Career profile: Nicola Williamson, HR director Europe, IHG

Written by
Changeboard Team

12 Sep 2014

12 Sep 2014 • by Changeboard Team

Basic details

Name: Nicola Williamson

Job: Director HR Europe

Current employer: Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)

CV in brief: 

  • Director HR Europe, Intercontinental Hotels Group, 2010-2014
  • Director Brand Service Culture, EMEA, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, 2006-2010
  • Director Human Resources, Sheraton Heathrow Hotel, 2002-2006
  • Complex Human Resources  & Training Manager, Starwood Central London Hotels, 1999-2002

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation.

IHG (InterContinental Hotels Group) is a global organisation with a broad portfolio of nine hotel brands, including InterContinental Hotels & Resorts, Hotel Indigo, Crowne Plaza® Hotels & Resorts, Holiday Inn Hotels and Resorts, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites, EVEN Hotels and HUALUXE Hotels & Resorts. IHG manages, owns or franchises over 4,600 hotels and more than 674,000 guest rooms in nearly 100 countries and territories.

My role is to develop, drive and localise the Global HR Agenda through our Europe Hotels, directing all HR Functions including recruitment, talent, employee relations, OD and projects for the region and touching hotels in around 25 countries.

Who do you report into?

I report to the VP Human Resources for Europe, which includes the Corporate function and UK&I  as well as Continental Europe.

Tell us about your team.

We have a team of 3 Area HR Directors who support Continental Europe and a team of around 35 Hotel based HR directors who report through to their Hotel General Managers and run HR Teams in their hotels.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

The most rewarding part of the role is to develop and set a strategy and to see it executed and come to life in the hotels. I love to see people develop in their roles and the huge amount of pride people have for their hotels and their teams.

What is the most challenging part of the role?

Translating everything into 25 languages without losing the essence and ensuring compliance with 25 sets of employment legislation!

What does a typical day look like for you?

When I am not travelling, I start my day very early (about 5.30 am) and generally pick up and handle queries from the Russia/CIS team (as they are already into their day at 3-4 hours ahead of us), then I walk my dog. This is my thinking time when I plan my own day in my head and figure out my priorities. I have an hour’s drive to work so this is often when I chat with the Area HRDs (who in Europe are also an hour ahead), so much of the day has started by the time I get to the office. From that point anything can happen but I can hit the day with a well thought-out plan.

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

IHG is a fantastic company and is one of the top global hospitality companies in the world, so are very aspirational – aside from this we have a really compelling employer brand,  truly world class HR and consumer brands that you can’t help being proud of … who wouldn’t want to a part of such a great company.

Perks and downsides of your role?

Perks really outweigh the downsides!

The hotel environment is like no other. People are phenomenal and the ability to create exceptional experiences is second to none. At IHG the perks are endless; there are opportunities to get involved in motivating projects that make a real difference, we have a unique agreement with Harvard Business School which gives us access to world-class development resources, it’s a truly global company where you build friendships across the globe. Never underestimate the discounted hotel rates for employees.

Downsides? Hmm, sometimes it is hard to switch off because the hotels never closed and I have a loyalty to those people who are at work through the timezones.

What skills are essential for the role you’re in?

You need a loyalty to people and a true understanding of the business to be able to really partner with them. To be able to consult on wider HR global projects and represent the Europe perspective. Essential qualities: humility, nimbleness and ability to ‘be real’.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?

By seeking out new projects, pushing myself, and most importantly taking every challenge as a learning opportunity. On-the-job learning is a key part of the hotel world and many of our programmes are geared around learning through experience.

What were your best subjects in school? 

Languages all the way!

What was your first job? How did you get it and why did you choose to work there?

First job was a glass collector in a night club in North Wales – I loved it! I was too young to serve behind the bar so being a glass collector was like a night out every night as you were on the same side of the bar as the guests.

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

No. I think we should have a vision and ambition, but we should be open to where it may take us and when. Some of my most rewarding roles have been the ones that weren’t in the plan!

What challenges have you faced along the way? How did you overcome them?

I’ve been made redundant 3 times. Always bounced back, bigger, better and stronger.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to land a job?

I made a video of me singing.  If you heard my voice you’d realise how crazy that is!

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Probably when one of my graduates became the youngest General Manager in the company.

Do you have any career regrets?

Absolutely not!

What advice would you offer to others who are looking to get to where you are now?

Go with it. Explore any and every opportunity, embrace change and find the positive in any situation. It’s always there if you want to find it.

What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?

Give it your all, have confidence, believe in yourself and share your opinion with the team – as it’s nearly always valid.


  • Coffee or tea?: Tea, just don’t like coffee
  • Jam or marmalade?: Marmalade – it’s fresher
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?: The Beatles – I was born in ‘the ‘pool’
  • Mac or PC?: PC – it works just fine for me.
  • The Guardian or The Times?: Times – I like their summaries
  • BBC or ITV?: – BBC – it travels around the world with me
  • M&S or Waitrose?: Waitrose – they sell Thai Basil as a stock item
  • Morning or night?: Morning – day break is the best time of day
  • Rain on snow?: Snow – love to ski
  • Sweet or savoury?: Savoury – more variety


  • App: IHG Employee Rate App (it’s a really cool app!)
  • TV show: Holby City – sorry! Just pure escapism for me
  • Band: BeeGees – you can’t be sad to the BeeGees
  • Song: 9 million bicycles in Beijing – for so many reasons!
  • Book: my Lonely Planet guides – they’ve guided me round the world
  • Sports team: My local cricket team. They’re awesome
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: early doors at the local
  • Place to eat: Just been to Vertigo in Bangkok – 62 floors about Bangkok – everyone has to go there
  • Holiday spot: anywhere in Africa
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: Shoot for the moon – if you fail you’ll still be up there with the stars!