Executive Search Agencies Ireland

Hazel Sullivan, Senior Director – Human Resources, Principal Connections’ HR Leader of the Month for October 2019

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

I started my career in 1997 on the day that Princess Diana passed away so I always have a very good reminder of how long I’ve been in the workplace. I was travelling to the airport to fly to the UK for my first job as a graduate trainee in Marks and Spencer when the news broke over the radio. I spent the next 2 1/2 years of my early career with Marks & Spencer as both a trainee and subsequently as an Assistant Personnel Manager. It really was a wonderful start to a HR career.

From there I took a consulting role with PwC and after a stint of international travel I returned to Ireland to a business management role with St James Hospital in Dublin. In 2005, I made the decision to relocate to Cork and became the HR manager of a very successful Irish manufacturing company called Freefoam Plastics. Then I got the opportunity to have my first ever HRBP at EMC (EMC was a data storage and solutions company who have subsequently been taken over by Dell). EMC was then one of the largest employers in Munster and I spent 7 wonderful years there across a number of HR roles including HR Management, Business Partnering, M&A, HR projects, development of HR operations etc. I then made the move to McKesson where over the last 5 years I have had extraordinary career opportunities. Starting as Senior HR Business Partner I subsequently became HR Director for McKesson Cork Business Solutions and last year in June 2018 I took on the role of Senior Director of Human Resources for all of McKesson in Ireland. This includes several large organisations United drug and LloydsPharmacy Ireland among them.

I’m a Cork native and went to secondary school in Coloiste and Phiarsaigh in Glanmire. This is an Irish language school and I completed my leaving cert ‘as gaeilge’ . This created a lifelong interest in the Irish language for me and I still call myself a ‘gaelgeoir’. I then went on to UCC and after four fun years I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce. At the beginning of my career I lived abroad in the UK for 2 years and then came back to Dublin for about 8 years before eventually returning to Cork in 2005. I’m married to my husband Aidan and we have a son Evan. We recently moved to live in the suburb of Ovens in County Cork .

Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current company?

Currently ranked 7th on the Fortune 500, McKesson is a global leader in supply chain management solutions, retail pharmacy, healthcare specialty health technology, community oncology and specialty care. We partner with life sciences companies, manufacturers, providers, pharmacies, governments and other healthcare organisations to help provide the right medicines, medical products and healthcare services to the right patients at the right time, safely solutions and cost effectively.

McKesson Ireland comprises of several companies. Most notable are United Drug, the largest pharmaceutical wholesaler in the Republic of Ireland, LloydsPharmacy Ireland one of the largest Pharmacy groups in Ireland & TCP Homecare. Also, in Cork McKesson has a corporate office, McKesson Cork Business Solutions. This is McKesson’s first Enterprise Tech Hub outside of the US.

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

  1. HR Talent – given the changes in HR as a function over the years and the move to centralisation of services and further specialisation, finding and developing HR talent has been more challenging than ever. And ensuring that our emerging HR leaders are able to take a macro view and understand the broad business environment in which we operate is proving a challenge. Recruitment for HR roles is also very challenging as HR people in general tend to be very loyal to their organisations so developing talent internally is more important than ever.
  2. Ensuring that HR as a function continues its relevance and makes the appropriate changes is also a key challenge. Moving towards areas such as coaching, talent development, succession planning and other key talent related activities are the areas now where HR can add real value within an organisation. There still remains to be a dependence on negotiating pay deals or focusing on the legal and regulatory element of the job in many HR departments. Of course the latter will remain important and a key.

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

I think that technology will continue to play a key role in the delivery of HR services. Many companies have only scratched the surface of what technology can offer and as we continually move to a more digitised world and a workforce that expect to receive all services on digital platforms, HR needs to continue to adapt to these changes and improvements.

I think in the future we’ll see the digitisation of HR moving into all areas of the function including benefits administration, and decisions around internal policies. By example, in the future an AI programme will probably determine if an employee should receive a career break. HR is a support function in every organisation and continues to be a cost to the business. Every business will continue to innovate to reduce these G&A costs by deploying the appropriate technologies. So embracing this as the future of the function and finding ways to deploy these technologies is a real opportunity for HR .

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

The best piece of career advice I have ever been given was “what got you here, won’t get you there”. At the time when it was said to me I was taken aback. I found it hard to hear. I didn’t really understand it as it pertained to me. Over time I came to really appreciate and truly embrace this advice as I realised that I had been leaning on the same skills for many years and had been getting enormous amounts of praise and career development for being the subject matter expert on the team. But when I took a step back I realised that when one gets to a certain point in his/her career, to move on and up, one must change and develop additional skills. I have since shared this piece of advice with many other leaders.

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

I’m surprised that I had to really think about this question, what motivates me? And my answer sounds really corny but its true. I simply love my job. I really enjoy working in the field of HR and at this point in my career I have the pleasure of working with two wonderful HR teams in Cork and Dublin that are doing fantastic work and really inspiring me everyday.

Working in an organisation that is a healthcare company also provides additional motivation. McKesson plays a key part in several areas of the supply of healthcare in the country and to know you’re part of something bigger really is also quite motivational.

Lastly, I’ve always been innately very driven and ambitious. So I’ve always wanted more and always been looking forward to the next step. Sometimes I wish I could dial this down a little bit. I suppose it would be remiss not to say the paycheck – we’re all working to better ourselves and our families and I’m highly motivated by thinking about that also.

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

It’s very hard to pick a single achievement as the proudest in your career because as I look back over the many years I’ve now been working there are several things that I am extremely proud of. At this time it’s the privilege of being the leader of such a wonderful HR team at McKesson. Arriving to work everyday and simply seeing the great work that the team are doing is really a huge achievement. We’ve also recently been highlighted by our business partners and nominated for an HR Diversity Initiative Award. I’ve always had a real interest in diversity in the workplace and I have a special passion for developing female leaders. During my time at EMC, I was also awarded a Global Diversity Leadership award for my work in the Ireland Chapter of on employee resource group. I remain enormously proud of this work and still feel there’s a lot more to do.

Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?

I am inspired by working mothers. For me this is the hardest working group in every society. And in many cases some of the most highly productive and highly valued people in an organisation. Working mums are running from the boardroom to the school play, and never feel like they are giving enough to either endeavour. And so for all the working mums who keep it going and manage to maintain their careers, families and homes, I think they are truly inspirational. That’s not to say I don’t admire the current generation of Dads who are contributing to home life at a far greater level than ever before, but I still have to call out the working mum.

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

I find it quite challenging to stay up to date and therefore I try to use the time I have wisely. At the moment I spend quite a lot of time in my car and so I listen to a lot of podcasts and audio books that relate to, the human condition, current management theories, the future of the workplace. And I’m specifically interested in the area of AI and machine learning, and how this is going to change the world of work overtime. I’m also fortunate that I have a subscription to Gartner and find that the information provided within is extremely useful as a resource. I also try to make an effort to attend various industry presentations and events though with my travel schedule I don’t do this as much as I would like. I also find that my own team are a great source of knowledge and information and so regularly at team meetings we discuss any form of new learning that we’ve come across or other interesting information.

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

Truthfully, I don’t have a lot of downtime. I do watch some TV in the evening to unwind and always read before turning in. Like a lot of people when I come home I’m straight into laundry, dinner, school lunches, scout uniforms. GAA training etc. I’m very fortunate to have a son. And ensuring that he’s getting opportunities for extra activities has now become my extracurricular activity, and that’s fine with me.


Thank you Hazel Sullivan for your participation in our HR Leaders Series.


McKesson Corporation, currently ranked 7th on the FORTUNE 500, is a global healthcare services and medical supply company dedicated to delivering better care.

McKesson supports the entire healthcare system, including pharmacies, hospitals, health systems, biotech and life sciences companies, specialty care and oncology practices, physician offices, surgery centers, and long-term care and home health facilities.

McKesson delivers pharmaceutical products, medical supplies and business services to each of these groups to create a world of better health.


Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading senior executive search firm and the only Irish Member of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group, one the world’s largest, oldest and premier global executive search groups. 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 senior, executive and board appointments 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 executive search and leadership consulting and assessment 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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