Finance Leader Series: Jonathan O’Connell

Azon’s fortnightly Finance Leader Series provides insights into the mentality, work habits and career pathways of some of the most inspirational and influential finance leaders in the industry.  This week, we caught up with Jonathan O’Connell – Finance Operations at Dunnes Stores. 


Jonathan O'Connell | Finance Leader Series - AzonAbout Mentor:

Big-Four trained Chartered Accountant, born and reared in Dublin’s oldest inner-city flats. Interested all sports, history and current affairs. Two children, aged 18 and 13 and love to travel.

About Company:

Dunnes Stores, number one retailer in Ireland, 75 years old, 12,000+ employees. Phenomenal family-run business and the quintessential Irish success story. Immense scale and pace, a brilliant place to work. Totally customer-focused. Huge competition from UK and German retailers. The winners are those who can source high-quality food and textiles and provide them to a loyal customer base, bringing value to their shopping needs. Brand loyalty is immensely important and our customers in Dunnes are at the epicenter of our focus.

Q. Give a quick overview of your career to date:

15+ years in some of the biggest, most-recognised companies in the world (PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Google, Facebook, AdRoll) with mutant-like growth. IPO’s, mergers/acquisitions, the full spectrum. Started as financial accountant and worked all the way to Head of Finance.

Q. What was your first job (ever)?

Selling newspapers.

Q. What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date?

Raising two children in this world. My son has just completed his Leaving Cert.

Q. How do you define success?

On a personal level, feeling valuable in work, having enough time for friends and family, the ability to pay your bills, go on a holiday and eat out on the odd occasion. Living Life, enjoying the peace, embracing change and having the courage to face adversity. Supporting my kids, providing for their needs and guiding them. On a professional level, making an impact every day in whatever you do. Being organized and committed, open and transparent. Approach everything with optimism and conviction. Knowing when to speak and when to listen.

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

Take your work serious, but not yourself (Graham Law, Google).

Q. What advice would you give to young accountants?

Keep your eyes and your ears open. Understand the business and what’s important to the shareholders. Utilize the valuable insights that you have from the financial data. Look at trends and always identify opportunities for efficiencies and operational improvements. Never miss a compliance deadline. Be clear. Never waffle in an analytical review, don’t be afraid to say you don’t understand. You’re not expected to have all of the answers.

Q. Where do you see the biggest change in Finance in the coming years?

The biggest threat to the profession is also the biggest opportunity – AI. The mundane accountant’s job of closing the books, reconciliations etc. will be automated. This will give us more time to focus on value – added support.

Q. How do you motivate yourself and your staff?

Buy into the company culture, align your personal goals with the company goals, feel part of the success. Reward high-performers support and guide the lower performers. Encourage and recognize.

Q. If you could step into the shoes of one business person for a day, who would it be and why?

Our CEO, Anne Heffernan. She is dealing with so many issues at one time, stores, suppliers, operations, staff, customers. I am only here a few months and one day in her shoes would give me peripheral vision.

Q. Favourite Business book?

The Wealth of Nations – Adam Smith.

Q. How do you relax?

Watch football, music, concerts, walk my dog, play a small bit of football… GAA, rugby, walk along the beach – all the normal stuff.

Q. What’s your motto?

Work Hard! Play Harder!

Looking for a role in the Finance sector? Get in touch today. 

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