by Maura Whelan Spiegel (adapted for Irish Echo – Dec)

Recently the Irish Business Organization and London based,  Irish International Business Network held a joint meeting at the Irish Consulate in New York and met with a true global leader. The Irish businessman and entrepreneur was Dr Hugh O’Donnell, Chief Executive Officer of Kentz Engineering, a world renowned engineering firm that started as a small domestic Electrical Contractor in Clonmel in 1919.  Hugh O’ Donnell graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering in 1987, began working at Kentz Engineering in 1991 and in 2000, at the age of only 35, he was appointed Chief Executive Officer.

I personally think it’s key in hard economic times to seek out success stories like Hugh O’Donnell and dissect how they excel so effectively in business and in life. From the onset, I could see that not only was he a highly intelligent businessman but he also had a stage presence that captivated the room. The kind of guy whose brain you want to pick about the current economic situation and about growth in the energy market (a Kentz specialty as Energy Technology is their core business).  Maybe what it takes to excel in the business world is not only intelligence, but a bit of showmanship? 

Dr. O’Donnell walked us through a minimal slide presentation that mixed some history of Kentz with his own personal stories at the firm. To sum up his presentation, he gave some tips for excelling in business that related back to some of his stories:

  • Be able to withstand the pressure of two barrels

This tip went hand in hand with one of the more amusing stories of the night when Dr. O’Donnell described how a potential Russian business partner took out a gun as a way to show who was in charge at a meeting.  Dr. O’Donnell described how he handled this situation with a cool head and came out of it with a profitable venture and new business partner.  Now while we might not all face down a real gun in our day to day business, I’m sure we can appreciate that there are pressures we face that we too should look to handle with a cool head.

  • Have Respect for every culture

Between stories of working hands on with South African miners in the mine or sitting for a full length dinner cross legged on the floor with a client in Saudi Arabia, Dr. O’Donnell highlighted that respecting the culture of both your colleagues and clients is the best way to ensure a partnership of respect.  This is certainly a valuable tip in the internet age, where geographical borders have been removed between ourselves and our potential colleagues and clients.

  • Manage expectations, Especially your own

When he first took up his new position of CEO at Kentz, Dr. O’Donnell met with various business leads to discuss the company and its future.  He asked them all to answer three questions:  What do we stand for? Where do you want the company to be?  How are we going to get there?  Using these discussions, he helped the employees set their Values, Visions and Strategy for Kentz success.  Based on their performance since he took this position, I’d say that setting expectations certainly benefited both Kentz and Dr. O’ Donnell’s success as a leader.

  • Do everything positively because people are inspired by positivity

Also at the start of his tenure as CEO, Dr. O’Donnell visited the various offices of Kentz which he said at the time where individual fiefdoms.  He encouraged the different offices and divisions of Kentz to utilize the knowledge and skills the company had across the board to benefit the company as a whole.  This is a great lesson in any position in a company – take advantage of all the resources that your company has to offer in order to better perform, advance your company’s interests and best benefit you clients.

            The talk inspired me and it was refreshing to hear that not everything in the business world is about your degree or even your previous work experience.  As Dr. O’Donnell said, you need a relationship strategy as well as a business one.  Overall, remember that the ability to keep a cool head, respect other cultural practices, and inspire positivity in those around you is very important in building your career and benefiting your company.

Another way to build your business and career is networking so do join the IBO for a great night of holiday cheer at our annual Christmas party on Wednesday, December 8 at the Three Monkeys Restaurant. For more information, go to  For over 35 year, the Irish Business Organization has been the premier business organization connecting entrepreneurs and business leaders in the tri-state area.

Maura Whelan Spiegel is an IT Project Manager and Business Analyst in  New York.  She graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

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