Richard Billingham on transitioning from HR to a board role

9 minute watch
Richard Billingham’s appointment to chief operating officer at Aston University is an inspiring example of how HR leaders can rise to board leadership roles. But what challenges did he face? And what advice can other HR directors looking to make the leap learn from his experience? He shares his top lessons with The People Space’s editorial director Siân Harrington

When Richard Billingham moved from executive director of HR and organisational development to chief operating officer (COO) at Aston University his chief challenge was to understand precisely what his new position meant.

At Aston, based in the UK’s second city Birmingham, the COO role covers buildings, facilities management and digital in all of its areas.

Billingham recalls: “ As the chief people officer I was obviously calling on 20 years of experience working with people and within that function. Now, I'm managing a group of services where I don't have a deep history and a deep professional background in any of those services. My number one challenge has been thinking about what my purpose is and what the role is and how I can bring my skill set and deploy it most effectively across a much, much wider remit.”

He has found his HR background to be invaluable when transitioning to the role of COO and notes that HR directors now often have the skill sets and focus needed to take on wider organisational leadership roles in ways that perhaps they didn’t in the past.

“Just thinking about employee experience, the digital piece is so important to not just enable different ways of working but also curate the people experience now. So I feel it is a logical step and I am seeing more and more people take that step, whereas perhaps previously HR directors hit a bit of a glass ceiling in organisational terms.”

In this video Billingham talks about transitioning to the COO role, the three biggest challenges he faced and offers three pieces of advice to HR leaders looking to step into a board role.

About Richard Billingham        

Richard Billingham is chief operating officer at Aston University. He was previously executive director of HR and organisational development. He has extensive experience working with leaders and organisations, across public and private sectors, both in the UK and internationally, to bring about change.

He has previously held a number of executive level roles focusing on leading complex workforce and culture change. He joined Aston in January 2017 from Bristol City Council where he was director of human resources and change.

Billingham is a governor of the Aston University Engineering Academy, chairing its Leadership and Finance Forum. In addition he holds a number of roles with local community organisations.

To access a downloadable transcript of Richard’s interview sign up for our free fortnightly newsletter. To watch more interviews with leading CHROs and global thought leaders as well as deeper dives, tools and models join The HR Leaders Club. More information here

Published 29 March 2023
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