Executive Recruiters Dublin

Chris Lillie, Human Resources Director, Principal Connections’ HR Leader of the Month for July 2019

Q. THE CAREER & THE PERSON Describe your career journey and tell us about Chris Lillie the person?

After graduating from Queen’s University Belfast in 2000, where I studied Modern Languages, I was fortunate enough to take part in a management development programme. Having specialised in HR I secured two work placements. My second placement was in a Japanese manufacturing company which made automotive parts, and they subsequently employed me once my placement finished. Since then, I have assumed various HR roles across a number of industries including retail, pharmaceutical and FMCG and in different markets across Europe. Before joining SHS in 2017, for 6 years I worked for Coca-Cola HBC Ireland and Northern Ireland as HR Director. As Group HR Director in SHS Group, I have responsibility for leading our People Strategy across a diverse group.

Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current company?

The SHS Group was founded in 1975 and operates in the fast moving consumer goods sector throughout the UK and Ireland and is now one of Northern Ireland’s largest and most profitable privately owned groups, employing approximately 1200 across the UK and Ireland. The Group’s financial and shared services centre of excellence is based in Belfast and provides a strong financial base and central resources for 5 Divisions operating within brand ownership and sales & marketing.

Our impressive own brand portfolio includes WKD, Shloer, Bottlegreen, Merrydown Cider, Zip Firelighters and Meridian Nut Butter and we distribute premium brands through SHS Sales & Marketing including Jordans, Nivea, Finish and Mars Consumer Drinks. The Group is also the largest supplier of own label Herbs and Spices in Great Britain.

Q. THE CHALLENGES What do you see as the most important challenges facing HR Leaders today?

I don’t think I will be saying anything too revolutionary here. I believe most HR professionals, certainly in the FMCG sector, will be challenged with the need to retain, engage and develop our existing talent, and to ensure that we get a fair share of the talent that is available in the market place to come and join our organisation.

It is very important that we understand, address and balance the needs of our current workforce with those of the new emerging talent. That’s why our people engagement strategy is closely aligned with our diversity plans, and consistently monitored to ensure fit for purpose.

I also think we have to be cognisant of economic factors such as rising salaries, automation and the uncertainty regarding Brexit etc. that has a direct impact on our manufacturing workforce and ensure that we have a proactive business led approach to these.

Q. THE ADVANCES What do you believe the biggest advances in human resources will be over the next five years?

I recently read an article that said that 65% of the children entering into primary school now will ultimately be working in jobs which currently do not exist. From trends I see in our organisation and the advancement in technology, I can see this as an area we need to focus on in the medium term. From a HR point of view, we will need to work with our business leaders to have strategic workforce plans that deliver the right structures and capabilities. I also think HR has a role to play to work jointly with educational bodies to make sure school and university leavers have the right skills for the future workforce.

Q. THE ADVICE What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

Early in my career in HR, (and before the HR business partner model) a former HR Director boss said to me that it is important that HR really understands the business of the organisation in order to be successful. It might seem obvious now, but at that stage of my career when I was in a more transactional role, it was a “lightbulb moment.” That’s why the whole HR team in SHS get involved in the HR Business Planning process, and individual development plans centre around understanding business insights.

Q. THE MOTIVATION What keeps you motivated day to day?

I’m lucky that I am surrounded by so many positive and energetic people at SHS Group. When times are challenging, there is a real sense of camaraderie which helps me get through more trying days.

In addition, the SHS People Strategy is a main competent of our overall
5 year vision, so there is a lot to deliver on. The HR team are passionate and fun to work with.

I am hugely motivated by my work making a difference and having accountability to deliver a plan. I also get my energy from people, and fortunately my role meets all these needs!

Q. THE ACHIEVEMENT What has been your proudest career achievement to date?

I have been internally promoted a number of times in my career, which I think says a lot about someone. I also think getting my first board role was very exciting.

I recently got awarded the ‘Excellence in HR leadership Award’ at the CIPD Awards and that was also a great surprise. In fairness, I think my mum is most proud by that achievement, even though she really doesn’t understand what I do.

Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?

Over my career I have worked with some very inspiring Managing Directors and CEO’s. I watch how they balance complex workloads, have deep understanding of different disciplines across the organisation, and are closely aligned to the values of the organisation. And they do this with the upmost humility. Working with these leaders, every day is a school day!

Q. THE STAYING CURRENT How do you stay up to date?

A fair degree of reading – not only HR articles but also subscriptions to relevant business publications. I try to get a HR conference in at least once a year to keep abreast of what is current. We also try to “bring the outside in” by bringing guest speakers into our HR meetings a couple of times a year. As a team we also carry out a benchmark visit once a year to an organisation we hope to learn from.

Q. THE DOWNTIME Tell us about your interests and how you relax?

Outside of work, I enjoy spending time with family and catching up with friends, and love travelling. We are currently planning our next holiday to Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Any recommendations welcome!


Thank you Chris Lillie for your participation in our HR Leaders Series.


The SHS Group is a diverse and dynamic business, with a major presence in the FMCG sector in the UK and Ireland – and, increasingly, in key international markets. Headquartered in Belfast, Northern Ireland, we have several offices and production facilities across the UK & Ireland and currently employ over 1,100 people.

We own popular household brands such as WKD, Shloer, Bottlegreen, no&more craft waters and Merrydown Cider, as well Zip firelighters, Crucials sauces and the Rocks range of squashes and cordials. We also distribute a portfolio of over 100 blue-chip brands including Jordans, Ryvita, Finish, Mars Drinks and Colgate.

In addition, SHS is the UK’s largest supplier both of own-label herbs and spices through our subsidiary British Pepper and Spice, which has over 300 years of expertise. Furthermore, we produce over ambient dessert own-label products for major supermarkets.

The Group comprises five core divisions: Drinks; Condiments & Spices; Sales & Marketing; Household and Corporate Services. The three brand-led divisions all either directly own or are exclusive distributors of the number one products in their sector. In the past 12 months we’ve acquired another major global brand plus a majority holding in a UK market leader, Meridian nut butters – and we’re still growing.

SHS was founded in 1975 as an independent family-run business, and we still live that independent attitude today. We’re an agile and ambitious Group, with a unique culture focused on building brilliance – in businesses, in brands and in careers. At the heart of this is a set of values we call SPIRIT. These values are an integral part of the way we work, of our relationships with our colleagues, customers and communities. They also inform our approach to delivering environmental best practice and driving innovation.

Brands are the DNA of the SHS Group, and the essence of every successful brand is people. They’re our secret and our focus – and they make us who we are.


Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading retained executive search agency and the only Irish Member Firm of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group, one the world’s largest, oldest and premier global executive search and headhunting firms. Together with our colleagues across 55 Offices in 30 Countries, each year we complete in excess of 1300 Assignments within most Major Industries and Functional Areas.

For many years, Principal Connections has advised on the most influential senior, executive and board appointments that have emerged within Irish business. Organisations of all shapes and sizes from all over Ireland (Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Belfast etc.) refer to us when it matters most, to solve their most important executive search and leadership consulting and assessment challenges.

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Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading Executive Search Firm and the Irish Office of Agilium Worldwide LLC.

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