60th Anniversary

Business & Finance Awards 2019: Anne O’Leary, CEO of Vodafone, reflects on winning Business Person of the Year

By Business & Finance
10 February 2020
Pictured: Anne O’Leary, CEO, Vodafone Ireland

Anne O’Leary was the recipient of the coveted Business Person of the Year award at the Business & Finance Awards 2019. As the CEO of Vodafone Ireland, she strives for a preset of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Speaking to Business & Finance, she reflects on her win, her successful business strategy, and her ambitions for the future.

The 45th annual Business & Finance Awards took place on Thursday December 12, 2019 at the Convention Centre, Dublin.

Anne O’Leary, Vodafone Ireland’s CEO, became the recipient of the highly-coveted Business Person of the Year Award – a prize as old as the ceremony itself. Each year, nominees are selected on an individual basis month by month as a special recognition of their achievements in the business sector.

“I was extremely proud and honoured to receive the Business Person of the Year award,” O’Leary says.

“These awards have been recognising business leaders in Ireland for 45 years, so it is a great honour to be amongst so many inspirational leaders.”

Diversity and Inclusion

Anne O’Leary sees her win as a victory for women in business: “I am passionate about diversity and inclusion and the positive impact it has on business and wider society. Accepting this award as a woman in business is particularly significant for me and my team in Vodafone Ireland. I hope to see more women accepting this award in the years to come.”

“We need to ensure that the culture, behaviours and environment we create in our organisations work to support everyone, no matter what gender, race or sexuality, in reaching their full potential.”

O’Leary’s drive for diversity and inclusion is integral to her business approach, and advises business leaders to consider implementing policies to ensure inclusion of everyone: “We need to ensure that the culture, behaviours and environment we create in our organisations work to support everyone, no matter what gender, race or sexuality, in reaching their full potential.

“We need to ensure that everybody feels welcome and included and that their views and values are respected – this is how organisations will encourage more leaders to emerge in the future.”

Women make up 63% of Vodafone’s senior leadership team, and the company has installed programs into their business model to ensure all people have a foothold. These include a global maternity policy, parental leave policy, domestic abuse policy, and the ReConnect initiative, which brings women back into the workforce after a career break.

“Winning this award reinforces the need for business leaders to be champions for diversity and purposeful in how they lead,” O’Leary says.

“In terms of business strategy, I am lucky to lead a company that has been at the forefront of driving real change in our society through technology … We want to connect for a better future and part of that is building a digital society that is inclusive for all and leaves no one behind.”

O’Leary’s vision for an inclusive digital society includes outreach to rural Ireland: “We invest in rural Ireland and champion equal opportunities across the country through our award-winning network.”

She continues: “I am so proud of the work we have done with the Ludgate Hub and in making Skibbereen Ireland’s very first gigabit town. We have been working hard with the ESB through our joint venture SIRO, to connect towns all over Ireland with high-speed broadband.

“We have also provided 1GB connectivity to 15 vibrant digital hubs in rural communities. Hubs like Ludgate are breathing life back into rural Ireland, helping people working smarter instead of having to commute to major urban centres.”

Advocating for change in areas such as diversity, and social and economic inclusion has reaffirmed O’Leary’s belief that purposeful business is not just the right thing to do, “it is good business,” she says.

Anne O'Leary, CEO, Vodafone - Business Person of the Year 2019.

Anne O’Leary, CEO, Vodafone – Business Person of the Year 2019

Well-being, and a Look to the Future

Vodafone also manages by output as opposed to presenteeism: “We have fully embraced new ways of working so remote working – part-time hours, flexible hours and holiday trading – are available for all employees.”

Vodafone also has an onsite gym, in addition to well-being centre facilities that enable employees to access fitness programmes during the working day. O’Leary strives to ensure that workers can take care of themselves while devoting time to day-to-day business.

“We have put in place targets like 100% renewable energy and a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.”

“Investing time in your network and dedicating time to your own personal well-being is essential,” O’Leary says.

“I know that I am at my best when I stay on top of my training and fitness. I exercise throughout the week and that helps me to sleep better, eat better and remain calm and objective.”

Going forward, O’Leary looks to 5G, which she feels will be a groundbreaking development: “Just like 4G was ‘the era of the smartphone’, 5G will be ‘the era of IoT’. It offers huge potential for the widespread adoption of new and innovative services in manufacturing, education, farming, healthcare and e-gaming sectors – to name but a few.

She also sees a strengthened environmental consciousness as key to further growth: “We are also working hard to improve the sustainability of our business and beyond with the use of our technologies and network, improving efficiencies and reducing our carbon footprint and waste.

“We have put in place targets like 100% renewable energy and a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.”

O’Leary sees the the Business & Finance Awards as a great opportunity to stay connected with leaders working in the business sector, and experience a broad diversity of thought: “It is so important to meet … people who may be facing the same challenges as you, who may be able to help you or connect you to the right people who can help your business.

“The Business & Finance Awards does this by bringing business leaders together, allowing them to stay connected throughout the year. The strength of this network encourages cross collaboration between an array of industries in Ireland.”

The Business and Finance Awards 2019 were sponsored by KPMG Ireland. Our corporate partners for the event were Enterprise Ireland, HSBC, Ibec, IDA Ireland, Jaguar, and Brightwater Executive.