Kevin Gallagher's career has stretched for almost 40 years, and the vast majority of that has been with Croda's personal care business. In this interview he explains how job-hopping within different areas of the business gave him the crucial experience he needed to take on the top job.
Q: Where and how did your career start out?
A: I applied for a job opening that appeared for a quality control technician with a consumer company called JB Williams back in 1975. Unfortunately they had already filled the job, but they wanted to fill another position in the research and development division, which unlike the quality control position, was not boring and routine.
I took the position and in the meantime I was going to night school to complete a degree in chemical engineering. I finally got the degree in 1980, which meant I underwent five years of night school. It was difficult because I had a family, but once it was done it felt really rewarding.
Q: Can you explain more about your career trajectory?
A: I wanted to do something related to my technical degree, which is how I ended up in R&D, rather than manufacturing. This eventually led me into sales, then marketing and finally general management. Most of these positions were here in Croda. I arrived at the company in 1978 as a formulating chemist in R&D. I have now been with the company for 36 years and have also been married for 39 years.
Q: What was the toughest career decision you have had to make?
A: Early in my Croda career, in 1979, the guy who synthesized molecules left and I replaced him. Shortly after this, in 1980, Croda management decided they wanted to create a new position as head of the Q&A function.
This meant that early on in my career I was faced with the decision to leave a position in R&D to take a job in technical management. I basically had to decide whether or not I wanted to be a manager and leave behind a technical career. This was a very difficult choice to make. In order to do it I had to leave the thing I loved, which was R&D. However, as it turns out, I never regretted the decision.
Q: What has been the highlight of your career?
A: I genuinely think it is now. We are changing Croda over from a regional to a global organization and I have been the person that has led the transformation for the personal care aspects of the business. This process started out as a steering committee concept and then as a managerial s concept as we move continue to make the move from regional to global. I’ve never officially had a global title, but now I do. As a result I’m travelling more, and my role in North America is more about running North America as a back office support to other market sectors within Croda, one of which is personal care. In a nutshell the role has evolved to become much more global and much less regional.
Q: What did you get right about your career path?
A: When I was younger I would not have annoyed as many people as I did! That was all very unnecessary and took me years to dig my way out of. I was very driven to get results and in my younger days it wasn’t always appropriately tempered. I wouldn’t mind doing that all again.
I think what I got right was transitioning from the technical background into the business area. And the order in which I did it also helped. That’s a reasonable order to approach a career. I eventually went back to school and got a qualification in financial controls from NYU because I needed to understand more about the financial management aspects of the business. But I definitely got the technical to business transition in the right order.
Q: What are the most valuable lessons learnt on the job?
A: That the right people in the right positions are going to make you successful. Not having the right people in the right positions is probably going to challenge your success. It’s about having the right people around you, particularly at a senior level… there’s very little that I do directly any more. I’m dependent upon the kind of people who I interact with daily… sharp, knowledgeable and reactive people. The bar gets higher every year. Because the challenges change the bar just gets higher and it’s a very sobering experience. Ultimately you know how to recruit the right people with the right cultural fit. Conversely, people who lack self-awareness can make life difficult.
Q: What advice would you give to people starting out in this area?
A: Learn all you can and be very nice to people because it’s a relatively small industry. The likelihood is that you’ll probably see the same people in this career field twenty or thirty years down the road. And hopefully you will have acted with integrity, diplomacy and have been nice to people. Furthermore, in this industry people change the areas they work in. So the people you were once selling to may eventually be selling to you. Or people work for you and then you end up working for them!
Q: Would you consider a second career?
A: Interesting question. Once a year, as a result of making a donation to the jazz public radio station WBGL, I do a one hour Jazz radio show, usually in the month of January. So if I was to have a second career, that would be it, although it doesn’t sound like the most robust of careers. I have a great time doing this and I’m a big jazz fan… I really enjoy it once a year!
If you feel like you have reached the top of your career and you would like to be interviewed as part of the ‘How I Got To The Top’ series, then please get in touch with us by clicking on the ‘Contact the Editor’ link, at the foot of this page.