Kevin Foley, CNP Santander, HRL for August

Executive Search Agency, Principal Connections announce Kevin Foley as HR Leader of the Month for August 2021

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

Having completed my Bachelor of Commerce at UCC, I followed that up with a Masters in HRM from UL. My first HR role was in a multilingual call centre. This was a very much ‘in the trenches’ HR operational role. In hindsight, this generalist role proved the ideal launching pad for my HR career. In the summer of 2008, I took the very unwise decision to leave a permanent role (timing was never my forte!) and thus embarked on a series of contract positions. This exposed me to a number of diverse industries and allowed me to experience many different facets of HR as well as leading transformational HR projects. Following a 6-year stint in Kerry with an amazing Irish company, Fexco, and completing another Masters, in Executive Coaching, I arrived in my current role. I'm very fortunate to sit on the ExCo of CNP Santander and the unflagging support from my CEO has allowed me to shape the HR strategy for CNP Santander. It's a role that is demanding, challenging, rewarding and ultimately very enjoyable.

Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current organisation?

CNP Santander Insurance is an international insurance company that designs and manages insurance products for customers in 11 European countries. Our majority shareholder, CNP Assurances S.A, is France's leading provider of life insurance and term creditor insurance, as well as the fourth-largest insurance company in Brazil. Banco Santander S.A., meanwhile, is one of the world's top 10 banking groups. Since our establishment in 2011, CNP Santander Insurance has gone from strength-to-strength with top-quality products made exclusively for European customers of Santander Consumer Bank and Finance. Drawing upon a powerful combination of distribution and insurance expertise, we create and manage a wide variety of insurance products such as Payment Protection Insurance and Guaranteed Asset Protection. We employ over 110 highly skilled people in our Dublin city-centre offices.

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

The pandemic has irrevocably changed the world of work. It is clear that some form of hybrid working model will be a consistent feature in the foreseeable landscape of many organisations. There are many advantages to a hybrid approach. However, I believe that it is incumbent on HR Leaders to be cognisant and sensitive to the negative unintended consequences of hybrid working. For example, there is more and more research being published highlighting that the inequalities faced by women in the workplace have increased. The strides made by many organisations regarding Diversity and Inclusion must not be eroded as a result of hybrid working.

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

Within HR circles, in recent years there has been an explosion of interest in and debate around the confluence of HR and technology. It would be foolish not to recognise the positive advances that technology has had on the HR profession. However, I'm a firm believer that in a post-pandemic world HR needs to ‘get back to basics’. What do I mean? Providing the best employee experience is single-handedly the most important topic facing HR Leaders. Technology can enhance employee experience but cannot replace it. A simple example – for me, it is inarguable that video interviewing is inferior to an in-person interview located in the office of an individuals’ potential new workplace. As Mickey Harte said, ‘you cannot email a handshake’.

I'm a strong advocate of coaching. There has been an upsurge in the published research into the benefits that coaching brings. Some years ago, Google’s People Innovation Lab started Project Oxygen. Their initial hypothesis was that manager quality does not have an impact on performance. To prove this point they hired a group of statisticians to evaluate the differences between the highest and lowest rated managers in Google. They examined data using past performance appraisals, employee surveys, interviews and other sources of employee feedback. In fact, they proved that good management does actually make a difference! Moreover, Google identified the 10 behaviours of their best managers. Top of the list? The best managers are good coaches! Creating, instilling and, crucially, maintaining a coaching culture should be on the agenda of every HR Leader.

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

The one piece of career advice I come back to again and again is ‘focus on the facts’. In the role of a senior HR professional, we are exposed to a lot of ‘noise’. ‘Noise’ can come in the shape of agenda's, politicking, emotion, and bias. When it comes to decision-making eliminating the ‘noise’ is always a good first step. As the saying goes, ‘you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts’.

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

I try to regularly ask myself the questions ‘if I left my job tomorrow, what have I left behind me?’. What programs, initiatives and progressive achievements remain after I have left? What artefacts or evidence exists that I ever worked here?’. Regularly asking myself those questions ensures I never get too comfortable.

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

At the risk of sounding grandiose, I'm reluctant to pinpoint one particular achievement! I've been very fortunate to have worked in a variety of very successful companies which have allowed me to pursue my career ambitions. I suppose my career arc and the wide variety of HR activities I've been exposed to permit me a certain pride.

Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?

I'm very interested in the field of behavioural economics and its application to HR. As such, writers such as Daniel Kahneman and Cass Sunstein have helped shaped my thinking. Moreover, Martin Seligman’s work in positive psychology is always insightful. From a leadership perspective, I admire Siobhan Talbot’s stewardship of Glanbia.

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

Staying up to date for HR professionals at all levels has never been more important. I'm a member of Ibec’s FSI HR forum. Their regular surveys provide an invaluable insight into the myriad of topics across the HR spectrum. I'm also a member of Insurance Ireland’s Inclusion Taskforce. I subscribe to the Harvard Business Review. I'm also a regular listener to the ‘IMI Talking Leadership’ podcast.

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

I'm a passionate Cork hurling supporter. However, in recent years my season ticket has brought me more heartache than joy! I'm an avid reader. I always have at least two books on the go at any one time. I also enjoy online share trading and maintain a keen eye on the markets.


Congratulations to Kevin Foley on being named Principal Connections' HR Leader of the Month' for August 2021.


CNP Santander Insurance is an international insurance company that designs and manages insurance products for customers in 11 European countries.


Principal Connections is a Dublin based executive search firm and the Irish Office of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group. We offer five interrelated senior recruitment and advisory services to private, public and not-for-profit organisations across Ireland which include:

  • Executive Search
  • Board Search
  • Advertised Selection
  • Interim Management
  • Leadership Consulting & Assessment

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