people management, KPMG
19 John Ainley, group HR director, Aviva
20 Tanith Dodge, HR director, Marks & Spencer
21 Gareth Williams, HR director, Diageo
22 Paula Larson, executive vice president human resources, Invensys
23 Graham White, director of HR, Westminster City Council
24 Anne Copeland, HR director, Department for Children, Schools & Families
25 Kevin White, director general, HR, Home Office
26 Alan Walters, vice president, HR, Unilever UK & Ireland
27 Stephen Kelly, group HR director, Logica
28 Claire Thomas, senior vice president, human resources, GlaxoSmithKline
29 Madalyn Brooks, HR director, UK and Ireland, Procter & Gamble
30 Hugh Mitchell, global head of HR, Royal Dutch Shell
David FairhurstOn David Fairhurst, senior vice president/chief people officer, McDonald's...McJob is no longer a pejorative - an outstanding achievement (by Fairhurst) done with real passion and commitment. 

Clare ChapmanOn Clare Chapman, director general, workforce, NHS....Claire is beginning to transform the NHS.  She is making outstanding strides to revolutionalise HR practices in a difficult culture.

Martin TipladyOn Martin Tiplady, HR director, Metropolitan Police Service...Martin has an extremely tough job with the Met being constantly in the public eye, with huge demands being made of HR in terms of such things as diversity targets.  He takes a cleareyed view of the realities and communicates his experiences to other practitioners in a real and honest way.

East Finchley and Ann Arbor have little in common. One is a typical London suburb towards the end of the Northern Line, housing the capital’s oldest and largest municipal cemetery and the multi-million pound properties of The Bishop’s Avenue. The other is in a productive agricultural and fruit-growing region on the Huron River in Michigan and is consistently ranked highly in the US media’s ‘top places to live’ lists.

Yet strangely, there is a connection. The land on which East Finchley stands was once part of the Bishop of London’s hunting grounds, while Michigan is home to more licensed hunters (a million plus, contributing $2 billion annually to its economy) than anywhere else in the United States.

Perhaps it is this hunting instinct that marks out the top two individuals in this year’s HR Most Influential ranking, for both have relentlessly pursued the advancement of HR in their careers. Inspiring and challenging, our Most Influential Practitioner, David Fairhurst, and Thinker, Dave Ulrich, top the list for the second year running.

Liane HornseyFrom his East Finchley office, Fairhurst – the senior vice president and chief people officer at McDonald’s Europe – has debunked the McJobs myth of low pay, low prestige and low advancement. Since joining the fast-food chain he has introduced the innovative family contract, developed a pan-European talent management programme and launched the McDonald’s diploma. But he has not just changed the way McDonald’s is perceived. Fairhurst has consistently championed the HR profession – and his visibility and energy have helped him to secure the top practitioner position again this year.

Says one HR chief: “Too often Fairhurst is criticised for being a publicist. However, HR needs more evangelists who make the profession popular and appealing. He has forged his career with principally two organisations–being a sticker and seeing things through counts big time.” Another says: “His achievements at McDonald’s are phenomenal. He continues to share his work freely and to innovate.”

Across the pond, Ulrich, professor of business at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, continues to impress the HR community. He has been voted the Most Influential Thinker every year since we launched the list in 2006 and, judging from the votes, the crown is welded firmly to his head. He is in a class of his own, with nearly double the score of his nearest rival Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School.

“Ulrich is still the undisputed number one HR thinker,” says one HR leader. Another adds: “He is continuing to develop and build thinking – getting out there physically to share it – and he adapts his thinking in changing circumstances.”

For this fourth Most Influential ranking, in association with Ceridian, HR asked Henley Business School to review the 2008 methodology, as the use of a literature review to identify criteria for influence was deemed less satisfactory than understanding what key players in HR–particularly those in the listings and those senior people in HR who they are influencing – consider to be influential.

“We believe the 2009 HR Most Influential survey is the most in-depth investigation of individual influence in HR in the UK yet undertaken,” say Henley Business School researchers Benjamin Reid and Liz Houldsworth.

“By eliciting specific reasons from those rating influence, we have gained greater insight into what creates an influential figure in HR, in addition to being able to arrive at a ranking of those individuals who are ‘most influential’.”

The list highlights important aspects of influence that were not captured in the 2008 survey regarding challenge, criticism and ambassadorial roles. “In these turbulent times for companies, those who emerge as influential thinkers appear to be challenging conventional thinking, whereas those who emerge as influential practitioners appear to be individuals who have continued to perform strongly in the face of very challenging external circumstances,” say Reid and Houldsworth.

Richard Smelt
One surprise is that, despite more than 10 specialist areas of HR being mentioned in relation to nominees, there were only two mentions of ‘talent’ or ‘talent management’ in total, despite talent management and succession planning regularly topping the lists of HR directors’ priority issues.

The primary drivers of influence are captured by: the level of profile and visibility an individual has–partly an aspect of the visibility of their role in general; their track record in achieving either change or consistent performance; whether they have become known for a specialist area; whether they either challenge conventional wisdom or take on stiff challenges; and whether they can articulate and present their experience or expertise with passion and clarity.
Top 20 thinkers
Position Name, title and company
1 Dave Ulrich, professor of business, University of Michigan
2 Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School
3 Linda Holbeche, director of research and policy, CIPD
4 Jackie Orme, chief executive, CIPD
5 Will Hutton, chief executive, The Work Foundation
6 Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University Management School
7 Rob Goffee, professor of organisational behaviour, London Business School
8 Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology, University College London
9 Trevor Phillips, chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission
10 Duncan Brown, director of HR business development, Institute for Employment Studies
11 Wayne Clarke, managing partner, Best Companies
12 Nick Holley, director, HR centre of excellence, Henley Business School
13 Andrew Mayo, professor of human capital management, Middlesex University Business School
14 Paul Sparrow, director of the centre for performance-led HR, Lancaster University Management School
15 Shaun Tyson, emeritus professor of human resource management, Cranfield University
16 Richard Lambert, director general, CBI
17 David Guest, professor of organisational psychology and HR management, King’s College London
18 Brendan Barber, general secretary, Trades Union Congress
19 Maria Yapp, chief executive, Xancam
20 Robert Peston, business editor, BBC
Dave UlrichOn Dave Ulrich, professor of business, University of Michigan...Ulrich remains the HR function globally and continues to work tirelessly for the development of the function.

Lynda  GrattonOn Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School...Gratton, through her books and research, is probably the most sought-after and influential HR academic and consultant in the UK. 

Linda HolbecheOn Linda Holbeche, director of research and policy, CIPD...Linda has consistently turned out high quality work over many years and is something of a grande dame of the HR world.  She is now making a major contribution at the CIPD, which is enabling it to become a research force. 
“We at Ceridian are delighted to be sponsoring HR’s Most Influential for the fourth consecutive year. It is fascinating to see the changes, particularly the rising names and emerging new faces, as the environment challenges what is important in the profession”

As with the 2008 rankings, this year’s lists divide into two groups. For practitioners, there is a top tier, with five individuals scoring most highly. This top five was all male in 2008 but includes three women this year. Closest to Fairhurst is NHS director general of workforce Clare Chapman, who jumps four places to number two and is the top public sector HR director, thanks to her great strides in revolutionising what one peer called the “untransformable NHS”.

Martin Tiplady, HR director for the Metropolitan Police Service, retains his number three spot while Sainsbury’s HR director Imelda Walsh moves from eighth to fourth place. With National Policing Improvement Agency chief people officer Angela O’Connor jumping two places to fifth position, we find three of the top five practitioners coming from the public sector – far greater than in previous years.

Jackie Orme
The big practitioner winners are Google HR director Liane Hornsey, who catapaults in at number six, Northern Rock HR director Richard Smelt, who enters the top 10, and Tesco group managing director human resources Catherine Glickman, who jumps into the number 11 spot.

The biggest losers reflect their changing positions in the HR sector. Neil Roden, HR director of RBS, has understandably had a low profile in the past 12 months. Despite his number two placing last year, and consistent top three placing since HR’s Most Influential launched, he did not make it onto the shortlist and was not suggested as an omission by any of the respondents.

Other disappearances this year include former Cadbury Schweppes head of HR Bob Stack, who has retired, and Phillippa Hird, ex-head of HR at ITV, who is moving into consultancy.

The Most Influential Thinker list lost three of 2008’s top 10: Charles Handy, Stephen Covey and Richard Donkin. Linda Holbeche, who leaves her role as director of research and policy at the CIPD this month, rises three places to number three while CIPD boss Jackie Orme, former head of HR at PepsiCo, jumps across the practitioner to thinker divide and into fourth position.

Thanks to his heightened profile commenting on the recession, Work Foundation chief executive Will Hutton moves from seventh to fifth place. According to one who voted for him, he has “vast experience and insight”. Also because of the current economic climate, the BBC’s award-winning business editor, Robert Peston, makes his first appearance on our list, in at number 20.

Veterans Rob Goffee, London Business School professor of organisational behaviour, and Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London, move into the top 10 from outside it on the 2008 thinkers ranking.

The first new entry on the thinkers list is Wayne Clarke, partner at Best Companies, at number 11. Only three individuals from the 2008 list rise more than four places: Furnham; Paul Sparrow, Lancaster University Management School’s director, centre for performance- led HR; and Xancam chief executive Maria Yapp.

This year we asked members of HR’s Leaders Club, who ranked their top seven individuals on a shortlist, to qualify the reasons for their vote in order to construct a detailed, nuanced understanding of ‘influence’ in the HR sphere.

Many noted aspects of the individual nominee’s context – either the broader economic situation or their profile within HR – in their justifications. They also cited ‘roles’ that influential individuals had taken up – as a respected elder of the HR world, for instance, or an ambassadorwho speaks for HR to the outside world. In the case of Best Companies’ Clarke, it was for the role he has in controlling something HR directors, and chief executives, want access to.

The respondents mentioned a wide range of topics or areas of expertise that they felt the HR thinkers held, ranging from industrial relations and social networking to human capital measurement. A range of more personal qualities were also noted, particularly the degree of insight and originality a thinker had, and their ability to present those ideas cogently. There were also several dimensions of the kinds of ideas and thoughts these HR thinkers were contributing to. These ranged from contributions through research to comments regarding individual’s clarity of thinking being relevant, original and pragmatic.

An additional aspect of HR thinkers’ work not picked up by last year’s method was the importance of providing a challenging viewpoint, including holding controversial views, going against the conventional wisdom and provoking thought.

Wayne Clarke
The model for understanding HR practitioner influence overlaps with that of HR thinker, but certain elements are emphasised more. Consistency and tenure appear closely linked to respect, as shown by comments such as: “In HR [those who] stay with their company for a long time can really embed progressive initiatives and test the results” and “[he] has probably been with the same employer at a senior level for longer than any other person on this shortlist. He has also been visibly influential for much of that time – and in an industry not noted for its longevity of service”.

Some of those considered influential were distinctly low-profile. “What she has done has been clearly for the good of her company rather than being driven by the desire to further her own career and profile,” was one comment.

Another referred to “a quietly impressive HR leader with real backbone”.

A term used only in relation to practitioners was ‘courage’. This suggests in-fluence, through role-modelling, in terms of their tenacity in the face of difficulties. The idea of role-modelling courage is closely related to an important aspect of practitioner influence: the willingness to take on a challenge. That these reasons should be so prominent suggests, again, that ‘showing how the job is done’ is as influential as being visible in telling people about how it is, or should be, done. Comments included: “Taken on probably the greatest HR challenge in the world both in terms of size and complexity of organisation and with highlevel political interference”; “willing to get his hands dirty”; and “leading an organisation through a storm with all the implications that has in terms of process and people, and maintaining the viability of the business”.

Although it is normally thinkers who are thought of as specialists, many of the practitioners are also known for specialist areas – for example, Sainsbury’s Walsh for flexible working, McDonald’s Fairhurst and Google’s Hornsey for employer branding, Broadway HR director Helen Giles for non-profit advocacy, Microsoft’s Dave Gartenberg for global implementation and both Oracle HR director Vance Kearney and Thomson Reuters executive vice president and chief human resources officer Stephen Dando for mergers.

Whatever their interest, this year’s Most Influential HR practitioners and thinkers have been judged to be a cut above the rest. There are some notable omissions, particularly those who have been concentrating on rebuilding leadership and morale in the worst hit sectors. We’ve suggested other influential directors and thinkers on our website (

Imelda Walsh
People issues keep CEOs awake at night. Those on our list help them get a better night’s sleep. As Doug Sawers, managing director of our sponsor Ceridian, says: “I detect a real modernising air beginning to sweep through the profession, as those closest to what great HR thinking and practise can do for business and society emerge at this very challenging time.

“The work of HR as a profession and as a grouping of influence still has some distance to go before it truly reaches its ultimate position, at or near the top of every corporate and governmental agenda, but it is clear that many of this year’s list will make this happen.”