Leadership can be lonely but leaders are never alone …says Vhi’s Anne O’Connor

Anne O’Connor, managing director, Vhi Health and Wellbeing (centre) pictured at the Shannon Chamber event in Dromoland Castle Hotel with Helen Downes, CEO and Eoin Gavin, president, Shannon Chamber. Photograph by Eamon Ward


A highly skilled leader, having faced many crises in her career with the HSE, Anne O’Connor, managing director of Vhi Health and Wellbeing gave a highly engaging presentation to Shannon Chamber members and guests at a luncheon event last week.

The lunch, which was hosted by the Chamber in partnership with Vhi, was held in Dromoland Castle Hotel, where attendees were given a rare insight into what leading a large team through Covid-19 and a major ransomware cyberattack involved. Ms O’ Connor was chief operations officer at the HSE during both episodes.

Stating that in times of crisis, teams are selected for their expertise and not their titles, and that leaders need a process and clearly defined plans and goals, Ms O’ Connor pointed out that, regardless of the crisis or change involved, solutions involve people, making continual and consistent communication essential.

“Leaders have to be able to influence people; they have to get buy-in to any proposed change programme,” she said and, having led more than 100,000 people in the many senior and specialist roles she has held in her career in healthcare, she was well qualified to expound on the qualities of a leader.

“Leaders must be comfortable with collaborative leadership. They need to develop relationships with people and have relentless focus, as leadership requires transparency and an ability to elicit agility and flexibility in a team.

“Leaders should not expect to know everything but rather know when and how to ask for help. They should avoid striving for perfection as the pursuit of perfection can be detrimental when often being  “good enough” will more than suffice. They need to develop trust and be prepared to let go and to give responsibility to others. Be brave and watch from afar,” she said.

Stating that leadership can be lonely but that leaders are never alone if they hold on to who they are and remember why they are in the job, she quoted Maya Angelou: “Always remember that people might not remember what you say or do but will always remember how you made them feel“.

Speaking on her role in Vhi, Anne O’Connor said: “Vhi has a rich history and legacy established more than 65 years ago as the first health insurance company in Ireland and we have evolved to become a trusted healthcare partner providing healthcare to over 1.2 million health insurance customers. Our purpose is to help our customers and patients live longer stronger healthier lives and this underpins everything we do. Last year alone our customers had more than half a million healthcare interactions with Vhi Health & Wellbeing Services. In Vhi we are committed to changing the way healthcare is delivered for our customers and we will support early detection and champion preventative healthcare to meet changing customer needs and expectations. Our ambition is to provide wholly connected healthcare and we will seek to further strengthen our collaborative relationship with partner providers including hospitals, consultants and other third-party providers.”

Thanking Vhi for collaborating on the event, Shannon Chamber president Eoin Gavin said that the topic of leadership is very much aligned to the Chamber’s plans for the next three years.

“When we launched the Chamber’s Strategic Plan 2023 – 2026 earlier this year, we listed thought leadership as one of our key objectives for the next three years. We specifically said that we would seek out and work with sectoral specialists to equip us with the knowledge of, and expertise in, sectoral trends, and that we would then work with our members to inspire and enable them to take their business to a higher level.

 “This event has taught us that leaders themselves may not implement change; they encourage change in their organisations through working with others in a very positive and tangible way to attain positive outcomes. They are thought and action leaders responding to various crises. Their realm of influence is felt throughout the organisation and, most importantly, they can bring people with them.”