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Business to Arts Leadership Forum 2023 in association with PwC

10 November 2023

Strong leadership aligned behind a clear purpose was cited as one of the key enablers of successful transformation in business at the recent Business to Arts Leadership Forum, in association with PwC yesterday. The event featured an all-star leadership panel on the theme ‘Innovation Meets Creativity: Driving Change Together'. Clarity of purpose, communication, diversity, and sustainability emerged as key factors for transformation success.

Moderated by journalist Dearbhail McDonald, the panel featured leaders who have successfully led the implementation of major transformation strategies within their respective organisations, including Tom Donnellan, Chief Executive of Bord na Móna; Annie Fletcher, Director Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA); Dr Orla McDonagh, Dean, Faculty of Arts and Humanities at TU Dublin and David Lee, Chief Technology Officer of PwC who has worked with thousands of companies undergoing transformation.

Despite all leaders on the panel representing very different organisations, there was one winning common denominator amongst them, according to David Lee: “Clarity of purpose. The pace of change has accelerated and consequently, the pace at which we need to respond has also accelerated. Transformation is not easy. The answers are not always obvious or consistent. Ensuring that leadership is aligned on the purpose of the transformation is the differentiator between success and failure - regardless of the scale or scope of the organisation” he said, noting that “in particular, AI, GenAI and robotics will propel change like never before disrupting how we work, live and communicate in the future.”

Tom Donnellan, spoke about Bord na Móna’s unprecedented decision to transform into a climate solutions company when he took over at the helm five years ago. The company now supports overarching Government goals in achieving its renewable energy requirements by 2030 and the longer-term objective of carbon neutrality by 2050. Speaking of its ‘Brown to Green’ transformation journey, Mr Donnellan said “there was no easy way and there were many challenges” noting operational decisions that had to be made for a new strategic direction to be set. Delivering on that strategic vision resulted in FY23 profits of €95.2M, Bord na Móna’s best performance to date in its 90-year history."

Sustainability also emerged as a common challenge turned opportunity for other panellists with Annie Fletcher noting that a focus on the environment, including for their IMMA Outdoors programme, has helped attract younger audiences to the museum reimagined as ‘green cube’ rather than white cube gallery. Dr Orla McDonagh of TU Dublin said that sustainability is being embedded in every module and programme at Ireland’s first Technological University, which is undergoing enormous restructuring due to the merging of DIT, IT Tallaght and IT Blanchardstown. It’s also the first University in Europe to have a Vice President of Sustainability.

Having the right people in place from diverse backgrounds was cited as a key factor in any successful transformation. “The wrong people replicate the past. The right people reimagine the future and that’s what transformation is all about” said David Lee, a sentiment echoed by other panellists. “It takes diverse talent to make business better” said Mr Donnellan, who spoke of how Bord na Móna used to have a 95% male employee base - now 20% female, including people from a variety of disciplines - from science to arts. Both IMMA and TU Dublin also focus strongly on fostering multi-disciplinary collaboration between both entrepreneurial or business and creative mindsets as a critical driver for innovation.

All panellists spoke of the importance of communication, with IMMA investing heavily in training on communicating about restructuring to the point of “overcommunicating and overexplaining,” according to Ms Fletcher. “You’ve got to deal very openly, transparently and confidently,” she said. Mr Donnellan agreed: “Overcommunication was the key. Townhall after townhall. Communicate, communicate, communicate, repeat, repeat, repeat,” he said. Dr McDonagh also expressed the importance of “thanking people and holding up the ‘hard edge of hope’ for people so they can see the future”. She spoke of the importance of reaching out to talk to those who have been through a similar process and learning from them.

The members-only event was attended by leaders from a diverse cross-sectoral range from aviation, legal, semi-state agencies, finance, tech and real estate, to theatre, opera, dance, music, circus, and visual art.

Supported by PwC since 2016, the annual thought leadership breakfast harnesses the collective insight of Irish corporate and cultural leaders in addressing cross-cutting challenges facing Irish businesses of all kinds—whether SMEs, larger corporations, or non-profits.

Enda McDonagh, Managing Partner, PwC Ireland, who hosted the event at their Dublin headquarters said: “Communities, businesses and organisations are grappling with significant change, and face the prospect of further great change at a pace not experienced before. Transformation is critical to remaining relevant and to having a sustainable future. But successful transformation is not just about technology or about doing things differently, it goes to the heart of the culture of an organisation.”

Speaking after the event Louise O’Reilly, Chief Executive of Business to Arts spoke of the unique impact of having so many diverse leaders in one room: “This was a masterclass in transformation. The diversity of experience, expertise and insight in the room could supercharge any transformation challenge. Combining creativity, risk-taking, and clear strategic thinking can fuel innovation and accelerate positive change in any organisation and in terms of our impact on society."


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