I’ve met thousands of HR professionals over my career – HR people who have attended our HR training, presented at or come to one of our conferences, who have been at HR or networking events, who have been on Committees with me or who I’ve worked with.
While quite a few of them don’t seem to understand what HR can and should deliver, the great news is that some of them are knowledgeable, business focused, passionate about improving themselves and our profession and will be the ones that make a positive difference to their organisations and to our industry.
And so I decided to put my list together of the top 12 HR people in New Zealand for 2016 (I wanted it to be a top 10, but it ended up with 12 and as you know, I don’t like following tradition!). These are people who in the last couple of years have not only shown excellent HR skills but are also going above and beyond in inspiring and changing the HR profession as a whole. So in alphabetical order, here they are:
- Aaron McIntosh – I’d known Aaron for a few years through HRINZ and met him in real life for the first time at the HR Game Changer in 2014. Aaron has a strong background in HR, Learning and Health and Safety. He has organised events to bring HR and H&S people together, spoken at conferences to share ideas and techniques, shares articles over LinkedIn and regularly comments on posts. He is also an HR Advisory Panel member with the Association of People Professionals (APPNZ) and is helping change the profession through that channel too. I also love that Aaron took on board what Derek Handley from the B team said at the #HRGCNZ last year and changed his job title to ‘People Concierge’. Aaron, your passion for HR and H&S are inspiring.
- Anna Campbell – Over the last couple of years I had heard about and was impressed by the people innovations that Anna, as Chief People Officer at The Warehouse, and her HR team had introduced into the group. And then at the HR Advisors Conference in Auckland earlier this year, Anna came and spoke and shared what she and her team have been doing to revolutionise the idea of a retail career and to promote female leaders. I have met very few truly inspiring GM HR’s who take the time out to share ideas, mentor people, experiment with HR initiatives and create amazing culture and productivity results in their companies. Anna is one of them. A truly outstanding person who is changing HR for the better.
- Fiona Michel – For anyone in the HR world Fiona will need no introduction. As Head of HR for IAG, she and her team won many awards. Once over in Australia for a few years Fiona made waves changing HR and winning the Dave Ulrich HR person of the year. She is now heading up People & Culture at Auckland DHB. Fiona regularly shares great articles, speaks at events (she was a stand-out at both the HR Game Changer and HRBP Summit), mentors and generally inspires anyone who meets her to see that HR people can be exceptional. Another outstanding GM HR who I cannot speak more highly of.
- Fraser Atkins – It may seem unusual to include your husband in a list of the best HR people in New Zealand, but Fraser has been a driving force behind Elephant achieving everything it has – now having trained 1,400 HR people and 3,000 managers and providing HR support to many NZ SME’s and HR teams. Fraser is also a Trustee of APPNZ and driven to regulate the people professions, get them the recognition they deserve and make NZ the home of the best HR, Learning, Payroll and Talent people in the world. See why I put him on the list?
- Jo Copeland – Jo is HR Director at Simpson Grierson. Jo was the runner up in the HR Game Changer Awards in 2015 and shared the story of how Simpson Grierson became the first company in NZ to get the Rainbow Tick. She has since shared the story through other conferences and events and her passion, commitment and thinking around creating diversity is something that everyone should experience. She is simply brilliant, inspiring and has already changed many people’s lives for the better.
- Kellie O’Sullivan – Kellie contacted me after she saw what we were doing with the HR Game Changer. Kellie had recently returned from Stanford University where she had studied Design Thinking. She had set herself the small goal of changing the face of HR and had decided to try using it with her HR team at MSD as a culture and change tool. I was blown away by the results she achieved. I have now heard her share her story several times and am constantly impressed by her dedication to improving organisations through new types of HR initiatives, even against challenging odds.
- Lisa Hunter – I have raved about Lisa many times over the years in blogs, articles and at various events. Lisa was my manager at Victoria University in 1999 (back when I was a very young HR Advisor) and she has been a mentor and an inspiration ever since. I had the privilege of working with Lisa over several years at Elephant. She is quite simple brilliant at providing excellent HR advice, coaching and challenging HR people and managers to be better than they thought they could be and brings her other areas of expertise (CI, Kaizen, facilitation, L&D, OD) into HR strategy and delivery. She has been vital in setting up APPNZ (and has also been sued because of it) and while she has currently moved into an OD role, she is continuing to change HR through the initiatives APPNZ is introducing. Lisa was a guiding force early in my HR career and I know has inspired, trained and mentored hundreds of other HR people.
- Meredith Blackler – Many years ago I was facilitating the Management Bites programme at Palmerston North City Council and met Meredith. In discussions, I could see that she understood the difference HR could make and as interested to see what she would do. I never imagined what an amazing journey she would go on. I was privileged to see her present at the HR Advisors Conference in Wellington in March 2015 and the story she shared about her own personal battles with being the HR person she knew she must be had some in the rooms in tears (myself included). Meredith and her team went on to win the HR Game Changer Award for 2015 for her initiative of providing HR support to the Levin community. Meredith is now an HR Advisory Panel member for APPNZ and is one of the most dedicated, inspiring and switched on HR people I’ve ever met.
- Richard Westney – He blogs, he tweets, he speaks at events, he mentors, he creates networks and communities and introduces the right people to each other and has also been key in getting APPNZ up and running. Richard has many years of experience in HR delivery but as you can see, has also been a catalyst in getting new discussions happening about what HR does and should do. Follow him (on Twitter and LinkedIn, not in real life!) and read his blog. It will get you thinking about HR in completely new ways.
- Sarah Mannion – Sarah was the type of senior HR person I hated to hear about. Someone from a non HR background appointed into an executive role (she is Chief People Officer at F&P Finance). However here’s where she was different. Sarah attended HR training and HR events to make sure she got the foundation HR knowledge to compliment her business experience (and that’s how I first met her). Sarah has also won awards through the HR initiatives she has put in at F&P Finance and has been a huge supporter of the HR profession, through HRINZ and now APPNZ as well as at various events and online. Sarah is an inspiring HR leader and has personally helped me through some very rocky times with her support. Seeing the wellness initiatives she has developed at F&P Finance, I know she has also helped many others and that’s what HR is about.
- Susan Lowe – Susan was one of my VP’s when I was HRINZ Auckland Branch President. She gave enormous amounts of time and energy to organising events and other initiatives to promote HR. Susan has also spoken at the HR Advisors Conference and HRBP Summit – and shares learnings from her extensive background in both HR and L&D (for which she’s also won awards). She is now GM HR at Repco and from her posts on LinkedIn is already having a positive impact on their culture and learning. I’m now getting to work with Susan again on the Learning Advisory Panel for APPNZ and love that of any HR person I’ve met – Susan most closely sees the link between Learning and HR and is experienced in delivering excellence in both. She is an outstanding people professional.
- Tash Pieterse – Last but not least, I think Tash is the youngest person on my list, but certainly isn’t lacking in clout. Tash is a People & Culture Advisor at Intergen and is only a few years into her HR career. However in my discussions with her – she is one of the few HR people I’ve met who has really spent time understanding her own development path and where she wants to build her breadth and depth of experience, has found a mentor to learn from, has written blogs and articles to share her thinking and was a Community Leader for #nzlead, a tweet chat that ran for over 2 years and created a community of HR and business people around the world. You won’t be surprised to know Tash is also an HR Advisory Panel member with APPNZ. It has been a pleasure knowing Tash over the years and exciting to see what her experience, enthusiasm and brilliance will bring to changing the HR profession.
There are other fabulous HR people out there, but to me these 12 really do stand out as the most inspiring, dedicated and outstanding HR people in the country. I think it’s time they got some recognition and want to thank them for everything they have done and are doing for the HR profession!
Angela Atkins is a best-selling author and business entrepreneur who has a passion for providing development and training for HR and people managers through the Management Bites programme and through both Elephant New Zealand and Elephant Group UK.