The HR Suite’s Caroline McEnery: ‘KPIs are crucial’

In a new series, we talk to female entrepreneurs who are growing flourishing businesses in rural Ireland. Today, we talk to Caroline McEnery, founder of The HR Suite.

In recent weeks we reported on how women in rural Ireland with new businesses or at least with well-developed ideas are being invited to join ACORNS 6.  The ACORNS programme is designed to support early-stage female entrepreneurs living in rural Ireland through a peer learning approach. Thanks to the support of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the voluntary contribution of time by Lead Entrepreneurs, there is no charge for those selected to participate.

The call is now open for applicants for ACORNS 6 and fifty female entrepreneurs from across the country will be selected to participate. Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

“In the current climate so many businesses have undergone a number of challenges due to Covid-19, from the corner shop, hairdressers, hotels to the retailers, each and every one inspires me in terms of their resilience in re-inventing themselves, diversifying in such challenging times”

Today, we speak to one of the voluntary Lead Entrepreneurs on the programme, Caroline McEnery, who established The HR Suite in Co. Kerry in 2009.

Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?

I grew up on a farm in Ballyheigue outside Tralee, Co Kerry. As a teenager, my summers were spent waitressing in the White Sands local hotel – something that helped me realise my love for people and sparked by initial interest in business. After school I got a job in HR at Kerry Group head office in Tralee, where the company supported me to go to college at night. I later graduated with a Masters in HR. After eight years with Kerry Group, I moved to the Garvey Group and became director of HR and operations. 

The idea to start my own HR business came about in 2009 while on a trip with Tralee Chamber of Commerce to Silicon Valley, California. Many entrepreneurs on this trip spoke with me about the challenges they faced around HR management. I then realised there was an opening for an outsourced model in this space. I launched the business in 2009 and it has grown steadily to a team of 20 employees.

I have written two books and am an Adjudicator with the WRC and a former Low Pay Commissioner.

Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?

We are a HR business partner consultancy with nationwide SME and multi-national clients throughout Ireland.  Coupled with our Support Team of Sales, Office and Project Management, we are a team of HR professionals who eat and breathe HR and employment law. We are constantly learning, developing and working with a variety of clients on interesting projects in a positive, proactive and friendly environment.

We pride ourselves on providing a personal bespoke service to our clients.  We aim to be the ‘expert phone a friend’. Our testimonials confirm that we act successfully as a sounding board and expert HR advisors.  

How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?

I funded the business personally and, as the business grew, I reinvested into the business to help it expand and develop key systems and technology foundations. I received excellent support from my Local Enterprise Office (LEO) in Tralee, Co Kerry and was lucky enough to join the Enterprise Ireland funded Going for Growth programme for female entrepreneurs. 

The support for both these forums was invaluable in helping me focus on growth of the business and I am delighted that 11 years later we are now a key HR business partner to a varied range of clients throughout the country. During Covid-19, our client relationships and our commitment to best practice led us to support our broad client base, Enterprise Ireland, LEOs and Failte Ireland to advise in relation to responding to this challenging pandemic and the HR implications it presented.

What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?

The mentoring and support of a wide range of businesspeople has been invaluable. I have found people have been more than willing to give their time and advice.  The Lead Entrepreneurs and fellow participants in Going for Growth, under the leadership of Paula Fitzsimons, has been game-changing. My greatest inspiration has come from my family background to treat everybody fairly and positively and my grandfather’s famous saying:

You need a wish bone to dream the dream

You need a backbone to work hard to make it happen

And you need a funny bone to enjoy the journey of life

His has always been a guiding principle.

What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?

In the beginning, my biggest challenge was having to do everything myself – from sales and marketing to looking after the accounts. As the business grew, I was able to take on employees, allowing me to focus more on strategy and management, while at the same time developing a team with expertise in key areas of HR. 

I admit starting a HR company anywhere was never going to be easy; starting one in Kerry brought its own challenges. I had to do a lot of work initially to persuade customers -particularly in Dublin – that The HR Suite could service their needs from so far away. However, once we had proven ourselves, testimonials came flooding in and that helped us convince others and the business began to grow steadily from there.

We are now a national business with offices in Kerry and Dublin and with remote workers throughout the country. My team is what makes us successful and I appreciate how lucky I am to have such a committed and dynamic team.

If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I think recruiting experts in their field such as finance, sales and marketing would be something I didn’t do in the early stages because of cash flow but, once you have them on board, you can see the huge benefit they have in growth, so recruiting them early on would be beneficial.

Who inspires you in business?  

In the current climate so many businesses have undergone a number of challenges due to Covid-19, from the corner shop, hairdressers, hotels to the retailers, each and every one inspires me in terms of their resilience in re-inventing themselves, diversifying in such challenging times.

What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?

The advice I would give is join a company that respects your individuality and strengths. Guidance to new hires is hugely important, as you need to encourage them to stretch themselves and challenge themselves, so as to maximise their potential and that is really important to learn. Encourage them to take on responsibility and to grow.

To nurture talent in your organisation make sure that you give people clear goals and clear responsibilities and give them space to do their job and it is important you recruit based on personality. Use the Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ) to get the right culture to the organisation. Find a great mentor who you can use as a role model and learn from.

What business books do you read or would recommend?

I am an avid reader and always have been from a young age. I like to read business books and podcasts. We have a library in the office which has many business books that clients can borrow. I have written two books: “The Art of Asking the Right Questions” and “Celebrating You” issued for our 10th anniversary which was a book for charity. My favourite books would be ‘Flourishing’ by Maureen Gaffney’, ‘Untamed’ by Brene Brown, “Drive’ by Daniel Pink

When it comes to working with women entrepreneurs through ACORNS, what is the top advice you give entrepreneurs?

KPIs are crucial, as you need to measure what gets done and improved and you need to set goals. It is important to use your KPIs to assess opportunities, challenges and to have timely objective KPIs so that you have good data and analytics to make informed decisions and to take emotions out of it. Make time in your diary for business and personal development every week to develop your skills as the business grows. Need to learn how to grow and develop the business and yourself.

Anyone interested in receiving an application form ahead of the September 21, 2020 deadline for ACORNS 6 should register their interest here

Written by John Kennedy (

Published: 3 September, 2020