Business Wisdom: Leonora O’Brien

Founder and CEO of Pharmapod, LEONORA O’BRIEN won the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award for Europe …


Describe your role?

I am the founder and CEO of Pharmapod, an early-stage company which has developed cloud-based software to help pharmacists share their experiences of medication-related errors and side effects worldwide. It’s a secure application, accessible online to pharmacists in both hospital and community sectors. Our aim is to prevent patient harm from medication-related incidents. I’m responsible for ensuring our vision is realised through effective management, leadership and planning and co-ordinate most aspects of the business – strategy, finances, relationship building, product development, sales, marketing and HR.

Career path?

I qualified as a pharmacist 16 years ago. Before founding Pharmapod, I worked with the pharmacy regulator in Ireland, and before that as European manager for a pharmacy group based in Germany, working across seven countries. Before that I was the chief pharmacist for Unicare Pharmacy in Ireland, a role that carried legal accountability for the group in terms of clinical governance and standards of practice. I have also studied journalism and I’m interested in creative writing: one of my hobbies is writing poetry.

A typical day?

I try to start by “eating the frog”, in other words, tackling the item on my to-do list that I’m most likely to put off – generally the longest, most arduous task or one that I don’t enjoy doing naturally. In a start-up company no two days are exactly alike but my days generally involve customer meetings or calls, drafting quotes for new customers, liaising with our development team on product, scoping out new functionality as well as keeping up to date with what is happening in our sector, by either attending a conference or finding time to read a journal or online media.

A tip for using time wisely?

I never have lunch alone as I feel it is a wasted opportunity; I almost always meet other CEOs, who normally have similar challenges. I enjoy sharing ideas.

One way technology has helped you fulfil your role?

I use Pipedrive, a programme which helps manage and track all sales leads. You can see at any point in time how many deals are in negotiation and what the individual deal values are. Not only does it help with the financial side, I like it because it helps clearly identify what has been done for a customer and what has yet to be done. We need a tool like this to keep an effective and personalised service.


I swim a couple of times a week. I’m also part of a non-fiction book club. We choose a different location every month to eat out and discuss a book and issues addressed in it. We are a very close group so it’s lovely to catch up. Spending time with my friends is very important to me.

What’s on your desk?

The Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards trophy, a Pharmapod branded mug and the User Guide for our software; two Apple Macs, an invitation to the launch of the Women’s Innovation Fund and a book called Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre which I think should be compulsory reading for all pharmacy undergraduate students!

Paper diary or electronic?

Both. In the absence of a PA, I make a to-do list on paper and have mail, calendars and address book all synched on my iPhone.

Business thought for the day?

Find a cause, have a higher objective, and work won’t feel like work. What ultimately drives me is making a difference to the safety of patients.

Role models?

My uncle founded the fashion chain Sasha and ran a very exciting business for years. He had a holistic approach to doing business and a genuine interest in his employees’ careers and welfare. My father has his own business and has been in the education sector for 30 years. Both have travelled extensively over their careers and have that depth of knowledge and network that international business brings you. They’ve never been afraid to challenge the status quo and take risks.

How important is it to look good?

Very important – feeling well-dressed and comfortable gives you confidence. I dress for my sector, where traditional business attire is viewed as important and correct. If I have no external meetings, I dress more casually. I’m based at the National Digital Research Centre where  there are lots of exciting new tech companies – suits are not the norm in that space!

What do you wear to work?

Tailored skirts, trousers and jackets. My default colour setting is black and white but I wear colour occasionally. I tend to buy quality instead of quantity.


My Chanel necklace was a present, and a have a very modest watch. I buy some vintage jewellery.

What do you wear while travelling on business?

A smart trouser suit and fantastically comfortable LK Bennett wedges.

What labels do you like?

Karen Millen for knits, and suits – they fit really well. I like Ted Baker and shop in Jenny Vander for vintage blouses and tops and jewellery. I buy nice things when I see them, not just before an event.

What does the Cartier Award mean for you and your business?

It opens us up to a global network. For example, we are to meet a representative of the World Bank in the coming months. Mentoring began three months before the awards with a fantastic Paris-based consultant. And we start work soon with a new business mentor assigned to us by Cartier – this will last a year.


From the November 2013 issue of THE GLOSS Magazine.


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