Why did you decide to join the IoD?
Panic! I was made a company director of Radio Ireland Ltd in 1999 and had no idea what my responsibilities and obligations were. I could hardly read the P&L and the balance sheet was like Greek, only worse.
Since joining the IoD, how have you benefitted from your membership?
Meeting and working with like-minded people. I became president of the IoD in 2003 and made director education the main plank of my term. Others since have built an organisation that now has three times the membership it had then. It is also a leader in the provision of governance and director education. I have benefited personally by being one of the early graduates of the Chartered Director programme.
What do you particularly value from your IoD membership?
People. The ability to network with others in different walks of life who are doing interesting things and have an enquiring mind. I like the breakfast talks and the recent summer get together in Airfield House was terrific. The IoD card has some benefits including using Dublin Airport’s Executive lounge. Handy!
What is the most important business lesson that you have learned in your career to date?
To take risks, but never risking the business.
Is there someone who has had a major impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
Gillian Bowler inveigled me to join the IoD when she was president. She was a very persuasive leader with a determined but understated approach. She won hearts and minds by the strength of her arguments, the passion of her beliefs and her determination to have fun along the way. These are powerful attributes to have and others should emulate her approach. She is sadly missed.
Where are the biggest changes you’ve seen in business over your career?
The pervasiveness of technology. The human being from about the age of 10 now comes equipped with a networked external hard drive with more computing power than Apollo 11 – it's sometimes referred to as a ‘phone’! All our businesses have to respond and plan for faster and deeper technological change. And Artificial Intelligence is coming to a business near you, soon.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Determination. The truth in business is that those who want it most get it. Yes, you should have a moral compass; yes, you need to be a team player, yes to lots of stuff. But if you are not determined to win, you won’t.
How do you think business leaders can best prepare for the future?
That’s a big question. But getting outside the business for some reflective thinking is important. I meet MDs today who seem over caffeinated and hard wired to their business. Time off to consider the wider context in a relaxed environment is worth putting in the diary. My one time Chairman, John McColgan, instructed me NOT to go to the office every day and to try to spend a morning at home each month reflecting on the business. Hard to believe but it was shockingly difficult to do. Worthwhile when I got the hang of it.
What advice would you offer to new or aspiring directors in Ireland?
(Published June 2018)
Be a good listener, don’t pretend to know more than you do, be efficient with your contributions and be supportive but questioning of management.