Colm O’Brien

Colm O’Brien’s first business failed! He is a Dub who moved to Limerick in 1998 to operate the Bewley’s Café Franchise on Cruises St, the ultimate failure of which in 2005 led to his founding Carambola – School Lunches Sorted that now supplies packed lunches to 32,000 children daily all over Ireland from Letterkenny to Tralee, Dundalk to Wexford. Carambola has a turnover in excess of €8m net annually and employs over 130 people.

Prior to that, O’Brien spent 20 years in the corporate world, a highlight of which saw him enjoy a stint as GM of the world famous Bewley’s of Grafton St and his best-selling business book, ‘Feeding Johnny – How to Build a Business despite the Roadblocks’ is a popular favourite amongst those looking to get more out of life and business, chronicles the journey and outlines the lessons learned.

His latest business venture, Colm O’Brien Motivation – a platform from which he uses his decades of experience to help fellow entrepreneurs, business owners and senior managers get more out of their businesses, their teams and their life – is shaping up to be another resounding success and has attracted quite the following.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

Yes. By example and coaching. When they bring me problems, I ask my managers (and have them ask their supervisors) “If I wasn’t here, what would you do?” This question gets them thinking and allows them stretch in a safe environment. If their answer has no apparent risks attached I suggest they do it and we can review.

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

Must be a self-starter. Must have excellent interpersonal skills.

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

I would tell them to Feed Johnny – Carambola code for doing the job right in all its facets; product, service, ethos, costs, growth, strategy, etc.

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

Hall of Fame Ice Hockey legend, Wayne Gretzky said it best, “Skate to where the puck is going to be.” At Carambola we are trying to figure out where the ‘puck’ is going to be and positioning ourselves to take advantage of it when it gets there.

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

Sir Richard Branson for his apparent business building and team building skills. JP McManus and Chuck Feeney for their philanthropy work. The late Nelson Mandela for leading his nation.

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

Blog: “Coffee with Colm” blog/vlog series
Podcast: ”What I Know Now” by Mark Kelly
Book: ”Losing my Virginity” by Richard Branson. Link here
Book: ”Long Walk To Freedom” Nelson Mandela’s journey. Link here.
Book: ”The Billionaire who wasn’t” Chuck Feeney’s story. Link here.
Book: ”Feeding Johnny” by Colm O’Brien Link here.