Speed Fibre Group’s Claire Murphy discusses developments in the telecoms sector, getting more women into leadership, and dealing with ‘death by Teams’.
Claire Murphy is group general counsel, company secretary and head of shared services at Speed Fibre Group. She joined the company more than two years ago, having previously held senior roles at Arthur Cox, Philip Lee, EirGrid and First Data.
Speed Fibre Group is an investment vehicle owned by the Irish Infrastructure Fund that is focused on telecoms infrastructure. At the end of last year, Magnet Networks joined Enet and AirSpeed Telecom as part of the group, which employs more than 200 people in Ireland.
‘Diversity and inclusion are an issue in almost all sectors and, unfortunately, telecoms is no different’
– CLAIRE MURPHY
Describe your role and what you do.
I joined Speed Fibre Group, the home of Enet, AirSpeed and Magnet, just over two and half years ago. I’m the group general counsel, company secretary and head of shared services, and have responsibility for directing a team across HR, legal and compliance, facilities, health and safety, and environmental, social and corporate governance.
The traditional role of an in-house general counsel has evolved rapidly over the last number of years. Lawyers have to be nimbler and more strategic and are a hugely valued partner to businesses given their wide skillset and qualities. My role has a very broad remit that spans the Speed Fibre Group.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
We’re really focused on creating a documented plan and setting clear objectives and key results for every part of the organisation. This is critical in helping me and my team manage our time wisely, ensuring that we focus on high-value matters.
I believe in empowering my team to achieve our goals and supporting them throughout the process. Regular and structured contact with my team is vital to the work we do, and I prefer to have face-to-face catch-ups – virtually these days! Communication is key to success and having that interaction helps us keep aligned and ensures we are focusing on the right prioritises at the right times.
At the same time, looking after your mind and body is an important building block for managing workload and being prepared to deal with challenges, so I exercise regularly and am careful about my diet.
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
While not specific to telecoms, Covid-19 has created new challenges for all businesses. We all have had to embrace new ways of working, communicating and collaborating. Thankfully, since we operate a multi-site organisation, we were already well versed with video conferencing and collaboration tools such as Teams.
The attraction, retention and particularly the engagement with colleagues can be a challenge when working remotely. It has been a big area of focus in 2020 and will remain so in 2021. We’ve rolled out various programmes – fitness classes, social nights, cookery demos, gift drops – and we’ve made a conscious effort to include family participation in most of the activities.
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?
When you look at telecoms and ICT in general, it’s fair to say that market consolidation is a trend. Speed Fibre Group recently acquired Magnet Networks, which provides telecommunications and data connectivity solutions for some of the world’s biggest technology companies. As an investor focused on telecoms infrastructure and communications service provision, Speed Fibre Group is well placed to take on additional assets and develop other operators.
Aside from that, it’s clear that the pandemic has highlighted the critical need for broadband connectivity – especially in rural Ireland where it’s a key enabler of remote or agile work practices. In that regard, Enet is a key supplier for the delivery of the State’s National Broadband Plan and there appears to be a great appetite to accelerate the deployment.
What set you on the road to where you are now?
I always saw myself working in business because I was drawn to the dynamic, fast-paced nature of it and, crucially, I liked the interaction with various departments in an organisation.
I studied business and law in UCD followed by a master’s in commercial law, and that gave me a good base in both commercial and legal subjects. I chose to go down the legal route and trained as a commercial lawyer, getting broad experience in leading law firms and Fortune 500 companies. With each role, I built on my experience which set me up well for my current role.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Early in my career, I focused on my weaknesses in an attempt to address or overcome them and be all things to all people. However, I found that when I refocused on my strengths, I developed faster. I was more efficient and was able to deliver more strategically important outcomes.
Crucial to this way of thinking is the creation and development of high-performing professionals in my team. As a manager, I have to recognise and play to my teams’ strengths which, in many cases, are different to mine.
How do you get the best out of your team?
It’s all about alignment. For me, it’s vital that the team understands our business and our objectives. From there, we create real alignment between corporate objectives and individual goals. I’ve found that the clearer the goals are, the easier it is to set and manage expectations because we collectively know what success looks like – that’s critical.
I like to think that I trust my team to deliver to the high standards that are expected. We have a great team here, so managing that talent boils down to open communications, progress reviews and honest feedback to guide through any performance issues. I’m a big believer in highlighting achievements and celebrating success when we can – that’s important also.
Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?
Diversity and inclusion are an issue in almost all sectors and, unfortunately, telecoms is no different. That being said, the industry does have two high-profile female CEOs in [Eir’s] Carolan Lennon and [Vodafone Ireland’s] Anne O’Leary.
It’s critical that businesses nurture equality, diversity and inclusion in a very real sense. There certainly was a gender imbalance in senior roles when the current Speed Fibre Group leadership team joined. We recognised how vitally important it is that we have a diverse management team, and it was high on our agenda to put our D&I programme into action.
We started at the recruitment process to address any unconscious bias and ensure D&I was firmly embedded. We have since promoted and recruited women into four senior management roles and are now focused on the next layer of management as part of our succession planning.
We certainly have a lot more to do. In my opinion, we do not see enough female candidates at the application stage. I think that can be said across many industries. We want to address that, and we have an emerging community development strategy, which focuses on getting into schools and universities where we can share our stories and inspire women and girls and demonstrate that there are careers for them in our business and businesses like ours.
Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?
Absolutely, my mentors have been both male and female and from different backgrounds. Some were traditional workplace mentors, and I also had the experience of a maternity coach who helped me identify how I could integrate family happiness with a successful career.
I would have to say that my husband has been pivotal in my career. We see each other as equals and we have mutually supported each other and took turns to help each other fulfil our aspirations.
This does not, unfortunately, hold true for many women who find the tables turn when a family arrives, and they are often expected by their partner to fill a so-called parenting vacuum. And as Melinda Gates wrote, “We’re sending our daughters into a workplace designed for our dads.”
D&I has never been in greater focus. We have to continue introducing sustainable changes that ensure the girls of today will be the leaders of tomorrow.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
I always have a few books on the go at any one time, and the types of books I read typically will fall into three categories – occupational psychology, parenting and business intelligence.
My three recent recommendations are Measure what Matters by John Doerr, Dual Transformation by Scott Anthony, Clark Gilbert and Mark Johnson, and The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. This last book focuses on the use of checklists in the business world and in medicine. I am a big advocate of checklists, I view them as a simple way to ensure you get things right.
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
Given the remote nature of operations now, I find communication and collaboration tools are essential. For our business, that’s Teams and our newly developed intranet site. These tools help streamline the sharing of data, drive engagement but, at a human level, help us stay connected.
People refer to ‘death by PowerPoint’ but I refer to ‘death by Teams’, as your day can get sabotaged by endless virtual meetings. To manage my time, I rely heavily on email filters and the calendar function in Microsoft Outlook, ensuring that I schedule time for deep work which adds the most value in my role.
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