Written by
Sarah Clark

11 Mar 2016

Career profile: Dickie Donovan, HR director, William Jackson Food Group

11 Mar 2016 • by Sarah Clark

Brief career overview

After 26 years in the military, Dickie Donovan joined WJFG as group HR director in 2012.

His main achievements to date include the integration of Abel & Cole to the wider group and the implementation of an HR platform across the subsidiary brands. He was also responsible for establishing the senior talent management process and a graduate management training scheme.

A day in your life

Tell us about your job and organisation

I am the group HR director at William Jackson Food Group – a Hull based, family-owned British food business and owner of well-known food brands Aunt Bessie’s, MyFresh, Abel & Cole, and Jackson’s Bakery.

I am responsible for the HR strategy across the Group and its four subsidiaries.

Who do you report into?

I report to Norman Soutar, our chief executive of the group. Norman oversees the structure of the group and is responsible to the family shareholders for the performance of the subsidiary brands.

Tell us about your team

I head up a specialist cross-functional team which advises colleagues in the subsidiary brands on issues such as recruitment and selection, performance management and succession planning.

Alongside myself is a pensions manager, recruiting manager, health & safety manager, payroll manager and an HR advisor.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

Working with a team of dedicated and driven colleagues. I’m lucky in my role that I spend three days a week ‘on-the-road’ meeting colleagues from all areas of the business and its subsidiaries.

What is the most challenging part of the role?

While travelling and meeting the subsidiary brands is a highlight, at times I might not to be able to spend as much time with the teams as I’d like.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I don’t have a typical day which is one of the many perks of my job. Alongside meeting with various teams, I enjoy spending time abroad implementing new projects and activities – every day is different!

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

William Jackson Food Group truly cares about its employees. Its values are firmly at the top of the agenda – something I rate highly in any employer.

Perks and downsides of your role?

I love the people I work with and the variety of the job. I can’t think of any specific downsides besides the amount of travel required, which can be taxing at times.

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

Diplomacy and the ability to see the bigger picture.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?

Having spent years in the military, I wanted a change in career that still allowed me to use my people skills and put them to practice in a different environment.

What were your best subjects in school? What and where did you study?

I grew up in Dunbar and went to the local grammar school – maths and English were my favourite subjects.

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

My first job was with the military. It seemed like the best option for me when I was leaving school as I wanted to see different parts of the world and meet different people from a variety of backgrounds.

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

Having specialised in the latter part of my career, I’m very glad to be working as an HR director now.

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

Moving to work in the private sector was a challenge in itself but I’m enjoying working as part of the wider group – there’s more scope to forge your own way and implement ideas. Working in the food manufacturing sector that’s constantly evolving is very exciting.

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

Working alongside the wider group to launch the WJFG project in Malawi was an extremely proud moment. As part of a five-year project WJFG is working to help provide food security to a farming community.

Do you have any career regrets?

No, every role I’ve had has helped me to develop and learn.

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

Be yourself, set your personal bar high and take every opportunity you’re offered.

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

Be happy in what you do and be confident in your abilities.


  • Coffee or tea? Coffee – a good way to start the day
  • Jam or marmalade? Jam
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Rolling Stones
  • Mac or PC? PC
  • The Guardian or The Times? The Times
  • BBC or ITV? BBC
  • M&S or Waitrose? Both!
  • Morning or night? Morning
  • Rain on snow? Snow
  • Sweet or savoury? Savoury


  • App: Spotify
  • TV show: Happy Valley and Silent Witness
  • Band: Foo Fighters
  • Song: Stairway to Heaven
  • Book: ‘Defeat into Victory’ by Field Marshall Viscount Slim
  • Sports team: Edinburgh Rugby
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Relax with a bottle of wine and a takeaway
  • Place to eat: Contini Ristorante, Edinburgh
  • Holiday spot: Isle of Arran
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: Be happy in what you do