Chief Marketing Officer at Alltech
Orla McAleer is chief marketing officer at Alltech. She completed an MSc in Business (Leadership & Management Practice) in 2018.
Tell us a bit about your background and career path
We lived abroad quite a lot when I was growing up and I finished school in Australia before coming back to Ireland to do a BBS in Trinity.
After that, I started travelling again, working in PR and the marketing and communications world. When I was 30, I joined Alltech as its first European PR manager. The company was really starting to grow at that stage and has been on a very strong growth trajectory ever since – it’s been fast paced and offered lots of opportunities.
A few years after joining, I took on the role of marketing for Asia and moved to Thailand for nearly four years. Then I returned to Ireland to look after marketing for Europe. I was always very involved with our corporate initiatives and branding so it was a natural progression for me to take on the chief marketing officer role when it came up in 2017.
Why did you decide to do the MSc Business (Leadership & Management Practice)?
I started the programme in 2016 because I was taking on more of a leadership role generally in Alltech. The organisation was also going through a lot of change – we had gone from growing very organically to doing so by acquisition and I was involved in some of the integration around that. Part of my reason for pursuing the master’s was to understand how companies go through this integration and to make sure that from a leadership perspective I could help with some of that change.
That’s what really propelled me, but it was also about upskilling as I hadn’t studied in quite a while. Getting out of the bubble of the organisation and meeting other people and learning from different industries was appealing as well.
And the structure of pathway was particularly attractive because we had the module dates from the outset and it was easy to put them into the diary and ensure they were going to stay there. As a busy executive who does a lot of international travel, that was quite important.
How would you describe the Diploma in Strategy, Development and Innovation?
It was very case study driven. There’s a big focus on industry examples, looking at change in organisations, how strategy impacts the direction of organisations and how innovation helps propel them forward. It was intense and we had a very good class dynamic, interaction and network. For me, the teaching style on this – and all three of my diplomas – was very good.
Of my three programmes, I found this to have the heaviest workload. The other two involved less homework but more emotional and mental work.
How would you describe the Diploma in Advanced Management Performance?
This one covers a broad range of topics, including finance, branding, culture, teams and personal impact. The focus was on the person and the organisational culture – so, more about the soft skills – which has been very useful as I have been able to bring those practical tools, techniques and frameworks into everyday working life.
How would you describe the Diploma in Leadership Development?
This was my final programme in the pathway. I chose it because I’d heard very positive feedback and because I was stepping up into the CMO role.
For me, it was the best of the three because it was very personal. It was really looking at your own leadership style, both in organisations and life in general. There was a lot of inner thinking, which really takes you out of your comfort zone.
It was also taught in a very different style and we had the same two facilitators or lecturers for almost the whole course, which allows for a much more intimate dynamic in the class. And that was important: you share a lot of stuff – personal and corporate – but it’s all very confidential. The journey through that was very good and it was a nice way to finish the pathway.
What has been the biggest impact of the pathway for you?
I think I now look at things differently. For example, one of the modules in the leadership programme covered resilience: the importance of ensuring that you as a leader are using the right energy and not getting drained and that you’re there for the team and are always authentic. It’s not that I wouldn’t have done that before, but I’m much more conscious of these things now.
The learnings from the three diplomas have helped me to be much more aware of how I lead and how that impacts the team, and of the need to take care of myself in order to be able to look after my team, the company and my role.
What did you think of the networking opportunities?
Our networking was really done during the classes, coffee breaks and lunches. We had good opportunities to engage in classes, a lot of team work – where you got to interact more closely with some people – and time to get together in groups at lunches or coffee breaks.
Would you recommend the pathway?
Yes, and I already have – a number of my colleagues are currently doing it.
Being able to fit the programmes into a busy schedule is hugely important. The networking, industry learning and chance to step away from your day-to-day job and organisation, as well as the ability to take the frameworks, tools and techniques back into your role are all big pluses. So, yes, I’ll definitely continue to recommend it.