A black-and-white headshot of Mary Daly, a blonde woman wearing a large pendant.
Mary Daly. Image: Johnson & Johnson

How a sliding door can lead to your dream career

11 Mar 2021

Mary Daly has discovered throughout her career that only through taking risks do we truly achieve our greatest accomplishments.

Johnson & Johnson is the company that has developed a single-shot vaccine against Covid-19. Finance director Mary Daly takes a huge amount of pride in working for a company that has taken action in this time of crisis.

Daly works for Johnson & Johnson Surgical Vision in Westport, which is part of the medical devices group of Johnson & Johnson companies.

Here, as she tells her career story, she explains how she takes great pride in her accomplishments and her work.

‘The secret to handling change is to focus on the progress. If you can make progress on a regular basis, then you feel alive’
– MARY DALY

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What first stirred your interest in a career in this area?

I can’t claim my career was a well thought-out plan. Growing up in the west of Ireland, in the ’80s, career guidance was very limited. In my convent school, I was given the option of a career in teaching or nursing. I told them I wanted to be a vet!

For third-level education, it was a toss between commerce or science. If I had had one less point in my Leaving Certificate, I would have started in science and I may have had a much different career. As with so many, it is a case of sliding doors. However, I do think a finance role in a pharma company is the correct mix for me.

What led you to the role you now have?

While studying for my college degree, I didn’t like the stereotype of the ‘accountant’. For that reason, I did not go down the path of joining the Big Four after university.

It took quite some persuasion from my manager to do my professional accounting qualification and, to be honest, it was the best thing I ever did.

I completed a degree in accounting and finance at the University of Limerick. After university, I worked as a manufacturing accountant in Dublin and started my CIMA qualifications. Once I qualified, I travelled for two years and worked in several finance roles in Australia.

When I returned to Ireland, I took up a financial analyst position in Dublin that I really enjoyed. I got to travel to London quite a bit and was given a lot of scope for process improvement. After a year in this role, a spin-off was announced at Allergan, a global pharma company based in Westport. I took this opportunity and applied for a finance role at this company, Advanced Medical Optics (AMO).

From 2002, the company grew by acquisition, so I was involved in several integration projects. We transitioned all the finance work from the local offices in EMEA and APAC into the shared service centre in Ireland.

Due to the expanding growth of the APAC market, and the time difference, I was involved in the set-up of a new hub in Singapore to support this region.

After returning from my last maternity leave in 2014, I was promoted to finance director for EMEA, managing all the operations at the Westport office. In this role, I really thrived as I could shape and grow the organisation.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered on your career path?

When AMO was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2017, there were significant changes to our division and we worked very hard as a team to show real resilience and flexibility.

Networking was so important to understand the J&J culture, systems etc. Having a very strong team of professionals working together towards the one result created the desired outcomes, but also created great opportunities for the team.

I have learned that we grow at our edge and it is great to look back at all of our accomplishments. We have celebrated each of these successes, which is always very important. The secret for me to handling change is to focus on the progress. If you can make progress on a regular basis then you feel alive.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love to see each member grow in their role and then move to enhance their own career. It is interesting to understand what drives each person and this plays a big factor in their development.

I am also part of the Campus Ireland team and this is a great forum to gain awareness of the fantastic work that J&J is doing in Ireland across the 10 sites. This gives me the opportunity to work and learn from great leaders within the organisation.

The values that guide our decision-making are spelled out in ‘Our Credo’ and this was evident in how J&J dealt with everything throughout the pandemic. Employee safety and wellbeing was first and foremost, which aligns with my own personal values. This ensured employees were able to bring their best self to work in very challenging circumstances. I am also very proud to work in a company that has taken action in a time of crisis to develop a single-shot vaccine to defeat Covid-19.

How did Johnson & Johnson support you on your career path?

When I joined J&J, I was given the opportunity to work with a coach. This was invaluable through a time of huge change integrating into the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company. It helped me define my priorities in line with my core values and I have grown as a leader as a result.

J&J has a huge focus on talent and talent development. I lead the Finance Talent Council for Ireland and our mission is to build a healthy pipeline of global, agile and diverse leaders across our finance organisation in Ireland. Currently, the finance team are all focusing on digital discovery to help us build and develop our digital capabilities.

What advice would you give to those considering a career in this area?

Get into a company that you can grow with and is interested in your talent development.

Always be open to learning and ready to walk into new fields. You will be amazed at how rich the learning can be.

Set time aside each week to work on your personal development, career path and don’t be afraid to take risks.

I would advise all finance professionals to become efficient in digital finance as this is the future of finance.

Don’t be afraid to fail. If you haven’t failed, you are not stretching yourself and you are not reaching high enough.

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