Employee Benefits Awards 2011: Benefits professional of the year


John Chilman, group reward and pensions director, FirstGroup

John Chilman is a well-known and highly respected figure in the employee benefits industry. He has been highly rated for the work he has done at FirstGroup in recent years. During his tenure, the transport firm has won several Employee Benefits Awards accolades, notably ‘Most effective benefits strategy for organisations with more than 1,000 UK employees’ in 2011, ‘Most effective all-employee share scheme strategy’ in 2010, ‘Benefits team of the year’ in 2009 and ‘Most effective pensions strategy’ in 2008.

John joined FirstGroup in 1999 as associate director, reward and recognition. After a short stint as group head of reward at HBOS from 2004 to 2005, he returned to the transport firm in his current role.

Throughout his career, John has shown he is not afraid to challenge convention around benefits provision if it results in the best possible outcome for employees. At times, this has been no mean feat when working in heavily unionised environments or ones that are resistant to change.

Many of the strategies he has introduced have subsequently come to be recognised as examples of good practice in the benefits and pensions industries. These include his work around pension plan design at FirstGroup, where he implemented a career average pension plan with three benefit accrual options. To achieve this, he negotiated with unions to introduce the capping of pensionable pay, allowing significant pay increases to be made without increasing pension liabilities. He subsequently implemented the UK’s first strategy linking pensionable pay to the retail prices index.

John has also had an impact on the wider reward industry in his roles as trustee director of the Railways Pension Scheme and chairman of its investment committee. He is also a regular speaker at industry events.


Ricky D’Ash, compensation and benefits manager, Equity Insurance Group
Ricky is widely recognised as a rising star in the reward and benefits industry, and is one to watch in the coming years. As one judge commented, Ricky is known for trying to bring some innovation to an industry that is not traditionally known for it. In his current role, for example, Ricky challenged the boundaries by redesigning Equity’s flexible benefits scheme soon after joining and convincing the company’s head office in Australia to allow the UK to differentiate itself from the rest of the group in how it offered its share incentive plan to staff, rather than simply aligning the scheme with the rest of the organisation.

Ricky also looks to benefits to solve problems that arise within the organisation. For example, when the company’s local council increased parking fees in local car parks by 46%, Ricky worked to introduce a salary sacrifice car parking scheme, which reduced costs for employees.

Before joining Equity Insurance Group, Ricky held reward roles at Unisys, Prudential, Barclays Bank and the Woolwich.

Read more about the Award winners