SimplyBegin Counselling Services | Leo Hennessy

SimplyBegin Counselling Services | Leo Hennessy
SimplyBegin Counselling Services | Leo Hennessy

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Success with NBS – Stories from Alumni: Leo Hennessy, European Space Agency

Leo Hennessy - Fact File
* Graduated from NTU's MA in Human Resource Management (HRM)
* Currently working for the European Space Agency, as senior advisor to the director of Science and Robotic Exploration
* Has worked in Ireland, Holland, Germany, France, Belgium, Italy and Spain
* 65 years old, planning to retire from ESA and open a clinic in hypnotherapy and psychotherapy

As part of our ‘Success with NBS’ series of stories from NBS alumni, our guest contributor this month is MA Human Resources Management graduate and Alumni Fellow Leo Hennessy, Senior Adviser at the European Space Agency.

Leo writes about his vast international experience working in Management and HR, how his MA at Nottingham Trent helped along the way, and his advice for current students and those wanting to work in his field.

My background

ESA“Hi. My name is Leo Hennessy and I am working for the European Space Agency (ESA) at its headquarters in Paris as a Senior Adviser to the Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. This entails investigation and preparing issues which the Director has to decide upon in the areas of strategy, policy, general and HR management.You may have seen some items recently on social media / TV etc about our Rosetta mission to rendezvous with a comet and Philae’s landing on it. This is the sort of thing that my colleagues and I do for a living ….. and I love it!

My home is in Belgium and I work in France (Paris). I worked in Ireland for 18 years (mostly in HR), before moving to work/live in Holland, Germany, France and Belgium. I also spent some time in Italy and Spain, doing various projects. I speak French, Dutch, some Italian and German and used to be fluent in Gaelic. I am a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (FCIPD), have an MA from the NTU, have Diplomas in Applied Finance and in Training Management and am a Hypnotherapist (in my spare time). I will retire next June, when I intend to open a clinic in Brussels to practise psychotherapy and hypnotherapy.

Working for the European Space Agency

ESA is mostly made up of engineers and scientists (about 75%) with managers and administrative support staff making up the rest. We employ just over 2000 staff and about 3000 contractors but, across Europe, space activities account for about 60000 employees. The technical and administrative-level functions are filled by graduate-level staff, whilst supervisors and managers usually hold Masters or even PhD’s. Working languages are English and French but, since we have establishments in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Belgium and Spain as well as ‘outstations’ in the US and Russia, good linguistic skills are very much a part of our toolboxes. The sort of positions open to Business School graduates would cover Finance, Human Resources, Law, Procurement, Project-/Schedule-Control and International Relations.

When we have openings for new staff, so-called ‘Vacancy Notices’ are sent around to our contacts in the delegations of our member-states for publishing/dissemination within their regions. We occasionally advertise directly in the national Press for (usually) top-level positions. Most frequently, we are looking for a minimum of five years post-graduate experience for our executive-level positions but a few places are opened yearly for Young Graduates who can work for one to two years to get some experience of the workplace. Applications for employment are screened by HR and recruiting experts and a short-list is prepared. Those shortlisted will be interviewed by a Board or Panel of ESA managers and, frequently, assessment centres are conducted in support of the interviews. Successful candidates are offered a first contract of 4 years, with a 6-month probation period. During the 3rd year, a decision is made as to whether or not to grant a further contract which can be for 6 years or an indefinite duration. The remuneration package is typical for an expatriate assignment with very good salaries and allowances to reflect experience, qualifications and family circumstances.

My Career

I worked in Ireland for 18 years or so, in private and semi-state companies, starting at the bottom (really!) and gradually working my up to managerial positions. On the way, I re-started my studies to achieve a set of professional qualifications in HR and Training/Development as well as Public Administration and Finance. In my work, I mostly specialised in introducing IT solutions for HR administration and, also, in selection/recruitment and vocational training. Since this was in the 70’s and early 80’s, the potential of computerised systems wasn’t yet that obvious so, luckily for me, that made me a sort of guru in two of the organisations in which I worked and helped me to quickly climb a few rungs of the career-ladder. Equally, I worked hard on developing interpersonal and, more especially, interviewing skills and became ‘the one to call on’ whenever tricky, interpersonal problems arose between staff and their colleagues/managers and/or tough selection issues needed handling. In addition to on-the-job training, I attended specialised training programmes for both HR-focused IT and Interviewing Skills development.

Developing those specialisms helped me greatly in beating the tough competition to get recruited into ESA where I started my new career in the Netherlands. On taking up duty, I found I was able to apply my previous experience very well in this totally new environment where, in addition to the regular problems of staff-relations, there was now the added element of nationality/cultural diversity. During my nearly 30 years with ESA, I have made it my goal to always give added-value but, wherever possible, to take some personal benefit from my efforts. One big benefit that I was able to take was to obtain part-funding so I could attend an NTU Masters’ course.

My NTU Experience

Not having had the opportunity to go straight from college to university, I was very motivated to get an MA but also, to be honest, quite apprehensive about my ability to take on such a challenge. I need not have worried. Without exception, the tutors on the MA-HRM Programme were extremely supportive and ever-vigilant and ensured that, whenever my motivation began to wane, that I was helped to stay on track. Thanks to them, I was awarded my much-treasured MA-HRM Degree. The quality of the tutoring and the inclusive and supportive atmosphere of the tutors and fellow-students was a key aspect of my time at the University and I still cherish the challenging and focused atmosphere at NTU. What I learned during that period gave me new insights into how learning happens, how knowledge can be applied and the value of education – no matter how high up one is in the food-chain or how old one is. What the MA itself gave me was a renewed sense of purpose, a new confidence in myself, a level playing field when competing for promotions and new tools to apply in my work.

I have now offered my services to the University as an Alumni Fellow in the belief that I may have something interesting to offer to those of you in the process of deciding on/ starting out on your future careers. I think I have some gained some useful insights and can provide advice that I would have welcomed all those decades ago when I set out on my own journey. I’m more than happy to give something – however small – back to NTU as a HUGE thank-you for what it gave me. If you would like any advice or have any questions please don’t hesitate to email me- / (because I live/work outside the UK, my knowledge of the local jobs-market/career opportunities, support services are quite limited so please bear that in mind when making contact).

Secrets of my success

Shortly after graduating, I changed career direction from HR, with a promotion and a move into General Management and, as a result, needed to start adding new implements to my toolbox. I applied more strategic thinking, more thorough evaluation and I more critically assessed the scope and the boundaries of my areas of responsibility in order to find better ways to do things. I achieved a good measure of success by reducing costs, increasing productivity and delivering (almost all) of my projects on schedule. This, in turn, gained for me a ‘Can Do’ reputation (tempered somewhat by my often impatient reaction to those who ‘Can but Won’t Do’!) and led to my having a very satisfying and rewarding career. I won’t say the NTU MA was the only factor in my success but without it the uphill struggle would have been harder and probably longer.

I think my career can be tracked by being in the right place at the right time AND having done the necessary groundwork to take advantage when opportunity knocked. I’ve changed careers at least 5 times in my working life and took some gambles in doing so. These didn’t always work out according to plan but I usually had (or created) a Plan B when it was needed. Being open to new things, not allowing oneself to get too settled or stale, and taking calculated risks are things that can drive a career. They also make life more interesting!”


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