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‘If you leave Brexit aside, I can’t help but admire Theresa May’

Pamela Quinn of Kuehne & Nagle on being named Great Place to Work Most Trusted Leader

Pamela Quinn: believes good leadership offers real benefits to organisations

Pamela Quinn: believes good leadership offers real benefits to organisations

 

Pamela Quinn, the managing director at Kuehne & Nagle, has been named this year’s Great Place to Work’s Most Trusted Leader. “We have been with Great Place to Work for the past 11 or 12 years but I really wasn’t expecting this award at all,” she says. “When you are a leader you have to place trust in people every day. I trust all 320 people working for us to do their best for the company and our customers. I give that trust daily and it’s an honour to know that it is reciprocated; that they trust in my ability to lead the organisation into the future. The fact that they put their trust in me really means a lot.”

She has spent the majority of her career with the logistics giant. “I’m 42 now and I joined Kuehne & Nagle 18 years ago, when I was just 24, having spent the previous five years in Dublin Port. They told me when I came here that once you start in logistics you never leave, and I’m still here. I joined in an administrative role and worked my way to managing director over the next 13 years. I worked in five different roles before becoming managing director.”

Those roles involved “a little bit of everything. I was in HR for four years. I set up the function and ran it. Then I moved into operations. That’s when I really started to develop my leadership skills. In 2013 my predecessor moved to the UK and I was asked to take over as managing director.”

Good leadership offers real benefits to organisations, she believes. “The leader sets the culture for an organisation. Whether you like it or not, they influence the way things are done. I have to motivate staff to come here, stay here and enjoy it here. I always say to people that if they are not happy, it’s not right. A good leader also gives people security. It’s comforting to know that the person in charge knows how to drive the company forward.”

Pamela Quinn: advises aspiring leaders is to surround yourself with a good team
Pamela Quinn: advises aspiring leaders is to surround yourself with a good team

Openness and honesty are essential traits of good leaders, Quinn adds. “You have to have a vision. That’s crucial. You need to know what you want to achieve. It’s different to just manage. Honesty is also crucial. The only way I can lead the business is by being true to myself and everyone in it. Being open and honest helps create a level of trust. Sometimes people don’t like what they hear but at least they know why you are saying it. You also have to be really consistent with your vision. There is nothing worse than a leader chopping and changing from day to day. That leads to demotivation.”

When asked if leaders are born or made, she says it’s a bit of both. On the other hand, there are some innate qualities which are essential. “I have given this some thought, particularly in relation to people managers, and you either have it or you don’t. You are born with certain attributes that may give you the potential to be a good leader, but you have to work at it. Think born with faculties. Not sure if you can teach someone without that. Leaders need things like intuition and decisiveness. It’s very hard to teach someone to be decisive.”

Most important is continuous improvement. “Leaders need to constantly challenge themselves. I very much believe that. Each year for the past decade I have looked at one thing I can change and improve, I then change it permanently and build on that improvement. You never stop learning.”

Pamela Quinn: Openness and honesty are essential traits of good leaders
Pamela Quinn: Openness and honesty are essential traits of good leaders

There is no single person who has inspired her as a leader but she does reveal an admiration for Theresa May. “I take inspiration from lots of people. Lots of people who I have worked for and with have influenced me as a leader. Right now, if you leave Brexit aside, I can’t help but admire Theresa May for her resilience as a leader. She has been challenged so much by the British people, her own party, and her cabinet and she has had the strength of character to stand firm and that has to be admired.”

Her advice to aspiring leaders is to surround yourself with a good team. “Having the right people around gives you the foundation to build on. After that, you must be willing to constantly grow and acknowledge the need to constantly adapt and change. I also believe in being vulnerable and don’t have a problem demonstrating it. I’m willing to say that I don’t know or don’t have all the answers.”

Her final piece of advice is not to lose the personal touch. “You always have to make it person to person. It’s not about the position you are in are the role people play; first and foremost, you have to treat them as a person. I have seen many situations where that hasn’t happened, and it doesn’t work out well. If you want to develop and maintain trust and build relationships, you have to keep bringing it back to the person. That’s how you create trust.”