Aine O’Sullivan, HR Lead Ireland, Principal Connections’ HR Leader of the Month for November 2019
Q. THE CAREER & THE PERSON Describe your career journey and tell us about Aine O’Sullivan the person?
Having graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from UCC, I took the customary year out to travel to New Zealand and Australia. It was there I landed my first role in HR and returned home with little doubt that this would be the avenue I would pursue. I moved to Dublin to take up a role with Bank of Ireland and received great exposure during the HR transformation journey. I then went on to a Senior HR Business Partner role with Dell Computers and thrived in this fast paced, dynamic organisation. We had a fantastic team in situ and were completely empowered to innovate and progress our ideas in creating a great place to work.
As many Cork people do, I always envisaged a move back home and after 6 enjoyable years I took the plunge. I was enticed to take up a position with a growing indigenous business processing company SouthWestern (now Capita Customer Solutions) to head up the HR function internationally. Reporting to the CEO and a member of the executive leadership team, this allowed me experience a different dynamic again. I set about transforming the HR function and building an inclusive high performance culture that saw us double in size and expand internationally within a 5 year period.
I was then afforded an opportunity to expand my remit and take on full responsibility for a function outside of HR operational ownership for a portfolio of six clients and over 200 employees. This really allowed me to further develop my commercial and financial acumen in having full P&L responsibility as well as account growth. I also gained invaluable experience in managing client relations, SLA’s and understanding the customer experience.
My true passion for HR and talent brought me to my current position with Johnson Controls, which I took up in 2017 as HR Lead for Ireland where we have offices in Cork, Dublin and Belfast.
I’ve been described as highly driven, energetic, pragmatic with an extremely positive outlook. I tend to think anything is achievable. I also realise the true value in teamwork and the need to empower and inspire people to want to go on the journey with you.
I’m married to Rob and we live in Ballinhassig with our three young children – a son and two daughters.
Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current company?
At Johnson Controls, we’ve been making buildings smarter since 1885, and our capabilities, depth of innovation experience, and global reach have been growing ever since. Today, we offer the world’s largest portfolio of building products, technologies, software, and services; we put that portfolio to work to transform the environments where people live, work, learn and play. Through a full range of systems and digital solutions, we take our customers on a digital transformation journey to make their buildings smarter. A smarter building is safer, more comfortable, more efficient and, ultimately, more sustainable.
With over 100,000 employees in 200+ locations, we are globally headquartered at One Albert Quay, Cork – Ireland’s smartest building. At present, we have 400 employees based in Cork; 39% of which are female, and 29 nationalities. This diversity helps us to continue to innovate to the highest standards, and attract, develop and retain top talent to the city and boost our economy and community.
Q. THE CHALLENGES What do you see as the most important challenges facing HR Leaders today?
In an almost full employment economy, it comes down to two fundamental but critical aspects – the ability to attract and retain top talent.
As organisations continue to scale at pace, we are very aware of the competitive landscape in which we operate – the War for Talent is real. Skill shortages are identified as the number one concern for the tech industry. As leaders we’ll need to work smarter to re-evaluate, and externally brand the Employee Value Proposition. With highly skilled candidates in short supply, we’ll also need to focus and invest now in training and upskilling less experienced employees and develop our future pipelines from within.
Talent retention is another evolving landscape. Despite having creatively designed workspaces, full flexibility and compelling compensation packages, Millennials, Generation Z and the emergence of the gig-economy will alter how people view and perform work. HR Leaders will play a critical role in navigating these unchartered waters in designing strategies to prepare and best fit the evolving world of work. Perhaps we’ll need to start considering talent as a supply chain instead!
Q. THE ADVANCES What do you believe the biggest advances in human resources will be over the next five years?
HR is developing within a context of globalisation, digitisation, complexity and demographic change at an unprecedented pace. The application of robotics and cognitive automation in HR comes with immense potential to unlock further value by driving more process efficiencies and enhancing the user experience. Areas such as candidate selection has long been automated with further areas following suit such as onboarding, performance reviews, entitlement to benefits and off boarding. Jobs in their current state will be replaced and new roles created, skills will need to be enhanced; people will need to be adaptable and ready to add to their skills.
HR of the future will be composed of tech savvy people, data scientists, recruitment experts, connectors and brand editors. This will consist of people who will be able to do copywrite for job descriptions to ensure that they correspond to the company culture. There will be people who can read data and forecast trends; people who will be on top of the latest technology and can solve problems or bring additional benefits to the company. People who will be connectors, socially active and can attract more talent to the company. HR will be about diversity of skills and that to me makes for a very interesting journey ahead!
Q. THE ADVICE What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
A previous boss once quoted Richard Branson to me during a review discussion – ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later’. I have made a conscious effort to adopt this mindset throughout my career, be it taking on a new area of responsibility, speaking at an event, presenting to a Board or applying for a higher level position. Really stepping outside my comfort zone. Does it feel extremely uncomfortable at times – absolutely! But I have found I will always deliver, learn and become more resilient as a result allowing me to level up and really accelerate my career.
Q. THE MOTIVATION What keeps you motivated day to day?
Enjoying what I do and being able to make a difference.
I believe we are in a very unique position as HR professionals as we have a lens on the entire business not many other functions do. Given how immersed we have become in our understanding of how the business areas operate, the opportunities arising and the challenges they face – we bring an outside in perspective to challenge the thinking, to ask a question differently and to help unblock points of resistance. We’re also very well positioned to connect people and business areas where opportunities are visible to us.
Q. THE ACHIEVEMENT What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
It’s difficult to pinpoint just one as I’ve been involved with and built up powerful HR teams in the past who’ve achieved some amazing feats and won many prestigious awards. However, I’d have to say my current role here at Johnson Controls Ireland, and the implementation of a Diversity and Inclusion strategy and approach, through the inception and mobilisation of a group I created called ‘Involve’. The activities and practices we have launched such as Pride Week, Autism Acceptance, Wellbeing including Mental Health Week, International Women’s’ and Men’s Day, Culture Week and many many community and environmental volunteering initiatives have been transformative for our culture, engagement and employer brand. This is an area that I’m hugely passionate about and my aim is to build on a culture of inclusion where everyone feels they can bring their true self to work and feel that they belong. This quote by Maya Angelou, just sums it all up for me ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’
Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?
I have been very fortunate to work with some great authentic leaders over my career from HR Leaders to CEO’s. We have some fantastic role models in society but I’m always particularly inspired by leaders from diverse backgrounds or experiences who have had to overcome much adversity but drive on with sheer termination to be highly successful in their mission.
Q. THE STAYING CURRENT How do you stay up to date?
I do make a conscious effort to carve time out to engage and network within the external HR and business community. We are all facing similar challenges and opportunities and there is huge value in the collective learnings we get from one another’s experiences. I maintain a number of association memberships and frequently attend HR Masterclasses, Conferences, read a lot of articles and listen to podcasts.
Q. THE DOWNTIME Tell us about your interests and how you relax?
Truthfully, it can be a challenge to find time to relax with a busy role as well as my most important role of all – mom to three young, curious, energetic and joyful children. Weekends are busy with various sporting, dancing and singing activities, getting out for family walks and hot chocolate! We love getting away to the sun or visiting family. Meeting friends for dinner and catching up features frequently too and I love live music and concerts – everything from Classical to Indie to Rock!
Thank you Aine O’Sullivan for your participation in our HR Leaders Series.
ABOUT JOHNSON CONTROLS
At Johnson Controls, we transform the environments where people live, work, learn and play. From optimizing building performance to improving safety and enhancing comfort, we drive the outcomes that matter most. Dedicated to protecting the environment, we deliver our promise in industries such as healthcare, education, data centers and manufacturing. With a global team of 105,000 experts in more than 150 countries and over 130 years of innovation, we are the power behind our customers’ mission.
Our leading portfolio of building technology and solutions includes some of the most trusted names in the industry, such as Tyco®, York®, Metasys®, Ruskin®, Titus®, Frick®, Penn®, Sabroe®, Simplex®, Ansul® and Grinnell®.
ABOUT PRINCIPAL CONNECTIONS
Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading senior executive recruitment firm and the only Irish Member of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group, one the world’s largest, oldest and premier global executive recruitment organisations. 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 recruitment and leadership consulting and assessment challenges.