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Career profile: Gary Browning, non-executive director, Lee Hecht Harrison | Penna and former CEO of Penna

Posted on by from Changeboard

Get to know your peers through our career profile series. Gary Browning explains how being hit by a flying baking tray in his first job didn’t hinder him from becoming CEO of one of the UK’s leading careers advisory firms, with expertise in leadership and strategic direction.

Basic details

CV in brief:

  • 2016-present: LHH Penna, non-executive director
  • 2005-2016: Penna Consulting Plc, CEO
  • 2002-2005: Penna Consulting Plc, COO
  • 1987-2002: BDG McColl Ltd (part of WPP), CEO
  • 1983-1987: KPMG, manager

A day in the life

How would you describe your role and organisation?
I get to work with intelligent, caring people all day long, which is reflective of Lee Hecht Harrison Penna’s (LHH Penna) mission – to support people in their career choices and help organisations perform through their people.

Tell us about your team
When I was CEO, I had seven reports on my top team and six were women. This included three MDs – one for recruitment, one for talent and one for careers. I also had the heads of marketing, HR and finance, plus my executive assistant. We were one of only four quoted UK companies with a main plc board made up of 50% men and 50% women. It’s one of the strongest teams I’ve worked with and I have no doubt its quality was a factor in the merger between Lee Hecht Harrison and Penna. My role going forward is to advise on strategy, mentor the senior team and support clients with whom I have an existing relationship.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?
Receiving feedback from those whose careers we’ve influenced, by placing them in a new role, supporting them through career transition or with development.

Career path

How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve always been drawn to passionate people and businesses that are all about the people. KPMG, BDG McColl, Penna – they’re all people businesses.

What was your first job?
My first proper job was as a trainee accountant at KPMG. Before that, every summer, I drove delivery vans for a local bakery in Weston-Super-Mare. This was in 1979, the year the then chancellor of the exchequer, Norman Tebbit said: “Get on your bike and find a job”. That’s exactly what I did. I rode around the local industrial site, asking for student work, until I stumbled upon a furious bakery manager firing a driver. He turned to me, red-faced, shouting: “And what do you want?” “A job,” I answered. “Well can you drive one of those?” he demanded, pointing to a 12ft high Sherpa van. Without any idea of whether I could or not, I confidently replied: “Yes.” He threw the keys at me and said: “Well show me”, which began a very happy three years’ of summer, Easter and winter holiday work. After three years’ of early mornings, life as an accountant had some appeal.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?
I was hit by a flying baking tray coming out of a loading bay door as my predecessor was being fired, as per my anecdote above.

What has been your proudest career moment?
It was in 2009, when Penna was voted sixth in the Sunday Times Best 100 Companies to work for. That year, our employee engagement rose to its highest level, the company made record profits and the share price hit a 10-year high.

What skills are essential for your role?
Resilience, empathy and communication.

Do you have any career regrets?
None at all.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
Find things that interest you and you can get passionate about. No one was ever successful at something which bored them. 


  • Coffee or tea? Tea
  • Jam or marmalade? Marmalade
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Rolling Stones
  • Mac or PC? PC
  • The Guardian or The Times? The Times
  • BBC or ITV? BBC
  • M&S or Waitrose? Waitrose (but really JLP)
  • Morning or night? Morning (massively!)
  • Rain on snow? Snow
  • Sweet or savoury? Sweet


App: Maps (I have no sense of direction)
TV show: Coronation Street (addicted)
Band: Queen (simply the best)
Song: Bohemian Rhapsody
Book: Tales of a Small Island
Sports team: Liverpool FC
Thing to do on a Friday night: Chinese take away and a film
Place to eat: Imperial City (London)
Holiday spot: Malta (Valletta)
Piece of advice you’ve been given: An 80% certain decision is better than no decision


Bonus question: If a movie was made about your life, who would play you and why?

I’d like to say Hugh Grant because of the uncanny physical resemblance – but seriously it is probably more likely to be Tom Hanks.

Sarah Clark

By Sarah Clark


Online features editor at Changeboard



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