From HR to top bar

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Surprise, surprise - HR isn't a great route to the top of the financial services profession, despite this week's elevation of Michael Grealy at Bank of Ireland Asset Management.

Grealy, head of group human resources (HR) at Bank of Ireland since 2002, has been made chief executive of alternative investments in the capital markets division, with immediate effect.

Although HR managers' ability to deal with scarce and petulant talent is increasingly prized, recruiters say there's still a long way to go before a background in HR is seen as a natural stepping stone to the top.

"It depends very much on the person's background, but it is still an unusual move," says Alexander Tracey, partner at Clifden Partners.

"If anything, it is more common in the other direction, with front-line bankers moving into administrative roles to give them more credibility," he explains.

Grealy will combine both roles until an HR replacement is found, a level of responsibility that could be challenging considering the bank is in the midst of a hefty €120m cost-saving programme and aiming to shed 1,200 employees by 2009.

HR professionals keen to follow in his footsteps need to demonstrate strong business awareness, says Sally Talbot of Redwood Search.

"We do see HR directors moving into chief operating officer or chief finance officer positions, although they are less likely to make it to chief executive, but it is very dependent on the commercial nous of the individual," she says.

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