Executives Unpacked Episode 13: Keep Improving with Lucy O’Brien

This post was written by: John Clifton

On Episode 13 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were joined by Lucy O’Brien, the Group CTO at EMG. Inspired to follow in her father’s footsteps, Lucy has been working in the communications industry since the early 2000s. She has worked at Sky, the BBC and Arqiva before starting her role at EMG in March this year. Lucy is passionate about driving more gender diversity in the workplace and thinks her 20-year-old self would be proud of what she has achieved. 

Read on to hear Lucy’s insights into the industry, from her biggest lesson to her best advice. 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during your career?

Everybody works differently. That’s quite a hard lesson to learn because I’m a plotter. I work really hard to gather all the information that I need to move things forward and make decisions. Not everyone works like that though. As soon as you realise that, you can adapt and move on as a team. Understanding that helps you to build a better team because you can recruit people who work well together and compliment your skill set. 

What do you wish you’d been told earlier?

I wish I’d been told quite early on that it’s okay to fail. I’m a people pleaser, so I don’t like failing or letting people down. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control. I can remember when I’d been with the BBC for about two or three years, we had a major outage. I was one of the engineers on site overnight when it happened, and I left thinking, ‘I’m going to be called in tomorrow and they’re going to fire me over this’. Of course, that didn’t happen. That was such a key learning point for me. It’s not actually about failing – nobody likes to fail, no one goes out and thinks ‘I’m gonna go and get this wrong today’ – it’s about how you deal with it afterwards. I have a process I use to understand what has gone wrong, why it has gone wrong and how we can fix it. 

What one bit of advice do you always give others?

Perseverance is key. It stands you in a good stead in terms of learning new technology. It’s easy to sit and do what you do and know what you know, but you need to want to move on by yourself. As managers we should be helping people to learn, develop, grow and move on. Doing that is hard, because you also have your own job and a department to run, but you don’t want to lose good people. Individuals need to know where they want to go, find ways of getting there and surround themselves with the people who can support them in that journey. 

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

The industry is ever changing. Things are definitely improving, and the amount of content that consumers want is growing. We’ve got to find ways to meet that demand, either on or under budget, and be good for the environment at the same time. That means that we’re constantly thinking about iterations, how to make things better and how to get more out of what we’re doing. That definitely keeps me up at night!

What single thread has run through your career that has led to success?

As a female in a very male-dominated environment, you have to be able to persevere and break down barriers. I always felt like I had to prove myself twice as much as my male counterparts. When I start a new job I set myself up for success by making sure I communicate really effectively. We’re typically not very good communicators within our industry, which is ironic because we work in the communications industry. It’s so important to have the right conversations with the right people and make them feel comfortable. We’re all just trying our best. I think as long as you recognise that, you’ll be okay. 

What is the best bit of advice you have been given?

Get yourself on a body language course. I did one about 20 years ago, and it helped me know when people are engaged in what I’m saying. The other thing is that you need to believe in yourself. Lots of us don’t believe in ourselves enough, we put ourselves down quite a lot. You have to believe that you’re good enough to be where you are. 

To hear more about Lucy’s career in the communications industry, tune into The Executives Unpacked Podcast now. 

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