Principal Connections HR Leader for May is Kevin Keegan

Kevin Keegan, Chief Human Resources Officer is Principal Connections’ HR Leader for the Month of May 2018.

Following an early career as a consultant organisational psychologist, Kevin has gone on to hold some of the most prestigious HR leadership positions this country has had to offer. Over his term Kevin has held positions including: Divisional HR Director – Kerry Group, Vice President of Human Resources – State Street, Group HR Director – Treasury Holdings, Group HR Director – Greencore and HR Director – Ulster Bank. Latterly, Kevin was Group Chief Human Resources Officer for Digicel based in Jamaica before returning back to Ireland.

Q. Tell us a little bit about Kevin Keegan the person, and of course, the professional?

Born a shopkeeper’s son from Tullamore, Co. Offaly, I started working in the family business at the age of 8. I think dealing with so many diverse staff, suppliers and customers from such a young age is where my interest in people and how they think and act began. I went on to study for a BA in Psychology at University College Dublin and an MSc in Work and Organizational Psychology at Dublin City University before starting my career as a consultant organizational psychologist with PCS and subsequently taking up a talent role with Kerry Group and progressing to Divisional HR Director. Since then I’ve undertaken a number of senior HR leadership roles at a variety of Irish and international companies, most recently as Chief Human Resources Officer with Digicel based in Jamaica. I have just returned to Dublin with my partner. I am currently consulting with a number of companies. Outside of work I’m passionate about travel, fitness martial arts and rugby.

Q. Describe your organisational background?

From Kerry Group, I moved on to become VP of HR at State Street before becoming Board Director and Group HR Director at Treasury Holdings. This was followed by a position as Group HR Director at Greencore and HR Director at Ulster Bank before my most recent role as Group Chief Human Resources Officer at Digicel. I’m currently consulting and doing interim work. These roles have given me the opportunity to live in Ireland, UK, US, China, Netherlands and Jamaica and develop talent in geographies as diverse as Europe, Asia, Central and South America and the US.

Q. What do you see as the key challenges facing Chief People Officers / Human Resources Directors today?

I think many of the challenges we face as HR professionals are context specific, but I think there are a number of broad challenges we are all facing as a function. Our society is becoming increasingly diverse and our organisations must reflect same. As HR leaders we are increasingly charged with promoting diversity and cultivating the environments it will succeed in. Technology is changing every aspect of modern business – from the gig economy, automation, and the  use of data and analytics to improve decision-making. HR needs to respond to the challenges of technology in how it will affect the jobs of tomorrow, helping colleagues respond to imminent changes as well as leveraging technology to improve how our function operates. This changing world will require a different type of HR leader – one who has an integrated vision of people and technology.

Q. What in your opinion are the key characteristics of the top performing people you have worked with?

I have had the privilege of working with a number of exceptional leaders, each very different, but all sharing a number of similar characteristics

Vision – a developed sense of where they and their business are going and most importantly the ability to articulate this and bring people with them

Focus – an ability to see the wood from the trees, hone in on what’s important in any situation and stay the course.

Resilience – a never-say-die attitude to getting things done and an ability to keep moving forward despite setbacks and challenges.

The really good people I worked with combined the above attributes with an integrity, humour and humility.

Q. How important are health and wellbeing initiatives to employment strategy in your opinion?

In an increasingly busy world with expectations for always-on communication and always-improving performance, we need to ensure that balance is always strived for.We have an increasing obligation to look beyond the simple management of people, to a more cohesive view of colleagues as individuals and ensure they receive the necessary support mentally, physically and emotionally to thrive. This is the right thing to do from a business perspective to support delivery of performance but is also the right thing to do to safeguard our people.

Health and well-being initiatives, whether through access to gym facilities, mental health education, stress management, mindfulness or any number of other initiatives are central to developing well-rounded, resilient colleagues and leaders not just for business but for our communities and the wider world.

At a personal level I recognise and strive to manage my own work life balance. In 2011 I read an article in the Harvard Business Review – “The Making of the Corporate Athlete” which completely changed my perspective I would encourage all HR leaders to read and share this article.

Q. In your opinion what is required to have a top career as a Human Resources Director?

Over my career, I’ve seen the good and the bad of HR. It’s important for each person to develop their own personality and style but I think there are a number of commonalities in what I see as ‘excellence’.

Firstly, I believe you need to really understand your business and the environment within which it operates, in particular the numbers as well as the people – you can’t expect to manage great human capital if you don’t truly understand the big picture and the economics of your company and your sector.

Secondly, I believe that ones capacity to be connected throughout the organisation and have the pulse of what people are feeling is key.

Thirdly, I think HR leaders need to be brave and be prepared to have adult conversations at all levels – speaking truth to power – diplomatically, but as needed.

Fourthly, balance and emotional intelligence are pivotal. Maintaining composure in stressful or combative situations and understanding how people think and act are powerful tools.

Finally, HR leaders are often concerned with having a seat at the table – I believe that the quality of our judgement on people in the context of understanding the business, our relationship with the leadership team and the CEO is the ultimate currency and conduit for contribution.

Q. What keeps you motivated day to day?

Leading the function which is responsible for shaping people for the future is really exciting. From seeing graduates on a development programme grow and assume leadership roles, to seeing the results of a transformation program is a privilege and truly rewarding.

Q. What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Professionally, there are a few but one of the stand-outs is being a member of the leadership team that returned Ulster Bank to profitability and increased employee engagement to 77% whilst successfully transitioning circa 1000 colleagues.

Personally, having the privilege of chairing Make a Wish Ireland for 6 years, working with the CEO and her team and overseeing the delivery of over 1000 wishes to children and families living with life threatening illness was a very fulfilling experience.

Q. Who inspires you professionally?

I am always humbled by the success stories of Ireland’s great companies from Kerry Group to Stripe. I’m always amazed at the success our little island has on the world stage and the impact of Irish business-men and women across the globe. But actually, I’ve always been most inspired by my parents and thankful for their instilling in me a number of key lessons that I’ve kept with me throughout my career.

  • The importance of a strong work ethic.
  • An appreciation of the need to serve and meet customers’ needs and understanding the detail of ones business.
  • The interdependency of business and the community.
  • The need to make the right hiring decisions for ones business.
  • The importance of seeing the bigger picture, being agile and life-long learning.

Q. How do you stay current?

I watched both my Mum and Dad visit other shops to learn new retail practices. I saw them keenly study the trade publications and the importance of staying current and relevant has always stuck with me. I proactively network. I listen and learn from others finding out what they read and copying some of their practices. I enjoy the thought leadership of David Ulrich, Lucy Adams, Alan Collins and Mc Kinsey. I have just completed my second masters degree – this time in Business – with the IMI and UCC, I am currently studying for the Professional Diploma in Digital Marketing.

CLOSING COMMENT:

Thank you to Kevin Keegan for participating in our HR Leaders Series 2018.


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

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