Evan Davidge, former interim head of reward at the Department for Transport, explains how 30 years in the air force led him to be a high-flying ‘survivor’ in the benefits industry
During 30 years with the armed forces, former interim head of reward at the Department for Transport Evan Davidge battled his way to the front line of the benefits industry. Davidge joined the Royal Air Force in 1966 as administration apprentice and left as head of personnel and development in 1997. Those years saw him take on varied and exciting roles that took him all over the world. In the late 1970s he was in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during a rebel uprising, and between 1983 and 1987 he was one of two British servicemen stationed in Baghdad and witnessed a missile attack during the Iraq/Iran war.
In the latter stages of his RAF career, Davidge was responsible for a review and redesign of pay, benefits, leadership and management training, which led to significant changes to meet the demands of a modern fighting force. “It was felt at the time that [it was] inappropriate for a modern organisation,” he says. “It was a difficult exercise because nobody could remember why certain terms and conditions were implemented, but they were not going to give them up without a fight.”
Experience as a compensation and benefits project manager at the Ministry of Defence and head of personnel and development at the RAF gave Davidge a unique vantage point, which he believes has made him a ‘survivor’ in the industry.
When he left the RAF in 1997, Davidge changed his career path and, after a short spell of retirement, became a senior business manager and bursar at the John Bentley Language College in Wiltshire. But he could not shake off his taste for benefits and was keen to return to the industry.
In 2000, Davidge was offered a position as a reward consultant at Nationwide Building Society, where he pioneered the concept of total reward by offering benefits on a single platform. “I was given a blank canvas and told to look at developing total reward statements, flexible benefits and looking at other benefits innovations,” he says. “We started to gain a vision of a concept of delivering total reward on a single platform. We were the first organisation in the UK to try to do something like this.”
It was during his six years with Nationwide that Davidge felt inspired to develop similar reward applications with other organisations. Since leaving the company he has undertaken a variety of interim roles. In January 2009, he joined the Department for Transport (DFT) as interim head of reward, applying his expertise to public services, a sector that was reluctant to change. “There was a deep-rooted culture that frowned on anything that was seen to be innovative, particularly if it distracted people from the narrow focus on pay which is still prevalent in the public service. It was a massive challenge.”
At the DFT, Davidge took a number of steps to ensure staff appreciated the value of their package. He instigated the distribution of total reward statements, which will be in place for 20,000 staff by next spring. “To survive in the industry, particularly when there is a lot of consolidation, you need to prove your expertise and resources with like-minded individuals and partners,” he says. “Not just to survive, but to deliver a much more compelling proposition to employers.”
1966-1997 With the RAF, his positions included personnel administrator, and head of personnel and development
1997-2000 senior business manager and bursar, John Bentley Language College
2000-2006 senior reward consultant/manager, Nationwide Building Society
February-June 2008 interim reward manager, The Carphone Warehouse
January 2009-September 2010 interim reward manager, Department for Transport
2006-present independent reward and benefits consultant
How would you describe yourself?
I am very passionate about the work I do. I am still very ambitious, but now I am a lot calmer and more relaxed.
What is your biggest achievement?
Delivering total reward statements to Nationwide staff in 2005.
What are your hobbies?
I am a keen tennis player. I like hiking and long walks. I like to keep fit. I play the trumpet.
I live in Swindon with my wife. I have two grown-up children, a son of 27 and a daughter of 23. One has joined the air force, the other is an artist.