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News > Alumnae Interviews > Helen Murlis (Evans) (Class of 1964) - Human Resources/Personnel

Helen Murlis (Evans) (Class of 1964) - Human Resources/Personnel

Helen tells of her exciting and varied journey through Personnel/Human Resources since leaving SWPS in 1964...
Helen and her grandson, Aneurin
Helen and her grandson, Aneurin

When I left SWPS in 1964 to read Geography at Aberystwyth, I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do. I enjoyed studying A level Geography, French and English and was already travelling to France on my own. I continued studying French too at university and used this in my final year for a dissertation on the economic geography of the wine industry in Saint Emilion, near Bordeaux, an extraordinary and formative experience. In 1967, I moved to Oxford University to tackle a two-year postgraduate Diploma in Social and Administrative Studies which gave me graduate membership of the CIPD and entry into the world of personnel/HR management. Oxford was a wonderful experience; I enjoyed being a member of St Hugh’s College.

My first HR job was on the Brooklands site of the British Aircraft Corporation in Weybridge, then employing some 13,000 people designing and building commercial aircraft including Concorde. This was the beginning of my career in remuneration management, a developing field into which I moved and was able to grow professionally. Two years later I moved on to the British Institute of Management (now the Chartered Institute of Management) where I spent a happy nine years; first researching corporate pay practices and employment conditions and then becoming their Executive Remuneration Adviser. In that time, I also married and helped my husband John as Warden of a student house for Imperial College, where he was a PhD student. Our two boys arrived in 1977 and 1979 and we became a dual career family. I am proud to have been among the first wave of women able to take maternity leave, get their job back and secure a promotion whilst pregnant. By 1980 I had become Editor of the first UK research journal on executive and professional pay for Incomes Data Services (IDS) and had co – authored my first book on Salary Administration – with Michael Armstrong. Other books were to follow. At IDS I honed my journalistic and editorial as well as research skills, along with building a new business and cultivating the range of professional contacts needed to achieve success.

I was recruited into management consultancy by KPMG’s HR practice in 1985. This proved to be another steep learning curve as I grappled with the pay issues emerging from ‘Big Bang’ in the City of London in 1986 along with the attempts to change public service pay systems driven by Margaret Thatcher and her government. It was a fascinating and fast-moving world, just as we all began working with laptops, mobile phones and the internet.

Deciding that I wanted to work for a firm where HR and Reward were the core business, I became a Director of Hay Group (now part of Korn Ferry) in 1990. I stayed for the next 20 years, becoming a Partner/Shareholder Director in 1993. Over that time, I took leading roles in the Reward, Performance Management and Public Service practices and my consulting work took me around the world from Finland to the Falkland Islands as well as most of Europe. My clients ranged from major companies and government departments to international bodies and NGOs trying to do things differently and better. In the 1990s I also served as CIPD Vice President for Pay and Employment Conditions and was Chair of their Reward Forum, organising, chairing and speaking at its conferences. I taught courses on Reward Strategy development for the CIPD for some 20 years until 2018.

In the late 1990s, I opted to train as an Executive Coach, an interest that sprung from my work on performance management. Although I retired from Hay Group in 2010, I continue to coach and mentor and particularly enjoy working with young professionals making their way up the career ladder. As I write this, I am sitting in Sydney, Australia where John and I landed last March to help with the arrival of our first grandchild. It’s been an amazing year, sharing and enjoying baby-care as well as working via Zoom from an Airbnb studio with our clients in the UK and beyond. We are still trying to get home.

I owe a huge amount to SWPS for the skills I began to develop there, I have fond memories of Miss Cork our Geography teacher who once came into class with a box full of fragrant wild plant cuttings so that we could smell what she meant when talking about the Mediterranean Maquis. I am also grateful to our immaculately turned-out French teacher Mrs Giles who worked on our confidence with French and set standards of professional dress which even 15 year olds noticed. I thought of them when, back in the 1990s, I was invited to deliver the prizes at Speech Day. This was a real honour, especially since the only prize I ever won at school was for reciting a French poem in the sixth form.

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