Mary O'Connell

Mary O'Connell

Board Member, Prize Bond Company, which is run by Fexco and An Post on behalf of the National Treasury Management Agency. Mary is also Director at Fexco Tax Reclaim

Board Member, Prize Bond Company, which is run by Fexco and An Post on behalf of the National Treasury Management Agency. Mary is also Director at Fexco Tax Reclaim and completed her UCD Diploma in Corporate Governance at UCD Smurfit School in June 2017.

Tell us a bit about your career path to date

After graduating from UCD with a degree in chemical engineering I worked in Ireland, Europe and the US on a range of software development and engineering process control projects.

I then did an international MBA in Erasmus University, Rotterdam and remained in the Netherlands for a few years and moved into marketing consultancy. When I returned to Ireland I continued in the sales and marketing area.

I have been with Fexco since 1998 and have worked across a number of its divisions in the areas of strategic planning, tendering for new, managed outsourcing businesses, and acquisitions, both Irish and international.

What boards are you on at present?

Since 1998, I’ve been on the board of the Prize Bond Company, which is run by Fexco and An Post on behalf of the National Treasury Management Agency. I was appointed after being involved in the tendering process for the Prize Bond contract.

I also compete in sports and have been on the Irish Orienteering Association committee for a number of years. I served as treasurer for three years and am now on my second – non-consecutive – appointment as chairperson.

On the back of my work on these boards, I decided it would be very useful, and interesting, to do the UCD Diploma in Corporate Governance.

What was your experience of the UCD Diploma in Corporate Governance programme?

I found it to be a very positive and stimulating experience.

I thought it was very well structured from the outset. Through the information we were given at the start and a talk by Prof Niamh Brennan on the first day, the aims of the programme and what was expected from us were very clear. We knew what each module would cover and when it would be delivered, who the lecturers were and when the various assignments were due.

The modules were very interesting and I think we also benefited from being a particularly large class. We were 36 people with a large variety of skills, personalities and backgrounds. The information, involvement and interaction people brought to the classes was a huge plus. And it’s been a lasting benefit in terms of providing a network of people you can call if you want advice or a sounding board.

How has doing the programme impacted your work as a director?

It has given me a very clear insight into what’s expected of directors operating on boards. I’m now much more aware of the responsibilities and obligations of directors, as well as how good boards should work and the need for them to be independent and critically assessed.

The programme has also made me more mindful of trying to achieve outcomes and ensure that the board is functioning as a positive influence on the company.

What are the biggest challenges for board members?

I think it depends on the board you’re working on. Sometimes, it’s the personalities: if you have a very strong chairperson with a particular view, it can be difficult to have an influence, particularly if they have strong allegiance to the shareholders.

I also think if everything is going okay in the business, there can sometimes be a reluctance to step back to consider whether there are better ways of operating.

It can be a challenge to really reflect on the issues at hand. When you’re stuck in the thick of board discussions, it’s not always easy to take the time to stand back and think about the issues. Because of the course I think I’d be far more aware of this and far more critical.

How important are soft skills in director roles?

Having the ability to listen to other people, giving them the opportunity to say what they want to say, and taking their opinions on board is really important.  I think a lot of the time, people don’t necessarily do that. Some people have a view and just want to communicate that but don’t want to listen to other people.

Would you recommend the programme?

Yes, I already have done! In fact, a friend of mine who had been thinking about doing it signed up after I talked to her about my experience. And she also found it very beneficial. 


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