Friday 17 January 2020

Lucy Gaffney: Can-do attitude is the secret of success

Lucy Gaffney
Lucy Gaffney

Aliish O'Hora

LUCY Gaffney may seem quite the unlikely businesswoman – at least on paper.

The self-proclaimed UCD dropout, who also repeated her Leaving Cert, is now chair of billionaire businessman Denis O'Brien's radio business group Communicorp.

She is also a board member at Independent News & Media (INM), the publisher of this newspaper, the Irish Independent, Evening Herald and numerous other publications.

"I have a diploma in marketing, but I'm a UCD dropout," she told George Lee on his RTE show The Business yesterday.

The daughter of a Dublin pharmacist, who didn't get enough Leaving Cert points to follow in her father's footsteps, added that this was probably one of the best things that happened to her.

"It would have been the worst thing for me – as it happens – a career behind a counter in a white coat dispensing medicine," she said.

But it was a chance encounter with Mr O'Brien at a luncheon that put her on a path to becoming one of his top executives.

Ms Gaffney said her boss was a hard taskmaster – demanding, and tough, but he was also compassionate and not afraid to surround himself with strong characters. And she said, Mr O'Brien also demanded flexibility and loyalty.

"A lot of people from Esat... are working with us in Digicel or other parts of the family and it's because of this shared history and DNA that there's a certain type of person who works well under that type of pressure," she added.

Ms Gaffney was appointed to the board of INM in 2009 when another Digicel executive Leslie Buckley was made chairman of the group.

This move came after a boardroom battle which left Mr O'Brien as the main shareholder in INM, wrestling control of it from businessman Sir Anthony O'Reilly and his family, who had been the main stakeholders for decades.

When Mr O'Brien became the main shareholder at INM, the company was saddled with more than €400m in debt.

But recent negotiations with the banks have meant this debt has almost been wiped out, despite the inclement climate for media firms. This is where Mr Buckley's expertise was important, Ms Gaffney said.

"Under the chairmanship of Leslie Buckley we're restructuring the business and taking out an awful lot of costs and defining our digital strategy," she added.

So perhaps it is the flexibility demanded by Mr O'Brien that will see INM come out at the right end as the economy moves from recession to better times, she said.

"There was too much fat in the company, too many people doing a job that less people could have done," she said.

"I said recently you have to think the unthinkable in terms of structures.

"INM does not see itself as a newspaper company. . . it's a media company.

"And whether that's on a mobile device, whether that's on a tablet it doesn't really matter.

"It's not an either or situation – so you can protect the integrity of your brands, while making it more efficient to produce the same quality."

But keeping relevant is one of the most important ways for any business to survive, she added. To succeed in business one also has to work hard and take the opportunities that come along, she said.

"When opportunities come, take them. And don't be afraid to get back up on the horse again – you'll be the better for it."

Sunday Independent

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