Executive Search Partners Principal Connections announce Nicola McCarthy as HR Leader of the Month for April 2021


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

The Career
I fell into HR completely by accident. After finishing school, I was keen to start working, so while most of my friends were experiencing college life, I had the opportunity to travel the world while working with an aircraft and crew leaser, living in many places including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Pakistan and Greece (the list goes on!). Following my return from travelling, which lasted a couple of years, I made the decision to come home and gain experience in a different industry, and so I took up a temporary role in the HR Department (personnel department at the time) in Mercury Engineering, and I loved it! I worked late nights and long hours to get on top of personnel files, policies and procedures, and putting basic structures in place at an operation level. Within a few months the MD came to me and told me I had a flare for HR, and offered to support me through a degree programme. So four years later, working full time and attending NCI at night, I received my BA Degree in Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations. Over the years I worked my way up to Group HR Manager whilst the company grew internationally.

At that point I felt Mercury Engineering was a security blanket and I needed to test myself. After a brief contract in Siemens, in which they were in the process of moving their core HR roles to the UK, I moved to Greyhound Recycling and Recovery as HR Manager and later as HR Director. This was a tough and fast paced industry. I learned a huge amount about resilience and industrial relations through a period of massive change and acquisitions. I left Greyhound when I felt from a HR perspective the challenge was no longer there. I then looked to a new opportunity and set-up my own recruitment and consultancy business, which ran for two years and would have continued to do, if I didn’t miss PEOPLE so much. That’s when I joined Independent News & Media Limited (INM).

Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current organisation?

With over 750 employees, INM has a number of well-known brands in the group to include The Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, The Herald, Sunday World, Belfast Telegraph along with 13 regional titles and a print plant. Additionally, INM is home to some non-publishing brands such as Cars Ireland, Cartell, Choosy and the Reach Group. With a broad spectrum of people specialisms there is a huge amount of variety to the people agenda. In 2019 we were bought by Mediahuis, a leading newspaper & magazine publishing, TV, radio and online media company founded in 2014 with assets in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and now Ireland.

With the take-over still relatively new when Covid-19 hit, it was essential for us to move quickly, to equip all our staff without substantial test runs, to a remote working environment with minimal impact to the business. While the level of difficulty of such a challenge can vary greatly across industry, in the media industry working from home was essentially a complete move away from the newsroom set-up. This challenge was truly embraced by the organisation and fully supported from the top.

I imagine similarly to most, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years for my team and given the immense transformation on how we work now, a huge focus will be on how we incorporate our new way of working for the future.

Additionally, we have a number of exciting HR projects in 2021, including a company-wide Job Levelling Programme, the roll-out of our new Employee Engagement Platform and a full calendar of events around Mental Health & Wellbeing.

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

I believe creating the right employee experience life cycle for our workforce will be the most important challenge. This will not just be about engaging with our people, but creating a culture where people can effectively collaborate and innovate which will not only achieve business goals, but enable meaningful work where diversity and employee wellness are key.

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

Flexible Working – I believe Covid-19 and in turn remote working has shown organisations that the traditional 9 to 5 is not the future of working.

Technology – Technology advances are impacting how we manage our workforces, hire new employees, comply with regulations, and handle HR data.

Work Life Balance – Naturally, people are more motivated and engaged when they are less stressed out about family and personal life issues, when work life balance is addressed and workforces have enabled employees to have an effective work life balance.

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

In my 1st year in college a lecturer gave us a golden rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. In HR, this golden rule has stood the test of time over and over again.  Considering an employee relations situation or disciplinary process with empathy, fairness and consideration is always a good way of doing things and when the tough conservations or constructive feedback is required it can be done knowing you can stand over your process and procedures.

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

INM is such an exciting place to work, it is extremely fast paced with wonderful people and amazing talent.  When I first started with the company over three years ago, I sat in meetings with Editors and Journalists who are so interesting in their ability to tell stories or relay information that I was definitely nervous!  INM is the type of company that fosters curiosity and debate; there is never a right or wrong answer, only a range of possibilities. No two days are the same and as we have now joined the Mediahuis Group in the last two years, it has only extended the range of possibilities.  The role would involve a high level of industrial relations which are complex and diverse in nature and I thoroughly enjoy it. Never a lack of motivation!

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

My proudest career achievement to date is my “career” in HR.   I have had three amazing children over the course of my career and I have always felt you never went back to where you left off before going on maternity leave, so I am happy I’ve managed to balance each senior HR role with a family and continuing my progression from a development perspective along with the challenges of engaging HR roles.

Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?

I am inspired by the women around me; HR is one of the few professions dominated by more women than men.  So during my nearly 20 years in HR I have meet some amazingly talented women, most who are now HR leaders in their own right and some who have left HR and followed their professional dreams in a different direction; I hope, similarly to the support they provided me throughout the years, I have done the same for them. These relationships are so important in the HR environment where confidentiality, trust and sensitivity are essential.

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

Through-out my career I have attended the Annual Legal Island Employment Law Update without fail, which sets me up well for the year ahead.  I also read a lot, so I sign-up for a number of regular newsletters etc. and flag them to read when I have the time.

I have always encouraged my team to information share which we do a lot; one person will attend a conference or summit and will give relevant updates on key points at our weekly team meeting.

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

I have three sons and a husband who are football fanatics, so weekends (pre Covid) are spent travelling around Dublin to matches and training sessions. When I do get to relax I love to read, a book which is light or with a mysterious twist is my go to. I love to walk, spending most of summers in Wexford, with lots of beach walks and a little red wine!

CLOSING COMMENT:

Congratulations to Nicola McCarthy on being named Principal Connections’ HR Leader of the Month’ for April 2021.

ABOUT INDEPENDENT NEWS & MEDIA

Independent News & Media Group Limited (INM) is the leading newspaper and online publisher on the island of Ireland, is vertically integrated with print and distribution assets, and is the largest wholesale distributor of newspapers and magazines on the island. The Company is a 100% subsidiary of Mediahuis N.V. a private European media group, headquartered in Antwerp, Belgium

ABOUT PRINCIPAL CONNECTIONS

Principal Connections are Ireland’s premier retained executive search partners and the Irish Office of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Partnership. We offer five interrelated talent acquisition 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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Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading Executive Search Firm and the Irish Office of Agilium Worldwide LLC.

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