What is the one thing CEOs would not employ an HR director without?

2 minute read

What do CEOs want from their people directors today? ThePeopleSpace asked some top executive headhunters, an academic and a CEO for their thoughts

Sian Harrington

HR headhunters


“For me I want an HR director who can demonstrate more than just HR expertise but also think strategically. Too often HR professionals focus too narrowly upon HR functions. To add real value at director level, they also need to be able to develop and implement a people strategy which compliments and supports the wider business and its success”

David Done CEO RHP

David Done, CEO, RHP and a member of ThePeopleSpace Leadership Board and PeopleSpaceLeaders network


"My initial reaction was to default to the output of some of our recent HR leadership survey questions and say that it would be a coin-toss between experience of digital or cultural transformation. However, having thought long and hard about this, the underlying trait required to make either of those endeavours successful is commercialism. To frame that properly, I don’t mean a focus on pursuit of profit at the expense of all else the firm does but rather a core awareness of the link between people and strategy, and the bottom-line impact the right combination of both, can have. What I am not saying, is that a good CHRO needs to have had P&L responsibility for a country or business unit. What I am saying though, is that knowing (and just as importantly, illustrating) what topics like diversity and a culture can do for firm performance, makes fairly compelling listening to a management team. Equally, when asking for board sign-off for significant spend on big-ticket items such as a cloud-based HRIS, illustrating the potential productivity gains alongside the not-insignificant outlay on such items, clearly ‘oils the wheels’ where obtaining budget is concerned. Instilling a core ‘how will it improve our company and performance?’ mentality among specialist HR functions can avoid constantly aiming for a best practice solution when a best fit solution will do the job”

Chris Rowe Leathwaite

Chris Rowe, partner and global HR practice lead, Leathwaite


“Our research shows that the most important thing (either what gets CHROs fired or what makes them successful) is trust: the ability to build trusting relationships with the CEO, peers and the board. After that comes the ability to align HR with strategy”

Patrick Wright Darla Moore School of Business

Patrick M Wright, Thomas C Vandiver Bicentennial Chair in Business and director, Center for Executive Succession, Darla Moore School of Business


“Digital and International experience are top of the list at the moment”

Sam Allen Sam Allen Associates

Sam Allen, founder, Sam Allen Associates


“Change management and OD. Integrating different cultures is a more fluent narrative in the private sector too as organisations continue to grow through acquisition”

Mark Turner GatenbySanderson

Mark Turner, managing partner, GatenbySanderson


“If only there were one answer. The most common we find is the emotional intelligence to act as a critical friend or consigliere to the CEO – providing true insight into the behaviours and emotional states of the rest of the ExCo; the analytical and numerical skills to be able to effectively debate the business strategy with the CEO and CFO; and the leadership impact and intellectual agility to create a truly effective multi-generational engagement culture”

Aine Hurley Odgers Berndtson London

Áine Hurley, managing partner, HR Practice, Odgers Berndtson London

Published 8 May 2018
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