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Inspiration from some of Ireland’s Leading Female Executives

 

National Women’s Enterprise Day aims to encourage women to set up their own businesses and to increase national recognition of the essential role played by Ireland’s leading female entrepreneurs.

Voltedge Management would like to celebrate six Irish female executives, each of whom have achieved outstanding accomplishments in their area of expertise. We asked them to share with us some insights on their experiences and how they draw inspiration from the environment around them, role models they had during their careers, the best advice they received, and what they see as the biggest challenge facing leaders today.

 

Avril Daly, CEO of Retina International

Voltedge: What is your current role and how long you have held this position?

Avril: Since January 2016 I have been CEO of Retina International, a global umbrella group of 43 patient led charities and foundations supporting research into retinal degenerative conditions that cause severe vision loss. Prior to this I was CEO of the Irish research charity, Fighting Blindness. I am also the Vice President of EURORDIS, the European Rare Disease organisation.

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Avril: I have worked in health advocacy for 18 years, in the area of vision loss and rare disease. I am constantly inspired by those that I meet, the patients, the parents, the clinicians, the scientists, industry and indeed the legislators who all work together to achieve consensus that can lead to effective health policy to change lives. What is really fascinating is the ingenuity of necessity that results in mums, in particular, coming up with systems and solutions that they share to help their peers and their children cope with the impact of rare diseases on their daily lives.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Avril: More than one, in this sector you are mentored by many individuals across disciplines from drug development to social care. I would not be doing what I do today had it not been for one person, Michael Griffith. Michael was the first CEO of Fighting Blindness. The focus of the organisation is to find cures for vision loss through the promotion of research. This involves advocating for structures that will lead to progress in research for age related and genetically inherited retinal disease. To advocate for improved clinical trial processes and to work with all stakeholders to improve access to therapies. A tall order.

What Michael understood was no one group, no one disease area could achieve this alone. He taught me that by aligning with other groups with similar objectives, we can all achieve our overarching goals. That is why we work so closely with rare disease groups and other vision groups internationally. He taught me in a small country you must look beyond borders – research and drug development is a global task.

To me, a true leader can take in a lot of information but does not hold onto it, the information is shared, it is discussed with the team. A leader listens to the perspective of all of the team and that information is put to good use. Michael remains a true leader, a genuine promoter of women in business and now in retirement a good friend.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Avril: Look beyond your network – as those whose partnership will enable you to achieve the goals of your community may not necessarily be obvious.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Avril: Time, taking the time to step back and to consider. It is easy to fall into an instant unconsidered response because we are all accessible every minute of every day 365 days of the year. Time to consider complex decisions should not be a luxury.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Avril:

Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words.

Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviour.

Keep your behaviour positive because your behaviour becomes your habits.

Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values.

Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.

Mahatma Ghandi

When you work in patient advocacy for unmet medical need, it is a long and winding road, it is easy to become disheartened. Keeping a positive approach as a community and supporting each other really can affect change.

 

Deirdre Garvey, CEO of The Wheel

Voltedge: What is your current role and how long have you have held this position?

Deirdre: I am Chief Executive Officer of The Wheel, and have been in this role for 18 years.

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Deirdre: From the front-line impact that our member organisations have day-in day-out. The level of commitment, passion and ingenuity that people who work in charities bring to making social change happen is humbling to see. It inspires me to help and support them every day. It’s also why my role remains exciting and fulfilling after so many years.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Deirdre: Two of the founding leaders behind The Wheel who are both very sadly now deceased: Dr Mary Redmond, an extraordinary visionary in the fields of law, academia and social entrepreneurship; and Kate O’Sullivan, a wise and impactful founding CEO of the Carmichael Centre. I learned to dream big from Mary and to implement wisely from Kate…. two traits that I hope I mimic to some extent over my time in The Wheel.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Deirdre: Don’t worry about what others are doing, just focus on leading this organisation to be the very best that it can be.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

 Deirdre: Particularly pertaining to leaders of charities and other non-profits, we have to spend far too much of our time ensuring that our organisations have secure funding to continue for the next 6 – 12 months. If we could get funding lines secured over multiple years we would be able to focus much more on the impact and positive social change our organisation is making: communicating it better and listening and learning as to how to do things even better.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

 Deirdre: From Charles Handy: “Be the best you can be, at the thing you are best at, in the service of others”. This sums up my sense of personal values and in an extraordinarily pithy way also describes a motto for a fulfilled life. I only came across this about two years ago at an event that The Wheel hosted for the senior leaders in our membership organisations but I think of it often since.

 

Eimear Cahalin, Co-Founder and CFO of Vivid Edge

Voltedge: What is your current role and how long you have held this position?

 Eimear: I’m co-founder and CFO of Vivid Edge. We’re providing energy efficiency as a service to large energy consumers to help them accelerate their energy efficiency plans, and kickstart projects that are desirable but aren’t getting done for various reasons. For instance, a great project might have a four-year payback, and the internal hurdle is three years; we use a service model to make the project happen.

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

 Eimear: Everywhere! I’m an avid reader, across business, science, sport, psychology, nutrition, poetry and fiction. I really believe that a lot of innovation comes from cross-pollination of ideas and I love abstracting an idea from one area and applying it in another.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

 Eimear: My father was key. He came from a very humble background and ended up Finance Director of an oil company. He never talked about success, he just worked hard at making it happen. He taught me I could do anything I put my mind to. He believed women were the backbone of most organisations, from companies, to hospitals, to the Catholic Church, and was a great champion of women in the workplace long before it was fashionable.

When the likes of Margaret Downes were blazing a trail in the 1970’s (yes, I was VERY young!), he always made sure I was aware of their achievements; it was his way of saying “you can do this too”. He led me to just ignore the concept of the “glass ceiling” and get to where I want to be. He died ten years ago, and I still miss him terribly, but when I’m stuck I still ask myself how he would deal with a situation.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

 Eimear: You have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. I suppose the current version of that is to be authentic. And I was reminded of it again when I saw Hamlet at the Gate the other night, so it goes back as far as Shakespeare’s day; “To thine own self be true and it must follow as the night the day, thou can’st not then be false to any man”.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

 Eimear: There are so many conflicting ideas out there of how to lead. Should we be able to be successful in a 4-hour work week, as Tim Ferriss suggests, or do you have to put in a 70-hour week and have space for nothing else in your life as others do. Is the key to success to do as John C Maxwell says, and “fail early, fail often”, or is it to persevere past Seth Godin’s “Dip”?

I think the challenge for leaders is to be able to shut out some of the noise and focus on where you are trying to get to. We need to keep asking ourselves what do we want our organisations to look like in three- or five-years’ time, to keep reassessing how we get there, not to get disheartened if it feels like the path keeps changing, and to be able to bring your people with you through what may be unsettling changes. Ultimately what I am saying is we need to take a flexible path to a fixed prize, without appearing flaky!

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Eimear: A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. There a certainly risks to venturing outside your comfort zone, but you’ll almost certainly rust away if you stay in the harbour. It’s very easy to sit back and let life happen, but I believe the rewards of having a growth mindset and taking a risk every now and then can’t be beaten.

 

Kathryn Meghen, CEO of The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland

Voltedge: What is your current role and how long you have held this position?

Kathryn: I am CEO of the RIAI, which is the membership, support and registration body for Architects in Ireland, with 3700 members.

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Kathryn: The quality of our buildings is so important – our homes, offices, education buildings and public spaces all effect the quality of our lives. I am inspired by the people I work with – their expertise and passion for excellence and their ability to create and deliver amazing work constantly inspires me.

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

 Kathryn: At different stages of my career there have been different people that I have look up to and looked to for advice and guidance. I have always been so impressed by how generous busy people are with their time and expertise. I hope that I am now in a position to offer help to others.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Kathryn: Trust your instincts.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

 Kathryn: Keeping the organisation focused and staff motivated amid increasing pace of change and ever-growing distractions.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Kathryn: “Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be sunshine.” Jack Ma Founder of Alibaba

 

Olivia Buckley, Founder and Managing Director of Olivia Buckley International

Voltedge: What is your current role and how long you have held this position?

Olivia: I am the Founder and Managing Director of Olivia Buckley International, a luxury event management company based in Ireland and have been operating since 2013.

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Olivia: When people ask me what I was like as a child, I always remember one incident in particular where I decided to take it upon myself to clean out and “redecorate” the chicken coop. The joy that I took in taking something, be it an object or an area and transforming it into something else has obviously stayed with me to this day and explains a lot about my field of work! I find inspiration absolutely everywhere, art, nature, people, travel, books or films and am always open to new ideas and concepts, from the ridiculous to the sublime!

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

Olivia: I have been lucky enough to cross paths with some wonderful Business People over the years but I have to give a special mention to Simon T. Bailey. I first met Simon at an Industry Networking Event. He had such wonderful charisma and was so friendly that we connected straight away. It was a wonderfully memorable encounter where we spoke about life and its’ endless possibilities and from that it was inevitable that Simon and I would stay in touch he would become a great source of inspiration to me. In January 2013, after relocating back home to Kerry and taking time out to reflect on my career path I arranged a call to connect with Simon. It was this call that would influence my entire future and the beginning of something life-changing.  I would never have seen myself as someone who could run their own business but Simon has taught me to not only see my potential but to fulfill it. It was very much his support that nudged me out of my comfort zone to launch my own business. Simon has taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. He reminds me to not be afraid to swim upstream and defer from the crowd. Having the belief in yourself to go in the opposite direction to everyone else and step out of the safety zone are all concepts that have completely changed me as a person and ultimately fueled the success of my business today.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Olivia: Again, I will come back to Simon T. Bailey who said to me, “I want you to .com your name today. You are going places and I am coming to Ireland to launch your business with you on February 1st and watch you brilliantly soar”. Simon saying this to me was honestly life-changing. Having someone I respected so much in business, believe in me to that level was all I needed to take a leap of faith, follow my dreams and launch my own company.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Olivia: On a personal level, I feel that in Ireland, we can often have a very self-deprecating attitude that whilst charming, doesn’t always lend itself to promoting confidence and leadership, particularly in young women. It is essential that we nurture and promote confidence and self-belief in our young women so that they are motivated to fulfil their true potential. They need to believe that they can pursue their dream wholeheartedly and ferociously despite any hurdles, professional and personal that may try to get in their way so overall, I would like more leaders to acknowledge the importance of nurturing female talent and promoting female leadership.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Olivia: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle. This is an important quote to me and I think it subconsciously permeated the tagline that we created for our company, “Visionaries in Creativity – Masters of Events”. Creativity informs all of our work and mastery comes from the practice and repetition of this. We live by it and strive to achieve it daily.

 

Sue Marshall, CEO of Abodoo

Voltedge: What is your current role and how long you have held this position?                       

Sue: I am the CEO of Abodoo. Abodoo is an online career matching platform dedicated to SmartWorking. I’ve been in the role since September 2016 – so it’s been an extremely interesting time, creating and developing our business strategy, building our platform and creating a business from the Vision our Co-founders had back in the Summer of 2016.   Abodoo launched in September 2017 in Ireland and then in the UK in April this year and it’s an exciting time for us as we grow.

Voltedge: Where do you draw inspiration from?

Sue: I am inspired more by people I meet rather than those in the spotlight. I have had the pleasure to work with some incredibly creative people over the course of my career and seen some shining stars emerge. When someone with a passion for a role really makes it their own, grows with a business and goes on to be a really great leader and motivator it inspires me.  When I see young people just starting out in their careers I am inspired by their enthusiasm.  When I meet business leaders who are working towards a better way of working, be that SmartWorking or introduction of really innovative tools, a great business idea or a new initiative – I feel inspired to help lead change.

 

Voltedge: During the course of your career, was there a role model or mentor that stands out for you?

 

Sue: I have been lucky to have had more than one mentor. However, my standout mentor was a really inspirational leader – early in my career – called Peter Preston.  At the time I was at a crossroads. I had been working towards my accountancy qualification (AAT) and was on track for a career in finance.  I was bored but felt that I was in too deep after years of study.  I was working for a start-up (Peter was the MD) and so had to get involved in lots of areas of the business as we had a limited team. Peter noticed that I was really passionate about marketing and gave me the opportunity to get my teeth into some interesting projects before ‘suggesting’ that the CIM (Certified Institute of Marketing) qualification may be more interesting long term. His support, encouragement, leadership and ultimately his guidance and training in sales and marketing were invaluable and instrumental in shaping my career.

Voltedge: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given during your career?

Sue: This is an easy one. I was the Sales and Marketing Director and Shareholder of an outsourced contact centre business. We were profitable and growing and overachieving on just about every matrix from sales to profitability. We started to win some significant contracts – with larger companies – who often demanded heavily discounted rates or long credit terms… It was easy to be ‘seduced’ by client names and excited at the prospect of these much larger deals. The Finance Director gave me the following advice – Turnover is VANITY – Profit is KING. He refocused my mind on the bottom line and away from the ‘vanity’ of high turnover. That advice has stuck with me throughout my career and regardless of the ‘name’ or size of a deal – if it’s not going to turn a profit then as a business you simply cannot afford to sign the contract.

Voltedge: What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?

Sue: I think that there are a number of challenges, related to the economy, growth and leading a successful business – but by far and away the biggest challenge has stayed the same throughout the decades – finding the right talent at the right time.

This is why SmartWorking is such a game changer for many organisations – it opens up their talent pool. Once you realise that presenteeism is less important than output you have a whole world of talent available (quite literally!). Abodoo is championing SmartWorking in Ireland, the UK and further afield. All of our registered candidates are crying out for permanent careers which enable them to work from their local hub or home, without lengthy, costly commutes.  With this comes another challenge – actually finding the ‘gems’. Clients are fishing in a sea rather than a pond and it can be daunting. That’s why Abodoo offers a ‘matching service’. We match candidates to roles based on experience and skills and those are the only candidates you see; cutting down on time spent ploughing through CV’s and applications.

Voltedge: What is your favourite quote and why?

Sue: I have a number of quotes and flip between them – depending on circumstances – but one of my all-time favourites has to be from Pele – one of the greatest footballers of all time:

‘Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all love of what you are doing or learning to do’.

 

Today is an opportunity for Voltedge Management to celebrate these outstanding Irish female leaders and to extend our very best wishes to them for continued success in their careers, fulfilment and happiness in life and to thank them for their contribution to society.

If you have any enquiries regarding this article or any other topic we have covered, please call us our office 01 525 2914 or email us on info@voltedge.ie.

 

Voltedge Management

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