Vicki O’Toole

Vicki O’Toole is Managing Director of JJ O’Toole Ltd., Ireland’s leading purveyor of packaging and design. Founded in 1914, the Limerick company is Ireland’s oldest packaging company and the preferred partner to thousands of clientele in Ireland and the UK which include blue chip retailers such as Brown Thomas, Selfridges & Co, Newbridge Silverware, Dunnes Stores, Blarney Woollen Mills, Lloyds Pharmacy Group and Shaws.

In 2011, Vicki was awarded the overall Image Magazine Business Woman of the Year Award in recognition of her hard work and dedication to JJ O’Toole Ltd. In 2014, JJ O’Toole Ltd. celebrated 100 years in business, a milestone Vicki is truly proud of. She won the best Women-Led Ulster Bank award in the Munster region in 2015. The company was a finalist in the 2015 Limerick Chamber Awards in the service category and came out on top in the 2016 SFA Awards ceremony in Dublin by winning the Best Service Company. In 2018, the company was back to its winning ways and were finalists in the Shelf Life Supplier and Retail Excellence Ireland awards. Vicki was a 2018 EY EOY finalist in the industry category and is shortlisted as the Business Woman of the Year in the upcoming Irish Women’s Awards 2018.

Can leadership be taught? If so, how?

I am not sure leadership can be taught, but it can certainly be learnt. The learning can be from listening to leader’s personal journeys who have learnt themselves by simply ‘doing’. Future leaders need to hear practical advice such as there is no substitute for learning new skills through experiences; Learn that invaluable knowledge often comes from being faced with challenges and being courageous in difficult situations; Learn that often experiences are sprinkled with mistakes – mistakes that make us stronger, more determined and better leaders; Learn that there is no equal to passion, positivity, hard work and a ‘never give up’ attitude. And finally, be encouraged that you don’t necessarily need letters after your name to be a leader – many leaders have not been to college or studied a leadership programme.

What do you think is the difference between management and leadership?

Leaders have a vision, challenge the status quo and embrace change whilst managers spend more time administering and making sure the day to day activities are happening as they should. Leaders are willing to take risks despite the chance of failure, whilst managers often try to minimise risk-taking. However, leadership and management must go hand in hand for any company to be successful, particularly in a small business where the owner often has responsibility for both roles.

The world around us is changing faster than at any time in human history and we need more leaders to emerge. How do we make this happen?

Leaders should urge the younger generation to follow their instincts, to believe in themselves and be unafraid to step out of their comfort zone. Often it is negativity that that will stop a person with leadership skills to advance. We need to encourage future leaders to’ ignore the naysayers’ and be their unique self. We see some children taking on a leadership role from a young age such as those who are captains of their sports teams, head girls and boys of their schools. How do they end up with these roles versus others? I often think it is because they are supported from childhood by parents, family, teachers and friends who believe in them. When you are surrounded by positivity, encouragement and told you can do and be anything you want, leaders will often evolve. Above all, leaders need to lead by example. Leaders should never lose sight that they are role models and are in a privileged position of influence, particularly to the younger generation.

What is the one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?

Often leaders are not clear when discussing their vision with their team and should consider delegating more roles and responsibilities in the workplace.

What advice would you give to someone dealing with a high-pressure situation in their life or work?

This is a difficult one. So often we are faced with high-pressure situations, and on occasion, simultaneously in life and at work. We are told to compartmentalise, unwind and de-stress, which is easier said than done! When we remove ourselves, even for short periods of time, from our day to day routine, it helps us to see things in a clearer light, relax more, and in effect reduce our stress levels. So often it’s the simple things, such as a short walk or a chat with a friend over a coffee, that can help us to de-stress and give us that temporary space we need before we face back to our routine. In life and work, we all need daily doses of stillness, silence and solitude.

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 have read a handful of books and articles on leadership over the years, such as on Indra Nooyi and Jack Welch. However, in my view, reading books and watching podcasts etc is no substitute for meeting leaders face to face. Having an opportunity to meet with accessible leaders, who are happy to share their journey with you, is the ideal route to gaining an insight into becoming a better leader. One to one meetings with leaders who inspire you, make for invaluable learning experiences.