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How Did I Get Here? James Brooks, ServiRail Limited


James Brooks (known as Jim), HR Manager for the “Times 100 Fastest Growing Company”, ServiRail Limited, describes his HR career to date.

What’s your current job role?
HR Manager for the “Times 100 Fastest Growing Company”, ServiRail Limited. I commenced as HR Consultant and was asked to take the role permanently in August. It is a most dynamic and stimulating environment and my staff are brilliant!

What did you do before this?
During the six months preceding this job I completed a consultancy assignment as Head of HR with Fuller Peiser, the Chartered Surveying Practice, prior to which I held Directorships or, Senior Executive roles with a broad range of organisations including The National Grid Company (and its predecessor CEGB), Dunlop Tyres, Chubb Group, Vision Homes Association, Boehringer Ingelheim and Bloxwich Engineering Group.

Describe your route into HR?
I arrived in HR by default! I first became involved whilst serving with the Parachute Brigade as an Army Accountant when responsibility for personnel matters passed to the Royal Army Pay Corps. On leaving the forces I pursued a career in finance but was always involved in negotiations for changes in pay and conditions and eventually became a Corporate Services Director with responsibility for Finance, HR and IT. I was already a Chartered Secretary and returned to the University of Central England, where I had been a Visiting Lecturer, to become qualified in HR (both IPM and ITD) resulting in my present status of Chartered MCIPD.

Did you always want to work in HR?
Dealing with the people issues has always been my favourite part of every role, and regardless of the title or level of my position, I have always tackled matters from the people perspective. I actually wanted to be a Prison Governor or in the Probation Service when I left the army but couldn’t afford the financial sacrifice necessary to complete the training.

What would you say has been the most significant event in your career to date?
The Privatisation of the electricity industry provided me with the opportunity to be Head of Strategic Services for the National Grid but also signalled the last sign of any job security.

How do you think the role of HR has changed since you began your HR career?
HR didn’t exist as such when I began my career. The industrial relations climate of the 1970s required a far more professional approach than previously available, and the days of Payroll dealing with most issues and the boss’s secretary dealing with training and anything else that came up was over.

My recent experience is that HR has found its way into the Boardroom through the ability of the HR professional to become a trusted confidant and the company conscience as much as for the contribution to strategy. The function is recognised more now for the value it adds to organisational wellbeing rather than mere administrative capability.

What single thing would improve your working life?
To witness some “joined up strategy” from Government, of whatever persuasion, covering the “post-school life-cycle”, would be a dream come true. I firmly believe that unless Government provides some certainty in the work environment, that we will not develop the mutual trust necessary for a productive workplace. In particular, we are expected to carry personal and individual responsibility for our own housing, pension, and in some cases education and healthcare, but receive no guarantee of opportunity regardless of how hard we strive. More realistically, to have the opportunity to work for the next 15 or so years and provide for my children and my retirement!

What’s your favourite part of the HR Zone site?
In Any Answers, I enjoy the visibility of what initiatives others are tackling and also take some comfort from the fact that people of all levels of experience can, and do, help each other. I am also interested in the advice that is offered and how the approach of some members may differ from mine.

Have you made contact with any other members?
I have made contact with past acquaintances from the HR community whom I have recognised both asking for, or sharing, information. In addition, I have encouraged everyone who works for or, with me to register on HR Zone and benefit.

Do you have any advice for those looking to embark on a career in HR?
Be clear about what you want out of your career. There are many facets to HR – some technically complex and others emotionally draining – so understand what the profession is all about. Specialise in the branch that stimulates you and let your character shine through. Finally, do not expect all organisations to value your contribution equally and realise that gaining recognition can be a hard slog.

If you’re willing to share your experiences of working in HR to date with other members, we’d like to hear from you – e-mail us to receive a copy of this questionnaire.

Previous ‘Introducing…’ features:
Jean-Bertrand de Lartigue, Chairman of HR2all
Karen Caddick, Head of HR, Channel Five
Madeleine Tate
Keith Luxon, HR Policy and Reward Director, The Laurel Pub Company
Jeremy Thorn, Chairman and Director of QED Consulting
Roger Pattison, HR – Training & Management Development Consultant
Verity McVarish, HR Manager for Sift Media
Rus Slater
David Kelly, Head of Development and Training for Aventis
Jenny Kevan, UK HR Manager for Abbott Laboratories
William Martin, HR Manager, Telewest Broadband
Craig Truter, HR Manager, The Body Shop
Martin Stockton, HR Transformation Leader, Towers Perrin
Nick Heap, Consultant, New Directions
Crispin Garden-Webster, HR Specialist, Asian Development Bank
Sandra Walsh, HR Delivers
Carole Leslie, Director, IT Learning Ltd
Shaun Dunphy, Project and Process Manager, EMEA HR Service Centre for MCI
Debra Artlett, HR Officer, NGJ
Dianne Miles, HR Manager, Rollalong Ltd
Jacqui Mann, HR Manager, Integra NeuroSciences
Isabella Montgomery, Human Resources Officer at The new Housing Association
Iain Young, Head of HR for Cofathec Heatsave

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