In Conversation with Sandra Fagan, Head of HR M&S Ireland

Sandra Fagan M&S Business Working Responsibly mark

As Marks & Spencer this year celebrates 40 years in Ireland we are delighted to get to know their Head of HR, Sandra Fagan.

Please describe your role and responsibilities and how many years you have been in the Company.

My role is Head of HR for Marks and Spencer Ireland and I have been with M&S since August 2005. I am responsible for the People Strategy for the Irish Business which includes Organisational Structure, Industrial Relations, Talent and Succession Planning, Learning and Development, CSR (Plan A), Diversity and Inclusion and Employee Engagement and Wellbeing. I am also a Director of the Irish Business.

What was your background previously?  How did you enter the CSR field?

I started my career with a Smurfit company, Smurfit Corrugated Cases Dublin, Cork and Lurgan as Personnel Officer. From the beginning of my career with Smurfits, I was involved in fundraising initiatives and community initiatives – the most memorable was at Christmas when at that time every staff member received a Turkey and Ham as their “Christmas Bonus” – there was always a number of these left over and I still have really great memories of donating these to various different organisations at that time who were either cooking Christmas Dinners for the homeless or donating these to struggling families.

After 14 years with Smurfits (during which time I went back to College to complete a Degree in Personnel Management and Industrial Relations), I joined Ladbrokes as Employee Relations Manager and after 2.5 years with Ladbrokes I joined Tesco Ireland, again as Employee Relations Manager.  After 3 years with Tesco, I joined M&S as Head of HR as I yearned to return to a more generalist role.

It was on joining M&S that my involvement with fundraising and community projects was re-ignited – the M&S Plan A ethos and execution is truly inspirational and I believe world class.

How has the sustainability / CSR programme evolved at M&S?

M&S launched Plan A (a business wide £200m Eco Plan) on 15th January 2007 – this original 100 point Plan was to tackle 5 big issues: Climate Change, Waste, Resources, Fair Partnerships and Health.These issues are still as relevant as ever. Plan A 2025 strengthens our commitment to address these issues with 100 bold new targets.

Plan A 2025 is driven by 2 basic dynamics 1) the sheer scale of the global socio–economic and environmental challenges confronting us all and 2) the speed at which our customers lives are changing. We’ve focussed on all the big social and environmental issues:  to be the worlds leading retailer on engaging and supporting customers in sustainable living; to help 10 million people live healthier and happier lives; to help transform 1000 communities; to champion Human Rights by taking a lead on addressing in-work poverty, modern day slavery and an inclusive society; and to ensure 100% of our products address 100% of their material, social and environmental impacts.

What are the challenges you encounter in driving the sustainability agenda and how do you stay inspired?

What is inspirational about M&S and our colleagues here is that there is no requirement to change their behaviours to embrace all elements of Plan A – no matter what we ask them to do, they get after it 110% – this year we are 40 years in Ireland and part of that celebration was to carry out 40 community projects within 7 days (with projects sourced by BITCI), all of our people rose to this challenge (again…) with as much passion and dedication as the very first time we did this. To see that enthusiasm and genuine care for all our communities is truly inspiring.

The challenge I face on occasion is making time to deliver on our commitments – this year we have been awarded the BITCI Business Working Responsibly Mark for a 3rd time and the process / time it takes to achieve that can be daunting and certainly not something we could achieve each time without the hard work and dedication of our teams in M&S.

What is your biggest accomplishment or learning so far?

I’ve learnt that life is not a dress rehearsal, you don’t get to come back and do it all again so you need to be the best you can be at all times, treasure the people around you and give thanks every day to have them in your life.

What is your motto in life?

To treat people the way you would like to be treated.

What would a perfect day entail for you?

A day with family and friends enjoying a good play or band and then dinner and drinks afterwards.

For more information on the leadership approach taken by Marks & Spencer to sustainability and their strategy, Plan A 2025 see

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