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Life is never easy in the airline industry… then again,it’s never dull HRD INTERVIEW: Jill Brady Director of HR - Virgin Atlantic Airways
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Jill Brady, Director of HR Virgin Atlantic Airways
We take it for granted, but having a duty of care for people… who in turn have a duty of care for people… eight miles above the planet, puts a certain edge on the importance of training, engagement and good HR practice. Jason Spiller interviews Jill Brady, Director of HR at Virgin Atlantic Airways. 8
Jill Brady, Director of HR Jill Brady is Director of HR at Virgin Atlantic Airways. She was interviewed by Jason Spiller and photographed by Gary Batchelor at the airline’s impressive training facility in Crawley.
There is a lot of debate in HR circles about HR’s seat on the board, and it baffles me that there has ever been need for such a debate Jill, Give us an idea of your early career and what it was about HR that really switched you on? In the beginning, I didn’t embark on a career in HR. I started life as a city lawyer and did my articles at a city law firm. I was young and working with hundreds of lawyers and it really didn’t do it for me. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. So, I thought, maybe an inhouse legal job or a smaller law firm? I went on the hunt, and ended up at Virgin Atlantic in 1994 as an inhouse lawyer, and progressed to leading a team of lawyers. It was a very exciting time for the business, taking on new aircraft and growing rapidly. Everyone had to learn a lot very quickly. It was hectic but lots of fun. I stayed doing that for six years and then left Virgin Atlantic to do a stint in the dot com bubble. I worked at lastminute.com and then the online travel agent, Opodo, when this market was exploding. Then out of the blue, I got a call from Steve Ridgway, Chief Executive at Virgin Atlantic asking if I would think about coming back to the airline. I initially went back as head of the legal team. In 2006 I started up the sustainability team, and shortly thereafter was asked to lead the Government affairs team. Two years ago, I started heading up the HR department in addition to fulfilling the General Counsel role. From the outside, commercial air travel has always seemed a strange fit for a company that began as a record publisher. The airline is now 27 years old and I started 17 years ago. I think we’ve always thrived on the image of being a bit of an underdog, the David to BA’s Goliath and, in this sector at least, we’re still a relatively small airline and still a private company. I think Richard Branson always wanted to break the mould and a lot of that was about the type of people he employed and the experience they could deliver for the customer. So, the HR agenda has always been important. I believe we had the march on the practice of recruiting for attitude, and when Richard was putting together the leadership of the business and those who would face his customers, he was interested in people’s spirit and personality, and this has cascaded throughout the organisation. Although there is a lot of law in HR, they are quite different...
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