Persistence has paid off for Kerry

In our weekly 'My Career' feature we talk to Kerry O'Keeffe, Executive Coach and Leadership Facilitator
Persistence has paid off for Kerry

Kerry O’Keeffe, Executive Coach and Leadership Facilitator


My Career: Kerry O’Keeffe, Executive Coach and Leadership Facilitator

Name: Kerry OKeeffe

Age: 44

Lives: Kilworth, Co Cork

Job title: Executive Coach & Leadership Facilitator/

Salary bracket: €60,000+

Education background: Degree in Business Management, MBS in Human Resource Strategies, Advanced Diploma in Coaching Supervision and a Diploma in Coaching.

Hobbies: Many! I like to dabble, my current favourites: Walking, cycling, gardening and creative DIY.

Describe your job in five words: Helping others find solutions from within.

Describe yourself in five words: Energetic, organised, driven, supportive and positive.

Personality needed for this kind of work? Patience, energy, a positive belief in everyone and their abilities to affect change.

How long are you doing this job? 20-plus years.

How did you get this job? I knew I wanted to work in HR/Development when I did my placement at university. I went to work in a hotel and could see the people were what made the difference for the customer. At the end of each season the hotel let the staff go in the hope they would return the next year. I started to think about HR and the role it could have and started to progress from there. I took HR modules in my final year and did the milk round looking for a HR graduate job. I was accepted for a graduate position in a UK building society as a personal financial adviser. When I got the offer I had to ring them and ask what this was… as a student I didn’t have any finances!

I asked them why not HR and they said 1. I needed to learn the business 2. They felt I was good with people and would excel in this role 3. I would make a better HR person.

Although I knew this wasn’t the career for me, I did a finance role for three years and learnt how to deal with customers, prepare their financial plan and deal with sensitive issues like making provision if one or other of the partners were to die.

From there, I moved into recruitment and showed how my previous experience with customers would make me a good interviewer.

I worked for a recruitment agency for two and a half years and then I moved into IBM as a Recruitment Officer. I volunteered to go on a European project and managed the recruitment of 500 people from 14 different countries to Ireland. I left IBM after that and joined ESAT which later became BT, working there for five years as a local HR Manager, then Director, moving into a Head of HR Service Delivery for Europe, managing 10 countries.

After two years in this role I negotiated a career break from BT, finished work on a Friday and went to Australia on a Monday. Thinking I would chill out and surf I realised I was no good at surfing and I missed work. I secured a job in a research & development organisation, progressing from a Regional HR Manager to a HR leader across the business helping to transform their HR model. After two years I returned to Ireland to a HR Director role in J&J Cashel and after two and a half years in that role I set up my own business. I now consult to companies on leadership development, change management, organisation development. I also coach leaders in businesses and provide career coaching to those seeking jobs. I enjoy facilitating teams at all levels to progress the ‘how’ of delivering on a strategy or change.

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? I do have a bias towards qualifications as I love learning and frequently return to college. I am planning to start a Masters in Psychology in September.

A business or HR degree and ideally a Masters. A qualification in coaching is also needed if you want to coach and join a professional coaching body. The more experience, the better, and in HR, having a variety of experience makes you more adaptable.

Describe a day at work: No day is typical. I am currently doing consultancy in HR and transformation for a company in Cork. The day looks like the first hour preparing for the day, updating a presentation for a meeting or scheduling appointments. The second hour is attending business meetings to understand how the business is running and what needs to be done — moving resources, dealing with an absenteeism, bringing in more temporary resources. The rest of the day is either attending meetings to move on work projects or facilitating meetings for teams who are trying to work together to solve a problem, or providing advice to leaders on how to deal with a people issue or challenge.

How many hours do you work a week? 50 to 60 depending on the week.

What do you wear to work? Suits — I like to feel dressed for work.

Is your industry male or female dominated? Male dominated.

Does this affect you in any particular way? It can sometimes be a little intimidating, however I am the sort of person that gets stuck in and makes conversation. I try to keep abreast of the major sports so I can spark up a conversation. I haven’t started playing golf although I do think this is good for your career and where networks are built.

Is your job stressful? How? Rate it on a scale of 1-10: Yes it can be an average of a 7.

Do you work with others or on your own? It varies depending on what I am doing.

When do you plan to retire or give up working? No plan as yet.

Best bits: Seeing people grow in confidence and learn.

Worst bits: Dealing with messy employee relations or industrial relations issues.

Advice to those who want your job? Be persistent — if you don’t get a HR job immediately, any that involves working with people or customers improves your skills of relating to people. I knew where I wanted to get to at university and it took a few years but I showed employers what I had learnt along the way and how it was relevant to the new job. Challenge yourself, learn more, get more qualification.

Any other comments: In the last two years I have also co-founded Mojo for Leaders with Miriam O’Connell and Betty O’Callaghan. Mojo for Leaders is focused on developing powerful human leaders. We have also developed a leadership programme specifically for women called SOAR. We have conducted extensive research and found that to truly accelerate a woman’s leadership potential they need a more tailored experience to enable them to harness their talent and fully utilise learning and development opportunities within their own organisations.

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