Kingspan’s Louise Foody: ‘You have to be your own cheerleader’

2 May 2018

Louise Foody. Image: Kingspan

This week on Leaders’ Insights, we spoke to Louise Foody of Kingspan to glean some knowledge on how to empower a team on a global scale.

Louise Foody is the director of digital and brand at Kingspan Group, a high-performance insulation and building envelope solutions company headquartered in Kingscourt, Co Cavan.

Kingspan is listed on the Irish stock exchange and saw a global business reporting revenue of more than €3bn last year and a trading profit of €341m. From more than 100 manufacturing sites, Kingspan supplies its products to more than 70 countries worldwide.

Foody manages teams in all corners of the world. She has lived and worked in the UK, Italy, the US and Canada, and has been based overseas for seven of the 13 years she has worked with Kingspan.

 ‘Our industry is ripe for disruption. We need to tackle the opportunity head-on and be the digital disrupters’

Describe your role and what you do.

I am the director of digital and brand for Kingspan Group. I am defining and implementing a digital transformation strategy for the group, and am responsible for a group-wide customer experience programme.

Separately, I am on the board of directors of Invicara, a Kingspan-backed software start-up, which creates detailed digital representations of buildings, allowing time and cost-saving collaboration between partners on construction projects such as architects, designers and engineers.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Experience means you innately learn to prioritise. There is always something needing your attention, but you become wired to identify priorities. In terms of my own working priorities, the most important is always that my team members have the tools and support they need to do their job. As a manager, you learn quite quickly that your success relies on the success of your team.

I also believe you have to organise your working life with work-life balance in mind. The very nature of smartphones means that we are always at the office, and the traditional working week of nine to five is becoming increasingly rare. With that in mind, you have to take the initiative yourself to strike the right balance, and understand that it’s not always possible to compartmentalise your working and personal life. As long as I get the balance right across the week, not overdoing it in any one part of my life, then I’m happy.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

I suppose the disruption of digital technology is one of the biggest challenges facing most sectors. The construction industry is a sector that has not adopted digital technology as proactively as others. While some see this as a weakness, I see this as an opportunity. Our industry is ripe for disruption. We need to tackle the opportunity head-on and be the digital disrupters, embracing the new opportunities that digital technology brings, instead of being afraid of them. The early-adopter industries of digital technology have seen improvements to both customer experience and revenue schemes, and we need to follow in these footsteps.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

Globalisation is central to our strategy. Every day, we are identifying emerging markets and looking at the ways we can bring modern methods of technology and our products and services to these markets. We want to support emerging markets – where older construction methods are very much the norm – to modernise and take advantage of the technology that has benefited so many countries around Europe and the rest of the world already.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I initially studied commerce and Italian in NUIG, and followed that with a master’s in marketing in the Smurfit Business School. Once I finished my master’s, I immediately went into the Kingspan graduate programme and I’ve been with the company ever since, working in a range of marketing positions and even living in the UK and Canada.

For the longest time, I really have been interested – and saw the value – in understanding what makes customers tick, why people buy what they buy and do what they do. The customer is the catalyst for business success. My migration from marketing to digital has been a natural fit because, working in a digital role, we are focused 100pc on the customer. Looking at how customer journeys are changing never gets old for me because there are rapid and exciting developments in the way we communicate with customers, and the way customers buy products, all the time.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Perhaps underestimating my abilities, I had to learn to confront feelings of self-doubt at times. From speaking with colleagues and friends, I know this is a feeling that a lot of people tackle in their careers. There have been a number of occasions where there were opportunities to progress, and I doubted if I was the right person for the job, even when I had been encouraged to go for it. You shouldn’t ask why the doors of opportunity are open to you, and you shouldn’t question yourself – you have to be your own cheerleader.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Empowerment. Empowering my team really is where the majority of my focus in work is directed. I am a firm believer that the best training and development you can receive is being pushed outside your comfort zone. I put people on my team on projects outside their job description or set them big challenges because, time and time again, they surprise me and surprise themselves, and the most important by-product of that is that it builds confidence. Everyone on my team has a job description, but they are free to get the job done in their own way, by thinking as big as possible. We keep our customers interested and build our brand by punching above our weight as a team, and doing things a little differently to how our peers might expect.

‘I am a passionate supporter of fearless networking’

It’s a priority for me to provide mentoring and coaching to my team members so that they can pursue their personal and professional development, be that through exposure to other industries, in-house seminars from speakers in other professions, sharing of research or our annual marketing conference, where we bring all our Kingspan marketeers from across the world together to share insights.

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?

I think that, as in many sectors, there is a lack of diversity in the construction industry. However, I do fundamentally believe that the roles for women exist, and I am proof of it. I have received nothing but encouragement throughout my entire career, and I can’t stress how important this has been in my own development. I have doubted my ability for certain roles before, but I truly believe that it is our responsibility as women to fearlessly say yes when a career opportunity comes our way. I have learned that you have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable and empower yourself to take the leaps of faith when you need to.

It is no secret that boards need more women and, in my experience, that is something that resonates with business leaders, and the appetite exists to make this happen. I suppose the fact of the matter is that, given the lack of women on boards, it is very possible that in many organisations, there are no female role models for female employees, and it makes some roles difficult to perceive as possibilities.

Who is your role model and why?

My parents. They instilled a work ethic in me, and they taught me that the magic formula is to work hard, be personable and be respectful of the people you work with. You have to build meaningful relationships with the people who support you and who you support. It’s the platform from which your opinion and your presence will be valued. They also taught me to take the untravelled path and have the confidence to do the things that have never been done before. This has to be coupled with having conviction and being able to deliver the things you say you will.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Books about emotional intelligence are the ones that are closest to my heart because I really have learned so much from them. Daniel Goleman’s Working with Emotional Intelligence would be a particular favourite. As a member of a leadership team, the most important skill you need to master is to be able to understand your own behaviour and actions, and to be able to identify the same in others.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

My iPhone and videoconferencing. Videoconferencing in particular is massively underutilised. I have teams who report to me from all corners of the world, so I couldn’t do my job without it.

Herbal teas, exercise, Google and LinkedIn – I am a passionate supporter of fearless networking. Finally, my team of course and my colleagues. I am lucky to work with a fantastic bunch of people in Kingspan.

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