In the first instalment of our Leaders’ Insights series this year, Helen Collins fills us in on compliance and why it is so integral to NDRC.
Helen Collins is secretary to the board and compliance officer at NDRC.
Before this, Collins was a litigation partner at McCann FitzGerald in Dublin. Her experience in private practice was in commercial litigation and included 10 years as a department head. Her work involved cases with a particular focus on contracts, banking, insurance, and regulatory, EU and administrative law.
She has served on a number of State boards and appeal panels as a director, and as chair and member of the Audit and Risk Committee.
‘I think the more responsibility you give, the more people respond and become true team members’
– HELEN COLLINS
Describe your role and what you do.
I am the compliance officer and the secretary to the board. My task is to ensure that we adhere to the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, because our funding primarily comes from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. I also work closely with the board and its sub-committees.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
I have always been quite organised. What I do now is largely dictated by the timing of board and committee meetings, the various regulatory returns that have to be made, and the introduction of new legislation that impacts us.
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
Taking my sector as compliance, there are always new regulatory requirements coming down the tracks. In 2018, for example, GDPR was, and continues to be, a huge challenge for organisations. All now need to be sure we know what data we have, in what form we have it, why we have it and how long we are going to keep it.
As recipients of State money, we need to ensure value for money and transparency in what we do. We also have to comply with legislation such as protected disclosures, and health and safety, which apply to everybody. Like all other organisations, we have to have written policies in place, and I work closely with the team so they understand their own roles to uphold these policies.
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?
We regard being compliant as being a competitive advantage for us in our space. NDRC has a commercial mandate from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment to make investments into early-stage digital start-ups, ensuring Ireland has a vibrant and growing culture of digital entrepreneurship. Compliance, for us, shows how seriously we take the management of such funds. It’s integral to anyone operating in our space, and we operate accordingly.
What set you on the road to where you are now?
I loved being a lawyer in private practice but, after many years, I took early retirement and have been lucky enough to find interesting and challenging roles that are quasi-legal. Apart from the law element, I have always enjoyed being part of a professional and ambitious team.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
I did not travel very much when I was young. I’ve travelled a reasonable amount for holidays but I didn’t live abroad for any length of time, apart from one summer in London when I was a student. I see my daughters doing it now, working and living abroad, and gaining so much from the experience.
How do you get the best out of your team?
I try to work well with people, to have high expectations of myself and of them, but also to have a laugh, lots of cake and fun, and actually to give people responsibility. I think the more responsibility you give, the more people respond and become true team members. I also try to be honest with people as to how they are doing, so that they can learn from their experience, too.
STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?
The legal profession, when I started, was pretty much male-oriented. It has gotten much, much better. Actually, I have read recently that the solicitor’s profession in Ireland is one of the leaders in terms of diversity in recent years.
In NDRC, we have worked with many female founders; in fact, our data over a decade of investing shows you are more likely to secure investment if you have a woman on the founding team. We see these entrepreneurs as important role models for women starting out. We also want to knock on the head the many clichés that can be out there. Digital start-ups are diverse; people come from all backgrounds, genders and sectors of the economy.
Who is your role model and why?
I always thought Mary Robinson was very impressive and very focused. She was very much at the forefront of women at the Bar and committed fully to everything she did then and later.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
My favourite books include The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and also Jane Eyre (though I never read Jane Eyre & Zombies …).
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
I use basic tools: Word, PowerPoint, email, Excel – the Microsoft suite in general.
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