We interviewed Tony O’Donnell about his career to date, his experiences of hiring C-Level positions such as site leads, the importance of networking and how working with Ardlinn has helped him to find the right talent to grow and strengthen his global team.
Where did your career begin and how have you steered it to where you are now?
I’ve managed to have a pretty broad and exciting career to date. I interned at JP Morgan in London while in College, and fully expected to go into finance/consulting on graduation. When 9/11 happened, my consulting role in New York was withdrawn and I decided to stay on to do a PhD.
My professional career began in a high potential start-up that went on to be acquired by a leading games publisher. I then worked in consulting for a time, but my greatest formative experience was at SAP. It’s an amazing growth company, with a strong belief in empowering the individual contributor and translating strategy to everyone’s personal goals. The company also has a very strong social conscience and a deeply rooted belief in trust.
What were your early career ambitions and what steps did you take to realise those ambitions?
I am an intensely curious person, so my ambition has always been to focus on applied innovation. In my career, I have always looked for opportunities to be an early part of something in a growth phase. This gives a tremendous ability to influence, even for junior staff. It also gives huge opportunities to step up and take additional responsibilities.
Was there a decisive moment in your career which helped you to where you are now?
Two major moments really shaped things for me. For many years, I had a parallel life as a local politician, and when I missed out on an opportunity to run in the 2011 General Election, I doubled down on my professional life. The other key moment was an early decision to own my career journey; success is sometimes organic or spontaneous, but your chances are much better if you look to take active rather than passive decisions.
At SAP, for example, I ran an innovation team. We had some super bright people, and a great run of interesting prototypes. However, I knew that being ‘interesting’ wasn’t going to give me or my team a platform to fully realise our potential. When I heard through my network that a new product unit was coming to Ireland, I spoke to the key decision makers and offered my team as a seed to grow that new function. This turned my team of less than 10 into the foundation for a team of 100 working on hugely impactful and strategic products.
How did you benefit from Ardlinn’s approach?
Some recruitment firms and recruiters are very transactional. The Ardlinn approach is really around relationships, which means investing time over a much longer period and with no specific goal or role in mind. This means that the right role and the right individual can be connected, and the long-term results are much better.
Why are Ardlinn well placed to recruit C-Level positions like site leads?
It’s all about network. Ardlinn know the right people on the ground, which is hugely valuable to new firms coming to Ireland. Because of the long investment in relationships, this means that search isn’t really a discovery proposition but a match-making one. The depth of each individual relationship means that Ardlinn can really put the right people in front of the right companies.
What would you say to prospective candidates or businesses considering working with Ardlinn?
Be really clear about your intent and try not to over analyse before starting a conversation with Ardlinn. Your intent and their depth of knowledge can be a great starting point for a conversation and being open to feedback and input at an early stage will give a better result all round.
What advice would you give to anyone who has aspirations to get to a C-level position?
In your early career, focus on opportunities to demonstrate the skills needed at the next career level. Nothing works better than inevitability, and you want to ensure that when a promotion or opportunity comes up, your leaders see you as the obvious candidate. As you move through your career, networking is hugely important as it ensures you broaden your understanding of the business, as well as creating a chorus who will reinforce your reputation. It’s also very important to develop your skills managing up and managing down. For your senior management, make sure you are capable of operating with high autonomy and great outcomes; for your teams, make sure you define and live a culture that helps you achieve your collective goals.
Has anyone in particular inspired you within your career?
I’m hugely indebted to my mentors at SAP, especially Liam Ryan (Ireland MD), Laurent Bride (former Head of SAP Advanced Development, current CTO at Talend), Michael Reh (former EVP of SAP Analytics, current CEO at Tymlez) and Vishal Sikka (former SAP CTO and former Infosys CEO).
Prof Larry Leifer at the d.school in Stanford is also someone who has inspired me, and I have been fortunate to work with. Bill Kearney at IBM Ireland is also a role model. He has helped his site evolve and remain at the forefront of IBM, and I think his constant ability to reinvent and remain valuable is a great example for all of us.