I’ve had two key mentors. I started my career in Ireland in the late 1970s. My first job was with Bord na Móna, a semi-public organisation. I stayed there for three-and-a-half years before moving into a private sector role. I was an HR officer for a US multinational, in a small manufacturing organisation being set up in the west of Ireland.
The HR director there, Val McNicklaus, had deliberately taken a job below his level of capabilities. This was great for me, as I got to work for someone who had no interest in staying there long-term, and who effectively mentored me to take over from him.
Val had a solid HR and industrial relations background, and a very strong sense of culture. I learned a lot from him. He had worked in the private sector, whereas I was a raw graduate, with no experience outside the public sector. He gave me feedback on things I was not doing well, and gave me room to grow and develop – all the things you look for in a mentor.
Of course, I didn’t realise this at the time. I just thought he was giving me a hard time, telling me: “That’s not good enough. Go back and do it again.” Then he left, and I took over. But that two-and-a-half-year period gave me a tremendous opportunity to see how you align HR from scratch. And Val and I became – and still remain – real friends.
My second mentoring experience is more recent. The company that I work for now, GlaxoSmithKline, came about through the 2001 merger of SmithKline Beecham and GlaxoWellcome. At that stage, I’d had my job in Ireland for nine years, during which time I had managed HR in two businesses. It was quite a busy job but I needed a new challenge, so I took on responsibility for IT as well. Then the merger took place, and I ended up reporting to Mary Gilgallon.
I was at a crossroads about what I wanted to do. I’d done the HR bit, then IT, and had agreed to stay on through the merger. But I had itchy feet. I really liked Mary’s style – she was a great sponsor. We had some real conversations about what I was doing, and what I wanted to do in the future. She was tremendously supportive, and offered me the opportunity to move out of Ireland and do something different within the company. I ended up spending three years working for her. We still talk on occasion – I have great respect for Mary.
Gerard Hussey, vice-president HR, consumer supply, GMS, GlaxoSmithKline