Interview with Eimear O'Reilly - HR Director, Paddy Power Betfair

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 26 September 2017 Issues covered:

Eimear O'Reilly has had an extensive HR career with a number of proud achievements along the way. Working in a variety of roles, Eimear established a solid foundation in key aspects of HR, which undoubtedly helped her to progress to the top.

In this interview Eimear shares some of the biggest challenges she faces in her role, offers key advice and provides her thoughts on the future of HR.

Eimear O’Reilly, Paddy Power Betfair

Eimear O’Reilly
Position & Organisation: HR Director, Paddy Power Betfair Retail UK & Irl
Number of Employees: 7,000 worldwide (3,500 in Retail UK & Irl)
Time in Post: 1 year
Previous Job: Head of HR, Vodafone Inside Sales

 Tell us about your business in a sentence 

Paddy Power is a brand that most people are familiar with. We are a gaming organisation with over 600 stores across the UK and Ireland, an ever-growing online business and marketing well known for its edgy approach. We are the largest bookmaking retailer in Ireland, and one of the fastest-growing retail businesses in the UK. It’s an exciting place to work where the bold most definitely, go far!

Give us an idea about your early life 

From very early on in my career, I had an interest in people and the psychology of the workplace.  I had intended to travel after finishing secondary school and in preparation for this, I completed a bi-lingual secretarial course.  However, life took over and I was offered a fantastic opportunity working as a PA in a law firm.  This sparked my keen interest in employment law.  My first HR practitioner role was with Allianz Ireland, where I commenced as a PA and subsequently moved into an HRBP role, supporting regional offices in ROI and NI.  I was with Allianz for 5 years and thoroughly enjoyed it. Following this, I sought a number of roles that allowed me to focus on specific HR channels, such as employment law, recruitment, L&D and talent.  At the same time, I returned to education part-time to study for a Degree in SHRM and Industrial Relations in the NCI.  I followed up with a qualification in Mediation and Business Coaching and am currently trying to find the time to study for a Masters in Organisational Psychology.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

At PPB, we aim to be the employer of choice, which requires constant focus on multiple challenges.  One of our main objectives is to ensure a consistent, successful employee experience.  We focus a lot of attention on empowering our line managers to lead effectively and to take ownership of team culture, leadership responsibility and performance. In addition, retention of key talent remains a constant challenge for every organisation in today’s market. We therefore place significant emphasis on career pathing, positive performance management and talent identification. We are fortunate at PPB that the HR function is so heavily involved in driving strategy and day to day business objectives.  Our Group HRD sits on our Executive Committee, which indicates the importance of the HR agenda and we do all of this while ensuring we still have fun every day!

What keeps you going when things get tough?

Firstly, I love a challenge and that in itself keeps me motivated. I quite enjoy navigating my way through stormy waters to a successful outcome. This is not always easy and I have been fortunate to have had the benefit of some fantastic mentors over the years who have all been very generous with their time and experience. I have learned to be resilient and tenacious when things are tough. Our culture is a collaborative and supportive one, which is invaluable when solving problems. I take great comfort in the fact that we have a very talented team in place.   Finally, the importance of work life balance cannot be underestimated and my personal relationships and home life provide me with a break when I need one.

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

If I had not made the move into HR early on in my career, I would have qualified as a Barrister specialising in Employment and Commercial Law.

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

It is tough to keep this to a short list.  There are so many influential and important leaders in Ireland today.  Locally, I am privileged to work with our Group HR Director, Sally Cairns. She is an inspirational leader who empowers the team to ‘be human’ and at the same time drive an authentic but effective employee experience.  Sally is also the sponsor of our Diversity programme.  In the past, I consider my opportunities to work with Anne O’Leary, CEO of Vodafone Ireland, and Gráinne O’Boyle, Director of Skillsnet, among the most inspirational.  Anne has been instrumental in driving the diversity agenda in Ireland and supporting women to strive for leadership roles. Gráinne is an amazing mentor to me.

I am also a great admirer of Ursula Burns, previous Chair and CEO of Xerox.  PPB is an environment where change is a constant and Ursula was a very effective leader in managing change. I love her motto: “the best way to manage change is to do it.  After a while you become it and it’s easy”. Words to live by!

How do you unwind after a tough week?

An escape to some of our Irish beaches is always a treat, I particularly enjoy a blustery walk in Autumn to blow the cobwebs away.  Often times I can be found sharing my thoughts loudly from the sideline of a Leinster game and enjoy a glass or two of Godello with good meal at the weekend. 

What’s your top office/business bugbear?

Over the years, it has always come back to one thing: the importance of effective management.  I really believe in the old saying, ‘people leave managers, not companies’.  The relationship between a manager and an employee is crucial to a positive employee experience.

What are the key characteristics of your top performing employees?

At PPB, our culture and environment are just as important as what we achieve and so, the top characteristics are not just related to ‘what’ we do but also ‘how’ we do it.  Our employees are passionate, dedicated and committed because our values centre on collaboration, integrity and low ego.  PPB is a fast-paced organisation, our best people manage the pace exceptionally well, while remaining aligned to our values and delivering on time in some very exciting projects.

What skills are essential for a top career in HR and will these still be the same in 5 years?
Commercial acumen, strategic influence and relationships are essential.  In some circles, HR continues to be seen as a support function rather than a strategic partner.  It is imperative that HR can demonstrate credibility in a business context to continue to add and create value going forward.

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

As mentioned previously, I was fortunate to have some exceptional mentors who encouraged me into different experiences and pushed me to exceed what I thought were my limits. This led to my gaining experience of more strategic challenges at an early stage in my career. As a result, five years ago, I had my first opportunity to set and lead the HR strategy of a major organisation by myself and I succeeded.  This was very challenging but a great learning experience in how to engage strategically with the business at a whole new level. Today, my role in PPB requires me to think strategically on a daily basis.

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

HR/People Analytics, Strategic Influence, Talent Management and Relationship Management.

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever been given? 

The best piece of advice I ever got was from a previous manager/mentor, Gráinne O’Boyle, who shared the concept of the Service Profit Chain.  Essentially, this means, if you put your people first and your people are happy, content and feel valued in their roles, profit will follow.  The bottom line will never suffer from investing in your people.  Excellent people management breeds excellent customer experience. Enough said!

Looking back at your career to date, what were the key elements in your jump from HRBP Allianz Ireland to HR Director, PPB Retail?

During my 5 years in Allianz, I had many opportunities to learn about all aspects of HR.  I then moved from Allianz to Bank of Scotland (Ireland), which forced me to promote myself in a new environment and to encourage the business to have confidence in a new face.  During my time in BOSI, the company underwent a significant change programme that provided me with experience in every pillar of HR imaginable, from recruitment to employee relations and policy-making.  This taught me the importance of spotting your opportunities and to use each one of them to learn as much as possible.

I went on to secure another varied and interesting role in Meteor, later ‘Eir’, which provided me with a whole different set of experiences and challenges. Probably the most interesting of these was the merging of both organisations on paper (the easy bit) and the subsequent merging of both organisations culturally (the not-so-easy-bit). An interesting time for all involved! But we got the job done in the end.

After four years with Meteor, I went on to fill other interesting roles such as Head of HR for the Medical Council, Head of HR in Vodafone Inside Sales and finally to my current role as HRD in PaddyPowerBetfair Retail Business. 

What would be the key piece of advice you would give to people considering a career in human resources?

It is important to understand the many facets of HR. Some personalities prefer to specialise in Centres of Excellence while some are more suited to a generalist type role.  In my experience, specialising in one or two disciplines in the early years lends itself to a solid foundation for the future.  Know what you want to achieve and strive for it.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Actually, I have had a few.  I was part of a wonderful team in Vodafone launching a new and successful inside sales channel– Vodafone Red Edge. I led the HR channel for this project and we were recognised at the Group Annual Awards for Excellence in HR Delivery.

Additionally, I am very excited by my current role. I have always been interested in the PPB brand; it’s edgy and exciting and working in the organisation is also edgy and exciting.  I was quite proud to join the team last year and I still am. Every day is interesting, varied and positively challenging.

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

Regular and transparent communication are the keys to gaining the highest impact.  Also, it is crucial to listen to the needs of employees, ensure clarity on career pathing and career opportunities and to promote a strong talent and performance strategy from the top down.

This article is correct at 26/09/2017

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