Career profile: Martin Kirke, chairman of the Emerging Markets HR Summits Advisory Board

Written by
Sarah Clark

04 Dec 2015

04 Dec 2015 • by Sarah Clark

Basic details

CV in brief:

  • 2011-present: HR & change consultant, programmes and interim
  • 2006-2011: Change director and director, global HR operations Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific for BP group
  • 2004-2006: HR & change director, Serco Transport
  • 1995-2003: HR director and business director roles in UK and Sweden for Ericsson group 

A day in the life

Tell us about your job and organisation

It’s a global role bringing together HR practitioners from emerging and mature markets for their professional and personal development.

My role is to advise on content and speakers using my international network and knowledge of the latest trends in business and HR. It was an honour to be asked to chair the board and came from my experience in Asia, Africa, Middle East and South America with Ericsson and BP.  

Emerging Markets HR has 1,500 members and is growing rapidly. I am setting up the board and we will be announcing more appointments.  

Who do you report into?

The board.

Tell us about your team

For the first time since the start of my career I don’t have a team to lead but I will be part of the team once the board is appointed.

What is the most rewarding part of your role?

I enjoy working with people from so many different cultures and countries. I am also very interested in business and economics so I love learning about emerging markets and their HR and change priorities.

What is the most challenging part of the role?

I have to balance my consultancy and interim work with the new role but given differences in time zones, working days and my unfortunate tendency to work long hours, it is manageable.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A thing of the past!

Why did you choose your current organisation to work for?

I have spoken at their conferences, chaired events and enjoyed the experience particularly last year in Tblisi, Georgia. I thought it would be a fun and a worthwhile way of using my skills, experience and network. I also enjoy growing a business and can see loads of potential.

Perks and downsides of your role?

Perks – Doing what I want to do and only working for organisations which are worthwhile and for leaders I respect.

Downsides – None yet, I will let you know if I find any.

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

Ability to work in different cultures and deal with multiple demands from different clients. Deep expertise in HR and change together with a focus on delivering projects as part of a team.

Career path

How did you get to where you are now?

I studied behavioural science at university and then a masters in HR full time at Cardiff university. I joined British Airways group as a graduate trainee and my first job was in reward.

I progressed through business partner roles and joined Dow Chemical through headhunters as an HR manager. After 5 years with Dow including a promotion to HR manager UK, Ireland and Nordic I joined Ericcson as an HR director first in UK and then in Sweden.

I wanted experience of managing a business and to have P&L responsibility which I did for four years before returning to HR as HR and change director for Serco Transport, and a member of the board.

I was then headhunted for a role in BP as change director in the HR transformation team and stayed for five years progressing to director, global HR operations Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific.

In 2011, I decided to get experience in the public and charity sectors working on programmes interim, consultancy and as a non-executive director. So far this has taken me to the Cabinet Office/No.10, Olympics, NHS, Action for Change and the Natural Environment Research Council (including Antarctic operations).

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

I was a late developer! I went to a grammar school called Harrow County but enjoyed myself a bit too much. I do remember Michael Portillo, Diane Abbot and Clive Anderson a few years above me at school.

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

Well the very first job I did for money was in a fish shop but I left because my girlfriend didn’t like the lingering odour.

The first proper HR job I did was in recruitment at the University of New South Wales in Sydney after my first degree. I was sharing a flat on Coogee Beach and cycling to work in the sun which wasn’t a bad life.

Have you followed the career path you set out to?

I have never really planned my career but I am glad I chose HR and I still have the same interests in business, people and organisations. I even still enjoy reading CVs!

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

Moving between different industry sectors and from private to public is challenging but HR is one of the few professions in which you can move that way. I have tried to overcome the challenge by learning fast about the business of my new organisation, establishing who the key people are at all levels and establishing my credibility with them. It also helped me to get a few years’ experience of business management with P&L responsibility.

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

When I was on a gap year in Australia I went for a telesales job which meant learning a script for a mock call. I passed the audition on two conditions – my name was too long so I had to be Mart not Martin and “nobody trusts a Pom” so I had 24 hours to perfect an Australian accent which then took me years to lose.

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

It was pretty exciting being invited to my first meeting at No.10 which happened to be the day after Andy Murray won Wimbledon, so I saw him meeting David Cameron.

Do you have any career regrets?

I have had a few but too few to mention!

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

Find a really good mentor and coach, keep up to date, network, network and network a bit more.

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

Make the most of that surf, beach and sun in Sydney.


  • Coffee or tea? A proper English Breakfast tea
  • Jam or marmalade? Neither – too much sugar
  • The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? The Stones – seen them a few times live and they can’t be beaten
  • Mac or PC? PC
  • The Guardian or The Times? Both
  • BBC or ITV? BBC – a defining national institution which we must preserve
  • M&S or Waitrose? Neither – nowadays as I cook from scratch, Sainsbury’s is cheaper for raw ingredients
  • Morning or night? Both
  • Rain on snow? Snow – I loved the way snow lightened the winters in Sweden
  • Sweet or savoury? Savoury


  • App: BBC iPlayer – I love listening to radio comedy on  train journeys
  • TV show: Madmen – stylish designs and extraordinary characters
  • Band: All time The Who because I saw them live many times and currently Florence + the Machine. I recently saw Madness and the Specials who were both from a fun time in music
  • Song: Bring me sunshine – I love the words and the DJ played it at the end of our recent Pearl Wedding Anniversary party
  • Book: Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. Combines time travel with history in a very original way.
  • Sports team: Spurs
  • Thing to do on a Friday night: Curry and Shiraz or Malbec wine
  • Place to eat: Cinnamon Club for the inventive Indian food and sociable round tables
  • Holiday spot: Japan – I love the culture, landscape, food and it is always full of surprises
  • Piece of advice you’ve been given: My first manager said: “Always build HR on firm foundations and get the basics right – admin, HR IT systems and payroll”. When I talk to HR students at universities I have now adapted this to say that I have still never heard of an HR director being fired because their succession planning wasn’t working, but I know several who have been fired because of bad HR systems, dire admin and not paying people on time!