Thought Leader Q&A with Mairéad McCaul, Managing Director of MSD Ireland

January is Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Month in Guaranteed Irish, sponsored by MSD Ireland, so we sat down with Mairéad McCaul, Managing Director of MSD Ireland to discuss the Pharmaceutical Industry in Ireland in 2023.

Covid must have been a tough time for you in your business. How did you cope and adapt and what lessons did you learn as a company that you’ve taken out of covid and into the future?

As for all people and businesses across Ireland, Covid had a huge impact in our ways of working and our operations. As a team though, looking back at that incredibly challenging time, we’re extremely proud of how we were able to not only adapt but also continue to grow during those challenging months.

At MSD Ireland, for all our people, our approach was to listen and support as much as we could. As operations moved to remote, social and familial supports were suddenly cut-off and healthcare and wellbeing programmes were put on hold. We were very aware and mindful of the unprecedented challenges our people were facing, both visible and invisible.

Our teams were quick to put in place a broad range of added supports like looking to open spaces up for us to be able to listen to our people, for people to share concerns openly and to then try and mitigate against a context that was both unprecedented and unpredictable.

Looking back now, I do think in some ways it has also helped to open some doors that will facilitate and further an even more people-focussed approach moving forwards. Remote or hybrid working for instance is a concept that has huge potential to help strengthen DEI, promoting a better work/life balance that could help us reduce disparities in the long run and help make work more accessible to all.

What sort of growth and change did MSD go through in the past 12 months?

The past 12 months have been hugely successful for us at MSD Ireland, with some terrific milestones being reached at our sites across the country.

Towards the end of last year, we held the official opening of one of our newest facilities here in Ireland, MSD Biotech, Dublin. The site is located in Swords and plays a vital role in the development of our immuno-oncology products. The official opening was attended by then Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, as well as our MSD Global CEO, Rob Davis, who came to Ireland specially to mark the occasion. The official opening was a testament to the outstanding drive of our team who have been working tirelessly since we first began construction in 2018 to deliver this project at record-breaking speed.

In addition to the official opening of our facility in Swords, a lot of our sites across the country also saw huge growth in the last year, both in terms of team and infrastructure. With exciting announcements, cutting-edge innovation and an always-growing footprint, we have seen important expansions in Carlow, Brinny and Dunboyne. As our footprint and our teams grow, overall, we have onboarded over 780 new employees between 2021 and 2022.

Beyond these milestones, the last 12 months also saw us grow robustly when it comes to sustainability. In the framework of substantial ESG and sustainability programmes, our plant in Ballydine, Co Tipperary, recently launched Ireland’s largest self-supply solar project in partnership with ESB. The 7.3MW ground-mounted solar PV array will support us in continuing to reduce our carbon footprint across Ireland, in line with our ambitious targets to achieve carbon neutrality across our operations by 2025.

As we start the new year, I look back at all these great achievements with a huge sense of pride for what we were able to accomplish. On the back of these milestones, we were also awarded the title of Ireland’s Large Pharma Company of the Year at the 2022 Pharma Awards, bringing a great close to a year full of exciting celebrations.

The pharmaceutical sector in Ireland employs over 25,000 in Ireland, 20% of which are members of Guaranteed Irish. In your opinion, why is this sector so successful in Ireland?

I think the success of our sector is hugely multi-faceted and multi-layered, but if I have to think of one main driver, for me it’s clearly our people: Ireland is home to one of the most dynamic, diverse, qualified and talented workforces in the world. As business leaders, we know in the end the fundamental value of our organisation rests squarely on the quality of our people, and I believe in Ireland we have this in spades. Financial and macro-economic factors may change, numbers may vary, but the quality of the Irish workforce is invariably unique.

Tied to the talent and dynamism of our people is the culture for innovation and advancement which has become synonymous with Ireland in recent years. It is a quality that I don’t think any business, no matter the sector, can overlook.

What are some challenges, as well as opportunities the pharmaceutical sector currently faces?

On the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe a key focus area into the future will be healthcare resilience and system preparedness. As a sector and as part of the broader healthcare system, I think there is an opportunity for us all to come together to share and further elaborate on the wealth of knowledge and learnings we gathered over the last 24 months. Better cross-collaboration can only be a good thing in my view and will only help to make us stronger and more resilient towards the future.

What were the key learnings from the Covid pandemic for MSD and the Pharmaceutical industry as a whole?

There were many learnings on the back of Covid-19 at multiple different levels, but one of the main ones I keep coming back to is the importance of remaining people-focussed – in all senses of the word. This applies to our ways of working as a business and how we engage with our staff to ensure they can achieve the best work/life balance based on their own unique needs and expectations. It also means making sure the patient is at the heart of everything we do within our line of work – no matter how big or small our individual contribution might be. It’s a matter of making sure the entire system is anchored on people, be it staff, patients or members of our communities; we need to make sure innovation and growth are grounded in what matters most.


To hear more from Mairéad McCaul about MSD and the Pharmaceutical Industry in Ireland, listen back to the most recent episode of the Guaranteed Irish Business Podcast.


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