Our guest today is the COO and author, Jennifer Geary.
Jennifer is responsible for nCino’s full European functions, as well as spearheading business expansion across the continent and into Africa and the Middle East. Jennifer has more than 30 years of experience in finance, technology, risk and legal, across diverse industries from financial services to not-for-profit.
Prior to nCino, Jennifer was the Chief Risk and Operations Officer at Asto UK, a fintech backed by Santander. She also spent 13 years in Barclays PLC, initially in investment banking, followed by wealth management and finally as Chief of Staff to the Group General Counsel.
Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Commerce from University College Dublin and a Master of Business Administration in Accounting from the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- Experiences that led Jennifer to write the book, “How To Be A Chief Operating Officer”
- What is the core role of a COO
- The skills that Jennifer was initially deficient in that she worked to improve
- Jennifer’s approach to strategy
- How to generate efficient execution
Connect with Jennifer Geary: LinkedIn
How To Be A Chief Operating Officer – Click here
Get Cameron’s latest book: The Second in Command – Unleash the Power of Your COO
Subscribe to our YouTube channel – Second in Command Podcast on YouTube
Get Cameron’s online course – Invest In Your Leaders
Our guest is the Managing Director, EMEA, of nCino, Jennifer Geary. Jennifer is responsible for nCino’s full European functions, as well as spearheading business expansion across the continent and into Africa and the Middle East. Jennifer has more than 30 years of financial experience in finance, technology, risk and legal across diverse industries from financial services to non-for-profit.
Prior to nCino, Jennifer was the Chief Risk and Operations Officer at Asto UK, a fintech backed by Santander. She also spent thirteen years in Barclays PLC, initially in investment banking, followed by wealth management, and finally as the Chief of Staff to the Group General Counsel. Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Commerce from University of Dublin and a Master’s of Business Administration in Accounting from the Michael Smurfit Graduate School of Business. Jennifer is also the author of a book that I’m totally fascinated with, and we’re going to spend some time talking about in this episode is How To Be a Chief Operating Officer. Jennifer, welcome to the Second in Command Podcast.
Thank you, Cameron. It’s great to be here.
I’m looking forward to diving in around this. I stumbled across your book, How To Be a Chief Operating Officer. I’m curious as to why you wrote it. Can you tell us some of the experiences that brought you into writing the book, and then we’ll get into the contents of it, as well?
I got my first role as Chief Operating Officer initially as a secondment to Save the Children in the UK. They needed a temporary backfill, and I jumped at the opportunity. Up until then, I had done a number of different roles. I had trained in Dublin as a Chartered Accountant, so I had a pretty good grasp of the finances. I had worked in Dublin and New York in banking. I had delivered projects in Barclays and served the Risk Department and a number of different parts. I also supported some of the legal departments. I felt I had a pretty good grounding in a number of the disciplines that you need to be a COO.
Even still, when I went into this new role, I could not believe the breadth of the role that was at hand. I couldn’t believe all the things that you were supposed to be responsible for and supposed to be “an expert in.” I was incredibly fortunate to have had that opportunity at Save the Children, and I was incredibly grateful. I did what resilient people do. I dug deep. I read. I researched. I asked everybody I knew, and gradually I figured it out. Where I didn’t have the skillsets, I found people who did to make sure that I could adequately cover the role.
When I finally, two and a half years later, had an opportunity to draw breath and just look back, I went, “My goodness.” I remember before I had taken the role, I did what everybody did. I went online and I researched and I was like, “Where’s the book? Where’s the handbook? Where’s the thing that I can read, I can digest? Where is it?” It just didn’t exist.
When I had a little bit of time at the end of that role, I stood back, I took a breath, I counted sixteen, and I’m happy to be debated on that, but I counted sixteen disciplines that a COO needed at least to have a baseline knowledge and understanding in. I set about writing one chapter for each of those disciplines. When I was done, I went to the best person I knew in that area and I asked them to vet the chapter and to make sure that I was asking the right questions and make sure that I was framing it correctly, and I did it. It was the first, and to-date, only book that I’ve written. I did it in the spirit of, “I hope that this is useful to somebody coming after me,” because I really wish I’d have this book at the outset.
It’s certainly proving to be useful. It’s getting a ton of reviews right now. I’m going to get you to share what some of your core insights are. I want you to expand on something that you said, and maybe even tell us from your perspective, what is a COO?
When they’re at their most effective, we are, I don’t want to say this isn’t about traveling, but I think of us as being back home on the ranch, taking care of everything, making sure that it runs smoothly, and allowing all of our front-facing departments and our strategy and everything else to work and just enabling all of that.
Obviously, depending on the role, you can be responsible for R&D or not. You can be responsible for communications or not and that kind of thing. At the end of the day, it is making all of those enabling processes work so that people don’t have to worry about them and people don’t have to think about them, and the organization can become what it needs to be.
That’s what I’ve been stumbling over as well over the last bunch of years with our COO Alliance and with the Second in Command Podcast is every COO tends to be very different, to your point where sometimes they run a certain area and sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, finance reports to you, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes legal does, sometimes it doesn’t.
There was that article that came out years ago, I’m sure you’ve seen that Harvard article, The Misunderstood Role of the COO. It talked about the different types of COOs. Is that what you were stumbling over when you were starting in your role as well? It’s like, “What the hell is this?” Or was it different?
Yeah, absolutely, that article talked about, “Are you the seasoned practitioner who’s coaching an up-and-coming CEO, or are you a foil to their relative strengths and weaknesses?” There were 3 or 4 roles, I think, that they categorized at the time. For me, I was seeking to almost create more of a handbook to say, “Absolutely nobody can come to this role and be a master in sixteen disciplines. There’s just no way. I’m here to help you round out those areas that you may be less comfortable in, and get you to at least a baseline comfort level. After that, you can make of it what you wish, and that’s between you and your CEO.” That depends on them and it depends on their skills and weaknesses and preferences and things they want to do. You can find that, but it won’t be for lack of some of the enabling capabilities, if you take this guidance. That was the aim.
I like the whole baseline competency as well. I’ve always talked about different skillsets that we have and said, “We need to almost get to a bronze or a silver, maybe towards a gold, but we don’t need to have that expertise in every area. We just need to have some competency.” Are there some though that you think that every CEO needs to actually be at a gold level or a role model level versus others? Are there some that we need to be better at, more equal?
I hate to generalize because as soon as you say it, I suppose somebody could prove you wrong. Whatever the operations of the organization are, whether you’re a bank or an NGO or an airline and that sort of thing, I think you probably need to have some good depth and capability in what makes the core of the organization tick. That’s probably a rite of passage.
As you said, you can have finance separate or as part. Risk increasingly tends to be separate. Legal and compliance can report independently or not. Presumably, you are there ultimately to make the core engine of the organization work well. That being said, I talk a bit about the fact that if you have some of those core concepts of finance and risk and legal and compliance, you’re dangerous enough, possibly even into cross-sector as well.
It’s interesting on the crossing sector, and I’ll talk or ask about that later. On the skills, were there a couple of areas that you were deficient in when you first started as a COO that you had to quickly learn? What would those have been?
Absolutely. First of all, in making a transition from the banking world into the NGO, there were whole worlds around programming and fundraising that were brand new to me, which I knew I would support as best I could, but frankly were brand new areas to me. Even within the core remit of the COO, facilities management, supply chain, internal and external comms, I had a passing appreciation of them from various roles that I had done.
I was fortunate enough, for example, in facilities to have a really good right-hand person who did know the area very well. Some of these, I really had to dig very deep on and do as much reading and do as much asking. You have to be humble and open and use your network to learn these areas and really listen. Then of course, recognizing that you will never be an expert in them to make sure that the team that you build around you have some of those compensating skills so that as a team, you cover the area and cover it well.
I want to go back again to the definition really quickly too. When we talk about your book, How To Be a Chief Operating Officer, are you also speaking to the people that maybe are in the COO role, but they’re more like a Director of Operations or a Vice President of Operations or General Manager, maybe they have a bigger title? Or are you really talking about the ones whose title actually matches their job description?
I’m speaking to anybody who finds themselves in this role or in a combination of roles or indeed aspires to being in that role in time. I get messages from people who buy the book, and I have a smile on my face from the rest of the day. The most common message that I receive is, “I’m new to the role, and I found your book so helpful. Thank you very much.” For somebody who’s found themselves, maybe newly promoted, clearly because of excellence that they have delivered in whatever career path they came in to date and they find themselves with a few gaps. If I’ve helped anyone along the way to round a couple of those out, then it’s been worthwhile.
I’ve got two questions that just came off of that. The one is the person who has been newly promoted to the COO against all of their peers. They’re now the COO, and their peers are the left behinds or the fallen comrades that didn’t quite get the role, and there’s some shock or some dismay or there’s some politics maybe starting to creep in. What do they do so that they can start to be successful in their role and calm that or make sure that that’s okay?
Of course, even more challenging is when you get into that role and you have an absolute subject matter expert reporting into you. To take my previous example, somebody who is the absolute guru in facilities management and knows it inside out and back to front more than you ever will, but we’re not there to be single subject matter experts. We’re there to be generalists and actually to understand and amplify the interplay between those departments and have them working really well.
It’s not easy because you have to overcome some of that disappointment and some of the personalities. You have to maybe help them understand that your role is a broader one, and that they can shine with you. In fact, they will be more effective in their role if the facilities guy understands what the operations team needs, understands what’s happening in the supply chain, understands the growth of the organization so that they can cater for staffing needs in future. You can maybe open their eyes to some of the cross-functional opportunities that there are, but you’ve got to work hard.
What about if you’re hired into the organization? There’s already an existing org chart and then you’re the senior person coming in. How do you make that entry in the first 90 days, first 100 days?
You’ve got the double whammy. You’ve obviously been promoted. You’ve been taken into that role because of some of the abilities that you have, but you’re in a new setting and everything else. There are some great books out there about the first 90 days, first 100 days and what you do. I refer to some of them, but again, it’s a combination of understanding.
One of the things I offer in the book is ten questions to ask your CIO, Chief Finance Officer, your Head of Operations underneath you so that you can ask intelligent questions and start to frame and understand what’s going on. Then also of course, prioritize work in the areas that maybe are not performing so well, while also nourishing and amplifying the areas that are working well.
It’s a challenge. The expectation is within 90 days, you will have understood the whole brief, you will have looked at your team, you will have figured out which departments are performing well and which departments need a bit more support, and that you have a plan to go forward. If you get those right and if you make more good judgment calls than bad, you’ll prove your value in time.
It sounds from what you’re saying that it’s the emotional intelligence and people skills are almost paramount for a COO. Would you say that’s true or partially true, above and beyond any of the functional skills? We just need to be really good at people.
Absolutely always. Your role more than anything else, you’re knitting together a bunch of really complex functions. You have to understand and get across and work within the culture, and if necessary, help with the culture if that’s not everything that it needs to be. You’ve got to be able to listen, you’ve got to be perceptive, you’ve got to understand where the natural frictions occur. That’s one of the things I talked about. There will always be certain friction, typically between certain departments. You can expect some of those along the way. You’ve got to be humble and you’ve got to listen. All of the other things, the functional skills are for naught if you can’t build the emotional relationships along the way.
We’re not going to have time to go into all the sixteen disciplines. I’d like you to pick some of your favorites, and then we’re going to have to read the rest of the book to get the rest of the story. I want to also talk about your transition into the CEO or the Managing Director role, but why don’t you give us some of the highlights of the core disciplines that you like the most or just want to cover today?
I was pretty clear that there were three that transcended all the C-suite roles, which were Strategy, Culture, and Change. If I ever write a second book, or if I partner with people to write the box set of C-suite roles, which is possible in time, my first three chapters will always be Strategy, Culture and Change, or maybe Execution rather than Change. I’m working on that wording. After that, obviously, it falls to the technical disciplines along the way. My idea, my hypothesis is those three are your foundations. You’ve got to get those. You’ve got to have the strategy right. You’ve got to understand how to work and make the best of the culture that’s there, and you’ve got to be able to execute or you’ve got to be able to affect change.
After that, I counted thirteen and again, people will argue in and out. I talked about IT, risk operations, legal compliance and so on. When I come to write a second edition of the book, I think there are two that will be most changed. Facilities management has changed dramatically in the years, even since I wrote the book a few years ago. The COVID pandemic, hybrid working, remote working, all of that, it already feels so different.
The least office as a service e type concept has changed monumentally along the way. The other one is sustainability because that is just becoming even more core and fundamental. There are several books to be written on environmental, social, and governance. I hate to say I have favorites because you shouldn’t choose between your favorites, but they’re the ones that exercise my brain at the moment.
Let’s talk about the first three that came up then, not that they’re your favorites. We’ll just talk about three then. Tell me about your oldest child, your second oldest child, and your third oldest child. We’ll leave the other thirteen out. Let’s talk about strategy. Strategy is pretty complicated. Talk to us about what strategy means to you, and then I’ll give you one of my rough points on it. I want to know where you learn it and where you practice it, where you hone it and how you build it into the organization.
The number of times I say to people, I think I even said it to somebody in the office that, “From where we are today to that golden place in the future, there’s any number of routes and roads and decisions that we can take. Somewhere in there is not even the best, but a good combination of decisions.” “Go left at that fork in the road, go right at that fork in the road, do this, don’t do that,” that ultimately leads to success.
If you haven’t got that right, all of the other work is for nothing. You can be “a busy fool.” If the strategy isn’t right, something will be awful on the way. Your efforts won’t quite land the way that they will. You’ll feel as if you’re held below the water line, you’re pushing all the clichÃ©s, you’re pushing treacle uphill, all of that kind of thing. You just know something is off.
Whereas when the strategy is right, when the timing is right, when you’ve chosen your market, and your segment and your go-to-market approach, and all those kinds of things, and something is working, you feel this amplifying snowball effect, and all of a sudden, you’ve got a tailwind. Obviously, one of the roles of the COO, you’re the second-in-command in the organization and particularly if you’re new to role, you’ve got to figure out pretty quickly, ideally in advance of the role, but you’ve got to figure out if the strategy is right. If it isn’t, you’re going to have to play a huge amount of emotional and goodwill capital with your CEO, with your Executive Board to do something to affect change.
I don’t think companies spend enough time on strategy. They spend a lot of time on planning, but they don’t think past the planning or farther enough out to think about the potential what ifs and the opportunities and the scenarios. Do you build that in? Do you follow any of the ancient Chinese stratagems? Do you follow any of Kaihan Krippendorff’s thoughts around strategy? Do you try to recognize what’s being used against you, or is strategy more just sitting down and talking about the business and giving time for that?
One of my favorite books about strategy, and it’s an oldie, it’s by Richard Rumelt. It’s a black and white book called Good Strategy Bad Strategy. It’s one of the most dog-eared books that I have because I love the simplicity of what he says. He talks about strategy being a way through a problem, an honest assessment of the state of the organization, where they sit, its strengths, its weaknesses, and recognizing what those issues are so that you can find a way through it.
It’s not about ambition. It’s not about aspiring to be the best this or the most admired that, or anything like that. It is like, “Here is where we are today. Here’s the problem that we face, and here’s a way through that problem.” You can get lost, as you say, and you can talk about strategy all day, or you can default to financial planning and that kind of thing. I bring myself back to some of those foundational principles sometimes, “What’s the problem and what’s the way through that problem?”
Let’s go into culture. Culture has always been my obsession, I think. What’s culture mean to you and then where do you go with that?
All the definitions of culture. There was a Harvard Business Review article which I thought was interesting. It talked about culture as a series of processes, which I was like, “Really?” which was how things get done, how roles happen, how things work through. I characterize it as the way things get done around here. That feeling, either if you’re new to role, but within the company or new to the company, where you have to rapidly understand and ingest and really take in the culture. Then you have to decide whether it’s a helpful and a conducive culture or not. Hopefully it is. Hopefully, your job, particularly if you’re new to the organization, is to work within that culture and use its strengths to the company’s advantage and move things forward.
However, there can be times when you come in and you find that the culture is a bit toxic or a bit passive, or it’s actually not helping. In which case you may, and again, I’m sure people will argue this one, but I believe part of the role of the COO is actually to help influence the culture in that case, and to actually help drive it to a better place. Of course, that’s hard and that takes time and that takes leading by example and overt actions and all of those things to get the organization in a better place.
I had a CEO one time and he said, “We don’t really have a culture.” I was like, “Then that’s your culture.” It’s very beige, and not even a really designer beige like Martha Stewart beige, it’s boring beige. Your culture exists, it’s just a decision as to which way you’re going to take it as you put.
I tell an anecdote in the book about a friend of mine who arrived on their first day in the office. They were shown to their desk. Nobody took them to lunch for the first day. Nobody asked them their name. They left very shortly afterwards. There was nothing there, nothing to bind them, nothing to see them through a tough day.
Do you ever see companies taking culture too far where it gets a little bit culty?
In my personal experience, no. Where I am at the moment at nCino is a hugely strong positive culture, one of the strongest cultures I think I’ve experienced. When that culture is founded in doing the right thing, respecting each other, and doing things in the right way, it’s hard to say there could be too much of that. I don’t know, not in my experience, let me say that.
I’ve been a guest on a podcast called A Little Bit Culty. We’re exploring when company culture goes too far. You’re right. For the most part, it doesn’t. It has the potential to, but it’s really when you’ve got that Machiavellian leader or the dishonest shady leader that’s using something.
That’s a bad culture. Let me add a quick addendum to that. Where the culture is so strong that it becomes almost exclusionary or where certain people can’t identify with it or feel they might not fit in as a result of it, then you possibly do have a problem. Where your culture is open and diverse, but embraces some pretty good foundational pillars and of course, where it’s lived as well, where it’s not just in the recruiting brochure, but where it’s experienced and lived as well. That’s probably a good thing.
I agree. We go into change and execution. I’m intrigued because when you said change, I instantly went to change management and reorgs, but then execution for me is different. What are your thoughts around those two?
Again, it’s interesting how our world evolves all the time. I started out with change. The fundamental assumption being, “You have to change in order to stay relevant and agile. You’ve got to be able to adapt or else you die, you become extinct.” Even in the past few years, with the growth of new fintech’s and new disruptors, you find that agility is just baked into their DNA. It’s no longer change. It’s just every day, where we now operate in cloud-based environments and technical departments can make fifteen upgrades a day to the software. The word didn’t seem to resonate for me anymore. It just becomes repeatable, reliable, high quality, consistent execution. That was what was behind the pivot.
That’s interesting. That’s really intriguing. You’re 1,000% right. There’s actually a book even just in that itself that change is almost our grandparents’ era of running a company. As you put it now, adaptability and change, that’s an everyday thing now. If the rate of change outside your business is better than the rate of change inside your business, you’re out of business.
Look at how the world is changing, how politics are changing, how worldviews are changing. Agility is where it has to be right now. What you’ve got to be able to do is cope with that, take in new information, respond, adapt, move on, and reassess. Hence, execution.
On the execution side of things where change and the adaptability is such a huge part of it, what do you think are some of the core tenets? How do you get execution to happen? How do you get more s*** done with less people faster?
That is a difficult question to answer in the generic, I think, because it depends obviously on whether your role is writing software or lending money to customers or working in an NGO. It’s always a right balance of people and capability and process and technology. Probably the first one, capability and enablement of your people is probably going to outshine the others. You think about those capability maturity models.
Actually, that’s interesting. You start out early, and you’re probably relying on a couple of heroes who know things inside out to work, and then you start to embed processes, and the processes become more important than the individuals. Again, perhaps in today’s adapting world, you need to have smart, enabled people underpinned by good processes and tech. You’ve got to have those three things working really well together.
I like the way you thought through that even as you were speaking it because I’ve started to feel like I’m too simplistic with some of my views on business. I’ve always believed that it’s about growing the capabilities of people too. I launched a course called Invest in Your Leaders, where I think the twelve core skills that every leader needs to be successful in their role. I’ve always pushed towards that instead of the underlying automation or optimization or technology side.
I wonder whether I’ve missed some of those opportunities by not focusing more on the automation, by not focusing more on the tech stack, and maybe are we missing opportunities there? What you’re saying is, if you focus on growing your people, they’ll figure out the automation and the tech stack, as well. Is that where you’re going with it? Or we’ve got to keep our eye on both?
I think so. You’ve got to have good processes in tech in this hyper-competitive day and age. That’s almost table stakes, but you’ve got to have the smart, enabled, empowered people to know when computer says no is the wrong answer, or to recognize patterns or to see early warning of something going wrong or the model becoming outdated or something like that. You want your processes and tech to take care of 80% of it, and then you want your really smart people overseeing the top and being properly enabled to make the right calls when they need to.
This is fascinating stuff. I want you to go back to your career as a COO, and we’ll talk about shortly where you’ve gone now as a Managing Director, which for North Americans is more the CEO role. What do you think you had to work on over your career to get the strengths to be strong as a COO? Where were you focusing? Where were you growing?
Again, I guess there’s the functional capability and knowledge and that kind of thing, and that can be learned. Nobody starts knowing how to do those things. Those are things that can be absolutely learned along the way. The tougher thing is the emotional development business. In terms of the specific character traits of a COO, there are a couple of things. I’d be interested whether these resonate with what you’ve heard as well.
First of all, you’ve got to be absolutely happy being in the shadows, never being called out. You rarely get the praise when something goes right. You always are expected to fix it when it goes wrong. You’ve got to have that mentality that that is just fine. That’s the role. You don’t need the limelight. You don’t need the glory.
I talked about as well there’s a fair bit at times of stress and anxiety that you sometimes have to deal with as a COO. You have to deal with things like systems outages, buildings, health and safety, staff issues. There’s no getting away from the fact that those can be really challenging subjects at times. You’ve got to have emotional resilience and fortitude, and you’ve got to stay balanced, and you’ve got to be able to manage your emotions and then also help your team with those along the way. I would say probably the emotional development is harder than the functional learning.
I would agree completely. It’s interesting you talked about staying in the shadows. I’ve always said that the COO’s job is to shine the spotlight on the CEO and make them iconic. The COO’s job behind the scenes is to shine the light on the CEO and say, “They’re not as bad as we think. They’re just making all the tough decisions.” Internally, their job is to make us look good, and then we’re supposed to make them look good both internally and externally as well.
That’s absolutely right. When it’s really nicely balanced like that, and the CEO is out there talking about the strategy, doing the public relations, being seen on TV or whatever it is, and everything is going fine in the background, then you’re doing a terrific job. You’re absolutely right. The CEO has got to respect your role and has got to be seen to respect your role. They have got to say, “They’re doing this for a reason. I trust them. You will not see daylight between our decisions.” I joke about, “If mom says no, ask dad type of thing.” You can’t have that situation where there’s daylight between your decisions. If you can get to that golden position of trust and that relationship with your CEO, that’s a great place to be.
When I was the COO and Brian was CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, we used to laugh about that where people would come and be like, “They just asked mom, didn’t they?” He’d be like, “Yes, they just asked mom.” We used to say in front of the kids, we had to be that couple that could never be separated. Then we could leave and we could go and argue with each other separately, but never in front of the kids, right?
Not many COOs make the jump to CEO. There’s a personality profile that’s different, maybe risk tolerance that’s different. There’s a skillset that’s different. Why did you make that jump? What do you think has allowed you to make the jump over to MD from the COO role?
I had a terrific opportunity come my way. I work in a software company that sells banking software to banks. I was very clear in the recruitment process that I was not a salesperson, I was not a marketing person. If they wanted that, there would be far more qualified people than me, but what I was was somebody who had sat in the seat of the people who had made those buying decisions. The people who had to go back and justify those decisions to Board or explain to a Risk Committee why they had made a certain technology decision or why things had gone a certain way, and that I could empathize highly with the challenges and the decisions that those people had faced, and I could speak to them in their language. I was up for it. I was up for the challenge.
Compared to where I was, what’s new? Certainly, there is a more public facing aspect to this role. Standing up on a stage and giving podcasts and speaking to people is something that I’m growing more comfortable with all the time. Something that actually I’m finding I quite enjoy and it’s fine. I’m in a software sales company. We have sales targets, we have growth trajectories, we have expectations to match.
I’m finding in myself, I will never lose those fundamental tenets of risk and compliance and good process and wanting to make things better and all that kind of thing, but I’m enjoying the challenge. I’m finding myself really leaning into it. It might not be for everybody. I don’t know. I’m certainly, I’m a year in and I’m really enjoying it so far.
Do you think your book, How To Be a Chief Operating Officer, did that help you as a platform or a marketing piece for you to get this role? Do you think there was some added credibility there?
Perhaps a little bit. Not everybody sits down and takes it. Lots of people start a book, and it’s something to finish and get it out there, and then hopefully there’s some useful stuff in there. That’s not why I did it, but it’s a nice thing to say that you did. I still dip into it every now and again when I’m looking for some inspiration.
I want to go back to the 22-year-old Jennifer. She’s graduating from University College Dublin. What advice would you give yourself back then that you know to be true today that you wish you’d known back then?
I was just starting out as a Chartered Accountant, and then I was going to go to New York. I don’t know. We all probably tell ourselves to, looking back, just relax a little, it’ll be okay. There’s definitely some of that. If it doesn’t sound too hippie and mindful, I think really listening to yourself and listening to the things that give you energy. It probably took me a little while to really find my sweet spot and the stuff that gave me passion. What I’ve probably learned in recent years as you get a bit older and wiser is the thing that’s giving you energy is where you need to be right now. That’s your gut instinct saying to you, “You have a capability here and there’s a need.”
For example, I’m spearheading something with nCino at the moment on environmental and social governance. One of the fundamental pillars of COP26 in Glasgow was mobilizing the world’s finance in the direction of environmental and social good. That speaks to two things that I know. It speaks to the world of finance and technology, and it speaks to the world that when I went and worked at Save the Children that I feel so passionately about doing better in the world and helping out and moving money in the right direction to hopefully address some of the issues that we have in the world.
Right now, that gives me enormous energy because it’s that Venn diagram of what I know and what I think is needed right now. I talk sometimes about catching a wave as well. It’s a little bit like that as well. I’m a very bad surfer, but the idea that you’re on your surfboard with the skills that you have and you see a wave coming, and if you can ride that wave, that’s usually successful.
You’re right and you’re amazing because it doesn’t feel like work when you’re doing that. When you’re working in that zone of genius or unique ability, it’s incredible. Jennifer Geary, the author of How To Be a Chief Operating Officer and the Managing Director for nCino, thank you so much for sharing with us on the show. I really appreciate the time.
Thank you, Cameron.
- How To Be a Chief Operating Officer
- The Misunderstood Role of the COO
- Good Strategy Bad Strategy
- A Little Bit Culty – Cameron Herold’s Episode
- Invest in Your Leaders