Business Wisdom From Katherine O’Brien Of AWAS (Ireland) Limited

Business wisdom from the desk of …
KATHERINE O’BRIENVice President Treasury, AWAS (Ireland) Limited

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Katherine O’Brien graduated from DCU with a degree in international languages (Spanish and German) and marketing in 1991. She held a number of treasury roles at Intel Ireland and Intel Corporation UK and was the European Treasury Manager for Global Crossing before joining AWAS (Ireland) as VP Treasury in 2009. She is a Fellow of the Association of Corporate Treasurers (UK).

The company:

AWAS is a global leader in aircraft leasing and we serve every major and developing commercial aviation market from our Dublin headquarters and others internationally.

Describe your role:

I am responsible for planning, organising and managing the treasury operations for AWAS, which has more than 220 aircraft on lease to 90 airline customers in 49 countries and annual revenues in excess of $1.2bn in 2015. I have been in the role for seven years.

Business priorities for 2016?

We have grown very quickly over the last few years and the focus now is on streamlining our portfolio in terms of the type of aircraft we own and the way in which we are financed.

Highlights and challenges during your tenure?

Highlights include overseeing the repayment of debt on a portfolio sale of more than 80 aircraft last year and devising and implementing multiple hedging strategies to manage the company’s exposure to interest rate risk. My biggest challenge seven years ago was walking into a newly created department in an industry I knew very little about. In turn, as I was able to put shape and structure to the treasury team, this became a highlight and the company grew from revenues of $700m in 2010 to almost double that in 2015.

Influence your journey to your current role?

This is something of a confession but as a small child I just loved counting money – not necessarily for the purposes of spending it, but just to count it all up. I always wanted to be the bank when playing Monopoly and I think it just grew from there.

The accomplishment you are most proud of?

When I left college in the early 1990s, I knew that marketing wasn’t for me and opportunities in Ireland were limited – 80 per cent of my class emigrated. That, combined with following my gut to pursue a career in finance, was difficult and it took me several years, some additional studying and many rejection letters to finally get my break.

How you approach difficult situations?

I try to remain practical and look for a solution that will work for all parties. To do that requires listening carefully and understanding the situation.

How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?

Thirty to 40 minutes. I have developed the bad habit of hitting snooze at least twice.

A characteristic you believe a business leader should possess?

I think a true leader must have a compelling and achievable vision, combined with the clarity of thought and purpose to communicate that vision and motivate others to follow.

What is the most useful way to engage clients?

I think any meeting that can take place outside of the workplace is more conducive to building working relationships as it allows you to discover common areas of interest and find out what makes the other side “tick”.

Advice to women who aspire to be in leadership roles?

Understand what motivates you – it is easier to excel when you are doing something you enjoy and are passionate about. You owe it to yourself to ensure that you place value on your contributions and capability. If there is something you want in terms of development or career, ask for it. Don’t assume the answer will be no as what makes you happier in your role, will ultimately benefit your organisation. You will not truly know your limits or capabilities until you push yourself outside your comfort zone.

THE WAY I DO BUSINESS

1. WORK/LIFE BALANCE: 
Our workload can be quite cyclical depending on the level of transactions that are in progress. My preference is to leave the office on time and catch up with our US-based banks and lawyers in the evening.

2. MENTAL HEADSPACE: 
At weekends I will hill run or go hiking. I also love live music so will go to concerts or gigs every couple of weeks.

3. BROADENING HORIZONS:
As Ireland is an aircraft leasing hub, most clients come here so the opportunity for business travel is limited. However, my aim is to cover the globe as much as possible – short breaks to interesting cities have a positive influence on the brain!

4. LOOKING THE BUSINESS:
It’s a formal working environment so I keep it simple with suits or skirts and dresses with a jacket.

5. PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE:
On day one in my first job, a friend advised me to put the maximum I could afford into share schemes, pension and savings – I did and it’s good advice as if you do it from the beginning you won’t miss it. I am pretty proactive in terms of my investment choices and I am broadly aware of the fee levels and the difference in those charged on active versus passively managed funds.

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our October issue, out Thursday October 6.

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