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Case Study - Ministry of Defence

Veredus was retained in December 2015 to recruit to the role of Human Resources Director (HRD) for the Ministry of Defence, Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S). The role reported directly to Tony Douglas, the new Chief Executive of DE&S and formerly Chief Executive of Abu Dhabi Airports. Tony is a very senior and well-respected private sector Chief Executive with an impressive career in the infrastructure sector, however also an demanding client with very high standards to meet.

DE&S is a bespoke trading entity of MoD responsible for the acquisition and maintenance of military equipment. When Veredus were appointed to assist on the appointment of its HRD, the organisation was in the midst of a seismic change programme as it transitioned to a ‘balanced matrix’ model to enable it to respond flexibly and efficiently to customer requirements. The HRD would ‘own’ the entire people dimension of a major transformation programme, process and cultural, and the role was widely considered one of the biggest HR posts in the public sector.

HR would be at the heart of DE&S’ transformation, and there would be an increased focus on skills, professionalism and performance, together with a different model for management of staff through the ‘balanced matrix’ of functional and delivery responsibilities. New ways of working would be required to attract, recruit, retain, deploy, develop, motivate and reward staff, and the HRD would need to add vision to the transformation programme.  They would also leverage new DE&S freedoms to lead and embed significant improvements to the way people are managed and to deliver process improvements.

The biggest challenges were the Bristol location, remuneration (the salary was meaningful by public sector standards - up to £160k - but low compared with private sector packages) and the scale and complexity of the role. We ran a print advertisement in the Sunday Times in order to reflect the seniority and importance of the role, however added real value via an exhaustive search of the private sector, the most likely environment where we would find a credible candidate to work with Tony (who briefed us personally), net-working extensively with Board-level HRDs of FTSE 100 plcs. In our conversations we emphasised: the professional challenges and profile of the post; its potential to be career-defining for the right individual; and the opportunity to work as consigliere to an impressive CEO like Tony, shaping a complex organisation undergoing major change. We also secured permission from the civil service commissioner to introduce promising candidates to Tony and DE&S NEDs early in the process to secure their interest. 

The salary and location were non-negotiable however we turned the daunting scale of the role to our advantage; we understood this would in fact be a selling-point for the best candidates. We promoted it as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity, and on account of our positive engagement with targets and promotion of the role we attracted an extremely strong field which included candidates from very senior roles in the wider public sector, as well as a FTSE 10 financial services institution and a global technology company, inter alia. The field was overwhelmingly comprised of private sector applicants, the majority of which had been generated via our search activity.

We elicited 67 applications in total, nine of which were progressed to Veredus preliminary interviews. This list of nine was reduced to a shortlist of five, and of these five, four were considered ‘above the line’ and appointable to the role. This, and the fact that one of these individuals was from an under-represented group, was one of the key indicators of our success. The preferred candidate, Don Cuthbert, had previously been Human Resources Director, USA with Imperial Tobacco, and joined in May. We had also been required to negotiate some complex logistics as one of the candidates was in South Africa on the day of final panel and was interviewed by video link. DE&S were pleased not only with the quality and diversity of the field, but also our contribution to the smooth running of the process by co-ordinating logistics and hosting final panel at our offices to overcome security issues.

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