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‘I don’t have all the answers, but I know where to find them’

Johnny

Each week, the Sunday Business Post profile one of Ireland’s foremost corporate leaders, tracing their career to date and exploring the lessons they have learned along the way. In December 2016, they met Chartered Accountant Jonathan O’Connell of Daqri.

Jonathan O’Connell is finance director at Daqri, with responsibility for statutory compliance, internal controls, financial operation and reporting. Daqri makes augmented reality (AR) products, including software and hardware, for enterprise. Established in the US in 2010 by chief executive Brian Mullins, it employs 30 people and has offices in Ireland, Britain, the US and Austria.

Tell us about your career to date?

I have a first-class honours degree in business from Dublin Institute of Technology. I also trained as a chartered accountant with PwC. This route set the foundation for my career. I learned so much during my training and I’ve gone on to work for more than ten years at vibrant companies like Google, Facebook and AdRoll. I was a finalist in the recent Irish Early Career Awards.

Are you where you expected to be in your career?

I grew up in Dublin’s inner city in Markievicz House, right next door to Chartered Accountants House on Pearse Street. At that time, I only ever wanted to play for Manchester United, so I guess I’ve failed there.

My parents told me to be a doctor, solicitor or an accountant. They both left school in their teens so they had no fear of professional exams. I sold newspapers near the Custom House and quickly realised that accountants in the IFSC were the best tippers. When I got bitten by a dog called Prince Whelan and fainted at the sight of blood, I realised being a doctor was out of the question and decided instead to become an accountant if the football didn’t work out.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned during your career?

It is crucial to always have a goal or a plan. It not only gives you direction and focus, but makes sure you feel like you can achieve them. Don’t set yourself up for continual failure with unrealistic targets.

“Shoot for the stars, sure you’re bound to get over the roof” is not a good approach. It can sour your enthusiasm, so set yourself up for success with goals you can achieve. Be realistic, but ambitious.

My career so far has gone better than expected, if I’m honest. I’ve worked for some of the best companies in the world with the brightest people possible and I have two of the smartest and funniest kids on the planet.

What was the best career advice you got along the way?

Graham Law at Google told me:“Take your work seriously, but not yourself.” I’ve tried to carry that advice with me.

My mother Phyllis is my biggest hero. She’s always told me to think positive. She’s the most positive person I have ever met and filled me with so much confidence in my early years.

Listening is vital. My nanny Bridie Dennan told me: “A shut mouth catches no flies.” I still find this particular piece of advice the most difficult at times. I like to talk.

Based on your own experience, what are your top career tips?

I worked with a guy who made comments about my background, my accent, my Air Max runners, but it’s our authenticity that defines us. Let your performance do the talking.

Be open and transparent. It’s the best way to deal with office politics and divisiveness. It creates trust and promotes teamwork. It also shines a light on those who are not transparent.

Work hard and play harder. Don’t live to work. We’re here for a good time, not a long time. Get stuck into your work, but when it’s done, enjoy your family and friends. Walk your dog.

Recognise everybody’s input. Imagine if a manager asked you to bake a cake. You write a recipe, source ingredients, bake it, put the icing and cherry on top and present it with pride. He then moves the cherry and presents it as his own. In my experience, I’ve seen this happen with one word changed in a memo. Recognition is vital to people’s job satisfaction, so this is really unacceptable. Have conviction, trust your gut and don’t shy away from hard decisions. Make decisions that are right for the company and do it with respect for others.

How would you define your work style, and how has this evolved over the years?

I’m direct and resourceful. I find answers that I don’t have. I don’t have all the answers, but I know where to find them. My style has evolved a little in the sense that I try not to sweat the details so much. That comes with experience.

In terms of managing teams and individuals, what are your insights?

Allow them to focus on the work they enjoy doing. This will ensure they are happy, they spend a long time with the company and they are set up for success. Always turn up for a meeting prepared. You can lose credibility with your team if you wing it. Celebrate success and failure. Achievements should be recognised and rewarded. When a team falls short, identify effort, analyse reason and ensure it doesn’t happen again.

What about communication and negotiating the typical ups and downs of working life?

Be articulate, explain your view, respect others’ views and try to build an alliance. People will have a difference of opinion in work and life. If you focus on facts, data and strategy, the personalities are irrelevant.

Has networking played an important part in your career?

I first met the late Paddy Spain 20 years ago. He opened so many connections and gave me lifelong advice. He said: “Never to be afraid to ask someone for 30 minutes of their time.” Networking is the key to a successful career. Send a letter, not a random LinkedIn invite.

If you had to choose another career tomorrow, what would it be and why?

Professional football player? No. Software engineering or data analytics. I’ve seen the power of data analytics. It makes decision-making a science rather than an art. If you can support a decision with data and this decision supports the overall strategy of an organisation, you’re onto a winner. Software engineers are solving problems and enriching our lives on a daily basis.

Jonathan’s interview originally appeared in the Sunday Business Post on 18 December 2016.

To find out more about setting your own foundation for a successful career, get in touch with us by email or give us a call on 1890 28 29 28 / 028 9043 5840.