Originally published in the Sunday Business Post
Each week, we profile one of Ireland’s corporate leaders, tracing their career to date and exploring the lessons they have learned along the way. This week, we meet Bríd Gould of Comfort Keepers
Bríd Gould is chief executive at Comfort Keepers, the HSE-preferred provider of homecare services in the Irish market. Established in 2005, Comfort Keepers employs 1,600 people, serving 22 counties from nine offices around the country. The company is owned by food and facilities management services group Sodexo. Gould was named CEO of the Year at the All-Ireland Business Awards, which took place in Dublin last month.
Are you where you expected to be in your career?
I grew up in Tipperary where my parents were publicans until my late teens. This is where I learned some of my most valuable life skills and acquired my work ethic.
I didn’t start my career with any grand ambitions, but I was sure of my passion for people, service and care.
In my early twenties, I had very simple goals. I had just qualified as a nurse, delighted to have some money in my pocket and loving life in London.
I then moved to Dublin where I worked at St James’s Hospital before joining Comfort Keepers in 2007. I was appointed chief executive in 2014.
Over the years at Comfort Keepers, I have found myself to be a natural operator. I had the opportunity to influence the strategy of the business early on and I thrived in the entrepreneurial atmosphere.
What were your goals starting out and how have these changed over the years?
Starting out, my approach to achieving my goals was more task-focused than it is now. I prioritised efficiency, decision-making and career progression
Over time, these goals have evolved to become more collective, underpinned by quality of life not just for myself, but for our employees and those we care for. Taking time to reset and re-evaluate as often as possible helps to keep that on track.
My personal values influence everything I do. My priority is to remain grounded in family, accountability and care. I find this acts as a useful litmus test when I have to make hard decisions.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that you can’t control everything. Resilience and pragmatism have helped me through uncertain days.
What was the best career advice you got along the way?
My family are my number one source of advice. They always tell me to never forget who I am. My dad says: “Little apples will grow again” – there will always be another day and another opportunity.
One bit of advice I got over the course of my career, and which I still stand by today, is: “Doveryai, no proveryai”. It’s a Russian proverb, meaning “trust but verify”. In our industry, this is incredibly important in safeguarding those we care for.
Based on your own experience, what are your top career tips?
Surround yourself with great people. I have always believed in bringing in the best talent you can.
Ask lots of questions. I am very curious, which is a great skill in the people management business. It safeguards against risky assumptions.
Self-reflect. I do this a lot and I am my own number one critic. I always reflect on how I have impacted on a particular issue or project or colleague.
Don’t be a superhero. Showing some vulnerability and admitting you don’t always have the answer, or that you have made a mistake, is okay. It allows you to learn.
How would you define your work style, and how has this evolved over the years?
Getting the balance right is vital. I am very driven and determined and would have started my working life as authoritative in style. Through my experience over the years, this has changed and I have very much embraced other styles of management.
I am now more collaborative in my approach, encouraging other’s successes through mentorship and guidance.
I believe in a culture of openness and transparency. You must try to lead by example.
In terms of managing teams and individuals, what are your insights?
Never assume. Don’t jump in; always assess. Doing so will allow you to provide greater clarity to your teams.
Be consistent in your approach. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in when needed. How you treat people is ultimately how you will be judged.
Nurture your talent. Recognise those that go above and beyond in contributing to your business every day. Make performance management a priority.
What about communication and negotiating the typical ups and downs of working life?
‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ Planning is crucial in my role, as is ensuring clarity and focused communication. Know your audience and keep your messaging clear.
When you think you have communicated, communicate again.
Timing is everything. Act quickly, otherwise the opportunity may pass you by.
Has networking played an important part in your career?
Networking is a skill I wish I had honed more in my early career. LinkedIn has proven a very helpful tool for me in helping to make connections ‘happen’, even on your busiest days.
Relationship-building is key for your own personal success, but also that of your business. It helps you to shape a community for knowledge-sharing and benchmarking, as well as allowing others to learn more about your strengths and capabilities.
If you had to choose another career tomorrow, what would it be and why?
It would be something to do with helping the next generations to develop important life skills such as resilience, negotiation and giving and receiving feedback.
These lessons need to be learned as early as possible, because life is now moving so fast.