Jan Smullen, HR Leader for November

Irish Executive Search Firm, Principal Connections announce Jan Smullen as HR Leader of the Month for November 2020

Q. THE CAREER Describe your career journey?

The Career
I started my career in AIB and worked there for almost 33 years, 20 of which were in HR working across senior leadership roles at divisional level, leading teams which included Business Partners, Learning & Development, Policy Development to name a few.

I took up the role of HR Director in EY in late 2013 and developed a multi-award winning Talent function which includes: Talent Development, Business Partnering, Operations, D&I, Talent Attraction for both experienced hires and students, Reward and Employee Relations.

We’ve won CIPD awards in 2020 for D&I and 2019 for our Talent Attraction Transformation journey and we’ve won 17 gradireland awards since 2014 including 9 golds (1st place) including Grad Employer of the Year in 2017

Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current organisation?

EY is a global Professional Services firm, one of the Big 4, offering services across Auditing, Tax, Strategy, Data Analytics and Consulting. It has grown significantly over the last number of years, achieving double digit growth each year, which makes for a very challenging and exciting people agenda. We have a very strong focus on building leadership capability especially applying a D&I lens so we have diversity of thought and capability right across our business for the future.

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

Responding to the current uncertainty of the pandemic, none of us know the exact way forward but through research and sensible decision making I believe HR can help influence people centric decisions which is so important right now. Changing how we work, with trust as a central tenant, has opened up so many opportunities and removed some of the old rhetoric around flexibility and delivery in such an immediate way it’s mind blowing! Continuing to transform HR in line with business changes will be a constant going forward and not just a once every 5 years exercise.

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

With even swifter advances in technology in the coming years I think analytics will be an even bigger core part of HR so how we leverage that will be a differentiator.  Also the ‘social conscious’ factor will bring a bigger focus on climate change, work purpose, gig working, the overall work environment and removing bias.  These will all be areas to address in order to make sure HR continues to play an important role in making swift and sustainable advances in the world of work.

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

Say yes to every opportunity which comes along even if it isn’t part of your career plan.  I’ve done this many times, sometimes even though I wasn’t convinced it would lead me anywhere, and it has always opened up unbelievable experience and growth which has benefitted my overall career. Sometimes these opportunities turned out to be very tough but also the ones I learned the most from so it’s something I always say to people and pass it on.

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

Making a difference and leaving a positive legacy is hugely important to me, this is my guiding north star, and doing it with integrity and kindness.  As a senior female role model I believe passionately that it’s incumbent on me to help others, especially women, make headway in their career, facilitating their holistic lives as they do it so they accommodate their personal and professional needs.

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

Without a doubt it’s the partnership we’ve built over the last almost 4 years with the Trinity Centre for People with Intellectual Disabilities. We now have 5 employees who joined us from their graduate programme and it’s putting our global ambition of Building a Better Working World into action.  We were extremely proud to win a CIPD award earlier this year for our work with the Trinity Centre and are working to develop a blueprint to help more companies jump start their own efforts to get involved with other similar programmes around the country.

Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?

I have to call out both Michelle Obama and Mary McAleese as personal inspirations – both climbed what seemed insurmountable mountains in their lives and careers and did it with integrity, bravery, courage, poise and good humour in a way which made it seemed achievable for others to do the same.  What amazing role models.  I am currently inspired by Reni Eddo-Lodge who has written so simply and eloquently about race inequality through her book Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race.

Q. THE PANDEMIC Describe how you have navigated the COVID-19 pandemic personally and professionally?

Professionally I am part of our Crisis Management Team and that has been great learning because you have to think about all aspects, not just the HR piece.  Issues which create this level of disruption don’t come along that often so important to use it as a chance to grow new competence as well as exercise your own functional expertise.

From a personal perspective it’s been an interesting journey, I’ve been working at home for over 6 months and definitely miss my team and the personal interaction with them and my business stakeholders which is so important to me.  However, I can see how technology has been a saviour and how we are utilising it so much more than before for both social interactions as well as business ones so that’s been great.

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

Being part of CIPD and a variety of industry groups is key, reading voraciously and sharing experiences is really helpful.

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

What’s downtime? With 2 grown up children you would think I’d now have time to focus on my own interests but that hasn’t happened yet!.  I am part of a church choir however that’s on hold at the moment because of Covid 19 so our 5 year old German Shepherd is getting all our attention which he loves; long walks, short hikes are all part of the week now which is great as getting out and about regularly is super for both my physical and mental health.


Congratulations to Jan Smullen on being named Principal Connections' HR Leader of the Month for November 2020.


At EY, we’re dedicated to helping organizations solve their toughest challenges and realize their greatest ambitions - from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies – and the work we do with them is as varied as they are.

Through our four service lines — Assurance, Consulting, Strategy and Transactions, and Tax — we help our clients capitalize on transformative opportunities. We also help them fulfill regulatory requirements, keep investors informed and meet the needs of all of their stakeholders. And in a fast-changing world, we give them the support they need to be effective today and create long-term value for tomorrow.

Across all disciplines and from every angle, EY professionals draw on our shared creativity, experience, judgment and diverse perspectives to reframe the future for our clients – now, next and beyond.


Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading retained Executive Search and Leadership Consulting Firm. With offices in Dublin and Galway in Ireland, we offer five interrelated Talent Acquisition & Advisory Services to Private, Public and Not-For-Profit Organisations across Ireland: Senior Executive Search, Professional Search, Advertised Selection, Senior Interim Management, Board & Non-Executive Director/Chair Recruitment and a comprehensive suite of Leadership Consulting & Assessment Solutions.

Principal Connections is also the Irish Office of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group. Established in 1984, Agilium Worldwide is one the world’s largest Global Executive Search 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 at Senior Management, Executive and Board level.

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Principal Connections - executive search, is a leading Executive Search and Leadership Consulting Firm, and part of Agilium Worldwide LLC.



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