Liam Brennan, Director of Human Resources for Athlone Institute of Technology, is Principal Connections’ HR Leader of the Month for September.

Over his term, Liam has worked across a number of sectors including textiles, pharmaceuticals and education with organisations including Burlington Sportswear Fabrics, Wyeth Medica Ireland and currently Athlone Institute of Technology.

This month we spoke with Liam, read what he had to say. 

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

I was born and raised in County Westmeath and now live in Tullamore, Co Offaly. I am married to Marie and we are lucky to have three fine sons and two grandsons. I am a keen gardener and also enjoy golf, walking and cycling.

I am a senior professional in the field of Human Resources, with a successful track record in delivering effective people strategies in challenging, multi-disciplined environments. A leader, capable of influencing key stakeholders and achieving changes through partnership and negotiation. An excellent communicator, who is persuasive, highly motivated and results driven possessing analytical problem solving and people management skills.

I am the holder of a Bachelors Degree in Human Resource Management and I am also a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

Q. Describe your organisational background?

I began my working career in the training and development field back in the 1970’s with a company called Burlington Sportswear Fabrics which was a large US multinational textile company who manufactured denim fabrics. I quickly graduated into the HR field, learned a lot with a company who operated two plants over 50 miles apart running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and became the group HR Director for both operations.

In 1992, I left Burlington Industries to join Wyeth Medica Ireland, who were starting up a major pharmaceutical operation in Newbridge, Co Kildare in the old Polaroid plant. I joined as HR Director and grew the plant up to 2000 employees. I enjoyed this challenge because it was a great opportunity; it offered me a green field start-up situation where I was able to develop my own HR Strategies having learned from previous experiences.

After over 30 years of working for major US multinational corporations I moved into the public sector when I joined Athlone Institute of Technology as Head of HR. This was a huge change in my life as the public sector operated a lot differently than the private sector in many ways; mainly by Government regulations.

Athlone Institute of Technology is an innovative institution that offers learners a range of programs ranging from professional development courses through to PhD’s across the Faculties of Business & Hospitality, Engineering and Informatics, Science and Health and our Department of Lifelong Learning. As an Institute we are distinguished by an outstanding learner experience, international focus, distinctive regional contribution and the high quality impact of our staff. AIT is a leader in applied research and innovation in materials, bioscience and software all housed in our state of the art campus, with €115 million invested since 2000 to benefit our 5,500 students.

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

Like all other Institutes of Technology, AIT is striving to become a Technological University (TU) in the next couple of years. This poses major challenges for every staff member especially in the area of embracing new direction and changes to current thinking but it is a change that employees in general are looking forward to.

Other challenges we face are reaching gender balance in some areas and coming to terms with changes that the introduction of GDPR has brought to our sector.

The continued development of AI will have a significant impact on all HR functions over the coming years and it in turn will lead to major change both in resource requirements and in how the HR function of the future will operate.

Q. What in your opinion are the key characteristics of your top performing people?

Like a lot of people I have mixed experiences with various characteristics of people at the top.

In my view, top performers are very broad thinking and all-embracing in all aspects of the business. Their people management skills are essential to achieving a high performing operation and their leadership abilities are essential in bringing all categories of employees with them on a successful journey into the future.

One other key characteristic of a top performer that I have experienced is their passion for communication which I believe is a key success factor for any organisation, as it improves morale by employees feeling that they are part of the organisation.

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

Again, I believe that the continued development of AI will have a big impact on the efficiency of how any function in any organisation will operate.

There are also many challenges and opportunities for HR functions in the future such as achieving gender balance and developing a diverse workforce.

I also believe that the HR function will become more integrated into the business and will have a lot of key impacts as business partners rather than be seen as a policing function up there somewhere.

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

Health and well-being initiatives are critical to all businesses regardless of who they are and what they do. At AIT we have an excellent employee well-being service for all staff and their families; we also promote healthy eating and activities through our Healthy Campus Office.

In addition to the above we have a state of the art Indoor International Athletics Arena which boasts the following facilities: An IAAF-approved 200m track, 60m sprint track as well as, long jump, pole vault, shot put and high jump areas, Outdoor Athletics Track, 4 Sports Pitches, Sports Hall, High Performance Training Area, Indoor Cycling Studio and Group Exercise Studio.

I am glad to say that a lot of our own staff and students avail of the membership and regularly use these facilities.

We are also constantly looking at new employee initiatives to introduce into the operation.

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

I believe that the following are some of the main skills required to have a top career as a HR Director:

1 Organisation: The ability to balance a variety of tasks on a daily basis
2 Ethics: Honesty and discretion are key components
3 Communication: The ability to relay information clearly and effectively
4 Problem Solving/Mediation: The ability to manage conflict
5 Leadership: The confidence to lead as HR is often seen as the expert on a variety of topics
6 Achieving the trust of all the people you deal with is a huge factor in ones success.

Q. What keeps you motivated day to day?

The unknown territory of HR, as Human Resources is one of few roles whereby you do not know what you will face on a daily basis which in itself makes it very interesting.

The realisation that the decisions I make on a daily basis can have a positive impact on an employee’s wellbeing.

Q. What is your proudest career achievement to date?

The one that stands out for me most over the span of my career is speaking at a well-attended national conference on the introduction of family friendly policies in my previous employment, a subject that is a keen interest to a lot of employees over all sectors of employment.

Q. Who inspires you professionally?

Over my career a number of people have inspired me professionally:

a) Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, President of AIT for his vision and decisiveness

b) Turlough O’Sullivan, former Director General of IBEC who is now Managing Direrector of Resolve Ireland for his appreciation of the importance, of being able to meet his member companies needs

c) John Harty, formerly group HR Director of Burlington Industries, for his very valuable mentoring in my earlier days as a HR professional.

Q. How do you stay current?

I stay current by attending relevant conferences, and also I keep up to date with the CIPD communications and magazines. I find the IRN magazine very helpful in keeping the HR function up to date on current events as does all of the communications and regional meetings that IBEC produce.

Closing Comment:

Thank you to Liam Brennan for participating in our HR Leaders Series 2018.

About Principal Connections 

Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading global executive search firm.

With offices in Dublin and Galway, Ireland, Principal Connections partners with Large Multinational Corporations, Small to Medium Enterprises, Start-up and Family Owned Businesses, Not-For-Profit, Semi-State and Public-Sector Bodies in the identification, assessment, evaluation, and recruitment of key Management, Executive and Specialist leadership talent.

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