It was only recently that Gillian and I realised that our careers in connection with Bakkavor took off at the same time – in 1983!!

Gillian joined the HR Department in Spalding and I began offering employment law advice and support as the company’s external solicitor – a position I am privileged to still hold.

I began working particularly closely with Gillian in 2003 when she was promoted to Head of HR and by then we both had 20 years’ experience of the culture and practice of the company.

When I learnt she was to take up new challenges, I offered to provide this reference as during all the years of our relationship I have never had anything but the highest admiration for Gillian’s many personal and professional qualities.

These would make an impressive list but that list would include:

  • A proven ability to make strategic decisions putting the best interests of the business first.
  • A determination not to be bombarded with information and to insist on making decisions based on what she needs to know and not what people thinks she needs to know.
  • A long term ability to get people on her side by taking the time to listen.
  • Being able to talk equally and with equal and genuine interest to a factory operative as she would a Managing Director.
  • A long term ability to get people and teams on her side by taking the time to listen to their opinions and expertise whilst at the same time having the courage and confidence not always to agree with what she is told.
  • Never being afraid to challenge or even criticise but then always being prepared to listen and to discuss the response.
  • Being a genuine pleasure to work with – I never heard any criticism of Gillian in 30 years!
  • And finally never ever taking life too seriously whilst at the same time recognising that business can be serious.

I would be delighted at any time to provide any further reference for Gillian, either written or oral which might be of assistance.


Our team at Focus Management Consultants worked with Gillian Haythornthwaite for over 10 years in her various senior HR roles at Bakkavor.

As a partnership supplier to the business we assisted her on a broad range of resourcing and HR projects.  These were both tactical and strategic  initiatives.  In all our dealings we found her to be highly professional, very commercially aware and totally committed to championing the People Agenda  across the business.  Gillian’s approach has always been very aligned to business need – hers was never a personnel management support service function, it was centrally integral to the achievement of the business plan. 

She is a clear thinker and can see the root cause of an issue very quickly and would always respond with an achievable and pragmatic solution.  We worked closely with her on several Group-wide initiatives such as the development and implementation of a strong Values platform across the business and a “Recruitment Excellence” project to improve resourcing performance, talent management and candidate perception of Bakkavor in the market.  Her leadership of the HR function for many years saw it become well respected at business unit level and she was always regarded as a sounding board and mentor for Executive Team members.

I have worked closely with Gillian for the last six months on various HR related projects. 

Gillian has provided our organisation with excellent technical and compliance advice on several complex situations. Additionally and perhaps more importantly Gillian has proved to be a great sounding board for ideas and assessment of current practices suggesting and recommending different options for improvement and efficiencies. 

There is no doubt her previous experience can help a wide variety of organisations to develop their HR and people development.