Julie Sharp, Group Human Resources Director, Principal Connections’ HR Leader of the Month for January 2019

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

Born in Australia to British parents and Irish grandparents from the west of Ireland, over the past 30 years’ I have worked across the US, Europe and Asia Pacific. Most recently, I was the Head of Group Human Resources and Group Executive Member for Bank of Ireland Group (2010 – 2017), which had a responsibility for circa 14,500 employees across UK, Ireland, US, France and Germany.

Previously I worked with ING Asia Pacific as Regional Head of Human Resources and Management Board member Asia Pacific (2002 – 2009) and had responsibility for 17,000 employees across 26 operations in 13 countries (Asia, Australia and the Middle East), covering investment management, insurance and real estate. Prior to that I held the role of Regional Human Resources Director, ING Investment Management Asia Pacific (1998 – 2002).

Previous executive management roles that I have held have included Human Resources Manager, Australia for Arthur Andersen (1996 – 1998) and General Manager, Human Resources, Citibank Australia (1994 – 1996). Academically, I hold a Bachelor of Science with an Honours degree in psychology and a MBA in International Business.

I am proud of the fact that I was recognised by the Women’s Executive Network as one of Ireland’s top 25 most powerful women in 2014, 2015 and 2017. I was also delighted to be awarded the CHRO Lifetime award by HRO Today  for 2015 and the CIPD Ireland HR award in 2017 for overall excellence in HR Leadership.

Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current company?

Formerly with Bank of Ireland Group (BOI), I joined BOI at the start of the banking crisis and was present as the Bank moved from survival to stability to profitability. The Bank is a mix of retail/corporate businesses with operations over Ireland, US, UK, France and Germany. At its peak there were circa 16,000 FTE and through organisational redesign and appropriate commercial decisions FTE reduced to circa 11,000 FTE.

As the Head of Group HR there were many challenges. Of note was the contribution by Group HR to the delivery of a sustainable cost base. Group HR implemented two pension reviews which required 100% sign up by employees. Both were successful with the pension review program resulting in a reduction of the deficit target of €450M (exceeding the original target of €400M). A new DC pension scheme called Retirewell was developed and launched and which won awards both in Ireland and the UK. The Bank was organisationally redesigned through a career and reward framework and IT stability was managed successfully. Other significant milestones was the significant investment on group wide capability uplift with a 46% uplift in staff attaining accredited qualifications across three years, a focus on wellness, inclusion and diversity programs and the development and launch of a new group wide culture program based around customers, colleagues and communities.

I am extremely grateful and proud of being part of the Banks journey and in particular working with such a team of passionate, professional and dedicated colleagues.

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

I believe that the greatest challenge for HR is in creating ecosystems that move organisations from transactional to transformational environments through cultural transformation, digital enablement, agile work practices and the continued anticipation and development of HR and commercial solutions for the future. This will also involve the need for higher levels of interpretation and broader application of insights cloud-based systems and Big Data for valuable predictive analysis. HR needs to continue to evolve as a function and remain as relevant as possible.

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

I believe the biggest advances in HR will be looking at the future of work and digital enablement through Cloud based systems and the use of Big data.

In terms of the future of work this will focus on the growing adoption of artificial intelligence in the workplace and the expansion of the workforce to include both on and off balance sheet talent. This will in turn have significant effects on culture and the ecosystems in which executive teams manage.

Digital enablement through cloud based systems allows both collection and storage of data in an efficient, secure way to allow HR to be free to contribute to the organisation in a more meaningful way. Mobile technology also helps create an agile workface with the development of HR apps.

Big Data gives HR a fact-based view of the current workforce, identifying emerging trends so businesses can adapt and manage costs. Predictive analytics allow for better risk-management decisions. For example, they can identify employees who could benefit from additional training or highlight teams that may be struggling. Analytics also allow recruiters to assess potential employees based on real information; by basing hiring decisions on facts instead of hunches, they can improve the quality and placement of new hires.
The movement around a focus on inclusion and diversity through transparent and reportable measurements around e.g. equal pay is promising as well as a significant emphasis around cultural transformation.

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

The best advice I can give is to never make assumptions. Always summarise meetings so there is no room for misunderstandings. Take file notes and follow up on items you have agreed to do.

Be authentic. You will make mistakes but learn from them as this is the way you grow and develop. The way you will differentiate yourself from the crowd is how you maturely manage those disappointments and recover from them with pace. If you passionately believe in something, never give up! There are many bright people in this world but the successful ones are the ones that are the most decisive about what they want.

Treat people the way you would like to be treated. Maintain your value system and have confidence in yourself.

Finally you are only as good as your last day so be humble and be grateful for every experience you have both professionally and personally.

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

I have a passion for people of any age. I want to always make a difference and nothing is more rewarding than a positive reaction from an individual or teams where you have contributed in a valuable way. This applies both professionally and personally to friends and family.

From a commercial perspective it is developing commercial solutions for organisations that provide a return to the shareholders.

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

Personally my greatest achievement is managing and navigating through crisis and being extremely resilient in times of extreme change.

At Bank of Ireland it would have been managing high risk business change with little IR disruption and a career and reward framework designed and successfully negotiated with employee representative bodies across all jurisdictions that was and remains pioneering in the Irish financial services sector.

In ING it would have been the many mergers and acquisitions that were completed in a short space of time to grow the business from three satellite offices to 26 wholly owned subsidiaries and joint ventures. In particular was dealing with the tragic events surrounding both SARS and the Tsunami where colleagues and their families were victims.

Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?

I don’t have one particular individual in mind rather that I am attracted to people that have ambition, are naturally curious, have a relentless drive to contribute in a way that will make the world a better place and are passionate about what they do.

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

I stay current through my network and reading the latest articles in relation to business and commercial trends as well as participating in podcasts and where possible speaking at conferences. Newspapers also provide a great update on progress of companies.

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

I have a large family – a lot of children, two dogs and two cats so it is a busy and noisy household and that keeps me on my toes!

I love walking, watching movies and yoga.


Thank you to Julie Sharp for initiating our new HR Leaders Series for 2019.


Principal Connections is Ireland’s leader in executive search. We are also part of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group, one the world’s largest, oldest and premier global executive recruitment 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 assignments 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 human capital 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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