Tuesday 12 November 2019

Your Business: The 'phone a friend' HR firm

Caroline McEnery tells Sean Gallagher how a love of people and of business led her to start her own company

Caroline McEnery and Sean Gallagher at The HR Suite’s Tralee headquarters Photo: Domnick Walsh
Caroline McEnery and Sean Gallagher at The HR Suite’s Tralee headquarters Photo: Domnick Walsh
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

The success of almost every business in the world depends on their ability to attract the right staff. And while finding good staff can be challenging, holding on to them can often be equally as difficult.

Until recently, managing employees was largely about offering interesting work opportunities that were matched with equally attractive salaries and benefits. Today however, managing important human resources (or what is often referred to as a company's 'human capital') now involves navigating a raft of complex employment law and compliance issues - all of which add to the already burdensome nature of a business's administrative workload.

To find out how companies are managing these challenges, I paid a visit last week to Caroline McEnery, founder and managing director of The HR Suite. Set up in 2009, the company provides outsourced support and advice to businesses on all aspects of HR and employment law. With offices in Tralee and Dublin, the company employs 10 staff and has an annual turnover of €750,000.

"Our business is essentially all about people," explains Caroline as she welcomes me to her company's headquarters in Tralee. "We are like a company's 'expert phone a friend' option when it comes to answering their questions and concerns about employment issues," she adds.

Clients are a mix of SMEs and larger corporate clients drawn from a diverse range of sectors that takes in everything from retail and pharmacy stores to beauty therapists, hotels, restaurants, IT firms, banks and general manufacturing companies.

"We provide HR expertise and support to our clients on an outsourced basis so that business owners and their own staff can focus their energies on their company's core business objectives while having the peace of mind of knowing that they are fully compliant with all legal requirements regarding their HR responsibilities," explains Caroline.

"We want our clients to feel that we are their HR department except that we may be either located alongside them in their own premises or in our own offices. More and more companies now appreciate that they need professional help with managing their HR function in the same way they need an experienced accountant to look after Vat, tax and cash-flow management," she adds.

The company supports clients with recruitment including the use of occupational personality testing to assess the suitability of candidates for particular roles. The focus here is on ensuring that they share the same core values as the business, have the key competencies and attributes required for the job and will be a fit with the company's culture.

"If you don't recruit the right people in the first place you end up with performance management issues, which can become a distraction to getting on with achieving your company's key goals," insists Caroline.

The company also assists with the preparation of contracts of employment for staff, developing company handbooks and policies and procedures as well as managing their disciplinary procedures. Their accredited mediators assist clients in addressing employee complaints with a view to resolving these before they become formal, costly and damaging to the business.

They also offer professional advice on all aspects of unfair or wrongful dismissal, equality legislation, bullying and harassment and can even provide expert representation for clients at third-party forums such as the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court.

"We also work with our client companies to help them manage the performance of their staff from their probationary periods through to conducting performance reviews. We are also active in the area of organisational and workforce restructuring including the integration of staff where a company has bought or merged with another business," she says.

Caroline McEnery grew up on a farm in Ballyheigue outside Tralee, Co Kerry. As a teenager, her summers were spent waitressing in the local White Sands Hotel - something that helped her realise her talent as a people person and sparked her initial interest in business. After school, she got a job in HR at the Kerry Group head office in Tralee, where the company supported her to go to college at night. She later graduated with a Masters in HR. After eight years with the Kerry Group, she moved to the Garvey Group, which owned a number of hotels and supermarket stores and employed more than 750 staff. There, she became director of HR and operations.

The idea to start her own HR business came about in 2009 while on a trip with Tralee Chamber of Commerce to Silicon Valley, California.

"Many of the entrepreneurs on the trip told me the challenges they faced around HR management," explains Caroline. "They felt there was an opening for an outsourced model in this space and as I'd always harboured the desire to start my own business, this was the very encouragement I needed to help me take the plunge," she adds.

In the beginning, her biggest challenge was having to do everything herself - from sales and marketing to looking after the accounts (something she didn't really enjoy). As the business grew, she was able to take on employees, allowing her to focus more on strategy and management while at the same time developing a team with expertise in key areas of HR.

But while starting a HR company anywhere was never going to be easy, starting one in Kerry brought its own challenges.

"I had a lot of work to do initially to persuade customers - particularly those in Dublin - that we could service their needs from so far away. However, once we had proven ourselves, testimonials came flooding in. That helped us convince others, and business began to grow steadily from there."

Looking back, she feels she has learned so much about business. In particular, she is grateful for the advice and support she received from managers she worked with along the way, as well as from other female entrepreneurs who she met as part of the Going for Growth Women's Enterprise Network.

"I gained so much from being surrounded by like-minded people. While we all came from different sectors, we were all facing the same or similar challenges," says Caroline. "Today, I act as a mentor with Acorns - a connected programme for rurally based female entrepreneurs. It's my way of giving back," she explains.

Confident about the future, she remains focused on growth and has recently taken on a new sales resource to help drive sales.

Caroline McEnery's desire to be her own boss together with the encouragement she received from others helped her take that important first step in starting her own business. With much of the hard work already done, she now looks set to achieve even more impressive growth in the future. The courage and self-belief she showed in striking out on her own serves as a strong reminder of what the late US author and politician, Eugene F Ware, once declared: "That all glory comes from daring to begin."


Company: The HR Suite

Business: Provider of outsourced HR advice and support

Set up: 2009

Founder: Caroline McEnery

Turnover: €750,000

Number of employees: 10

Location: Tralee, Co Kerry and Baggot Street, Dublin

Caroline's advice for other businesses

1 Invest in IT systems

"It's important to invest in putting systems in place from the start to allow you manage your KPIs. What gets measured gets improved, and using IT can help greatly in this regard. Having good systems helps you to manage operations more effectively and makes growing your business much easier."

2 Hire great staff that are better and different to you

"As business owners, we all start off looking after different aspects of the business. But there comes a time when if you really want to scale your business, you have to find people who are better than you at the different aspects of the business. Then you have to invest in developing a team for success."

3 Be passionate, positive and adaptive

"If you want to be successful, you really need to be passionate and positive about what it is you are doing. However, to stay ahead of the curve, you need to be willing to adapt to the changing needs of your customers. You also have to remember to find time to enjoy the journey."

For further information: www.thehrsuiteonline.com

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