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Éimhín Ní Mhuircheartaigh

Group Director of Risk, Flutter Entertainment PLC

Éimhín Ní Mhuircheartaigh

Éimhín Ní Mhuircheartaigh

Group Director of Risk, Flutter Entertainment PLC

Éimhín Ní Mhuircheartaigh is the Group Director of Risk Management for Flutter Entertainment, the world’s largest global sports betting, gaming, and entertainment provider, where she is responsible for the group – wide risk agenda for Flutter PLC.

Tell us more about your background 

The career journey that took Éimhín to her current role couldn’t be described as typical in any way. Stellar results in school offered her the full range of third level opportunities but she chose a general science degree as a means of keeping future options open. Having majored in applied physics and electronics, her first job saw her designing semiconductor chips. She followed that with a PhD in Molecular Electronics and Nanotechnology at TCD, while also working as a pricing analyst in the insurance sector. Using credit risk fundamentals to price insurance products which would protect banking customers against losses in mortgages and securitised debt, here she was first introduced to the world of risk and pricing.

That seemingly sudden switch in direction should not be seen as surprising. “I didn’t have a career plan when I decided to do my PhD,” she recalls. “It felt like a fun way to spend my time while I was figuring out what I wanted to do.”

Indeed, her career decisions have tended to be as much motivated by personal considerations as anything else. Her return to Ireland from London was driven by her eldest child reaching school age, she recalls. “We speak only Irish at home, and he only spoke French with the nanny. We wanted our children to go to school in Ireland, through the medium of Irish, as the language is very important to us. I think he must be one of the only children in the world to learn English in a Gaelscoil despite being born to Irish parents in an English-speaking country!”

Over her 23 year career, she has worked in a variety of roles for a number of organisations including the Boston Consulting Group, Gazprom, Anglo American, Fidelity International, and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF). Her first experience as a non-executive director came through Fidelity where she sat on numerous fund and other boards in addition to her day-to-day role leading first line risk management across Fidelity’s global business operations. While with ISIF she served on the board of Finance Ireland, and she is currently a Trustee on the Board of Samaritans Ireland. Éimhín holds a Diploma in Company Direction from the Institute of Directors.

What is the one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

Integrity, decency, fairness, honesty, accountability – and ideally a good sense of humour! I don’t tolerate dishonesty or lack of integrity in any area of life.

What is the most important lesson, from your personal or business life, that has guided you the most in being a business leader? 

Joining the Samaritans as a volunteer has given me some of the biggest learning experiences and has greatly influenced me professionally. Giving up my time (and precious sleep!) to create a confidential, judgement-free space for callers may sound like a sacrifice. However, it is a huge privilege and has taught me so much – from working with people across all walks of life you learn that ultimately, we are all the same. We all feel the same emotions, but we are not all dealt the same cards in this life.

The Samaritans taught me active listening skills and being very comfortable in silence – valuable skills for someone who really likes to talk to people, and whose career has often required offering and communicating advice. Because as Samaritans we cannot give advice, I have seen the huge impact of someone talking things through and how it can save lives; a new perspective from my world of always being focussed on ‘fixing’ problems. I have also learned about myself: that the empathy I used to try to hide in my professional life is a gift and not a weakness, and it has made me more patient and understanding of human behaviours.

People are the beating heart of any business; you cannot be a leader without followers. Volunteering has helped me share my full, authentic self as a leader by allowing myself to role model empathy and bring a people – led style of management to my roles. I always recommend volunteering to anyone who has some time, you truly get back far more than you give and it is a wonderful thing to do.

What do you value most about being a member of IoD Ireland? How has being a member of IoD Ireland supported your role as a director and business leader? 

I’m a very conscientious person. I look at risks and what might happen if I don’t do the right thing. When I was first asked to join boards, I read up on directors’ duties. It’s very different to be presented to as a board member rather than presenting to a board as an executive. You need to be able to ask the right questions and you need to understand the role. I’m a fixer and one of my strengths is that I often come up with solutions that others don’t see. But on a board, you’re not a fixer. You’re there to ask the right questions and support the executive whose job it is to run the business. I knew there was a gap in my knowledge of corporate governance and the director’s role. I was very confident in areas like risk and strategy, but I wanted to make sure I could do the job properly.

I joined the IoD in 2020. I felt that undertaking the Chartered Director Programme would complement my board experience and ensure that I understood what good corporate governance and board excellence looked like. The IoD courses bridged that gap in my understanding. It gives you a really good grounding as a programme.

In addition to the academic learnings, I benefitted enormously from being part of such a high calibre cohort during the programme. We had people from HR, retail, marketing, accounts, the legal sector, and with all sorts of skillsets on the programme. That was hugely beneficial. I continue to benefit from the training offerings, networking opportunities and access to knowledge that membership of the IoD offers to all its members. They help you keep abreast of different topics and the latest thinking; if you are embedded in one industry you might not be aware of emerging threats in another sector.  I still have the folders from the programme on my shelf here for reference. It’s absolutely fantastic having that reference material to know what’s expected of you as a director.

Is there someone who has had a major impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life? 

I have been very fortunate in being surrounded by incredible leaders and mentors throughout my life. I had the great privilege of growing up with many wonderful role models across both sides of my family, so from the very start I had no shortage of inspiration in my personal life.

One business leader from a former organisation who had a big impact on me was Cynthia Carroll, the CEO of Anglo-American PLC – a FTSE 100, global mining giant. Although I joined towards the end of her tenure, Cynthia’s focus on transformative safety improvements and her corporate goal of “zero harm” had already resulted in workplace fatalities falling from an average of 50 colleagues lost every year to 13 by the time I joined in 2013, and in recent years this number has fallen to zero.

Her refusal to accept the loss of so many lives each year as being an unavoidable cost of doing business in the mining industry resulted in standards and practices that significantly reduced workplace injuries and fatalities for the entire mining industry, not just for her organisation. She shut the mines in South Africa for months while the new health and safety measures and practices were implemented. It was one of the biggest change management efforts ever undertaken by any company anywhere. She just could not accept the industry narrative that because this is the way things have always been done, that they must therefore continue unchanged.

Cynthia was the first woman and first non-South African to lead Anglo American, and her legacy in safety has impacted millions of people. She showed me that just one individual in just one organisation can drive huge change, even ‘impossible’ industry-wide change, by doing what they know to be the right thing and by refusing to blindly accept the status quo without asking if there is a better way. 

What are the biggest business challenges or/and opportunities that you have seen over your career to date? And how did you help to overcome or/and optimise them? 

I’ve experienced three big global crises. I started my career in the semiconductor industry just as the dot-com bubble burst leading to the global semiconductor downturn in the early 2000s, and in more recent years I experienced the global financial crisis and the global covid pandemic. The Covid 19 pandemic was the greatest widespread threat that I have seen to commercial businesses in recent years. At the time, I was working for the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, Ireland’s Sovereign Development fund (ISIF), as a Senior Investment Director where I was a member of the ISIF leadership team and the Portfolio Management Committee. I was only five months in the door when the pandemic struck. The world fell over, and a response was required from government. Everything was shuttered and it was an exceptionally difficult time for people all across Ireland.

As one of the supports offered by the Irish Government to medium and large Irish businesses impacted by Covid, ISIF made €2bn available under a Pandemic Stabilisation and Recovery Fund (PSRF) in April 2020. The PSRF invested on a commercial basis to support businesses of scale, establishing financial stability, and investing in their recovery through direct and indirect investments. These included commitments across aviation, tourism, hospitality, and financial services sectors among others. It was a huge privilege to be part of an organisation playing such a key role in supporting the Irish economy through such a perilous time.

I am proud of the work we did in helping companies weather the storm and supporting people’s livelihoods and the small role I played personally while working in the national interest. ISIF has a dual bottom line. It makes commercial investments, but they must also have a positive economic impact. That was very important during Covid.

It was a stressful time personally. There was no childcare available for us, I was working in a new job, my husband was working from home as well and we were trying to juggle Zoom calls, homeschooling, childcare and working very long hours – but very aware that we were very fortunate to still have jobs at the time. Everyone at ISIF worked very hard and very long hours during that time, but we were all highly motivated by the importance of the role we had to play in supporting Ireland’s economy. That common goal and sense of purpose made ISIF a very special place to work.

How do you think business leaders can best prepare for the future? 

Embrace continuous learning, keep abreast of industry and wider developments and themes, always look to grow personally and professionally and never get complacent or too comfortable. Avail of all the knowledge available within your network, and in offerings from the IOD and other professional bodies.

What advice would you offer to new or aspiring directors in Ireland? 

Invest time and energy in understanding your role as a director and the responsibilities. Always display high standards of integrity and accountability. Be clear on what you bring to the Board, how as a NED your expertise and approach can complement that of Executive Management, but also be clear on what each role will bring to you and what you will learn. In everything I do, I won’t do it if I’m not really interested in it. I give things one hundred per cent if I am interested, everything I have. I take the same approach to board roles. You are probably going to spend five or 10 years on a board, that’s longer than people spend in many executive roles. You need to have the interest, commitment, and passion to bring something to it.

Be selective about potential opportunities. People can be desperate to get their first board role but getting the right one is really important. Picking the right role for you really is key. Ensure that you have the time to fulfil your duties fully as a director and that you have a passion for the organisation and its culture and values - to quote Peter Drucker, always remember that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.