How important is STEM education for society in your opinion?
I’m biased because of my science background. I’ve spent all of my career working within an engineering environment, probably closest to industrial engineering. In my current role, we spend huge amounts of times working on organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and now in the more natural biochemistry.
Generally speaking, no matter what role you end up working in across industry, having the knowledge of science and mathematics is invaluable because it teaches you to analyse, to organise your thoughts and to understand the background to problems. It helps you to reach a conclusion in terms of solving the problem, and I think you can apply that to anything.
Could you talk a little bit about leading and managing people – how you set the agenda in your own role and how you lead people?
We have a very a divisionalised structure across the world – we have 170 facilities and 18,000 people, and we continue to grow, and so the organisation is quite decentralised, which allows for a lot of local focus.
In an organisation of that size with that local focus, there’s a lot of cross-cultural interactions, which is always fascinating for me. A book I read recently called The Culture Map by Erin Meyer focuses on understanding people and understanding cultures, which is at the heart of how you try to manage the business and situations.
Being able to lead from a participatory perspective is really important for me. The old command and control autocratic style – if it’s not gone, it’s at the door. Certainly, in an innovation role, you can’t have that because you’re really relying on people’s creativity and people’s ability to think about a solution – so you have to encourage that.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I grew up in a small place in Curry in County Sligo and went to school in Charlestown Co Mayo. There were six of us in my family and we didn’t really have a lot, to be honest, so I’m very happy with lots of things that we‘ve done. Obviously, there’s always, along with all the good things, a mixture of things that you regret and things that, if you had the chance to do it again, you would do it differently, but you get one chance and one shot and you have to take the best shot at that and move on. That’s what I’ve tried to do.
The thing of greatest achievement for me personally, is having seen people that worked with me and for me grow, develop and take on much more responsibility in their lives and in their careers than they did before they met me.
I’ve built factories from Czech Republic to Romania, I built the IKON Centre in Co Cavan, but the reality is, it’s all about people. I know that’s a cliche but for me, if the teams that I’ve worked with have ended up feeling better, doing better and be a bit more inspired, that’s the most important thing for me.