Autumn 2020

Under the surface with Eoghan O’Lionaird

We meet Eoghan O’Lionaird, chief executive officer at James Fisher, who is leading the group into an exciting post-Covid future.

Tell us a bit about yourself? 

I was born and brought up in County Cork in Ireland, one of 12 children, all Gaelic speakersNow I live in Surrey with my wife, two children (a daughter aged 16 and a son aged 10) and our recently acquired dog. We love theatre and opera and I enjoy nothing more than cooking a big Sunday roast and sitting down together for an extended chat 

How did you come to join the James Fisher group? 

It was a long and winding road that led to James Fisher! I’m an engineer by trade and my first job straight after college was for mining companyMitsui Kinzoku, in Japan. At that time English wasn’t commonly spoken in Japan and out of necessity I became fluent in Japanese, spending ten years in all with the company, working also in the USA and Thailand.  

Since then, my career has taken me all over the world, working at Philips and Danaher, and latterly Spectris. As for many people these days, this meant spending lots of time travelling and living away from home. When I was approached by James Fisher last year I really liked the people I met and became somewhat bewitched by the James Fisher storyI was drawn to the challenge and opportunity to help chart the way forward for a 172-year-old company that has successfully reinvented itself many times over the decades. So, we packed up and moved lock, stock and barrel from our base of twenty years in the Netherlands, and we couldn’t be more delighted that we did! 

Tell us a bit about your job 

It would be easy to think of my first 12 months as CEO as being a year of two halves: pre Covid and then the lockdown period. But although there is no doubt that these are challenging times, we have made a name for ourselves by doing the things other companies find hard, and we do it safely and efficiently. The pandemic has allowed us to prove just how good we are at what we do. I am surrounded by a very capable executive team and the managing directors of the 20 different businesses which make up the group have been remarkable throughout. They are just the tip of the spear – it has been quite humbling and energising to see how well everyone has adapted to the new realities this pandemic represents. When Covid struck, we established our priorities to keep our people safe, preserve as many jobs as possible, and to protect the interests of the companyOver the last few months we have shown just how powerful it is when we all work together to those common goals and we find ways to operate beyond what we would have believed possible a year ago.  

What do you enjoy most about your job? 

The people. Without a doubt. I find myself in awe of the knowledge, the focus, the resilience – and the humour of folks across the Group – there isn’t a day we don’t share a good laugh together! This really is a hugely enjoyable environment to work in. James Fisher is made up of people who know very well that they are doing the jobs others find difficult  whether that’s nuclear decommissioning, operating at great depths or in harm’s way on the high seas – and it takes a special class of person to do the things we do here – safely and efficiently, every time 

What does the future hold?  

Right now, and into the future, our main objective remains to keep our people safe, come what may. For the first time in a few years, we are going through a Group-wide strategic reviewThis will help inform decisions on which markets are core for us, as well as those that may be non-core, and will help direct investments in the future. We are also working hard to rearticulate the purpose for the James Fisher Group – our North Star, so to speak, which guides our decisions and explains why we exist. Following form that we will take time to identify the values and behaviour which reflect the best of James Fisher’s people. This, I believe, is an important piece of work – everyone wants to feel that they are part of something greater than themselves, contributing to good outcomes for ourselves, certainly, but for others, too.  
 
Another area of focus for me and the Executive Team is diversity and inclusion. To state the obvious: half the world’s intelligence and ingenuity rests with women and we are not serving our best interests if we don’t get more women on board. As for many of our peers, there is much to be done here in James Fisher in ensuring our workforce reflects the diversity of the communities in which we operate. More broadly, every employee of James Fisher should feel at home here, irrespective of their gender, sexual orientation, race or religious beliefs – and we are determined that this will be the case! 
 
Beyond that, I’m looking forward to the day we can again travel more freely, to visit in person with our operating companies and our customers  there’s still much to do, a lot to learn and loads of fun to be had along the way!  

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