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‘If I could give any advice to my younger self, it would be…” – MD Pamela Quinn on her path to success

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By Shayna Sappington
02nd Sep 2021
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Ailbhe O'Donnell

‘If I could give any advice to my younger self, it would be…” – MD Pamela Quinn on her path to success

Pamela Quinn, Managing Director of Kuehne+Nagel, shares her key strategies for success and how championing gender diversity has benefited the business.

“If I could give any advice to my younger self, it would be to slow down, trust your judgement and enjoy the journey.” Pamela Quinn reflects on her fast-tracked (and well-earned) path to success.

She stepped into the MD role at Kuehne+Nagel almost ten years ago at just 36 years old. However, in a way, Pamela’s journey wasn’t as fast as it appears. She spent years in varied roles across the company, gaining diversified experience and knowledge along the way – something she credits for her success.

These insights, combined with superb determination, honesty and a positive attitude, are what helped her climb the corporate ladder and excel in her role as MD.

A day in the life

Managing people is the main part of Pamela’s job, and on an average day she can often be stuck in back-to-back Zoom meetings – a habit she tries to break out of when she can.

“My work days are definitely different because of the pandemic, so right now my average day fluctuates a lot,” she explains. “I could have days of literal, back-to-back Zoom meetings, where I’m covering every aspect of the business. No two meetings will be the same – I could be meeting with customers or staff on a regional or global scale. 

“I actually try to avoid that for a lot of days in a row because I don’t particularly enjoy it. And it’s nothing to do with Zoom (it would be the same as in person), but I also need to try and block out some time to think. It’s something that I practiced over the years and something that I’ve learned to do because it’s critical for my role.”

Multitask, then focus

One of Pamela’s rare abilities is how agile she is when it comes to changing mindsets. Because she is constantly speaking to different departments, customers, etc., she has to change focus at the drop of a hat.

“I remember somebody saying to me once how quickly I can change from one topic to the other, but that’s exactly what my job is like. I tune into a person and what they need for 30 minutes to an hour, and then I switch to the next one.”

However, this one-to-one attention doesn’t mean that Pamela doesn’t multitask. She does, but she does so with a well planned strategy.

“I like to give you my undivided attention, but I multitask so that I can give you my undivided attention,” she explains. “So, if I’m in a meeting I won’t be typing up an email because I find that distracting, and I’m not being as decisive as I could be. Staying in the moment is the best way of giving myself to a person and they get the most out of it too.”

This acute focus and flexibility can only be maintained if one has reached the high levels of organisation and determination that Pamela has.

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Ailbhe O’Donnell

Key leadership qualities

“I’m very determined and I think that’s been key,” says Quinn. “When I did anything, I tried to do it right, do it well and learn from it in the process. I think that’s something that has really benefited me and allowed me to be successful. 

“Being really positive has been essential too – believing in my ability to make things happen. I personally think attitude wins over everything, including experience and qualifications. But not falsely, so I’m not saying that I’m positive and nothing knocks me off course (it does!). But overall, I try to stay positive, and, most importantly, I’m very honest.” 

Pamela has learned that, as a leader, honesty is synonymous with respect from your staff. “I’m honest with myself and I’m honest with people, and over the years I would say this has definitely been key to my success. I think honesty is really important as a leader and it helps gain you a level of respect.”

However, on the other side of that coin as an employee, we need to be able to take this honesty with a positive attitude as well. “Sometimes being honest doesn’t always go the way you want it,” says Quinn. “It hasn’t always worked in my favour, but I know that I’ve done the best I can do. I’ve told the truth to a person and set them on the right path, then it’s up to them to listen. If they’ve got the right attitude, they’ll go far.”

Gender balance in leadership roles

As a young female MD at a global-wide company, Pamela has continually championed women in leadership roles across K+N – a goal that has always been important to her.

“Honestly, I find it so frustrating that this is even a topic,” she says openly. “I’ve often wondered why is it that there are not more women in key leadership roles. It’s always been important to me, especially working in a male dominated industry, to inspire and encourage other women into believing in themselves and going for senior roles. 

“Through various discussions with many women at all levels, I know that for most, lack of confidence has played a part in their careers and can be a reason for their hesitancy in climbing the ladder.  This is why I want to share my story and try to make a difference by being honest about my own career and confidence issues along the way. 

“As MD, I encourage the women I work with to use me as a resource whether it’s for knowledge, experience or guidance, I want to be able to relate to them and make a difference in how they think about their own careers.”

And what did this kind of rearing look like on the ground level? “It involved sharing my own journey including the times I’ve struggled, lacked confidence or doubted if I was doing the right things etc…  It also involved having the confidence on their behalf.

I’ve convinced women to go into roles because I truly believed in them even when they didn’t.  It’s always worked out and it’s so rewarding to see them grow and develop and most importantly pay it forward to other women.  We’ve a great number of ladies in management roles and the business is benefiting from it every day.

“It has been empowering and inspiring for both the ladies and the men in the company, and it has opened up opportunities for younger people coming in. They see a balanced gender mix and are encouraged by that.”

Climbing the Ladder 

Pamela’s top tips for success

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Ailbhe O’Donnell
  • Be patient – “This has been critical to my success, and I couldn’t stress it enough. I see a lot of impatient people, wanting to skip over levels and learnings, but the skills, knowledge and people you meet along the way is so important. I really enjoyed my journey to MD; I wasn’t in a rush, and now I really know the business. More importantly, I learned so much along the way and I thoroughly understand the different aspects of my role and who to go to.”
  • Diversify your experience – “I’ve given my staff the best advice because I’ve been through the same challenges they are experiencing, and that’s invaluable to me. It really matters that my staff can relate to me. I can say ‘I’ve been there,’ and draw on my experience in different roles across the company. That flexibility and diversity is super, super important, and I’m glad that I’ve learned what I’ve learned.”
  • Don’t pigeonhole people – “I like to challenge people by giving them tasks outside their normal day-to-day, putting them on projects with different teams. It’s really interesting because they’re learning something new and I get to see their talent in a different way. And within that dynamic, you start to spot successes in your business. I think if you pigeonhole people, you’re losing out as an employer. It’s a unique way of guiding people.”