UCC student Barry O’Sullivan may only be 20, but he has no shortage of ambition, bringing together some of the top business leaders in the country for the inaugural Executive Summit next month.
The Bantry, Co Cork, native and second-year economics student has assembled developer Michael O’Flynn, Dalata chief, Pat McCann, telecoms entrepreneur, David McCourt, the Housing Agency’s John O’Connor, and Leinster Rugby’s Michael Dawson for his event, in Dublin’s Clontarf Castle Hotel on April 5. His ambition is to host an event for business people to hear the insights and strategies that have taken the speakers to the top of their fields.
“I was never one for events growing up; I didn’t even have an 18th birthday. I’m not into that kind of thing, but I was interested in creating the Executive Summit. I suppose, you could say I went in at the deep end.
“All our speakers are leaders, who inspire me personally. Being from Cork, I have great admiration for Michael O’Flynn. David McCourt, as an entrepreneur and an executive, has had an exceptional career in business, by any measure.
“It’s great to be able to talk to people of that calibre and see them in their offices and how they operate.”
His next ambition is to secure the leading women in Irish business for the event.
“I believe that, with any kind of business summit, that the closer you can get to gender parity, the better. It can be difficult, in an event like this, to have gender parity in the first year, but it gets easier as you go on. However, I’m quite positive that there will be a really positive gender balance, when it comes to the event this year.
“I think Siobhán Talbot, of Glanbia, is a really excellent chief executive. Her personal story, as well as what she has done in business, is certainly inspiring, and she is a really exceptional leader of an Irish plc. When it comes to executives, I really admire those leading the large plcs.
Outside of Ireland, I really admire Angel Ahrendts, the former chief executive of Burberry and the VP of retail for Apple.
"Francesca McDonagh, of Bank of Ireland, Tara McCarthy, of Bord Bia, and women of that calibre, are all leaders of exceptional organisations.”
It was daunting putting together such a lineup, but taking risks is what some of the best leaders in business do, said Mr O’Sullivan.
“When you decide you are definitely doing it, you have to get over that: if it goes well, great. If not, so what? You can’t constantly fret about what is going to happen.
“I started to plan for it at the start of the college year, and there was a spell where there were very few speakers lined up. That was daunting, but I’ve learned this is a process.
“It is almost like a snowball effect: once you have one or two speakers, it’s easy to get four and then six. I’m just going to do my best with it and see where we go from there.
“Overall, I want to have a good career in business, but I certainly see the potential in the Executive Summit. When you are starting an event, you have to see it as a long-term aim.
“The idea would be to grow incrementally, year-on-year, but that is obviously a lot easier said than done: my focus has to be on the first year.”
With leaders offering insights into their organisations and with panels discussing Brexit just days after the UK is to leave the EU, Mr O’Sullivan is confident the half-day event can provide added value to the businesses of those who attend, as well as the speakers themselves.
“The focus has to be on the attendee, obviously, but when I say I want to deliver the best value that I can for attendees, I mean the speakers, also: bringing their views and insights in a very constructive way to other business leaders in Ireland.
“Take Michael Dawson, as chief executive of Leinster Rugby for the last 18 years; even the managing
director of a construction company or car dealership could learn a huge amount from him.”
He also hopes to tease out solutions to the social issues of our time, including the housing crisis.
“I think public stakeholders and private, commercial people can help alleviate the housing problem through governmental organisations, but also through executives like Michael O’Flynn.
“It’s about getting these stakeholders together and having a productive discussion on how can we somewhat alleviate the housing issue in Ireland.”
Mr O’Sullivan worked during the summer with Cork software-as-a-service firm Teamwork, where he gained insight into the leadership of founders, Dan Mackey and fellow Bantry native, Peter Coppinger.
“Working there is everything you hear in the press; it is such a class place to work. I really admire Peter Coppinger as an executive: if you were to have a checklist as to what a modern leader should have, I think Peter Coppinger has it.
“I learned so much during my two months; it was invaluable.”