HR Most Influential 2010

For the fifth anniversary of the HR Most Influential ranking, HR magazine has tied up with Ashridge Business School to define influence and create a definitive list of those in the sector who have it, as HR editor Sian Harrington explains.

The best are described as inspirational leaders, successful in showing how HR can add real value to the business and with strong vision. They are effective, progressive and transformational, commanding the respect of their peers, the organisation and key stakeholders.

But research for HR magazine’s 2010 ranking of the practitioners and thinkers who have had the greatest influence in the field of people strategy shows the external perception of HR is of a sector comprising two tiers: a small group of influential HR directors at the top of the pyramid and a much larger, less impressive group at the base.

For the fifth anniversary of the HR Most Influential list, in association with outsourcing services provider Ceridian, HR magazine tied up with Ashridge Business School to create a definitive list of the top influencers in the sector as well as to develop a deeper understanding of what defines influence in HR.

Ashridge interviewed chief executives, the media and City analysts to discover whether the
external perception of HR has moved from the unfair but deep-rooted view of HR as ‘human remains’ or ‘human restraint’ to better reflect the growing influence of HR practitioners on business strategy. The good news is that those HR directors at the top of the pyramid are described as doing an excellent, first-class job. They work closely with their CEO and understand how HR can best deliver what the business needs.

One interviewee says HR is “definitely there, playing with the big boys and being a strategic partner to the business” while a CEO speaks about totally trusting and working “hand in glove” with the HR director, noting: “We meet every day and I have complete respect and trust in their judgment. I rely upon them to be my ‘eyes and ears’ in the organisation.”

However, there appears to be a wider image problem, with one interviewee going as far as to say HR is “weak, hesitant, inconsistent, ineffectual and at worst unprincipled”. Another adds: “HR needs to get on with doing a better job. People will notice and respect competent people doing a good and valuable job.”

HR Most Influential ranking uses qualitative as well as quantitative methodology and it is clear from the remarks of those in the HR community that they believe the people at the top are delivering measurable business benefits, working close with the board and challenging notions of HR. Doug Sawers, managing director of Ceridian, believes fiscal pressures on organisations have helped HR to raise its game. “Every part of every organisation is being tested, and of course the HR profession is right in the middle of this challenge – how to keep the balance between the value of people and the cost of people.

“Successful organisations will be those that achieve the correct balance, and it is the HR profession that has potentially the most important role to play in identifying that optimal positioning. The strongest and fastest HR leaders, so many of whom are recognised in this year’s listing, have an unprecedented opportunity to help their organisations succeed, and in doing so position the profession in a fresher, more progressive light.”

Top 30 Most Influential HR Practitioners
2010 2009 Name, title and company
1 (1) David Fairhurst, senior vice president/chief people officer, McDonald’s Restaurants Northern Europe
2 (2) Clare Chapman, director general, workforce, NHS
3 (20) Tanith Dodge, HR director, Marks & Spencer
4 (3) Martin Tiplady, director of human resources, Metropolitan Police Service
5 new Tony McCarthy, director people and organisational effectiveness, British Airways
6 (6) Liane Hornsey, vice president, people operations – sales & business development, Google
7 (5) Angela O’Connor, chief people officer, National Policing Improvement Agency
8 (13) Stephen Dando, executive vice president & chief human resources officer, Thomson Reuters
9 (9) Therese Procter, HR director, Tesco Stores
10 (8) Caroline Waters, director of people and policy, BT
11 (19) John Ainley Group, HR director, Aviva
12 new Neil Roden, head of HR, Royal Bank of Scotland
13 (7) Vance Kearney, vice president HR (EMEA), Oracle
14 (23) Graham White, director of HR, Westminster City Council
15 (18) Rachel Campbell, head of people management, KPMG
16 new Daniel Kasmir, group HR director, Xchanging
17 new Stephen Battalia, head of team HR, Nestlé UK and Ireland
18 (12) Helen Giles, HR director, Broadway
19 (11) Catherine Glickman, personnel director, Tesco
20 new Mary Canavan, HR director, British Library
21 (17) Gillian Hibberd,strategic director (resources and business transformation), Buckinghamshire County Council
22 (16) Dave Gartenberg, HR director, Microsoft
23 new Sara Edwards, HR director, Orient Express
24 (14) Stephen Moir, corporate director: people, policy and law, Cambridgeshire County Council
25 new Alex Wilson Group HR director, BT
26 (21) Gareth Williams, HR director, Diageo
27 (27) Stephen Kelly, chief people officer, Logica
28 new Beryl Cook, chief HR officer, EVP, News America (News Corporation)
29 new Jean Tomlin, HR director, London 2012
30 (15) Ann Almeida Group, head of human resources, HSBC
Most Influential HR Practitioners Bubbling Under
Name, title and company
Paul Chesworth, HR director, Europe Vodafone
Christine Lloyd, HR director, Unicef
Anne Minto, group director, human resources, Centrica
Helen Russell, VP HR, Yahoo Europe
Gill Ryder Head of civil service capability group, Cabinet Office
Sandy Begbie, group transformation director, Standard Life
Matthew Brearley, UK HR director, Vodafone
Alan Walters, vice president, HR Unilever UK & Ireland
Ralf Prenzer, regional head of HR, Commerzbank
Cheryl Lee, HR director, Medway NHS Foundation Trust
Jackie Kelly, head of HR&D, Shropshire Council
Caroline Gray, group HR drector, Guardian News and Media
Karen Geary, group HR director, Sage Group
Hugh Mitchell, chief HR & corporate officer, Royal Dutch Shell
Bob Watson, group HR director, BUPA
Madalyn Brooks, HR director UK & Ireland, Procter & Gamble
Richard Smelt, group HR director, Northern Roc
Ann Gillies, HR associate, WL Gore Associates
John Wrighthouse, HR director, Nationwide
Ian Brandwood, director of HR, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
Claire Thomas, senior vice president, human resources, GSK
Sue Swanboroug, HR director UK and Ireland, General Mills
Dean Shoesmith, joint executive head of HR, Merton and Sutton Councils and president of PPMA

So why is this perception of HR not achieving greater traction externally? Vicki Culpin, director of research at Ashridge who led the study for HR magazine, believes it is a combination of lack of knowledge on the part of the C-suite and wider community combined with a defensive attitude on the part of some in HR.“It’s a question of dispelling a few myths,” she says. “But HR also needs to be less defensive and more active in seeking out media opportunities. It needs to be out there regularly using the media to its advantage and building the HR brand.”

HR’s Most Influential Practitioner is certainly skilled at doing this. Topping the list for the third year running, David Fairhurst, senior vice president/chief people officer at McDonald’s Restaurants Northern Europe, is praised by those in the sector for “externalising the positive aspects of HR to the media and further afield”.

According to one HR director: “He has done a lot of work in putting out an evidence-base for the power of good HR practice, which has done a lot to boost the credibility of what we do.” Another says Fairhurst is “the talent management star of the HR community. He has elevated McDonald’s employees and improved the business brand. He is non-traditional, not focused on management speak and a great all-rounder.”

Fairhurst displays all the characteristics of influence. He is high-profile, challenging, is an ambassador, and pushes the profession with outstanding thought leadership. 

But importantly, he is also “commercially astute. A real myth-buster in the HR community, tackling the real business issues while keeping the agenda centred on the people.” Given this, it is no surprise that Fairhurst also tops our list of Most Influential Practitioner over the past five years. As one respondent says: “He is synonymous with the HR profession and has a stellar reputation and influence.”

Second-place practitioner Clare Chapman, director general workforce at the NHS, also takes second place over the past five years. As the highest-ranked public-sector HR director, Chapman is praised for her incisive analytical skills, style, passion and professionalism in a complex organisation. One of her peers remarks: “She, quite simply, delivers the biggest HR role within the public sector with gusto. A strong advocate for good people management, the NHS has already seen workforce improvements as a result of her and the national team that she leads. An active contributor to HR thought leadership, she remains a thoughtful and inspirational HR figure who has crossed the private/public divide with ease. Her personal visibility within HR remains strong, her influence is even greater.”

As head of people in the largest employer in Europe, Chapman’s ability to deliver change at scale is noted, as is her ability to influence at political level as well as inspire and execute strategy at scale. There are many comments about her role being one of the toughest and most complex in the HR community – a role that is only going to get tougher as public-sector cuts bite deeper. But Chapman is also rated highly on visibility and, according to one respondent, her “infectious good humour is legendary”.
Top 30 Most Influential HR Thinkers – UK
2010 2009 Name, title and name
1 new Charles Handy, writer, broadcaster and lecturer
2 (5) Will Hutton, executive vice chair, The Work Foundation
3 (2) Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School
4 new Tim Miller, vice president organisation, resourcing and talent planning, CIPD
5 (4) Jackie Orme, CEO, CIPD
6 new Chris Bones, dean, Henley Business School
7 (6) Cary Cooper,professor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University Management School
8 (7) Rob Goffee, professor of organisational behaviour, London Business School
9 new John Adair, author and leadership guru
10 new Dame Carol Black, national director for Health and Work
11 new Lord Leitch, author Leitch Skills Report and chairman of BUPA
12 (8) Adrian Furnham, professor of educational psychology, University College London
13 new Paul Sparrow,professor and director of the centre for performance-led HR, Lancaster University Management School
14 (3) Linda Holbeche,visiting professor, University of Bedfordshire and former director of research and policy, CIPD
15 new Vicky Wright, associate, Watson Wyatt and president CIPD
16 new John Philpott, chief economist, CIPD
17 (17) David Guest, professor of organisational psychology and HR management, King’s College London
18 new David Evans, chairman and CEO, Grass Roots Group
19 new Nick Holley, director HR centre of excellence, Henley Business School
20 (16) Richard Lambert, director general, CBI
21 (11) Wayne Clarke, managing partner, Best Companies
22 new David Smith, consultant and former people director, Asda
23 new Sarah Jackson, CEO, Working Families
24 (13) Andrew Mayo, professor of human capital management, Middlesex University Business School
25 new Adrian Moorhouse, managing director, Lane 4
26 (20) Robert Peston, business editor, BBC
27 (10) Duncan Brown, director of HR business development, Institute for Employment Studies
28 new Penny de Valk, chief executive, ILM
29 new Peter Reilly, director of HR research and consultancy, Institute for Employment Studies
30 (15) John Arnold, director, Manchester Business School

In at number three is our biggest mover. Tanith Dodge, HR director of Marks and Spencer, had recently joined the high-street stalwart when she appeared in 20th position last year. In a year her commercial focus, common-sense approach and influence at board level have resulted in a jump of 17 places.

While less visible externally than either Fairhurst or Chapman, Dodge is described as a clear thinker and as a significant change agent, not afraid to make difficult business decisions Her strength is in achieving buy-in at board and line management level as well as pushing forward the CSR agenda within M&S. One former employee calls her a “very dynamic lady – great coach and innovator who challenges ways of thinking. She was my boss a number of years ago and she really inspired me to be the best that I can.” Another describes her as “clear and down-to-earth – achieving great things in employee engagement to keep one or our national institutions consistently up there”. Another meanwhile praises her “extremely articulate description of how common-sense rather than intellectual theory drives great HR”

Other movers include John Ainley, group HR director of Aviva (up eight places) and Graham White, director of HR at Westminster City Council (up nine). Ainley’s rise is all the more impressive given he doesn’t feature in the past five years’ list. He is lauded for firmly placing human significance at the heart of Aviva’s thinking on customer and employee engagement, with one respondent remarking: “He has extensive experience across industry sectors and is hugely respected by his HR profession peers as a wise counsellor.”

Dave Ulrich addresses the audience via videoWhite’s bold opinions on the need to revolutionise the way HR does business earn him much praise. One respondent says he “really makes you think about what HR needs to be doing to change and thrive”, while another calls him “Mr Twitter – a good strong presence and took a strong stance with the issue of disclosing HR salaries in the public sector”.

Top of the HRDs new to the list this year is Tony McCarthy, director of people and organisational effectiveness at BA, who jumps straight into fifth place. He is mentioned in particular for the way he has handled industrial relations. Comments include “holding firm to principles, facing change, taking on the unions” and “prepared to take on the difficult jobs in HR that need doing”.

There is widespread recognition that McCarthy, like Metropolitan Police Service HR director Martin Tiplady in fourth place and outgoing RBS HR director Neil Roden in 12th, has had a high media profile over the past year. “A difficult period of industrial unrest, lots of media coverage – not always positive – but held his nerve,” says one respondent while another adds: “Dealing with the strikes in a professional manner, sharing with the public the stressful times and issues facing the company” and “he’s being put to the test and so far on the winning side”. Indeed many respondents believe McCarthy’s approach to the strikes will have a major long-term impact. “Like RBS, the disputes with BA cabin crews will resonate for some time to come. The impact on collective bargaining agreements and employee relations in general will be informed for some time by the way this dispute was handled,” says one respondent.

Another says: “Whichever way it goes this is a major change and landmark on the ER landscape. Whatever he does now at BA will be remembered for some time.”

Another high-profile entry this year is Jean Tomlin, HR director of London 2012, who debuts at number 29. “Tomlin has set up and effectively run the scale-up of the people side of the Olympics. A great example of how HR impacts a business and in this case the country,” says one respondent. Another professes “such huge respect for someone who has to consider the longer-term aim of maintaining drive and enthusiasm for such a large project with so much focus. Her self-belief and determination are hugely admirable.”

The impact of recent events also shows in this year’s Most Influential UK Thinkers list. Will Hutton, executive vice chair at The Work Foundation, jumps three places to the second spot this year but interestingly is rated sixth in the past five years. Hutton’s high visibility over the past year has solidified his reputation as one of the most provocative, stimulating and challenging thinkers.

He is described as a great speaker, influential within Government and a thought leader on the challenges of work in the UK. He is seen as honest and fair and always capable of providing an objective and long-range eye on the issues. “It’s like reading someone who calls what he sees,” says one respondent. Another says he “sets out the context in which HR policy must be developed. He is really stretching the HR role and trying to create an innovative, strategic focus to the future nature of business and employment not seen before”. His insights into innovation, skills and the economy as a whole “challenge, delight and inspire with equal measure”, believes another.

With such accolades one could expect Hutton to top our ranking but he is pipped to the post by one of the greatest HR and management thinkers of all time, underlined by the fact that this person also tops our Most Influential Thinkers over the past five years list.
Most Influential HR Thinkers – UK Bubbling Under
Name, title and company
Shaun Tyson, Emeritus professor of human resource management, Cranfield School of Management
Nicholas J Higgins,chief executive VaLUENTiS and Dean, International School of Human Capital Management
Maria Yapp, chief executive, Xancam
Mairi Bannon, director, Corporate Research Forum
Stephen Bevan, director of research, The Work Foundation
Richard Donkin , author and journalist
David Clutterbuck, professor and senior partner, Clutterbuck Associates
Stefan Stern , director of strategy, Edelman (formerly with FT)
Trevor Phillips, chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission
Janet Gaymer, commissioner for Public Appointments
John Purcell, research professor, Warwick Business School and adviser to Acas
Julie Hodges,senior teaching fellow in organisational behaviour & director of full time MBA programme, Durham Business School
Sam Mercer, director of workplace, Business in the Community
Chris Roebuck,visiting professor of transformational leadership, CASS Business School and ex head of global talent management at UBS
David Taylor,author Naked Leader and honorary professor of leadership, Warwick University Business School
Michael West, executive dean, Aston Business School
Wendy Hirsh, visiting professor, Kingston University


Author, broadcaster and lecturer Charles Handy is praised for crossing the academic and the practical. “He is as close to a people philosopher as you can get,” says one respondent while another adds he has “long been a predictor of what would happen in the world of work”. Key to Handy’s influence is his ability to deliver messages that are insightful, accessible and intelligent.

“He has an almost unique talent to shock, amuse and entertain in communicating vital concepts,” says one respondent. Another praises him for his “raft of intelligent works that continue to be relevant and engaging”.

Third-place Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, holds second overall position in our Most Influential Thinkers over the past five years. She is praised for constant leadership, practical and accessible work, credibility and authority and taking an approach that excites, interests and stimulates. “A flag carrier for HR. Well respected by all and a champion for engagement and wellbeing in organisations,” says one HR director. Another adds that Gratton has “outstanding insights and a vision that balances rigour with compassion and humanity. She always remembers that HR is about people and not process.”

The UK Thinkers list comprises 16 new faces. Many have been in the ranking at some point in the past five years and a handful have moved over from the practitioners list. Included in the latter is Tim Miller, former director of people, property and assurance at Standard Chartered Bank who retains his role as vice president organisation, resourcing and talent planning at CIPD. Together with RBS’s Roden, ex-Pearson director of people David Bell and the Met Police’s Tiplady, Miller is one of the few in HR to be highlighted as outstanding by the external commentators interviewed. His work at the CIPD in relation to employee engagement and next generation HR is highlighted in particular.

Top 18 HR Most Influential Thinkers–International
2010 Name, title and company
1 Dave Ulrich, professor of business administration, University of Michigan
2 Stephen R Covey, co-founder of Franklin Covey and Author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
3 Jim Collins, business researcher and author Good to Great
4 Chris Argyris,author and emeritus of education and organisational behaviour, Harvard Business School
5 Michael E Porter, Bishop William Lawrence University professor, Harvard Business School
6 Paul Stoltz, founder and CEO, Peak Learning and author of Adversity Advantage
7 Gurnek Bains, co-founder and CEO, YSC
8 Fons Trompenaars, author and co-founder, Trompenaars Hampden-Turner
9 Robert S Kaplan, Marvin Bower professor of leadership development, Harvard Business School
10 Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink
11 Jim Kouzes,author and dean’s executive professor of leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University
12 = Stephen M R Covey (son), author Speed of Trust
12 = Robert K Cooper, chair, Advanced Excellence Systems and author The Other 90%
12 = Barry Posner, professor of leadership at the Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University
15 Rosabeth Moss Kanter,Ernest L Arbuckle professor of business administration, Harvard Business School
16 = Manfred Kets de Vries, clinical professor of leadership development, INSEAD
16 = Marcus Buckingham, author Find Your Strongest Life
18 Edward Lawler,distinguished professor of business, University of Southern California Marshall School

Others who have made a successful jump from practitioner to thinker are Jackie Orme, CEO of CIPD and former chief personnel officer at the UK and Ireland division of PepsiCo (number five) and David Smith, consultant and former people director, Asda (new at 22). Chris Bones, soon to step down as dean of Henley Business School, also has a practitioner background (number six).

The UK Thinkers list comprises an impressive group of academics and consultants who constantly challenge HR while offering ideas that can easily be applied in the real world. But there is only one real guru in HR and that is the highest ranked person in our Most Influential International Thinkers list. Dave Ulrich, professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, has topped our ranking for five solid years and there is no sign of him falling off that perch soon. He is quite simply “the foremost HR thinker in the world”, or as one respondent puts it “the poster child for HR thinking”.

His business partner model is still highly influential and his book, HR Transformation, is described as a “must-have” for HR leaders. Ulrich is praised for updating his thinking, helping to increase the value of HR’s contribution to organisations and continuing to re-invent himself. Words such as legendary, seminal, inspirational and innovative are used to describe him and one HR practitioner says: “There is no doubt this individual has had more impact on the thinking in HR about how we deliver into business than anyone.”

Ulrich is the person to whom many HR directors turn to lead thinking about the functioning and organisation of HR departments. But, as one respondent says: “Despite his guru status and enthusiasm over many years, he has not managed to improve the image of HR in the eyes of line managers.” Another remarks that he “seems to provide thought for a profession that doesn’t think for itself”.

There are some notable exceptions in this year’s ranking. Had Imelda Walsh stayed on as HR director of Sainsbury’s she would have made it into the top five. Likewise, a number of people who have appeared on our lists in previous years are no longer practising. It is also clear that the blogosphere has yet to gain as much influence among UK HR professionals as would be expected. One of the top bloggers in this field, Jon Ingham, failed to get enough votes to make it onto our final list. This is one area that is sure to be better represented in the future.
HR Practitioners past five years
2010 Name, title and company
1 David Fairhurst, senior vice president/chief people officer, McDonald’s Restaurants Northern Europe
2 Clare Chapman, director general, workforce, NHS
3 Angela O’Connor, chief people officer, National Policing Improvement Agency
4 Martin Tiplady, director of human resources, Metropolitan Police Service
5 Neil Roden, head of human resources, Royal Bank of Scotland
6 Tim Miller, former director people, property and assurance, Standard Chartered Bank
7 Vance Kearney, vice president HR (EMEA), Oracle
8 Tanith Dodge, HR director, Marks & Spencer
9 Stephen Battalia, head of team HR, Nestlé UK and Ireland
10 Stephen Dando, executive vice president & chief human resources officer, Thomson Reuters
11 Daniel Kasmir, group HR director, Xchanging and former HR director, BDO Stoy Hayward
12 Helen Giles, HR director, Broadway
13 Alex Wilson, group HR director, BT
14 Ann Almeida, group head of human resources, HSBC
15 Paul Chesworth, HR director, Europe, Vodafone
16 Rachel Campbell, head of people management, KPMG
17 Tony McCarthy, director people and organisational effectiveness, British Airways
18 Kevin White, director general, HR Home Office
19 = Matthew Brearley, UK HR director, Vodafone
19 = Liane Hornsey, vice president, people operations – sales & business development, Google
19 = Caroline Waters, director of people and policy, BT
22 Catherine Glickman Personnel director, Tesco
23 Stephen Moir Corporate director: people, policy and law, Cambridgeshire County Council
24 Gillian Hibberd Strategic director (resources and business transformation), Buckinghamshire County Council
25 = Stephen Kelly Chief people officer, Logica
25 = Anne Minto Group director, human resources, Centrica
27 = Ann Gillies, HR associate, WL Gore Associates
27 = Therese Procter, HR director, Tesco Stores
27 = Claire Thomas, senior vice president, human resources, GSK
27 = Jean Tomlin, HR director, London 2012

HR Thinkers UK past five years
2010 Name, title and company
1 Charles Handy, writer, broadcaster and lecturer
2 Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School
3 Duncan Brown, director of HR business development, Institute for Employment Studies
4 Chris Bones Dean, Henley Business School
5 Nick Holley Director, HR centre of excellence, Henley Business School
6 Will Hutton, executive vice chair, The Work Foundation
7 = Cary Cooper, rofessor of organisational psychology and health, Lancaster University Management School
7 = Lord Leitch, author Leitch Skills Report and chairman of BUPA
9 Linda Holbeche,visiting professor, University of Bedfordshire and former director of research and policy CIPD
10 Stephen Bevan, director of research, The Work Foundation
11 = David Guest, professor of organisational psychology and HR management, King’s College London
11 = John Adair, author and leadership guru
13 Vicky Wright, associate, Watson Wyatt and president CIPD
14 = Adrian Furnham, professor of educational psychology, University College London
14 = Jackie Orme, CEO, CIPD
16 Peter Reilly, director of HR research and consultancy, the Institute for Employment Studies
17 = Wayne Clarke, managing partner, Best Companies
17 = Andrew Mayo, professor of human capital management, Middlesex University Business School
17 = Julie Hodges,senior teaching fellow organisational behaviour & director of full time MBA programme,
20 = Robert Peston, business editor, BBC
20 = Shaun Tyson, Emeritus professor of human resource management, Cranfield School of Management