Profile: Russell Grossman, HMRC

Russell Grossman is leaving an organisation that inspires love to join one that people love to hate.

He leaves the BBC in the new year to join HM Revenue and Customs, Britain's tax-collecting, frontier-strengthening body.

But he knows all about communicating to people in under-fire companies – he was head of internal comms at the BBC when the Hutton Report came out. 

Described as 'thoughtful, understated and hard-working' by friends, it is no surprise that Grossman sprang into action on 28 January 2004 – when Hutton published his damning verdict on the BBC, resulting in the resignation of chairman Gavyn Davies and director-general Greg Dyke.

He called an emergency meeting with the BBC's top 400 managers to assess reaction. It gave staff an opportunity to grieve and be angry, to 'let it all out' before they communicated to their own teams, says Grossman. 'It felt as if we were in the gutter and someone had kicked us in the stomach. When Dyke left, the shock, anger and despair poured through the organisation.'

It is exceptional that an organisation should lose its chairman and its chief executive within 24 hours. By strange coincidence, Grossman and his soon to be superior at HMRC, Chris Hopson, have both worked at companies from which Dyke has resigned.

Hopson, now director of comms  at HMRC, guided former employer Granada Media Group through its acquisition of LWT in 1993/94, resulting in the departure of Dyke, then Granada group chief executive.

Grossman became well known in internal comms circles for his 'cut the crap, make it happen' campaign at the BBC in 2003. Mock football-style yellow cards were distributed to staff to use in meetings when people 'stifled creativity'.

At HMRC, Grossman will be charged with keeping up morale at a department created by the merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise. The department employs a fifth of the civil service (with 100,000 staff) but must shed 20 per cent of jobs by 2008 as part of civil service reform.

Describing himself as a 'bit of a maverick' and 'slightly off the wall', he says leading internal communications is about 'being the grit in the oyster without being the pin in the balloon'.

The 44-year-old father of four is  a little eccentric. For example, he claims he always wanted five daughters so he could name them Melody, Rhapsody, Harmony, Destiny and Symphony after the angels in children's TV show Captain Scarlet. He ended up with one girl and three boys.

Friends describe Grossman as modest. Working Communications Strategies managing director Liam FitzPatrick says: 'When Russell became director of comms at Royal Mail, he was given a massive office and was running up and down it. He was gobsmacked at how important [it suggested] he was. He is a very modest bloke.'

FitzPatrick lauds Grossman's record in British public services – he
also worked as PR manager for the Jubilee Line extension – but his success is not limited to these shores. In 2002 he was invited to speak at the International Association of Business Communicators conference in Chicago, and impressed delegates with his fluency and unorthodox world view. 'He is a brilliant performer,' FitzPatrick says. 'Since that session, he has been invited to every conference on the US circuit.'

Perhaps Grossman's knack at performing in front of a crowd stems from his 20 years as a cantor, leading congregations at synagogues in Surrey. 'It is a creative art. I need to do something creative but I am crap with a paintbrush,' he quips.

It is difficult to pin Grossman down on his future, as he maintains a certain scepticism for forward planning. 'During my two years at Royal Mail London, I spent up to 80 per cent of my time making plans,' he says. 'Yet only five per cent of them were ever carried out.'

Despite this reluctance, he will need plenty of foresight, and no little creativity to oversee the communication  of around 20,000 job cuts.

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