Sarah Ryan

Sarah Ryan

DBS '06, MBS '07

In her current job as chief operations officer and campaign director for One Big Switch, former Dublin City councillor Sarah Ryan has managed to bring together her very specific experience and genuine interest in the areas of politics, campaigning, insurance and energy to help secure better deals for the company’s consumer network of more than 82,000 members and counting.

About Sarah Ryan

Tell us a bit about your educational and career background
When I did my Leaving I didn’t really know what I wanted to do but I knew I loved history and English and I wasn’t really done with studying them. So I did history and English for the BA at UCD to buy myself a bit of time to figure out what I wanted. During this time I worked for Accenture one summer and decided that consulting was probably the broad career path for me. I needed a bridge into that area and did the DBS in Smurfit and then an MBS straight afterwards specialising in consulting.

Then I did the grad programme in Deloitte but actually didn’t like it, unusually enough, and only stayed for a year. I think I was a bit unlucky with the types of projects I got. I’d also become really distracted with politics at the time. I’d been elected as a Dublin City councillor and my heart just wasn’t in the type of work I was doing. So I left and became a full-time councillor.

I lost my seat in 2009 and went back into consulting, working in Vision Consulting for four years, nearly all abroad on large scale cost reductions, utility type projects. I got really into the energy scene and worked in the States and in the UK on large capital projects in various energy fields. So that became my thing for a while.

Then I was convinced to come back and run in the elections again and I got a job working as a project manager at RSA.  

During this time, a friend saw a job advert for One Big Switch that was looking for somebody with energy, insurance and political campaigning experience. My friend said this is a job for you! I thought, a COO role, no way, I wouldn’t be up for that. I talked to my uncle Mark who was country manager at Accenture at the time and is hugely passionate about women in business and about addressing the issues that hold them back. He said that if I was a man, I wouldn’t be talking myself out of the job. I’d go in there, give it my all and talk myself into it. He said I should just go for it and that’s what I did.

Five interviews later I got it and I’ve been doing that now for the last year and a half. It’s just the perfect combination of things for me – it’s got politics, media, campaigning, TV, energy, it’s got everything!

Tell us about One Big Switch
We are basically a campaigning organisation. We run people-powered campaigns to get energy bills or health insurance down or whatever the campaign happens to be at the time.  

It was set up here by an Australian team and Oliver Tattan. They wanted to hire somebody who’d run the business for them and that’s what I do. We currently employ five people full-time and have another 11 on contract.

At the moment, as well as campaigns in Ireland, we’re running campaigns in Scotland and are planning to run one later this year in the main UK market. We’re also looking at Northern Ireland and might look at Spain at some point.

For each of our campaigns, we get as many members as possible to sign up and they do so on an obligation-free basis. Let’s say we have 25,000 people signed up, we then pitch that number to several providers. We then send out the best deal that comes back as an offer to the 25,000 members. We get a finder’s fee for those who switch. 
We’re going to look at everything: groceries, petrol, mortgages – anything we can, we’ll look at. Then we’ll launch campaigns across Europe in different markets. We’re making big savings for people. The business is turning over money and as long as that keeps happening we’ll keep going.

How do you describe your leadership style?
I’m 31 so I feel like it’s something that changes all the time. Because I’m younger I find I learn a lot as I go along. Over the course of my career, from when I started managing people to now, it’s evolved. I find it reaps massive rewards if you take an interest in people. When I started out I would have been very hands-off managing people and a bit nervous. Now, I would say I’m very hands on with people. And I strongly believe that you get the best out of people if you treat them really well and you make them feel like they’re really good at their jobs. Over the course of my career, if I felt like I wasn’t doing a good job I never did a good job. If I was made to feel like I was doing well and I had a lot of potential I did better.

What is your philosophy in business and life?
I suppose it’s that there’s no such thing as luck. Everything is hard work. You know that expression, the funny thing about lucky people is that the harder they work the luckier they get.

My philosophy is to work hard but also to listen to the voice in your head and if it’s saying you’re not in the right job, it’s not the right fit, just go for it.

I know people who stay in jobs because they sound good or the brand is good, but if you’re not learning anything and it doesn’t feel right, I believe you should be honest with yourself and just leave. Over the years I left Deloitte and I subsequently lost an election. People used to ask if I regretted leaving Deloitte. No, I never did. I always felt like I was doing the right thing for myself. I think if you stick with that you won’t go wrong. 

Who or what is your greatest influence?
My parents and my family. I’m very lucky that I grew up in a really supportive family that made you feel like you’re the thing ever and also supported you when you made choices and decisions about your career. I know it’s a bit of a cliché but it’s a true cliché.

What are your tips or advice for success?
I always say to my friends, if you’re miserable in your job, leave. I know so many people who stay seven, eight, nine years and go for lunch with their friends every day and they’re crying about how much they hate their job. My tolerance for that gets really low because I think you have to be brave. If you’re miserable, make a change. Life’s too short not to.

What are your main interests outside work?
I’m very interested in current affairs and politics. I’m also a big fan of my dog, and dogs and animals in general. And I love cooking.

June 2015