Interview with Nikki McGoohan - HR Director at Abcon Industrial Products Ltd

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 4 November 2019 Issues covered:

Nikki McGoohanName:  Nikki McGoohan

Position & Organisation:  HR Director with responsibility for H&S Abcon Industrial Products Ltd

Number of Employees: 150

Time in post:  5 years

Previous Job:  Partner in ProTemp providing Business Administration services to SME’s.

 Tell us about your business:

Abcon Industrial Products Ltd, based in Cootehill, Co Cavan, has two separate manufacturing facilities.  The first is for Industrial Rubber Hose and Cavmac (part of Abcon) is the leading independently owned manufacturer, in Ireland and the UK, of large bore, custom designed, hand-built rubber hose for marine, offshore, dockside, dredging and heavy industry.  Our hoses are shipped all over the world and we are renowned for quality in a niche market. 

The second is the manufacture of Abrasive Belts and Discs, which we can again make to customized specifications. We also distribute a range of tools and accessories for the Automotive, Stainless Steel, Joinery and DIY sectors.

Give us an idea about your early life and career?

As you will see, my experience has been varied.  My first professional position was as an assistant to the PA in the Director’s office of Bank of Ireland in the UK.  Despite my inexperience, fortunately, my manager Louise decided to take a chance on me, and I was employed as her assistant.  I then moved from that department to BOI Asset Finance division, which gave me the opportunity to broaden my experience and capabilities.   

For personal reasons I decided to move back to Ireland and spent a year working in the customer service department of an Insurance company.  I then travelled to New Zealand and worked there for two years.  In Auckland, I worked for a large family owned business with varied interests.  My position was the Administrator of their Cattle Sales Division.  This entailed attending the sales one day each week and spending the rest of the week in the office carrying out the administration duties from the sales.  I am not from a farming background so the guys had great fun teasing me and testing my gullibility about the farming world, including telling me that sheep were blind!!

When I came back to Ireland, I worked for a Nanotechnology start up Company as an Administrator and also assisted the CFO set up and manage the accounts system.  The company was funded by Venture Capitalists, which meant I gained valuable experience in due diligence and the legal side of the business.  During my time there I progressed to the position of PA to the Executive Team. 

In 2001, myself and one of my sisters set up our own business, a partnership called ProTemp.  We felt that there was a place in the market for a service providing business administration services to SME’s.  Our employers at that time engaged our services on a part-time basis, which ensured that we had clients from the beginning and the business grew from there.  ProTemp worked with Companies to provide payroll, accounts, general administration and other business functions.  I am a certified Mediator, so I also assisted employees dealing with disciplinary issues and companies dealing with the WRC.  We also assisted some of our Clients when dealing their banks, accountants etc.  This was done on a part-time or ad-hoc basis.  During this time, we also were the main distributors for a saliva-based ovulation tester, so this provided me with a good insight into sales and bringing products to market.  After 14 years we found ourselves at a crossroads.  We were employing staff but found that we were spending all our time working “in” the business and not “on” the business, because our clients wanted us and not less experienced employees to work in their businesses.  It was at this time the MD of Abcon, who had been a client of ProTemp’s since their inception in 2005, approached us about joining their Management Team. 

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

When I started working with Abcon there was no HR department.  I was very excited about implementing the systems that were required.  However, I wasn’t prepared for the negativity and push back which followed when attempting to change how things were done; it was a great lesson in patience.  Also being responsible for Health & Safety, I have to find the balance between the two. 

I must ensure that supervisors/managers deal with issues as they arise and not let systems slip.  This can be especially challenging when they are busy but consistency is hugely important. This also relates to my own role, standing my ground on issues even when it causes conflict.  It may often be easier to say nothing but in my experience, there are always others who are glad that I stuck to my principles.

Finding the right employees with the requisite skills is also a challenge.  I am a member of the North East Regional Skills Group and it is encouraging to see so much work being done to ensure that the training is being targeted to address these issues.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

My belief in being fair, transparent and consistent.  I am very reflective so always questioning myself why I am doing something to make sure I am not making it about me, but that it is the right thing to do.

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

I find this difficult to answer without sounding like a cliché, but I do genuinely enjoy coaching people to help them grow.  I also lecture at the local Institute on a part-time basis and the more people I engage with, I realise how many of us think everyone else is more confident than they actually are.  I didn’t complete my course, but I spent 3 years nursing, specialising in Paediatrics.  My ideal job would have been to work in the community with cancer patients.

Who do you admire in business?

I admire Sir Richard Branson, as he embodies his ethos about the importance of his employees and how to treat them.

Who do you unwind after a tough week?

This is something I am continually working on, I am a deep thinker and find it hard to shut off and leave things at work.  I have tried meditation but not very successfully.  Exercise helps and more recently EFT and if all else fails a glass of white wine on a Friday night!

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

My experience to date has given me insights into all of the many aspects of running a business.  I can appreciate where everyone is coming from and try to make sure we all get a “win win”.  I love learning and for the last 20 years have been continually developing my skills.  Every year I say to my husband that this is the last course I am doing and he just nods his head sceptically!

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

Communication is key – we all want to be listened to and you see it time and time again, where the people with the best knowledge of a topic are not the ones involved in the decision making.  Regular communication, acknowledging the good and the bad can prevent issues further down the line.  Managing expectations is another factor, be clear of what you expect from your employees but also don’t make promises you can’t keep.

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

“Least said, soonest mended” was a piece of advice given to me by my friend’s Mum, a very wise lady.  I feel this translates to both personal and working lives.  Spend your time listening to what is being said or not being said, and then go from there, rather than saying something that you may regret later.

This article is correct at 04/11/2019

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