Who were the biggest influences in your early career and what did they teach you?
Being lucky enough to have good mentors is really important. I was fortunate that I was surrounded by some very supportive people, including our former Managing Partner Liam Quirke, who took a real interest in my career very early on and was always there as a sounding board and a guide. There are other people I have worked with in my own group who have been a big help, including Tara Doyle, the current Head our Asset Management Department. Tara has always provided sound feedback, advice and tips about things she thought we could be doing differently.
Mentoring and the ability to listen and take advice on board should not be underestimated in terms of professional development. As managing partner, this is something I have tried to instill and to implement further in the firm. We now have formal mentoring programmes at all levels, which have been very well received.
What are the most important lessons you have learned over the years about managing people and strategic leadership?
It is very important to respect and to listen to people, and to respect diversity of opinion. We have very strong values in that regard at Matheson, not just in terms of gender or social diversity, but also diversity of opinion. By listening and talking to people, you get a better understanding of the challenges they face and the ways in which you might be able to help them overcome those challenges.
Most people don’t like change. Unless it is very obvious that change is needed, people tend to be satisfied to continue on the path they are on. But I believe that should never be used as an excuse not to try to change things for the better. I firmly believe that however excellent we are, we can all be better and we should all be trying to be better all the time, whether that is in finding better ways to service clients and understand their business or in terms of how we deliver our services. We can always improve.
If you search for ways to be better and act on it, people will buy into it when they see that it does make a difference.
It is also important to avoid trying to take on too much at any one time. Prioritise what’s really important. Try to make sure that you allow enough time for people to get used to change and implement it properly before you move on.
In terms of personal development and upskilling, how do you stay current in your sector?
I don’t think that there are many courses that can teach you the insights gained from the experience of working with client companies, understanding their business strategies and how they go about dealing with the challenges in their operations. Our lawyers are very fortunate to have exposure to working with very senior individuals with successful careers behind them in our client organisations.
As a firm, we also invest very heavily in staying current. In this respect, we have a Professional Support Lawyer Faculty, which is a team of lawyers who are dedicated to tracking legislative changes and developments across industry sectors. They identify key legal changes as early as possible and they make sure that our lawyers and our clients can be made aware, not just of what is happening right now, but what is likely to happen two to three years from now based on legislative trends and developments.
We invest significantly in business training. Our people strategy is to produce the best business lawyers and support professionals. The key word here is ‘business’. Not only do we have specialised legal training programmes within the firm, we also have links with some of the top business schools in the world with whom we have designed bespoke development programmes in order to provide our people with business training throughout their career from trainee to partner and beyond.
We work with INSEAD for our partner development programme and we work with the Judge Business School in Cambridge for our senior associates. We also recently started a programme with the Irish Management Institute (IMI) for our associates. The idea there is to have our lawyers exposed to voices other than lawyers’ voices, to have them exposed to business people talking about business issues and to have them understand not just the business of law, but the business our clients are engaged in every day and how you make those two things connect and interact better.
What are your hobbies outside of work? Do you have any tricks to switch off after a stressful day?
I am a bit of a sports fanatic. I am terrible at playing sport, but I love watching it. All my teams are red. I am from Cork and I follow Cork hurling and football very closely. I also follow Munster Rugby and Liverpool. Matheson’s branding is red as well, so there’s a theme there I think! I play a little bit of golf and I like cycling, although I tend to talk about it more than I do it.
I enjoy exercise as a way of switching off. I think that, if people want to find a way to switch off, spending time with their kids is probably a good way of ensuring that happens. There is nothing like children to bring you back down to earth with a bang.
When you travel for pleasure, where do you go and why?
I travel a lot for work, so when I travel for holidays, I tend to opt for relatively short flights. I go to Europe quite a bit. I do spend some time in the US from time to time on vacation, but I like to be active. I’m not one for sitting by the pool for two weeks. I have been on cycling holidays in Poland and other countries. When I travel with the kids, we look for places that have a combination of culture, history and activities for them to do.
What’s the last great book you read or film you watched? What kind of music do you listen to?
I spend so much time reading at work, and trying to stay current with what is happening in the legal market, that the reading I do outside work tends to be during vacation and on flights. I read a lot of sports biographies. “The Secret Race” by Tyler Hamilton is a fascinating read in that it gives you quite a human perspective on the issue of doping in cycling.
In terms of music, I am probably a music industry marketer’s dream in that I enjoy a bit of everything and I probably use Sonos more than I should.