As part of our CFO incubator breakfast sessions we were fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Pat O’Sullivan, Non-Executive Director of several companies including carsales.com, Lux Group and APN outdoor. We heard about his journey and got advice for our program participants.
Pat started his career in Dublin as a chartered accountant and then he and his wife moved to Australia. Here, he worked for PWC, Goodman Fielder, and eventually became CFO for Optus and finally COO and Finance Director of Nine Entertainment Co.
Four and a half years ago Pat gave up full time work to coach a women’s representative football team and has ended up as a Non-Executive Director on 6 boards. When asked if becoming a NED was always part of the plan, he explained to us a lot about what lead him there both on a personal and professional level.
Pat believes in taking opportunities as they arise and making conscious decisions to work with good people. He suggested that you always need to back yourself and take risks. Pat described that dealing with the numbers is the easy part of the job, dealing with the Board and investors is very hard and needs to be learned. You need to develop the confidence to manage broader stakeholders. He advised us to look for industries that are facing challenges.
On his role as a NED, Pat told us about people looking for “gotcha” moments and explained that he is not one of those people. He is not looking to catch anyone out for mistakes in front of an audience. He is also not someone who is just prepared to “tick off reports” so he will only join boards where he sees that he will be able to add value. Pat highlighted the different dynamic of working in an executive team and on a board. In the executive team you easily spend 40 hours a week with your team, you probably spend 40 hours a year with your fellow board members, and yet you still make big decisions together.
When asked about mentors, Pat explained that the more senior you get, the more lonely it is and the harder it becomes to admit your weaknesses. Pat realises the importance of having people act as sounding boards and help you through big decisions.
Finally, we asked Pat for the 3 top tips for our CFO Incubator participants and he told us:
1) Don’t over plan – you have to be able to deal with new things as they arise
2) Back yourself – accountants are often conservative, you need to take risks
3) Don’t underestimate the value of mentors – you need sounding boards for big decisions
We would like to thank Pat for his openness and advice to the group and also for providing a more in depth look at life beyond the CFO chair.
If you would like to find out more about the program visit our CFO Incubator webpage