Lorna Conn

Lorna Conn

BComm '01, MAcc '02

After training and spending the early part of her career with Deloitte, Lorna Conn held several CFO roles in industry, including at NTR plc, before joining Cpl six years ago. Now, as CEO of Cpl, she’s on a mission to double the size of the business within five years. She has also recently been shortlisted for the Postgraduate Leadership Award 2024 in the AMBA and BGA Excellence Awards.

About Lorna Conn

Tell us about your education and career background

I did a Bachelor of Commerce in the UCD Lochlann Quinn School of Business and went on to do a Master’s in Accounting in the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, sponsored by Deloitte. I trained with Deloitte and was with them for five years, progressing from Trainee Accountant to Audit Manager and had exposure to some great clients. During that time, I did a secondment to the Deloitte office in Darwin in Australia and also travelled across the States working with one of their flagship clients.  

Then I moved to NTR plc and into a CFO role in the Toll Roads division. I was in that division for about three years and was the shareholder representative on both the O&M operating companies and the joint venture partnerships for construction of three of their toll roads. NTR was moving more into renewable energy and made a strategic decision to divest the roads business. After supporting the disposal process I moved to Houston, Texas in 2012 and was CFO of NTR’s Renewable Energy division, which was also being strategically divested. Again, I supported the sales transaction while also helping to run the business. After it was sold I stayed on for two months to help with the post-sale integration and then moved to St Louis, Missouri and was Commercial Director of the Wind division there. Shortly after I returned to Ireland the decision was made to divest of NTR’s businesses in the US and I finished up with the company after six years and took a six-month break to have my second child. 

Then I joined Independent News & Media and was CFO of the Digital division there for a year before moving to facilities management company ISS as CFO of their Irish division. After two years there, Cpl, which was a listed company at the time, approached me about their CFO role. I’d always wanted to be a CFO of a listed company. I’ve been with Cpl for six years now and about three years in we were acquired by Outsourcing Inc. It was a public takeover and I was involved in the process, which legally completed in January 2021. Three months later I became deputy CEO and then at the end of 2021 I was announced as Anne Heraty’s successor and I have been in the CEO position now for nearly two years. 

Tell us a bit about your role

It’s a really interesting role and I work with some great people. Cpl employs almost 14,000 staff across the group and operates in 13 countries. We operate across the full talent spectrum, from specialised recruitment in every sector right the way through to business process outsourcing. We also have a strategic talent advisory arm called the Future of Work Institute where we consult with clients on leadership, health and wellness programmes, and configuring workforces to meet the demands of the changing ways of work. 

Also, in March of this year I was appointed Senior Managing Executive officer of Outsourcing Inc, so I sit on the group executive team and have more regional oversight across the OSI group. That has given me good exposure to our parent company and that’s been a great opportunity for me personally but also to have Cpl represented at the parent level. 
There’s huge variety in the role and the business works at a very fast pace. We have found that people who really excel in Cpl are people who are good with the level of flexibility that’s required. We’re constantly moving between managing existing and new opportunities, responding to client demands and their needs. Client centricity is everything to us. If a client needs us or wants us it's a case of how quickly can we move to respond. In that regard, every day is different because you can’t always pre-empt what may emerge from day to day. 

Alongside that goes the people – we’re not selling a product, we’re selling a service. Keeping our people engaged and motivated and being a great brand ambassador is very important to us and we spend a lot of time ensuring we’re providing a really great working environment for people who come through the organisation. We’re an ambitious, progressive company that wants to provide an environment where people can feel they can get on in terms of their career progression but also that they have high psychological safety so they can bring their true selves to work. And I feel that is a real cornerstone of our culture and working environment. 

How would you describe your leadership style?

I think I’m a very accessible leader. It sounds like a bit of cliché but I love being around people, I love engaging with people at different levels throughout the organisation. And I’m always available to people if they want to speak to me directly. 
I feel I’m very transparent. I try to be really honest with the people who work alongside me and also with the broader group of people within the organisation. I like to feel that when I make a decision, the rationale behind it is clear. I like to be very honest and upfront with people and don’t like doing things behind closed doors. That is really important to me in terms of how I lead.  

I hate sitting on a decision that needs to be made. Sometimes there are difficult decisions that I’d rather not have to make but I feel a huge responsibility as CEO to do the right thing by the organisation and also by the staff. Sometimes those decisions can be difficult to execute and to accept but I feel that when I’m clear in terms of the why that people can buy into the rationale and reasoning behind them. 

What motivates you? 

I recognise that failure is an important means in which you can learn. It’s very hard to learn and be a better professional and a better person if you don’t make mistakes along the way. But I do personally hate failure. Maybe many people feel that way but I would be very tough on myself and would hold myself to a very high standard. And if I personally fall short of that it does not sit well with me. So I’m constantly striving to be the very best I can be and always trying to stretch myself so I can try to grow as a leader and through that help grow Cpl to be a more successful organisation. 

I love feeling that I’m involved in something that’s exciting and progressive and is having a real impact. For me, the impact we can make is to be a very responsible employer to a large number of employees. I’m constantly looking at how we can grow the business and help contribute to society. 

Is ongoing learning important to you?

Yes it is. And I feel like I learn a lot from surrounding myself with good people. Sometimes people reach out to me directly on LinkedIn and I’ll always go and meet somebody for a coffee. I did the IoD chartered director course three years ago and joined Bord na Móna as an independent non-executive director last year. I think that all helps me see other perspectives and ways of managing an organisation. 

And I think to be the very best CEO I can be for Cpl I, as a professional, have to keep evolving, to keep learning and be able to contribute to the running of the organisation in as an effective way as I possibly can. I think you can’t stand still to do that. You’ve got to really push yourself and expose yourself to new ways of learning, and new ways of leading. 

Who or what has inspired or influenced you?

I’ve always been my own motivator. There’s just something inside me that propels me forward. If I’m operating at a level that I feel is below my capabilities I would always push myself to move on, take a new opportunity or role or, if it was possible internally, to take on more responsibilities. 

I’m one of four children and we were raised in an environment where education was really emphasised. And to me it’s always been a huge enabler in terms of creating sustainable career opportunities. Myself and my twin sister were very lucky to go to UCD at a time when college education was free. Coming from a single income household with four children that was an amazing opportunity to get a quality education. Education is just something that my parents placed a huge focus on. And I’m certainly a huge advocate for education - in all its forms. 

I’m hugely motivated by leaders who are around me, and by my own team who I think are the best in the business. And Anne Heraty, my predecessor, who built Cpl, has been a huge champion for me during my time at Cpl and I’m extremely grateful to her for all of her support and advocacy. 

What is your best piece of advice?

I remember somebody telling me once that equality starts at home and that really resonated with me. My message to young female career professionals is to make sure they have the structures on the home front in place that will enable them to pursue their dreams, both from a family perspective and from a career perspective. 

Nothing in life comes without a sacrifice but I myself have three young children – they’re seven, nine and 12 – and both my husband and I work at home and we’re a real tag team and it’s 50-50. And that has meant I have been able to have the family I always wanted, which is my number one priority, and I’ve been able to fulfil my career aspirations, without compromise,  as a result. 

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

On a personal level it’s my three children. In a professional capacity I think my biggest accomplishment has been succeeding Anne as CEO of Cpl.

What are your career or business aspirations going forward?

I’m really focused on delivering on our internationalisation strategy. We want to deepen our presence in the UK and Germany, we want to make a strategic acquisition in the US, and we want to bolster our international leadership capability across those three markets. We have made three acquisitions in the UK with an M&A pipeline that we’re progressing.  We made an acquisition in Germany last year and we’ll look to use that as a platform for growth within Germany and the broader DACH region. And we have initiated a process for evaluating the US market and identifying a target company that we could pursue in terms of an acquisition. 

Cpl as a company has really caught my heart and my imagination. I feel a huge connection with the people there. The culture very much mirrors my own personal values and I feel like it’s a really great environment in which to thrive. 
I am progressing all of our international growth ambitions with the strong support from our parent company. My intention, together with my executive team, is to double the business within five years and I’m very firmly focused on delivering the next phase of growth. 


Insight Track

How has your degree benefited your career? 

It got me on the path to a really transferable qualification – accountancy. I’m proud and privileged to have had the opportunity to study at UCD, and grateful that it was a time when college fees were free.

What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD? 

My fondest memories were in the college bar! I was a studier but loved the craic.

What are your main interests outside work? 

I love walking. I also have three children under 12, so getting out on a walk is about the only interest that I can manage right now!

Tell us something most people don’t know about you

I used to sing a lot as a child and went to St Louis secondary school in Rathmines, as they are renowned for their school musicals. I was Hodel in Fiddler on the Roof, Sandy in Grease and Mary in Little Mary Sunshine in my last three years of school. They were the happiest of times for me, I can still remember the joy I felt walking into the school hall for rehearsals.

What piece of technology can you not live without? 

My iPhone, I really don’t think I can live without it!

What is your pet hate? 

I find it very difficult to deal with rude and abrasive people.

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

My favourite writer is Maeve Binchy and my favourite book is Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes. I also love Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and I read them on repeat. I usually have three books on the go – one in audio, one for during the week and one of my Twilight books when I’m unwinding with a glass of wine over the weekend.

And what is your favourite band or musician? 

My favourite musician of all time is Mariah Carey, I knew every one of her songs growing up, and when I hear one now it brings me right back to my teenage years.  

What is your favourite dish to cook? 

I do not enjoy cooking, I have a very basic repertoire that just about extends to a chicken curry.

What team do you support? 

Both the men’s and ladies Dublin GAA teams and literally anything Irish! My greatest passion in life is Ireland and I feel blessed to have been born here.

Where is home and why? 

Rathfarnham, we’ve just moved to our forever home and I absolutely love it.

November 2023