If I knew then what I know now: Busting business myths with Debbie Byrne, MD of An Post
24th Feb 2023
Debbie Byrne, An Post Managing Director and IMAGE PwC Management Professional Businesswoman of the Year winner, shares the career advice she's glad she took, the advice she recommends ignoring and why entering the Businesswoman of the Year Awards was such an emotional experience.
What’s one lesson you have learned in your career that you wish every woman knew?
Having a contrarian view is a good thing! People value original thinking, yet many organisations are filled with sameness and standard thinking. Being curious, questioning and surrounding yourself with people who have had diverse experiences and different ways of seeing the world is stimulating and advances your career. I loved my 10 years in London, and the diversity of people, experiences and companies. Even if it’s only for a year I’d recommend everyone to work abroad.
Describe your career in three words…
Diverse. Challenging. Fun.
Is there any advice that is so far off the mark that you feel you need to warn other women to ignore it?
We used to be told to work hard and the opportunities will come. NO! You have to chase them and be brave; have passion and perseverance in equal measure. Be brave and bold but back it up with substance. There are no limits to what you can do if you’re prepared to keep taking on challenges and learning new things. Ultimately, it’s always the things that you don’t do that you regret the most, so it’s always best to just jump in.
Debbie Byrne (left) being awarded at the IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards
What’s the most valuable piece of financial advice you ever received?
Buy don’t rent. I bought a house in my mid-20s in London.
What inspired you to nominate yourself for the Businesswoman of the Year Awards?
Actually, it was my colleagues who were insistent and made me take the time to do it and I am so glad they did. We’d come through such a crazy period at An Post – challenging operationally and commercially, but also hugely fulfilling in what we did for communities, small businesses and the State. I passionately believe in the positive impact companies can have to create a better Ireland. I’d go as far as to say, it’s a moral obligation.
We used to be told to work hard and the opportunities will come. NO! You have to chase them and be brave.
What advice do you have for anyone considering nominating themselves?
Just do it! We spend most of our time not knowing how we’ll get to where we want to go, and then one day we wake up and realise we are there. Your story and journey are inspiring to others.
Could you be this year’s Businesswoman of the Year?
How did it feel to be recognised at the event?
It was a very special evening and, to my surprise, it was a very emotional experience. We all work at such a pace across so many different areas and across so many issues in our working and personal lives that I, for one, rarely pause to take stock of it all.
It was also a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with a fantastic bunch of successful, strong women at my table and hear the inspiring stories of so many across the other categories. At heart, I am an extrovert and I derive a lot of my energy from others who inspire and challenge me. The event was a big prompt to get back out there and reconnect with people, which I’d definitely been craving more time to do.
Has receiving the recognition impacted you?
This award brought together my professional achievements over the years but highlighted to me how privileged I am at An Post to have a job that I love and that creates a broader impact. The award gave me the platform to continue to drive that storytelling on the “S” in the ESG narrative which I think often gets far less focus. It also was a catalyst for me to spend more time mentoring and sharing my expertise to help the next generation of women to push forward in their careers. I’ve got involved in a female mentorship programme at Trinity Business School.
Is there any other advice you want to share with readers?
Ask for help and seek experienced advice early and often. Those who are more successful than you really only have one thing that you don’t have (yet) – experience. In my earlier career, I probably saw asking for help as a weakness. There is power in saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”.
Seek out mentors at all stages of your career and seek out people to work with who inspire you and you can learn from. Also, build in time for reflection. A relentless day of meetings creates no time for blue-sky thinking or looking at problem-solving differently.
What’s your ‘go-to’ quotation for inspiration?
In terms of my leadership, it’s Maya Angelou’s quote: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” As women, we are often our own worse critics focusing on our flaws and not our strengths. We also need to practice self-kindness and ignore our own internal chatter.
If you ‘knew then what you know now’, is there anything you would do differently?
I only discovered the “Life Wheel” some years ago while doing some coaching. What an amazing tool for getting a quick assessment of “life balance” and fulfilment across six or eight dimensions of your life. I was very single-minded and driven about my career. I sought challenges and new learning opportunities by changing companies and roles frequently. I put less effort in my late 20s into the vision for my overall life.
If I could turn back the clock, I’d adopt a more purposeful approach to living, including starting a family much earlier. It’s something I’m now very in tune with in terms of checking in frequently with myself and making little adjustments.
The awards were such a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with a fantastic bunch of successful, strong women at my table and hear their inspiring stories.
Have you entered the IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2023?
Our nominations are now open and we encourage you to put yourself or another inspiring businesswoman in your life forward for any categories where your/their business skills match our criteria. Who knows – you could be the next winner!
Nominations close Friday, March 3rd.
For criteria & eligibility, please visit here.
Tickets are now on sale.