General Counsel of Siro and UCD Diploma in Business and Executive Coaching Graduate Audrey O’Sullivan has had a busy year by any measure. Not only did she add an advanced coaching program at UCD to her degree, but she played a key role (along with colleagues) in the process that saw Siro, the broadband communications joint venture between Vodafone and ESB, deploy the only 100 per fiber optic broadband network, raise €620 million in funding from international and Irish banks, including the European Investment Bank in 2021.
She describes the funding agreement as a fantastic project to participate in. “I’ve been with Siro since the start in 2015,” she says. “We have over 420,000 homes and businesses passed now and are completing phase one and moving into phase two of our rollout. The funding project took all our energy this year and will fund our next growth spurt over the next five years.
To put its significance into context, the funding round will nearly double Siro’s reach to an additional 320,000 homes and businesses, bringing the total to 770,000 premises in 154 cities across Ireland.
A corporate lawyer trained with McCann Fitzgerald, technology and communications have been recurring themes in her career. In the early days of telecommunications deregulation in Ireland, she worked with Ocean, a joint venture between BT and ESB, which at the time offered voice telephony services.
“It was at the very beginning of the deregulated market,” she recalls. “It was a challenger company trying to carve out a place in the market.”
She also spent five years as a senior adviser at BT Ireland before moving to the UK to join IT, intellectual property and fintech law firm Axiom Law. There, she worked on a secondment for three years with the payment company Worldpay.
“Worldpay separated from RBS after the global financial crash,” she explains. “There has been a lot of migration of technology systems from RBS to the new company and to a new technology platform. It was a very pleasant experience. The company went public just as I was returning to Ireland to join Siro in 2015.”
His journey with UCD Smurfit Executive Development began with the Diploma in Corporate Governance. His interest in the program was sparked by his work in a start-up company and the need to establish best-in-class corporate governance from the outset.
I learned some really important skills during the program
“UCD’s corporate governance program caught my eye. It’s such an impactful program. For example, one of the speakers, Dr. Margaret Cullen, does a fascinating module on board behavior that looked at functional boards and dysfunctional boards. I really wanted to know more about this. It focuses on the underlying dynamics of personalities and how they can lead to situations where people feel unable to express themselves or challenge if they have an opposing point of view.
She believes such behaviors can make the difference between business success and failure. “I thought about the few people who spoke out before the financial crash,” she recalls. “I wanted to know how you can have effective corporate governance. This is how I got into business and executive coaching. There’s a lot going on in the underlying psychological dynamics of an organization and how you navigate them is very important.
The coaching program introduced him to very different concepts and new ways of approaching problems. “I came from a corporate background that was highly motivated and focused on getting the job done,” she explains. “The coaching program taught me to think about more than that. Thinking about what I was thinking, how I felt emotionally, my mood. It got me thinking about concepts and ideas that I hadn’t thought of in a long time.
These concepts included the essential conditions for building trust. “Am I aware of my presence? Am I actively listening? Am I offering accurate empathy? It’s about honing your skills on how you relate and interact with people and teams. I learned some very important skills during the program. Of course, I already had a few, but I was learning new ones. It’s very practical and eye-opening. You must do 100 hours of coaching during the program.
These new skills included taking a more deliberative and reflective approach. “It’s not just about getting things done. You learn to become much more patient rather than reacting.
It’s about honing your skills on how you relate and interact with people and teams
Building trust with different people is another example. “With some people, you build trust by doing the task with them. Others have to have a relationship first. They want to have a conversation first and then do the task. Looking back on my career, I don’t had never taken a break, there were always tasks and goals to achieve. Then you realize that the next step might not happen because you have to take a different approach. There is a lot of thinking to do You think about the impact you have on others, do you realize that you might be putting it off?That’s the kind of stuff you learn and can help others with.
And these learnings were also very beneficial in his own workplace. “It’s been phenomenally helpful,” she says. “When you think about the number of relationships involved in fundraising. We actually achieved in nine months what would normally take 18 months and during a global pandemic where most interactions were remote. If you accept that people come from a good place and try to achieve something together, it helps to achieve a positive outcome.
It is also helping his colleagues. “Siro promotes a culture of coaching within the organization and has offered coaching to staff. I am one of three accredited coaches at Siro, and I have two internal candidates that I have recently started supporting through coaching as part of the Siro offering which includes mentorship and matchmaking support. I have also been a mentor with the Law Society of Ireland for the past seven years. All of the skills I learned at Smurfit are very applicable to my job there.
“I now have to complete the Masters in Business (Leadership and Management Practice),” she adds. “I’ll probably top that off with another final degree (if needed) next year.”
And she doesn’t hesitate to recommend the program to others. “You see a lot of people doing amazing work, but they’re not always in touch with their colleagues or their managers because they’re too focused on the tasks at hand. More balance is needed for leadership. One of the benefits of coaching is that it helps you see your own blind spots and see yourself as others. And you can help other people see their blind spots in a controlled, safe environment and help them be more successful. This is a huge advantage of the program.
For more information visit smurfitschool.ie/executivedevelopment