Debbie Irish HR Director for HP, Northwest Europe, HP Inc.
We asked Debbie Irish, HR Director for Northwest Europe, HP Inc. to identify turning points and/or significant times from her career. Here, she explores eight such events.
Pinpointing eight challenges I’ve experienced throughout my career is difficult, I’ve had a long and varied journey which has constantly brought up unexpected challenges to overcome. However, of all of my experiences these were the ones which were either the most unexpected or made me overcome fears of the unknown, helping me to grow as a person and a professional.
1: I prioritised having a family first and my career came second, but when the children were young, I still needed an income, so I became an entrepreneur. I had two businesses, one in real-estate and the other a joint wedding catering venture with a friend. Operating my own businesses meant I had the flexibility (not afforded by fulltime employment at that time) to be present for my children. Obviously, this came with its own unique set of challenges, but it helped me have control over my time and find a suitable balance between my work and personal life until my children were at an age where they didn’t depend on me as heavily.
2: In 2008, when I was working for a different company, I was faced with overcoming an extraordinary disaster after our office was destroyed by an explosion at the nearby fuel depot. The explosion was so loud it was heard in the Netherlands! Luckily it happened on a Sunday morning so there wasn’t anyone in the building, however rebuilding in the aftermath and trying to reconnect people, sourcing new office premises, and communicating crisis plans with the whole business to get operations back up and running presented us with a huge challenge.
3: I was once asked to travel to Taiwan to put in place a range of compensation solutions, reward, and retention plans because the company was transforming its R&D function – the request was completely unexpected and forced me out of my comfort zone. It was a great learning experience as I had to consider policies that would work for a new and different culture to my own.
4: When the organisation you work for undergoes an acquisition it’s an uncertain experience, and when HP acquired 3Com in 2009 it was no exception, added to this I was also tasked with leading on the acquisition from a HR perspective. Being charged with the responsibility of ensuring all employees felt supported was no easy task and it meant I had to set aside my own uncertainties to drive progress and implement new strategies that aligned with HP’s business objectives.
5: In 2015, HP split to create Hewlett Packard Enterprise and HP Inc. and I was charged with overseeing HR operations for the UK and Ireland. It was a newly created role, for a newly created company, and it presented us with a whole host of challenges. Despite it being hugely daunting, I quickly built a strong team around me and together we implemented new policies to align with the business objectives. I was especially passionate about implementing strong diversity, equity and inclusion policies; I worked with colleagues who had expressed interest in wanting to see more stringent DE&I policies in the workplace and facilitated them connecting with each other to get initiatives up and running. Together we built a company culture that we’re immensely proud of and achieved what we set out to do – but it certainly wasn’t easy.
6: Each time I’ve taken on a new role, I’ve had to overcome the fear of the unknown and throw myself in at the deep end. Saying ‘yes! Tell me more’ has allowed me to learn and develop. I found comfort in knowing that the people who had recommended me and put me forward for the role believed in me and my abilities. I used their confidence in me to drive me forward and embrace the change. Their belief fed my own energy, so I had the confidence that I was capable of expanding my skillset and knowledge to excel in the next step of my career.
7: In one role I oversaw operations in Southern Europe, which presented a challenge as I don’t speak Spanish, French or Italian. Despite the company I worked for being US based and many of my European colleagues speaking impeccable English, I forced myself to learn some rudimentary Spanish, French and Italian in order to converse with my team, albeit in a basic way, but I felt it was a show of respect. It was hugely daunting being asked to oversee the region initially, but I embraced the challenge and I’m richer for it.
8: I’m sure any professional will say the COVID-19 pandemic presented them with a notable challenge! There was no playbook to guide us through it – we went from working in the office five days a week, to remote working overnight. Obviously, this presented us with a number of huge challenges, not only logistically, but in terms of ensuring each employee felt properly supported. I’ve been brought to tears by the reviews from people who were grateful of the measures that were put in place to support them.