60 Seconds With

“I believe people work best when they enjoy what they do” – 60 seconds with Gillian Whelan, Managing Director of Aspira

By Business & Finance
23 August 2023
Pictured: Gillian Whelan, Managing Director of Aspira

This week’s ’60 seconds with’ features Gillian Whelan, Managing Director of Aspira, part of the big four challenger group, emagine Consulting

What was your first job?  

It seems funny to look back at the route my career has taken when I remind myself that I originally planned to be a teacher. While awaiting exam results to get into college, I took a summer job in financial services. I loved working in a fast-paced environment so much that, when I was offered my desired college place, I instead chose to join the bank full-time. Doing so without completing my academic qualifications was a risk but one that paid off, given the invaluable practical experience that I may not have gained in college. I have since closed the academic gap by studying part time to gain my MSc in Financial Services from UCD and IOB.

What pushed you to pursue a career in this field? 

Aside from the fast-paced nature of the industry, the constant learning and ability to work alongside some exceptionally talented colleagues paved the way in my career. I soaked up everything I could in those early days – I still try to – and enjoyed applying what I was learning in a practical way. As I progressed, so did my interest in getting to know people and forming relationships, which has been crucial to all my subsequent roles. Of course, managing people involves a different kind of relationship, which also fascinates me, and I continue to take great joy from this part of my role. My career path has been diverse, and it certainly hasn’t been traditional, but I knew from my various roles where I wanted to end up. 

What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date? 

After working for Aspira for five years, in different project management and training roles, and then as CCO, I was exceedingly proud to be promoted to the position of Ireland Country Manager and Managing Director earlier this year, as we merge operations with emagine Consulting. This role has given me the opportunity to further innovate and streamline Aspira’s technology-based services and solutions, for example expanding our Data Analytics consulting services and exploring how our clients can adopt automation technologies such as AI. The wider emagine Group is making great strides in the international consulting market and we are proud to be on the journey with them.

Career wise, would you do anything differently? 

No, I believe every experience has led me to my position today and I love my job. My career path has been very varied, and I am grateful to have experienced each steppingstone.  

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? 

My parents always encouraged me to be ambitious and to give everything as much effort as possible. Then, they said, regardless of the outcome, I wouldn’t have any regrets. They were right.

How do you motivate yourself and your staff? 

I believe people work best when they enjoy what they do, so I try to give each team member the time and space to process things in a way that suits them best. I also try to involve my team early on in decision making, strategy setting and target setting to keep them motivated through projects. People buy into results if they have been involved in defining the goal, and their drive to achieve success will be much greater.

Personally, I stay motivated by receiving excellent feedback from our clients and our team. We just completed our latest customer satisfaction survey and an employee satisfaction survey. I am exceptionally proud of the results we achieved in both. Knowing we are delivering real value for our clients, and my team are happy, really motivates me to push forward and constantly improve.

In one sentence, how would you define success? 

Success for me is delivering exceptional technology solutions that exceed client expectations while fostering a culture of innovation and continuous employee development.

How do you handle adversity?  

I always start with the client in mind by prioritising the client needs and focusing on delivering value even during difficult times. I work with my team to identify the root cause of a problem, without finger pointing, as well as solutions. I believe in open and transparent communication and take steps to maintain employee morale and motivation during tough times through recognition, support, and empathy.  I try to focus on the positives, so will look for the learnings in adverse situations and encourage my team to use setbacks as opportunities for personal growth.

How do you relax?

I love listening to crime podcasts. They help me switch off and fall asleep. Really, it’s the narrator’s voice I find relaxing. I also like to get out for a walk with friends or family, and I am lucky I live in the middle of the country where I have fabulous countryside all around me. I also train my local GAA U13 Boys football team. My son plays on the team, and whilst I would not say it’s relaxing, it certainly helps me switch off from work!

What are your aspirations for the future of the business? 

As Aspira merges with emagine, there is scope for us to be a major challenger to the high-end consulting market in Ireland and across Europe. There are significant scalable opportunities for us as we build on our integrated suite of IT services, including helping clients adapt to the universal rise of automation. This is becoming the norm across a wide range of industries, including the Banking, Financial Services & Insurance (BFSI) sector, and we can help clients deal with the demand to increase efficiency of processes, and cope with the shortage of skilled professionals in the workforce. We are looking to take on more strategic projects for our clients to drive their development and in doing so build on own successes of recent years, such that emagine Group enjoyed growth of 92% in 2022.

In addition, there is scope for clients to be more resilient and adaptive with digital transformation and application modernisation solutions such as re-platforming. We are enhancing our offering in both areas to support clients in Ireland and across Europe which will open up new and exciting opportunities for us in the future.


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