Interview with Garry McCabe, HR Director, Kuehne + Nagel Ireland

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 7 June 2017 Issues covered:

In our first interview of the series, Garry McCabe, Human Resources Director at Kuehne + Nagel Ireland, explains his journey into human resources, how he admires Ryanair's Michael O'Leary for his leadership style and his success in establishing Kuehne + Nagel on Ireland’s Best Workplace List, where they have been ranked in the top 10 for the past 7 years.

Garry McCabe

Name:  Garry McCabe

Position & Organisation:  Human Resources Director, Kuehne + Nagel Ireland

Number of Employees: 350

Time in Post: 10 years 

Tell us about your business in a sentence

Kuehne + Nagel are the world’s leading logistics service provider. We provide excellence in supply chain expertise to the Pharmaceutical, Medical Device, Aviation, HI-Tech, Industrial and Food & Drinks sectors in Ireland.

Give us an idea about your early life and career 

My early career was predominantly in manufacturing, working in Tayto at a general operative level, mainly in production line roles. It was during this time that I became an active member of the Trade Union, initially becoming a local Shop Steward. In time, my involvement in this increased and I progressed to National Convenor for all Tayto Trade Union activity. I simultaneously returned to education at this time to study for a Degree in HRM / IR at University College Dublin, which was sponsored by a joint IBEC / ICTU scholarship. When I completed my studies, Tayto then offered me the opportunity to join their HR team as Training & Development Manager. I progressed quite quickly within the team to Human Resource / Industrial Relations Management.

What are the key challenges you face in your role? 

A consistent challenge Human Resource professionals face in every organisation face is to get line managers to lead in such a way that their people’s needs are fully met. It is imperative that our line managers take ownership for the people agenda in the sense that they fully embrace their communications, performance, engagement and leadership responsibilities. Furthermore we have to help line managers to consistently improve their talent in these key areas. Too often, line managers are managing day-to-day activities without leading their teams. Fortunately in Kuehne + Nagel, the HR team have proven our relevance and are considered a very integral part of the business and its strategy. However, the constant challenge of having a line management team who are fully accountable for regularly demonstrating good people practices remains at the forefront.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

There are two things that keep me going. Firstly, I have a great passion for the people within Kuehne + Nagel and this is reflected across our business. I know that we have many of the freight industry’s very best talent working within our organisation and we have attracted them due to the high standards we have set and our reputation. We must work hard to ensure that we continually impress talent and facilitate their understanding that they are with the best employer in our industry. On my first day, 10 years ago I sensed that Kuehne + Nagel employees’ buy-in and belief was at such a high level and I had not seen this in my career previously. We had people in Kuehne + Nagel who were fully bought into the journey we were on to being great. They also had passion for the Kuehne + Nagel brand and their colleagues and this captivated me and genuinely left a lasting impression.

Secondly, by nature I am very competitive and I’m proud to work with the number one provider of international freight & logistics services in the Irish market. Consolidating and growing our lead in this marketplace really enthuses me and Human Resources have a huge part to play in that journey, through attracting, retaining, developing and improving the exceptional talent we are fortunate enough to engage with every day.

If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?

CEO of a non-profit organisation like Concern.

Who do you most admire in business locally and/or internationally? Why?

I’m very fortunate to work with an exceptional Managing Director, Pamela Quinn, who is setting new standards for leadership in corporate Ireland. She has transformed our business during her 3 year tenure with her highly engaged and collaborative style that drives real accountability and ownership throughout her team.  Her innovative future-focused approach to Leadership, Strategy and Business Management saw her awarded IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year 2016, and more importantly has seen bottom line growth well beyond market norms.

Internationally, I admire the maverick leadership style of Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary. His ability to lead a company to the consistent phenomenal results that Ryanair have achieved since he took the reigns as CEO in 1994 has been incredible. Among his many talents I admire his courage to set very high standards for a complex business in a highly competitive environment and always exceed.

How do you unwind after a tough week?

Lately I’ve taken up golf and this allows me to switch off from everything for a few hours on a Sunday morning, which I’ve found very beneficial from a mental wellbeing perspective.

What’s your top office/business bugbear?

People in leadership roles who do not take ownership for those roles and forget the importance of the fundamentals such as good communication skills.

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

The top performing employees in Kuehne + Nagel are passionate, have a great attitude, a high intellect, and have independence and commitment. A hidden characteristic that is rarely mentioned but is truly a differentiator for top performers is the ability to close out tasks at the level set in the initial expectation. Put simply, the ability to deliver a project on time, in full and within budget.

What skills are essential for a top career in HR and will these still be the same in 5 years time?

Essential skills for a successful HR career include people management; influencing; commercial acumen; strategic influence; problem solving; having a solutions mind-set; and driving performance. While I don’t believe these will change over the coming 5 years, I do expect them to be influenced greatly by technology advances.

How did you gain an understanding of a more strategic level of HR?

We initially built a full HR service offering and then set about improving every aspect of the offering on a continuous basis. This of course is a journey with no end; however, we are now at a mature stage with many of our services to the business. Over the past 3 years we have been able to really engage in true HR strategic development which matches the HR strategy with the business strategy. However the difference in Kuehne + Nagel is that we are engaged in strategy every day and we are measuring our impact. We have a really comprehensive strategy for Human Resources which both enables and adds value to our business.

What will be the key skills for leading HR practitioners in 5 years’ time?

People Management, Influencing, Commercial Acumen, Strategic Influence, Problem Solving, Solutions mind-set and Driving Performance are the key skills for a HR Leader.

What piece of advice would you give to a person trying to reach your position?

Work today like you would for the career you want tomorrow.

Looking back at your career to date, what were the key elements in your jump from general operative in Tayto to HR Director in Kuehne + Nagel?

Role and Company 

Key Elements                            

Crisp maker, Tayto    

Quality of product, ability to think on feet

Trade Union Activist, Tayto          

Big picture view, very strong preparation, excellent communications

L&D Manager, Tayto  

High quality content and delivery, meeting the organisational needs

HR/ IR Manager, Tayto    

Excellent preparation and planning, excellent communications

HR Director, Kuehne + Nagel             

Leadership, ownership, communications, strategy, development

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

I have one for each of the HR and IR side

HR : Helping to establish Kuehne + Nagel on Ireland’s Best Workplace List where we have been ranked in the top 10 for the past 7 years. Kuehne + Nagel are the only Freight & Logistics business in Ireland currently ranked as a Great Place to Work and this gives us a real edge over our competition when attracting and retaining the industry’s best talent.

IR : When I was a Trade Union Shop Steward, I negotiated the first private equity deal emanating from a sale of a business (Tayto/ Beatrice Foods to C&C Group) which resulted in a €1,000,000 payment divided among all employees. This was subsequently resubmitted and negotiated with C&C Group as they were selling their business in an IPO. This deal resulted in an allocation of free shares worth approximately €20,000,000 to employees.

In your view what is the best thing an organisation can do to motivate staff and drive higher performance?

Without a doubt the highest impact on performance comes from high quality transparent and regular communications from line management and organisational leadership.

This article is correct at 07/06/2017

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