Gordon Headley explains why, after a career as an oil engineer, he became Wilson Bowden's HR director
You've come from the oil industry – how different is your current job?
It's a big change. The main difference is that in international business you expect to come across cultural differences, but not in UK business. But I've found that, generally speaking, there are cultural differences across the different regions of the country that I wasn't aware of before.

What interested you in taking this job?
It was a headhunter's call that first raised the idea in my mind. Being based in the UK was an attraction – I've moved job, country and house 12 times and my children were having problems forming roots; they found it very confusing. I wanted to spend some of my time helping people in business in the UK. I saw growth opportunities in the UK, and the chance to bring aspects of people and project management from the oil industry into construction.

What does your job involve?
I have to attract and retain the best people for Wilson Bowden. I work with the board of directors to integrate our people into their business strategy. I also spend time meeting with staff, attending best practice forums, and working with training and health and safety.

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I like being able to make a vision become a reality, and deliver solutions that people didn't think possible, both for the employees and the employer. When I arrived, a lot of people were resistant to introducing ideas like employee share schemes and increasing holiday allowances and bonuses. But I did it anyway and it has had a really beneficial effect on our staff retention.

Wilson Bowden's staff turnover has dropped to below average since you joined – how have you managed this?
It has fallen from 29% to 20%; my target is 15%. I did it by getting staff and managers to feel engaged in the business, so they understand the results of their actions. I try to educate managers in managing people; a lot of the managers we have don't really understand HR and it's my job to make them understand and value it.

What tips do you have about people management for construction managers with no formal HR training?
Treat people fairly and trust them – if you don't trust them, they shouldn't be in your team. Communicate with your staff about what you need from them and why, and listen to their views. Most people want to stay in a job not because of the money but for other things – opportunities to develop are some of the most important things for staff and a good manager can provide that. And show your appreciation for your staff – say "thank you" and "you've done a great job" whenever possible.

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    Gordon Headley

    Age 46
    Qualifications BSc in mining engineering; Ceng; MBA from Henley Management College
    Career history Started in international oil industry in 1980 as a petroleum engineer and later construction operations director. Worked in Europe, China, South America and Indonesia. Became HR director of oil firm Lazlo before joining Wilson Bowden as group HR director in 2002
    Lives Reading, Berkshire
    Family Married with two daughters, 18 and 13
    Hobbies Playing the keyboards, swimming, playing tennis and reading people management books