Sharen McCabe

photo Kieran Harnett

Sharen McCabe is Director of McCabes Pharmacy, a leading Irish owned pharmacy chain of 28 outlets across the country with ambitious plans to expand. She was born to Irish parents in Western Australia and came to Ireland with her family in the 1980s. Sharen read law at University College Dublin followed by a Postgraduate Diploma in Management at London School of Economics. She currently is undertaking an Executive Management program at Harvard Business School in Boston, USA.

Sharen started work in Ghana, West Africa before joining Unilever’s Graduate Training program in London in the 1990s. She became Managing Director of McCabes Pharmacy in 1998 and is now Chairperson of the company. Having grown up in a family business environment, healthcare and retail have been at the heart of Sharen’s business experience. This has led her to serve on the boards of organisations such as Retail Excellence Ireland, United Drug Wholesale, Young President’s Organisation, Dublin Chamber of Commerce. Currently, she serves on as Non-Executive Director of Eason & Son as well as The St Vincent’s Healthcare Group.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

I once heard a definition of leadership as “making others better as a result of your presence and having it endure in your absence”. This really resonated with me. Everyone can focus on becoming a good leader by being willing to work on their ability to influence others and inspire them. Usually, it requires you to really understand what it is to walk in someone’s shoes and then help them use their skills to achieve the common goal. Empathy is such an important part of leadership and it can be nurtured. Leadership can be taught, but the pupil needs to heed the lesson!

When you are filling a leadership role in your organisation what qualities do you look for from candidates?

Curiosity, empathy, competitiveness, and humility.

If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?

My only request to my team would be to keep asking themselves: according to the values of our company, what is the RIGHT thing to do right now? Our values in McCabes pharmacy are very well stated and are like a compass for us in all we do. No further advice is needed from me to the team if we simply follow our core values.

What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?

Regularly we work together to try and envisage what our business and social world will look like in 10 years, 5 years and 1 years’ time. We then go about implementing changes to ensure we keep innovating and changing our approach. While we’re unlikely to get it right all the time as we don’t have a crystal ball, the exercise does keep us on our toes. Most importantly for us though is to stay very connected with our patients and carer needs and expectations.

What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?

Mostly I admire “every day” heroes who campaign and agitate for changes that they believe passionately in. They are leaders of causes for which there is no monetary or status recognition but which significantly affect the quality of life of themselves or loved ones. Those that voluntarily campaign and care for others are the great role models and leaders in our country today.

What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

One book that made a huge impression on me when starting out was Deborah Tannen’s “Talking 9 to 5”. It’s old now but its’ concepts are still relevant. Prof Frances Frei’s “Uncommon Service” is a great read for anyone in a front line service organisation like McCabes Pharmacy. I love Sean Kelly’s “Awesome Office” as well as the HBR podcasts.