Alan O’Neill

With over 30 years of experience from the boardroom to the front line, Alan O’Neill MBA, The Change Agent – has supported iconic brands to achieve amazing results. In a dynamic world, he knows what it takes to drive change in a business – from top to bottom and back to front. It’s about having a customer-centric culture, engaged people, and a supercharged sales effort. Across B2B, B2C and the public sector, his clients include global brands like Selfridges, Bank of Irl, Harrods, Eli Lilly, Intel, Lufthansa, Mercedes, Moet Hennesy, Ramada Hotels, Scottish Power, Sherry Fitz, St. Gobain, The UN, Vodafone, and more. Up to 2004, Selfridges, for example, was a sleeping giant – but is now officially the best department store in the world and one of the most profitable (per m²). Alan was their lead consultant for many years.

A consultant, trainer, non-executive director and a visiting professor with ESA Beirut, he is also a trusted mentor to many CEOs and board directors who seek his advice. Alan has a reputation for making the complex simple being down-to-earth and practical with a commercial focus that brings everything back to the customer. Alan now writes a weekly advice column for the Sunday Independent – Ireland’s leading business newspaper.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

Yes, I believe leadership can be taught. There are of course many great icons that are born leaders, such as Richard Branson, Nelson Mandela, etc. But the characteristics of great leaders have been observed, studied and identified in detail. Those characteristics can, therefore, be turned into effective leadership programmes. And that’s a combination of knowledge, skills and the big one – attitude.

When you are filling a leadership role in your organisation what qualities do you look for from candidates?

People, People, People! It’s unrealistic to think that a leader should have all the technical skills required to do every job. Nor do they need to have them. But they do need to be able to lead people, by spotting them in the first place and then developing them over time. Leaders also need to have vision, be strategic thinkers and good decision-makers.

If you had to leave your organisation for 1 year what would you ask of your team and what advice would you give them?

Stick to the big picture plan, but be flexible – and adapt to changing market dynamics. If changes need to be made, use the vision as a reference point. Finally, love bomb your customers and deliver excellent service every single day.

What are you doing today to make sure your organisation will be relevant in 10 years time?

I’m focusing on the vision and ensuring that the strategy and culture support that. That strategy is a rolling strategy which is updated every year. That’s essential in this fast-changing and dynamic world.

What leaders outside your own organisation do you admire and why?

Leo Varadkar for his honesty and integrity.

Damian Carolan, MD of Donnelly Fruit and Veg Imports! He started on the floor of the fruit markets and is now MD of a very successful business. He knows his business inside out and knows exactly what’s going on. Not only that, he’s got great vision and big-picture thinking.

What are a few resources (books, blogs, podcasts, courses etc) you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?

If budget and time allows for it, I strongly recommend an MBA. If that’s a challenge, keep tuned into my weekly column in Sunday Independent Business!