In Profile: Donnchadh Casey

Donnchadh Casey

Donnchadh Casey

MBA '12

An engineer at heart, Donnchadh Casey has found his calling in helping to build companies and teams. He’s currently Chief Customer Officer at global SaaS company Qualtrics and will shortly be making the move to run an AI start-up.

About Donnchadh Casey

Tell us about your education and early career

I graduated from Engineering in UCD in 2003, then did another two years of research and ended up with a Master’s in Materials Engineering. I was very interested in the environment so my research was around recycling polymers for reuse in roads. Back then recycling wasn’t as big as it is now. I really liked the subject matter but did not like research. It involved solving hard problems which I loved but doing it on your own in a lab and at a very slow pace was something I didn’t enjoy so much.

I left and spent a chunk of my early career in engineering, mainly as a consultant in infrastructure strategy. I learned a lot about myself during that time. I loved working with people, and with clients in particular, and I loved working on large projects. We won a bid for Metro North, which still hasn’t been built, and another project called Metro West, and did a lot of the transportation strategy for Dublin as a whole. It was an interesting combination of engineering, computer modelling and economics and I loved it but it was still quite slow-paced. You spent a lot of time building or designing something that makes a lot of sense and either politics gets in the way or the funding isn’t there. You don’t see any of the impact, unfortunately.

I knew I probably wanted to work in an industry where things would be a little faster paced. I didn’t know what that was so I took a bit of time to do an MBA. I’d already spent six years in UCD so I thought I’d diversify and look at a couple of other schools but really Smurfit was the best one by far for me at the time. I met a lot of great people there, as I did through all my university courses. 

Through that I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do so I ended up going into strategy consulting, working with McKinsey & Company for a few years. I used that time to work in as many diverse industry sectors and verticals as possible. 

We worked on very short term projects, typically 12 weeks, with a small group of people and very senior clients with very big problems to solve.  Among other things, I worked on organisational strategy in oil and gas, cost effectiveness in online gaming, sales process in the lumber and forestry industry and on a strategy for a large central bank. 

It was really a way of fitting 10 or 12 years’ experience into three years at an executive level. I loved the pace, the tough problems and the people. But you only really get to work with people for 12 weeks. Or you’d develop a great piece of strategy for a client and then after 12 weeks you’d have to walk away from that. I missed the execution side of things. 

In late 2014 I got a call about Qualtrics. I learned a bit more about the company, the industry and the category Qualtrics was creating and then jumped on board in 2015.  I spent the next few years building the customer-facing part of the company in the EMEA region. We achieved a lot in a relative short space of time as a company - I took on progressively larger roles and ultimately was offered a role leading a global function. 

Because of the global role I was due to move to the US with my family in early 2020. We had our bags packed and the house let out here. We were going through the visa process when everything shut down. Like so many other people I ended up doing a whole lot of work from the spare bedroom for the next while. 

I was running a global team over the next few years and proceeded to get more senior and more responsibility within the company. I now serve as Qualtrics’ Chief Customer Officer and run about 25 per cent of the company globally, which has grown to be a top 20 global SaaS company. 

During this time I’ve also had experience with some of the things around the ownership, which has pretty much been a bingo card of what you can do as a company, all since 2018: filing for IPO, acquisition by SAP, IPO, life as a public company, and then acquisition by a private equity company. 

What does your role involve? 

A core part of what I do now is evolving how we operate, how we engage with our customers, create efficiencies internally, build new systems, tools and processes, and scale the company to be four or five times the size it is today. When you’re a start-up or a scale-up company you spend more time thinking about growth and not enough time thinking about the systems and processes to make an enduring company. We’re going through that process now.

What motivates you?

I love building things so I’m an engineer at heart. I did civil engineering in college which is very tactile. Even though I’m not physically building today I’ve been a core part of helping to build companies. I take great satisfaction from walking away from the office at the end of a good year and looking back and saying, wow, the company is fundamentally different to when we walked into the office on the first of January last year. 

Building teams, building organisations that are super collaborative and driving companies forward is something I’ve landed on over the course of my career and I’ve found that it’s what motivates me the most. I’m happy when I’m in that environment and creating that environment for other people. 

How would you describe your leadership style?

I like to involve people. I think hiring is one of the most important things a leader can do. If you get the right kind of person into your organisation – clever, well-motivated, problem solver, good team player and leader, creative – and you put a bunch of those people in a room with a really difficult problem and give them the space and the tools and the environment to solve it you’ll find you just need to get out of their way. I like to make sure I’m hiring the right people, putting them in that environment and just empowering them to go and do the right thing. That’s really my leadership style. 

Who has influenced or inspired you? 

When I first joined Qualtrics a colleague I worked very closely with was Dermot Costello. Dermot was a great friend and mentor of mine and also a lot of other people in the company at that time. And he was just incredibly good with people: leading, motivating and empowering. Dermot unfortunately had cancer and passed away in late 2018. 

He had such an impact and he’s left his fingerprints on how we operate, how we think about leadership and how we do things today.  He’s somebody who’s had influence far beyond the grave on the company and on a group of people, many of whom have gone elsewhere and brought with them what they learnt from him. I loved working with Dermot, and I often think still, what would he do in certain situations.

In the last few months of his life he spent time raising awareness and money for a cancer research charity he developed called 5 for the Fight.  All the money raised through that is still pumped back into cancer research. The Irish part of the charity is funding six full-time cancer researchers with Breakthrough Cancer Research in Cork. That’s another part of Dermot’s legacy. 

Is ongoing learning important to you? 

Absolutely. If you’re not learning you’re not growing. If you have a growth mindset you really have to continue developing and growing. Through my career there’s been formal ongoing learning but plenty of informal learning too.

I read a lot of business books but also a lot of autobiographies you can get ideas from, business and otherwise. I teach and do some internal courses within Qualtrics as well. Teaching is the best way to learn and really know a subject. I also try to learn from leaders who went before me. Podcasts can be a good source of inspiration also - the Acquired podcast is a great one. 


What is your best piece of career advice? 

I think everybody retrospectively has a story of their career that makes it sound like they were playing chess, particularly successful people. It sounds like they’re geniuses but in reality most people retrospectively rationalise. They’re just opportunistic – they’ve a good gut for what they like and then they’ll see an opportunity in front of them and they’ll grasp at it. 

People like to think they can build a plan for the next ten years but I’d say don’t be too structured. Just understand your preferences in terms of your work environment and the kind of work you like to do. And just make decisions based on that and make sure that every step you take is a positive step forward for you. Through my career that’s exactly how I’ve made my decisions and it’s stood well to me so far. 

What’s your biggest achievement so far?

I’m not sure it’s my biggest achievement but the thing I’m most proud of is the growth we’ve achieved in Qualtrics. When I joined we were really a mid-market company. Through two or three years myself and a small group of individuals within the company built a playbook to move us into the enterprise level. We went from regularly going for €50k deals to €150k deals to million dollar deals and multi-million dollar deals. When I look back, the most fun I’ve had in my career, the most enjoyable time and the one I’m most proud of is that period - lifting Qualtrics into an enterprise company. 

On the more personal side, it was being involved in that 5 for the Fight effort and creating something from nothing in terms of a movement that raised that kind of money for the six researchers we have. And we want to make sure we don’t stop at six and can get to ten at some point in the future. 

It’s something we’re all incredibly proud of at Qualtrics, particularly in Ireland and the European business. 


Any plans for the future you want to share? 

Yes, It's time for a change for me.  I’ve decided to move on from my current role at the end of the month and will join an AI startup.  My time at Qualtrics has been fantastic but nine years is a long time to work somewhere in tech.  They say a change is as good as a rest - I want to build something new in an exciting space with a group of fantastic people.  The scale of my role will reduce from being responsible for a couple of thousand people to less than a hundred - but the pace will increase significantly - the future potential for AI is on another level and I really want to be part of that.  I’m particularly excited about building the majority of this new company in Ireland and finding talent in Ireland to grow globally from a company HQ in Dublin. 

Insight Track

How has your degree benefited your career and/or personal life?

I learned a tonne from my time at UCD but the most important thing I’ve taken away were the friendships and relationships with classmates, lecturers and many others - a great community and alumni network.

What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD Smurfit?

Watching my classmates sweat through lectures being cold-called by great lecturers like Pat Gibbons, Niamh Brennan or Damien McLoughlin. A fantastically humbling learning experience! 

How important is your UCD alumni network to you? 

As above.

What are your main interests outside work?

I have four young children between four and ten. They keep me busy on the weekends and in the evenings when I'm not working. 

What piece of technology can you not live without?

AirPods - so easy to take calls on the move now!!

Who’s your favourite writer and/or what’s your favourite book?

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight - amazing memoir by the founder of Nike.

And what is your favourite band or musician?

Muse - amazing live.

What’s the last gig you went to that you loved?

I went to The National in the Point - great gig.

What is your favourite dish to cook? 

I'm more of an eater than a cooker.

What team do you support?

Munster Rugby.

What charities or causes are closest to your heart?

I work directly with Focus Ireland on their funding and branding sub-committee - homelessness is a massive problem in Irish society.  It's fulfilling to try and help this great organisation try and help move the needle on such a socially important issue.  Additionally, through Qualtrics, I also work with Breakthrough Cancer Research in Cork - this is an amazing charity that funds so much research. Cancer has impacted almost everyone directly or indirectly - it’s incredible to help progress treatment technologies.

January 2024