Marguerite O’Sullivan, senior innovation engineering manager at DePuy Synthes Johnson & Johnson in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork, has packed a lot into her life, both professionally and personally, with both feeding off each other.
There were her two expeditions to Everest which called on ambition and a willingness to motivate herself and others on the 7,000 metres and 6,500 metres climbs.
O’Sullivan’s professional life is marked by constant self-improvement and the acquisition of various qualifications. Originally from Mallow, she grew up on a farm where her father bred horses.
Her brother set up horse training on the farm. It’s no wonder then that O’Sullivan’s early aspirations included wanting to be a vet followed by the desire to be a horse physiotherapist.
At boarding school in Limerick, O’Sullivan studied science. She obtained a Bsc degree (Hons) in human biology/chemistry at the University of Hertfordshire in England in 1992. She went on to UCC where she gained a masters degree in nutrition.
“I had a sporty background and was very interested in performance and nutrition. My thesis was on the link between superfoods and different conditions.”
After her Msc, O’Sullivan went to work at Dairygold as a quality control person. She then went to New Zealand for three years, working as a nutritionist at a gym in Auckland which had a large membership and included a nutrition centre.
O’Sullivan loved the outdoor life in New Zealand. It was the late 90s, “a time when there wasn’t a lot of jobs in Ireland.”
When the economy here picked up, O’Sullivan returned in 2000. That year, she joined DePuy Synthes Johnson & Johnson as a team leader, working in medical devices.
“I worked in the operations side with different site teams. I stayed there for five years and then I got the opportunity to take a career break for a year.”
Not one to do anything by halves, O’Sullivan travelled to 27 countries including a three-month stint in India, volunteering with a charity called Human Wave which aims to take children out of poverty.
O’Sullivan returned to Calcutta every year for seven years, having raised money in Ireland to sponsor Indian children’s education. She is still involved with the charity and says her experience in India was “an eye opener” and a way of giving something back.
Back at work after her adventures abroad, O’Sullivan moved into business transformation, looking at continuous improvement within operations.
“In the last five years, I moved into engineering, science and technology. I work on engineering strategy and on building talents and capabilities in engineering. One of my key focuses is on outreach programmes in STEM, getting more women into science, technology, engineering and maths.
"I was one of the co-founders of STEM South West. Last winter, we had an event at the Rochestown Park Hotel. Two thousand people registered to come and see industry partners.
“They were shown the types of roles there are in the STEM areas. There were 57 industries represented there. We had parents there as well as career guidance teachers and students. It was more to educate the parents than the teachers, to let them see what happens now in industry and how it has changed over the years. I was delighted to see so many young girls there with their parents. It was nearly 50/50 girls and boys.”
O’Sullivan, who has gone on to do a diploma in project management, an Msc degree in supply chain management as well as gaining an advanced level award in organisation design and development, does a lot of outreach work, with the focus on women in leadership.
“I lead that at Johnson & Johnson, as part of its diversity strategy. I work in the innovation centre in Ringaskiddy. My role is a global role where I connect with engineers in different sites across America, Switzerland and China. I look at the strategy for where engineering is going to go in the workplace of the future in 2030.” What will that workplace look like?
“The narrative around it is that we will be more automated and digitalised. There will be roles where people are needed to manage projects. These people will be problem solvers and able to think creatively. The workplace will change from a process perspective.
"People’s roles will become more technical, using new technology. Innovation is going to continue to be a focus. People will bring their ideas to the workplace. At the end of the day, we need to help and develop people in our workforce for the future so they can contribute to a new environment. The environment will change but we will still have to have a strong human-led experience as part of or working life.”
DePuy Synthes Johnson & Johnson manufacture a range of medical devices. Their main products are artificial hips, knees and shoulders. As O’Sullivan points out, the work is meaningful.
“That is what I say to girls when I meet them in schools. Our customers are patients. We change people’s lives every day. Our motto is that we get people moving. That’s why our jobs are so rewarding. We have an impact on people’s lives, helping them to have a better quality of life.”
O’Sullivan says her company’s operating model is designed around how it can move forward.
“We’re working for the future as well. We might need more flexible working opportunities because people’s lives are changing. One of my key areas is how to build an inclusive workforce, inclusive in every way.
“I work in a role that is male-dominated. I want that to change and I use my influence to do that. I work a lot with universities and in national schools to help remove barriers that come from stereotypes.”
As the incoming president of Network Cork for 2020, O’Sullivan will be focusing on helping its members to “step up” as leaders.
With a lot of investment in Cork in the kind of industry that O’Sullivan works in, she says it’s vital to have talent available to fill the jobs. “We want to make sure that universities are focusing on having a pipeline of talent coming through from STEM so that the opportunities of the future can be met.”