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Career profile: Peter Cheese, CEO, CIPD

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Get to know your peers in the global HR community through our career profile series. Today, Peter Cheese, CEO of the CIPD, shares his journey – how he considered careers in medicine and flying before discovering a love for people and business.

Basic details

Name: Peter Cheese

Job: CEO

Current employer: CIPD

CV in brief:

A day in your life

Tell us about your organisation

With 140,000 members, the CIPD is the largest institute of its kind in the world. We’re doing great things in helping shape people’s careers and development and the role of HR.

I joined because I believe it’s a really exciting and interesting time for the profession. The world of work is really shifting with the impact of megatrends, globalisation and generational changes. I’m thrilled to be leading the institute at this time.

Tell us about your team

There's six of us on the executive board who lead the institute, 350 employees in our head office and 800 associates who represent the CIPD across the globe.

Why did you choose the CIPD?

When I left Accenture after 30 years of service, they called it ‘retirement’ – I certainly wasn’t ready to give up work. I’ve always been fascinated by people, talent management and the people side of work, so when the opportunity arose to lead the CIPD, I felt like it was serendipity, it came at the perfect time.

What does a typical day look like?

That's part of the fun of the job, there isn't a typical day.

In reality, my role is split into two: one leading the organisation and supporting the executive team, looking at the CIPD strategically, and focusing on what we need to do next. Secondly, I'm out and about, meeting new people and constituencies, and I speak at a lot of events.

The variety suits my personality well. Some people may find it stressful, but I find stress an interesting thing –  someone's stress can be someone else's energy. 

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

I am privileged to meet a lot of interesting people which I find emotionally stimulating. I love helping others to build and develop their careers, and I love leading an organisation. You never stop learning and I find it incredibly energising.

I get to indulge in fascinating debates, what’s happening in the workplace and a broad range of topics. Culture is very high on the agenda for us at the moment.

What are the challenges?

I find it hard not to over commit, whether it’s workload, connecting with people or trying to be involved in what everyone is doing. To conquer that, I empower others to lead. You must give guidance, trust and respect, and they’ll compliment everything you’re doing too.

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

You’ve got to have passion, vision and a deep understanding of what you do – it’s not just what the profession is about, but how it can impact the future of the fast changing world.

Career path

What was your best subject you studied at school?

I’ve always been interested in science and how things work. How people work and how businesses work, deeply fascinates me – I describe myself as a ‘humanist’. People are at the heart of everything, and in organisations, this is sometimes misunderstood and forgotten.

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

I thought I was going to follow my parents and be a doctor, but at 17, I realised it wasn’t for me. That said, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career. I even considered being a pilot in the Royal Air Force, until my teacher suggested an Ergonomics course at Loughborough University, which was based on a mixture of understanding humans and how systems work. This has really defined the way I view the world of work today and how I do things now – that moment transformed my life.

What was your first job?

I joined Arthur Andersen, who I believed were deeply rooted in business and at the forefront of understanding technology. The company's history dates back to the 1950's, and they produced some of the very first big computer applications – they produced the first payroll system, and it took nearly a week to run.

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

I've only had four or five job interviews in life. I remember my first interview with Arther Andersen, at the age of 22, where I met the head of HR at their offices in London. After about 20 minutes, they said: "Right, I think I've heard enough now, let's go to the pub," and after another three hours of talking and drinking, I thought to myself, I must have got the job – and I did. 

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

I really value helping others – whether it’s coaching them to build their careers or find careers they might not have envisaged for themselves – I find that personally rewarding and get a real kick out of it.

We all need to recognise that whatever job or position we are in, we’re only ever a temporary incumbent of it. So the best thing you can do for an organisation is build the people to take the baton forwards.

Do you have any career regrets?

No, I've been very lucky and really enjoy what I do.

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

Don't do a job that makes you want to wish your life away. Go, try stuff. Go out and explore your talents, challenge yourself to do something a little different; you don’t know where they might lead you.

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

Perseverance and resilience is first and foremost, always keep the bigger picture in mind and take the opportunities as you receive them.

I always remember this story, where a gold medal Olympian was lining up for their race. They felt nervous and turned to their coach. The coach’s advice: “If not you, then who, and if not now, then when?” They had to take that moment in time, take the confidence and belief, to go and win that race. I think that’s very defining on the way you should look at your career.

Either/or

  • Coffee or tea? Depends on the time of day. Tea in the morning, coffee in the afternoon
  • Jam or marmalade? Marmalade
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Rolling Stones, I grew up with them at university. They’re fantastic for blues, rock & roll – the music genre I love. The Beatles’ later stuff is pretty good too 
  • Mac or PC? Mac. I'm a convert, I grew up entirely with PC's and then I discovered the MacBook Air – and my goodness, I don't regret it for a moment
  • The Guardian or The Times? The Times. I take a great interest in politics and interact with a lot of politicians too
  • BBC or ITV? BBC. Our challenge is endless popularisation of daft chat shows and quiz shows, which I call 'lazy programming' – I much prefer to be informally entertained and watch something I can learn from
  • M&S or Waitrose? Waitrose, as it's the nearest store to me out of the two
  • Morning or night? Night. I tend to do most of my ‘best thinking’ later in the day
  • Rain on snow? Snow, I love the complete contrast and I’m a keen skier 
  • Sweet or savoury? Savoury. I rather like pork pies

Favourites

  • App: Shazam for music and Sky Guide – point your phone up at the sky to find out what star constellations you’re looking at and when an International Space Station is flying over 
  • TV show: It was Top Gear, otherwise it's News at Ten or Downton Abbey with the family
  • Band: Genesis and Queen when I was younger. These days, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. I also love classical music
  • Song: Bohemian Rhapsody, it introduced punk rock and Queen into the world
  • Book: ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman. Based on behavioural economics and understanding why people think the way they do
  • Sports team: I'm a lifelong Chelsea fan
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Go out drinking with friends
  • Place to eat: YO sushi. Although you can get carried away with the plates – a quick £5 snack, £25 later…
  • Holiday spot: Isle of Wight, I go there a lot with my family
  • Who would play you in a movie about the life of Peter Cheese? Colin Firth – he’s quintessentially British 
Sarah Clark

By Sarah Clark

Changeboard

Online features editor at Changeboard

Changeboard

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