Interview with inspiring leader Brendan McNulty

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Linda Walmsley is a professional interviewer and business owner of Lancashire based, UK executive and management recruitment firm, Walmsley Wilkinson. During 2023 she continues a series of interviews with Business Leaders who have innovated within their field of expertise and have warranted the description of being an inspiring leader.

PROFILE
Brendan is married to Louise, lives in Solihull and they have 3 grown up boys.

Brendan has 36 years’ experience working in the Building Technology space starting his career as an apprentice engineer and progressing to hold various local and international senior leadership roles. He has built diverse knowledge and interest across the HVAC, Industrial Refrigeration & Building Management Systems markets before joining Chubb Fire & Security Systems in 2019. Over the 36 years he considers himself very fortunate to have travelled to over 50 countries, met some great people, and developed great relationships through his time with Johnson Controls, Schneider Electric and now Chubb.

Outside of work Brendan likes to spend time with his family and friends, socializing, traveling, taking their 2 dogs for long walks, and occasionally attempting to play golf… not very well!   

INTERVIEW
What were your career aspirations when you were younger?

When I was a kid, it was probably to be a racing car driver, either a rally driver or a formula one driver. I’ve always liked cars and still do, but I soon realised that I was more likely to become a mechanic which is probably why I started my career as apprentice HVAC engineer.

What was your first job?

I had a paper round when I was eleven, earning £5 a week and I really enjoyed it, except for Sundays because the supplements were so heavy. I actually used to time myself to see if I could do it quicker each day, so I guess I’ve always had a bit of a competitive streak in me.

Who or what, has inspired you in your life and career?

There’s been a few. I was really inspired by people I worked with on a daily basis. I started life as a technician and worked with a number of peers, who I saw progress from the same grass roots level to be very successful business leaders. That’s what gave me the drive in life, to achieve like them and make a success of every opportunity that came my way.

When I started my career as an apprentice, the guy that interviewed me, had also started out as an apprentice. He was interviewing me at the time, in his then role, as Managing Director of the UK & Ireland business. He was certainly one individual who inspired me.

There have since been multiple others who I’ve worked with over the years that have followed the same career path. When given opportunities, you grab them and make the most of them.

What words best describe you?

Common-sense, determined - I do like winning, I’m very sociable and my wife, particularly will tell you that I’m a bit stubborn.

Do you have a favourite saying or quote?

Yes, it’s very simple – you get out what you put in.

Is there a particular technology you are passionate about?

As I’ve worked in the building technologies space all my life, theoretically I should be passionate about technology but actually I’m not. What I’ve learned over the years is that it’s people that make the difference and not the technology.

If you look at our industry, the real difference is in how you design and engineer a system leveraging the most suitable product for the specific application. You need to work in conjunction with product technology but it’s actually the human element that’s the differentiator.

How should the Human Resources function operate within any business?

HR is key and must be embedded in an organisation. I’ve already talked about my passion for people being the biggest differentiator. HR have to work closely with and support the business to be in tune with the changing dynamics of the market.

Change happens on an ongoing basis, not just in our business but also in customers’ businesses and in the employment market. We see different generations having different expectations from their employers and we have to keep pace with that, recognise and move with the times. It’s about staying in tune, being ahead of the curve and making sure that you keep current, so that you can retain your people and attract the best talent into your business.

HR plays an integral part in supporting that activity. Chubb has recently appointed in our UK & Ireland business, a Head of People Strategy, to focus on the lifecycle of our employees. It’s important that we continue to attract the right people in, give them the opportunity to progress their careers and develop them in tune with developing the business.

Has workplace diversity and inclusion now become embedded or is there still much more to do?

I think we’re still on the journey. There is certainly a far better understanding of the value of what diverse teams and opinions can bring to a business. We work hard to re-address the balance within the engineering industry.

It’s challenging as historically it’s been dominated by males. Unfortunately, diversity and inclusion plans are often seen as a top-down corporate initiative. Whilst it also needs to be driven from the exec teams, I believe that bottom up is a far more productive approach, as it can become embedded in your culture more quickly, empowering people to make a difference on a daily basis.

This is the approach that we have taken at Chubb, we have D&I work councils, which are also sponsored by the exec teams to try and accelerate diversity and inclusion throughout.

What legislation would you amend or implement to support UK business?

I find legislation and politics an arena in which there are too many polarised opinions and agendas and it’s too slow to move and change. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t fit with my profile.

I therefore rely on much smarter people than me to influence where we need to be from a market perspective when it comes to things like legislation and any shift in government policy. I understand the need for us to engage but let’s just say it’s probably not my area of strength.

In your opinion what elements are key to being a successful CEO?

I think they are the same for a people leader at any level of an organisation. As a leader of people, it’s really important it’s viewed as a privilege and an obligation. Be open and transparent, communicate consistently whether the news be good or bad, be active and visible in the business, engage with your people, empower them as they often know best, create a healthy culture in the organisation, a place where people feel comfortable to give their opinions, know what’s going on in the market and your business, linked to that in my opinion and in my experience, too may leaders spend too much time in their office and they don’t really know what’s going on in their business. I think it’s really important that you’re prepared to roll your sleeves up and get out there to really understand what’s going on.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Hopefully what I’ve just described - I just believe in being open and honest. It’s important to be engaging and inclusive with people. I often say that you’re only as good as the people around you so building strong teams has definitely been one of my strengths.

The team will tell you that one of my favourite sayings is celebrate success and there is nothing wrong with having a bit of fun along the way – I really believe in that. You spend so much time at work, you have to enjoy it.   

What is your biggest career highlight or achievement to date?

I don’t really think about one single achievement, it’s about doing the job and delivering on expectations. If I had to give an answer to that I’d probably say going from being an HVAC engineer to running a pretty large European organisation is probably my career highlight albeit it took years to get there.

I actually get the most satisfaction from seeing others achieve because if they’re achieving, then the organisation wins as well. I’ve said many a time, probably the most satisfaction I’ve had from leading people is seeing them grow, develop and be successful.

That’s the best satisfaction in my career, being able to say that I helped that person when you see them having achieved. It links back to the ability to build teams and deliver through people.

What’s next for you and Chubb Fire & Security?

What’s next for me, who knows. I’m not the kind of person who focuses on that all the time. I just grab opportunities as they come along and make the most of them. For me the most important thing is actually enjoying what I’m doing.

It’s important to me that I enjoy going to work. In terms of Chubb, now that would be telling. What I will say is that under, our new owners APi, it’s exciting times and in the most simple but true terms, Chubb Fire & Security will only become bigger and better.

For more information about Chubb Fire & Security please visit https://chubbfs.com/uk-en/

WALMSLEY WILKINSON EXECUTIVE & MANAGEMENT RECRUITMENT
Walmsley Wilkinson, owned by two partners, Linda Walmsley and Taryn Wilkinson, offers professional solutions for executive and management recruitment needs. They support a variety of organisations, including large corporations, family-owned entities, private equity and the third sector to identify and secure the best leadership talent, across the UK and internationally - www.walmsleywilkinson.com

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