Job Profile: Cathy Donnelly, Liberty IT HR Director

Read on to learn more about Liberty IT HR Director, Cathy Donnelly…

What was your first job?

I worked in a video shop when I was 14; perfect for someone that age, getting paid to watch movies. My first HR role was with Botanic Inns when it consisted of the Bot and Madison’s. I had never worked in HR before, but Jas Mooney employed me to set up an HR department for the company. We were both taking a chance, but I think it paid off as I joined as Personnel & Training Manager when there were just 100 employees and left an award-winning company, employing 750 people, nine years later as Head of HR.

What qualifications do you have?

A mixed bag! I have a degree in French and Business Administration and a Postgraduate Diploma in Hotel and Tourism Management. In terms of HR, I have completed the CIPD Postgraduate Diploma in Personnel Management, a Masters in Human Resource Management and a Certificate in Counselling.

What do you attribute your success to?

Having a fabulous support network has allowed me to take advantage of the attractive career opportunities that have presented themselves over the years. I commuted to London for four years when working with IKEA which allowed me to take up the role of Head of HR for UK & Ireland. As a mother of young twins, I couldn’t have done that without the full support of my husband, Seamus, my parents and wider family circle.

How would you describe yourself to someone who’d never met you?

I would say energetic and passionate with a strong sense of humour BUT very, very impatient!

Who do you look up to in business?

Ingvar Kamprad, the founder and owner of IKEA. His entrepreneurial spirit was clear at a very early age when he sold matches to his neighbours. 80 years and 303 IKEA stores later, he stepped down from the board in 2013. I met him in the Belfast store a few years ago and he was truly inspirational; a very warm individual with a personal word for everyone he met. In his mid-eighties, he was in the store at 6am to see the deliveries being unloaded and was there through until late in the evening, walking the store, talking to co-workers. A true example of leadership by example and I can only hope that I have his drive and energy when I get to that age.

How do you get the best out of people who work with you?

You need to trust and empower people to always do the right thing and to do it well. Present them with opportunities which push them out of their comfort zone but be there to coach and reassure them through the tough situations. And most importantly, have fun as a team! I am fortunate to have a great team at Liberty IT who are very successful in what they do as highlighted recently by our position on the 2014 Best Workplaces UK list.

If you could change one thing about doing business in Northern Ireland, what would it be?

Since returning to Northern Ireland and joining Liberty IT, I have enjoyed the numerous opportunities to network with other HR professionals – I believe that the feeling of community is unique to Northern Ireland and some of the HR practices are world class. That said, being like a community does have its downsides in that we can be critical of each other and rather than recognising each other’s success and best practice, we focus on finding fault.

What website could you not do without?

Professional, the CIPD website – it’s a great reference site. Personally, Esprit – I got a platinum card from them recently for being such a loyal customer which for some reason didn’t give my husband as much pleasure as me!

Tell us something interesting about yourself.

I was Northern Ireland’s Young Career Woman of the Year in 1999.

What’s your greatest passion outside work and family?

Reading – when I’m in the mood I devour books. I don’t know if it’s a hangover from my time in IKEA but I love to read dark Scandinavian books by writers such as Jo Nesbo.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in their career?

Be patient when it comes to your career; don’t waste time wondering why you’re not working at the next level. Stay in the moment and focus on doing your best in your current role. If you do that, the opportunities will continue to come for many years.

Cathy Donnelly

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