Tom O’Leary

Tom O’Leary started out in a career in Mutual Funds in Boston and Dublin, however in 1998 he got the opportunity to develop a much more fulfilling career when he started working with start-ups coming off long term unemployment in the Northside of Dublin. In 2000 Tom moved back to his home town of Tralee and set up his own company providing training and consultancy to start-up businesses, established SMEs and Social Enterprises. Since 2000 Tom has advised and trained thousands of people with ideas for new start-ups. He has also secured in excess of €15m in funding for social enterprises providing a range of social services and projects in communities across Kerry and Limerick.Tom is also co-founder and CFO of HQ Co Working Space Ltd. and HQ Tralee a 1 GB Hub with a mix of co-working, individual office suites and event space.

Tom’s focus is on supporting and encouraging start-ups to develop their ideas and grow a successful business. For more information go to

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

In one word, No. Leadership cannot be taught. There are born leaders in every society, community, team and network. A leader is the person who will lead by example who has influence and inspires those around him/her. The leader may not always be the very best or the brightest, but a leader brings a different set of skills to the situation. So, in my opinion you cannot teach a person to be a leader, however you can teach leadership skills such as communication skills and people management skills. Good leaders are also shaped by the environment in which they operate. Very often a person’s real leadership ability comes to the fore when faced with adversity.

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

Stay focused on our customers – constantly talk and listen to the customer, anticipate their needs, solve their problems and exceed their expectations. Don’t be afraid to innovate and look at new ways of improving the customer experience. Always be open to learning and improving yourself personally and professionally. Focus on achieving your goal and enjoy doing it. And finally, please make sure we are still in profit when I return!

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

I look at what successful companies did 10 years ago to align themselves to avail of current opportunities. My business hasn’t changed much in the past 17 years, but I think there are huge opportunities for growth over the next 10 years. How I position the company will be based on understanding what are the future needs of my clients. By constantly responding to the needs of our clients we will continue to be relevant to our clients. Talking and listening to our customers while keeping a close eye on the market we are in will help us avail of opportunities and will help us steer around potential threats. We will also need to embrace technology and how it can be used to deliver effective and targeted supports for our client base.

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

I am a huge sports fan and as such admire many leaders from the world of sports. Players like Paul O’Connell who led Munster, Ireland and the Lions to success inspire others around them by their leadership on and off the pitch. In business two of the many Leaders who stand out for me are:
Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO. Bezos whose focus is on delighting customers, is described in a Forbes article as follows “With a net worth of some $19 billion, the 48-year-old is one of the 30 richest men in the world. Yet he still dashes around Amazon with the intensity of a startup boss trying to make his first payroll, as well as the glee of a teenager discovering all the fun you can have at overnight camp”
Jack Welch, General Electric CEO. Welch is famous for his candid, talent centric management style and has long preached that companies are only as strong as the people who keep them running. “This whole game of business revolves around one thing. You build the best team, you win.”

If you could wind back the clock to when you were starting your career what advice would you give yourself?

Get out of a career that doesn’t excite you earlier. Focus on your core competencies and better them. If you juggle many balls, some of the balls will fall, so don’t be a Jack or Jane of all trades. Keep it simple – “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication” – Steve Jobs and Leonardo Da Vinci

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

I like to listen to other people and how they developed their business, led their team or have led amazing lives. There are some inspirational talks on and I also like to dip in and out of which have short interviews with business leaders. I also encourage people to google successful leaders in their industry sectors and find out how they operate, how they lead, how they create value and how they innovate. Become a sponge and learn from the best.
Currently on my book shelf:
Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris
The Captain Class: The Hidden Force Behind the World’s Greatest Teams by Sam Walker
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future by Ashlee Vance

Sports biographies of successful sports people can also provide a huge insight to the mindset of motivated, hard-working and focused individuals.

In terms of training check out or for news of our business leaders series of workshops in 2018.