Adrian Mulvihill is Chief Strategy Officer at FEXCO Group, which is a privately owned Kerry based company employing over 2000 people around the world. FEXCO is a diversified company whose origins are in Foreign Exchange related activities but which now includes a range of FX, payments and other service businesses.
Adrian started with FEXCO in London in the mid-80’s when it had only 2 other employees outside Ireland, and returned to FEXCO in 2004 after a decade working in consultancy in the UK. His background is primarily in new ventures, programme management, the business end of Information Technology and business planning & strategy. He holds an MBA from London Business School.
Can leadership be taught? If so, how?
The greatest leaders are probably born or grow up that way, but many of us have more leadership in us than we think. I believe that leadership can be encouraged, sponsored and supported although I’m not sure about being “taught”. Setting a good example and having a clear sense of purpose is the single best way. To me, that means being willing to take responsibility at the right times, to show conviction about important decisions, and to stand up for doing the right thing even if the mood of the moment suggests differently. It also means basing your views in reality and making sure you try to understand the positions of other stakeholders – being serious about what you are saying when it is important. Avoid clichés, simply repeating the views of others, making assumptions about the other stakeholders.
When you are filling a leadership role in your organisation what qualities do you look for from candidates?
- A combination of self-confidence and self-awareness.
- An ability to command respect and bring people along in the relevant field.
- A sense of energy and focus appropriate to the type of role.
If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your career what advice would you give yourself?
At the start, work for a large and well-known organisation if you can, you have more options afterwards than if you start with a smaller one (unless it’s a specialist company and you already know what specialism you want to pursue). Work abroad at the first opportunity, it gets a lot harder to move around once one has a family to consider. Bear in mind that your long term occupational value is heavily influenced by these 3 things: (1) deep technical expertise in a recognised competency (2) deep market knowledge in specific product areas and/or geographies and (3) your network of contacts. Of course there are different rules for artists, authors, actors, politicians, criminals and geniuses.
What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?
- Investing in new products and markets.
- Recognising how critical information technology is in our industries, particularly Artificial Intelligence.
- Thinking regionally and globally.
What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?
- Michael O’Leary, Ryanair – his capacity to recognise a changed reality and adapt to it, such as acknowledging that Ryanair needed to fundamentally change its approach to customers at a time when it was making record profits. Most successful leaders (and organisations) cannot make such changes unless they are in crisis.
- Desmond O’Malley – for showing integrity at a time when it was lacking in Irish politics and not necessarily popular. Of course it’s all different now.
- Winston Churchill – for providing a sense of purpose and determination, for an entire country (if not continent), at the worst of times.
- Denis Brosnan – for having the vision and conviction to take Kerry Group global and transform it from a commodity-based business into an R&D driven business.
What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
Look around you and identify a leader(s) you feel you can respect. Watch and try to understand them. Perhaps one would mentor you, strike up a relationship – it doesn’t have to be a big deal. If you can’t see anyone you admire or can identify with, move along as soon as you decently can.