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Career profile: Lucy Adams, former HR director, BBC

Posted on from Changeboard

Get to know your peers in the global HR community through our career profile series. Today, we profile Lucy Adams, former HR director at the BBC and keynote speaker at our upcoming future talent conference, on how the Savile crisis tested her resilience, what she deems ‘proper’ rock and roll, and the advice she would give to her 22-year-old self.

Basic details

Name: Lucy Adams

Job: Founder of Disruptive HR, former HRD at BBC

Current employer: Self employed

CV in brief:

  • HR director, BBC, 2009 – 2014
  • HR director, Eversheds, 2008 – 2009
  • Group HR director, Serco plc, 2004 – 2009
  • Divisional HR director, Serco Rail, 1999 – 2004

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation

I have recently founded Disruptive HR. This is a group of leading ex-practitioners from the world’s best known organisations and experts in particular fields of HR. Our aim is to provide fresh thinking and innovative, practical ideas for businesses who want to approach their people issues in different ways.

Who do you report into?

No one!

Tell us about your team

I don’t have a huge team. I work with like-minded people, many of whom run their own businesses and who are doing really interesting things in the field of HR. They are either “recovering HR directors” like myself (senior practitioners who got frustrated with doing HR in the traditional ways) or experts in everything from engagement to talent management to HR organisational design to internal comms.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

I love the variety of my job. No day is the same as I could be writing, speaking, developing the business, meeting clients or working with my partners to develop new ideas.

What is the most challenging part of the role?

Trying to fit everything in, and moving from large organisations where you have lots of people who can do things for you to having to do most things yourself.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There isn’t one!

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

Having worked for large corporations, I wanted to run my own thing. I want to be able to pursue the ideas I find interesting, work with people who share my belief that there needs to be a different approach to many of the traditional aspects of HR, and do a range of different activities. When you’re in large organisations, your diary is pretty much set for you and decisions can take a long time. I love the freedom and pace of running my own thing.

Perks and downsides of your role?

The perks are the freedom and the fascinating people I get to work with. The downsides are having to do most things for myself. Plus, I’ve always been used to a paycheck every month. It can be scary having the uncertainty of running your own business.

What skills are essential for the role you’re in?

Drive, energy, resilience, optimism, having great relationships and being good at what you do.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?

I’ve lots of different things in my career – I never really had a set career plan. I’ve done recruitment, teaching, sales, consultancy and only came to HR later on after having worked on the commercial side of Serco – winning bids, etc.

What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study?

I went to a standard all-girls comprehensive and then Brighton Polytechnic (I messed up my A-levels having too much fun). I have always loved history and English.

What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?

My first job was in recruitment – I took it because it was the first job I could get and I had to pay off my student overdraft. No thought went into it whatsoever.

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

I’ve never had a career path really. I’ve always taken quite an opportunistic approach – if somebody offered me something and I liked the sound of it, I’d go for it. I always quite fancied PR until I had a brief stint as a trainee copywriter. Having to find different ways to sell biros in a promotional brochure cured me of the illusion that this was a glamorous career!

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

Any senior role brings lots of challenges and remaining resilient is an essential attribute for any leader. Being a single mum, doing numerous jobs to keep my head above water was pretty tough, but being on the board of the BBC during the Savile crisis and then being on the receiving end of some fairly aggressive press headlines a year ago was an “interesting” time.

I’ve learned a lot about staying resilient in times of difficulty. In fact, I’m writing a book about it right now. The key things I’ve learned are about humility and honesty about the things you could have done differently, keeping your perspective, avoiding becoming a victim and using the difficulty to get stronger.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?

Can’t really think of anything.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

I’m really proud of the team I built at the BBC. They were fantastic. And without sounding too grandiose, I’m pleased that I have always tried to be approachable, open and honest, whatever the circumstance and whoever I’m working with.

Do you have any career regrets?

I wish I hadn’t missed quite so much of my daughter growing up. I would have liked to have studied more. I’d have liked to spend longer working in another country – either the states or India. There are always things you wished you’d handled differently but on the whole, I’m pretty happy with the way my career has gone. I’ve worked with some great people and done some really interesting things. I’m very lucky.

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Go with your gut instincts and don’t let self-doubt prevent you from doing the right thing.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Don’t worry so much.

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea?: Coffee in the morning. Tea after 2pm. Neither tastes right at the wrong time
  • Jam or marmalade?: Jam. Hate marmalade
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?: The Stones – edgier, sexier, proper rock and roll
  • Mac or PC?: Have got both but actually use my android phone more
  • The Guardian or The Times?: Guardian – teenage leftist tendencies
  • BBC or ITV?: The BBC obviously! One of the most important institutions in the world – and it’s got match of the day
  • M&S or Waitrose?: Neither – local Co-op
  • Morning or night?: Night time. Hate mornings
  • Rain on snow?: If I have to choose one – rain
  • Sweet or savoury?: Crisps or chocolate? Too difficult…

Favourites

  • App: Google maps – it’s a godsend for someone with no ability to get anywhere without getting lost
  • TV show: Borgen at the moment – but any political drama
  • Band: Probably Oasis
  • Song: “Are you the one I’ve been waiting for?” Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  • Book: Persuasion
  • Sports team: Chelsea FC
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Curry
  • Place to eat: Local Indian or Thai
  • Holiday spot: Phuket or Derbyshire Dales
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: Go with your gut.

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