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Learn more about the 2017 CHRO of the Year and Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year EMEA Leaders of Distinction winners.

By Christa Elliott

CHROs and talent acquisition leaders are the driving forces behind a company’s culture and productivity. The processes of finding, selecting, and managing employees are never simple, but thanks to the vision of great HR leaders, organizations have the ability to attract and retain top talent at all levels. The 2017 CHRO of the Year EMEA and Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year EMEA Leaders of Distinction have taken the necessary steps to accomplish this for their organizations, and these awards honor their great work and accomplishments.

The 2017 CHRO of the Year EMEA and Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year EMEA Awards recognize CHROs and talent acquisition leaders who have responded to industry changes and challenges with creative programs and attention to the unique needs of the business they serve. The award winners were announced at the HRO Today Forum EMEA in November in Dublin.

Learn more about the Leaders of Distinction and their initiatives below. They are listed by award category, then alphabetically.

Award: CHRO of the Year

Suresh Anubolu

GVK Biosciences Pvt. Ltd.

CHROGVK Biosciences Pvt. Ltd.

Revamped leadership strategy and HR initiatives have become Suresh Anubolu’s calling card. As CHRO of GVK Biosciences, Anubolu makes it his mission to enhance the capabilities of the organization’s leadership team and expand the number and scope of roles available within GVK. He also reorganized various departments for maximum impact.


Anubolu succeeded in increasing the breadth and depth of the organization by hiring talented leaders, assimilating them, managing their transitions, and developing their skills through training and coaching. His vision for a strong job architecture framework also led to GVK rolling out new career paths, grades, competencies, and compensation.

One of the CHRO’s greatest achievements, however, was the creation of a new HR centers-of-excellence (COE) structure. Anubolu separated talent acquisition and HR operations from other line roles by creating an “employee and business partner” position. This boosted employee engagement and improved great-place-to-work scores by 25 percent over the last three years. Thanks in part to Anubolu’s innovation, GVK has doubled its revenue and quadrupled its profit since 2012.


Award: CHRO of the Year

Antonio Climent

Vice President of HR EMEAA

Laureate International Universities President of HR EMEAA Laureate International Universities

Laureate International Universities’ Antonio Climent was a key player in implementing the organization’s most critical European corporate initiatives during 2016. Amongst other accomplishments, Climent helped start up a shared service center in Europe and transformed operations in EMEA through solid HR infrastructure.


Under Climent’s transformational leadership, Laureate International Universities was able to launch its shared service center -from structure creation to recruitment and onboarding -in record time. He was also responsible for developing commercial teams
in Europe, assessing the sales force, creating the performance review process for salespeople, and defining key performance indicators (KPIs). His “Organization Talent Review” standardized talent acquisition processes throughout the organization’s European operations, and when his responsibilities expanded into the whole of AMEA, Climent rose to the occasion by championing organization-wide efficiency and effectiveness.

Award: CHRO of the Year

El Cavanagh-Lomas

HR Lead


El Cavanagh-Lomas oversees HR for Cisco in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Russia, spanning 13,000 associates in 60 countries. She has been instrumental in sponsoring a number of forward-thinking programs, including an employee well-being program that has more than 2,000 subscribers.


Cavanagh-Lomas helped sponsor the 24 hour “breakathon” where the ideas followed the sun around Cisco as she and her colleagues decided to “break” and re-engineer HR in a fun and collaborative way that led to HR winning the company-wide award for innovation. Innovation is all around Cisco with it’s women in technology program, its award-winning People Leader Co-hort communication platform, and its efforts for making a difference in the communities they serve.


Award: CHRO of the Year

Ben Debnath

Head HR Services


As head HR services for Syngenta, it was Ben Debnath’s job to oversee HR transformation across his organization. This meant delivering service to 29,000 employees worldwide.


Debnath rose to the occasion and managed to boost customer satisfaction rates to record levels. His next task? Orchestrating technology overhaul to a brand new next-generation program.


Award: CHRO of the Year

Mojca Domiter

Corporate HR Executive Director

Atlantic Grupa d.d.

Mojca Domiter used her leadership abilities to clearly outline the purpose, values, and vision of the Atlantic Grupa d.d. in a way that hadn’t been done before. Today, the organization defines itself as an “Ocean of Opportunities” and celebrates the core values of creativity, passion, and growth.


Domiter impacted operations at Atlantic Grupa in a big way through her participation in strategic directions, including efforts to de ne action plans, company culture, and HR strategic projects; and overall support of the business. Despite the challenges involved, Domiter established the identity of a company with more than 5,000 employees and positioned Atlantic Grupa’s HR department strategically for the first time. Her “People Strategy” program, which aimed to enhance the employer brand and to get employees more involved in the culture through “people cluster projects,” opened up the possibility of nominating friends for vacancies, deferred bonuses, and ex benefits options, amongst other perks.


Award: CHRO of the Year

Oscar Gonzalez

Azkoyen Group

HR Director

In his 18-plus years of experience in HR, Oscar Gonzalez has shown incredible talent for implementing organizational and HR methodologies, best practices, and policies that allow his organization succeed.


Paying particular attention to developing employees and managers, Gonzalez has helped Spain-based manufacturer Azkoyen Group standardize methodologies and information by executing on best practices in several locations, including Italy, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Portugal, France, and Germany. Gonzalez also has extensive experience leading change management in Spanish multinational companies throughout the world, and his vision allowed Azkoyen to support its strategy and management to turn its operating losses into profits.


Award: CHRO of the Year

Aco Momilovic

Rimac Automobil d.o.o.

Aco Momilovic saw Croatian companies losing young talent time and time again to out-of-country opportunities and decided
to do something about it. His “Campus Management” program allowed Rimac Automobil to partner with colleges and student organizations all across Croatia, giving the employer’s brand exposure via conferences organized by and for students, internship and mentorship opportunities, organized visits for students, and lectures given by employees. This strong cooperation with students was honored with award recognition from student associations a few years in a row.


Momilovi ‘s project ensured employees from different departments collaborated, boosted employee engagement and retention, and increased new-grad hiring. In addition to conceptualising “Campus Management,” he also organised and negotiated all events, partnerships, and internships. Above all, the program illustrated that the company not only takes a special interest in its employees, but also cares about its national backdrop.


Award: CHRO of the Year

Lynne Rennie-Smith

Head of Human Resources

Ulster Bank

Lynne Rennie-Smith is a true change-maker. When she arrived at Ulster Bank, the organization was knee deep in the tracker mortgage scandal and desperately needed to boost morale and improve its employer brand.


Rennie-Smith came onboard as the head of HR a year ago and was tasked with reorganizing HR and making the organization’s workplace culture -and level of engagement -all that it could be. Thanks to her leadership, Ulster Bank’s future is brighter than ever.


Award: CHRO of the Year

Alison Rumsey

HR Director, Infrastructure Projects

UK National Rail System

When Alison Rumsey joined the UK National Rail System as its head of HR for the infrastructure projects, that is exactly what the organization needed -an infrastructure project.


This part of National Rail has control of more than 60 percent of all expenditures and capital improvement such as rails and stations, and Rumsey immediately got to work. By overhauling performance management, launching new programs, and discontinuing others, she vastly improved recruiting and retention.


Award: CHRO of the Year

Vipul Singh

Vice President and Head of HR

ADP Private Limited

ADP India had a growing need to attract top talent, and Vipul Singh responded with a plan to not only bring in new employees, but also retain current high performers. Under Singh’s leadership, ADP established and implemented numerous programs and initiatives in the areas of career growth and development, compensation practices, and benefits and incentives.


It’s difficult to summarize the impact that Singh’s leadership has had on ADP, but the retention numbers speak to the vice president and head of HR’s success. The company saw a 92 percent retention of top performers in 2016 and a 99.7 percent retention of managers in the programs’ first year. The annual attrition rate of new hires has also been consistently less than 3 percent, and in the last six years, ADP has been consistently recruiting close to 200 associates every month with a yield (offer acceptance to join ratio) of 92 percent.


Award: CHRO of the Year

Andrew Stephenson

Group People Director


When it comes to HR transformation, leaders might benefit from taking a page out of Andrew Stephenson’s playbook. Since joining Lookers in 2016, Stephenson has completely transformed the business’ HR and talent acquisition function by rebuilding the department as a full HR business model and hiring innovative leaders. This also meant building out training into apprenticeship, capability development, and executive leadership development strategies and implementing a new HR system within Lookers.


Stephenson’s focus on training and leadership development ensures that Lookers will have a steady supply of effective leaders for years to come. His development and training programs shifted focus to center around Lookers’ core values, and as a result of his leadership, benefits offerings and future career opportunities are competitive differentiators. Now, 95 percent of employees recommend Lookers to a friend, and the company has also been ranked as the number one auto retailer on Glassdoor in the U.K.


Award: Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year

Michelle Adams

Director of Talent and Development

O2 U.K.

O2 U.K. owes the success of their talent acquisition function to Michelle Adams. The director of talent and development was the key sponsor of three main initiatives that improved the firm’s relationship with its staff, made its workplace more inclusive, and increased employee engagement throughout the organization.


Adams’ “Career Returners” program -a paid, 11-week program for professionals returning to work after an extended career break of between two and 10 years -allowed O2 to expand the talent pool while showing care for employees. Her “Talent Conversations” program -which uses one-to-one coaching conversations to look into the desired career trajectories of staff -also helped the organization by engaging and retaining top talent at both the executive and graduate level.

O2’s “Phased Retirement” program – aimed at preventing the total loss of a lifetime’s worth of skill and experience when employees decide to retire -allowed O2 to hold onto workers longer without sacrificing employee well-being.


Award: Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year

Steph Ahrens

Executive Director

Morgan Stanley

Steph Ahrens is well known at Morgan Stanley for transforming the way the firm approaches campus recruiting around the globe. Since September 2015, Ahrens has co-led a global team of recruiters to ensure a consistent campus recruiting experience across EMEA, APAC, and the Americas. Thanks to her vision, Morgan Stanley has seen more consistency in hiring best practices and greater employer marketing collaboration than ever before.


Ahrens’ work toward a globally-connected, data-driven talent acquisition function has enhanced candidate experiences and improved digital communications throughout Morgan Stanley. Her 2015 “What Will You Create?” marketing campaign helped improve Morgan Stanley’s rankings in the Universum’s 2016/17 Most Attractive Employer Rankings and led to more referrals and cost savings.


Award: Talent Acquisitions Leader of the Year

Kevin Blair

Global Talent Acquisition Leader


Transitioning HR from a reactive department to a proactive business partner is never simple, but Cisco’s Kevin Blair has made the shift possible at his organization. Over the past three years, Blair has led the charge on revamping all aspects of the talent acquisition function including candidate engagement and experience, employment branding, recruitment processes, leadership development, tools and technologies, corporate social responsibility, and onboarding.


Thanks to Blair’s redesigned strategy, the talent acquisition team has just passed their third quarter of hitting all KPIs. His development of a solid employer brand also helped Cisco gain over 18,000 Twitter followers in just 18 months, along with 12,000 followers on Instagram and 100,000 new followers to its “We are Cisco” Facebook page. One-hundred-and-fifty social ambassadors are also now at Cisco to help share the authentic employee message and core values of the organization with candidates.


Award: Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year

Debbie Griffin

HR Director


When her organization needed a way to attract more talent, Shawbrook HR Director Debbie Griffin decided that employing an RPO provider was the best solution. This decision turned out to be the right one, and resulted in significant savings for Shawbrook.


Before Griffin decided to employ an RPO, recruitment at Shawbrook took a lot more time, capital, and other resources. Now, just six months after the company moved to an RPO solution, the organization is saving 44 percent on agency fees, and candidate satisfaction is at a 100 percent. The switch also reduced time to hire to just 22 days versus a target of 40 (industry standard) and allowed Shawbrook to deliver a resourcing strategy aligned to its growth plan.


Award: Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year

Bernadette Haslam

Head of Talent Acquisition, Switzerland

Zurich Insurance Company Ltd.

Bernadette Haslam brought Zurich Insurance Company onto the cutting edge when she devised and produced the first 360-degree, interactive, virtual reality tour for employer branding purposes in Switzerland, and possibly in Europe. Her tour leads prospective applicants around the state-of-the-art Skykey building in Zurich, highlighting the variety of opportunities available within a global insurer.


Haslam’s virtual reality experience targets millennial job seekers and aims to reduce the cost of hire and increase employee retention by making insurance more exciting. With 800 hires and over 30,000 applicants each year, Zurich hopes that this innovation will help attract applicants and quickly identify top candidates. Millennials are 70 percent of Zurich’s new hires, and the company plans to use Haslam’s tech to raise its positioning on employer of choice lists from top 100 to top 20 over two years.


Award: Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year

Kevan Nicholson

Regional Director, Talent Acquisition EMEA


PAREXEL’s Kevan Nicholson is a seasoned talent acquisition leader who has worked in the clinical industry for the past 10 years. His skills and expertise have helped the company reach new heights in recruitment and work towards a better quality of candidates.


Currently, Nicholson leads an international team of recruiters for PAREXEL who work strategically and creatively with the business leaders to ensure they hire high-quality candidates who are a great cultural t. He has also been instrumental in supporting PAREXEL’s decision to offer flexible work arrangements for its employees. Today, almost 20 percent of PAREXEL’s 20,000 global employees telecommute, have flexible schedules, or work from home at least some of the time.


Award: Talent Acquisition Leader of the Year

Craig Williams

EMEA Talent Acquisition Leader

Wells Fargo & Company

When Craig Williams joined Wells Fargo as the EMEA region talent acquisition leader, the organization’s recruitment function was in need of a total overhaul. Williams was up to the task and completely transformed the staff, capabilities, and business confidence in talent acquisition through major improvements to key talent channels, less reliance on agencies, greater hiring diversity, and more.


By cutting down on agency usage, Williams helped generate about £2 million in savings for Wells Fargo. Hiring key team members to shore up staffing gaps, making stakeholders more accountable for hiring practices, and bolstering programs important to the recruitment function also enabled the organization to bring in quality hires for the year with turnover rate of less than 1 percent on new hires. Under Williams’ leadership, internal mobility also increased by 26 percent.




Tags: EMEA, HRO Today Forum, Leadership, Magazine Article, November 2017

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