Creative Leadership for Growth – Debrief Wed 23rd Sept 2015

CSLeading business and cultural figures Derek Kehoe, CEO, BNP Paribas Group, Ireland, Simon Taylor, CEO, National Concert Hall, Angela Dorgan, CEO, First Music Contact and Gerry Macken, CEO, Digital Hub Development Agency were interviewed on the theme by Andrew Hetherington, CEO, Business to Arts.

“What we’ve learnt is that the notion of Creative Leadership is no longer something abstract and conceptual – instead it has become a commercial imperative that can be applied in many different, tangible forms within progressive Irish businesses that wish to develop and expand, building a strong and imaginative team culture that also helps to attract and retain talent.” That’s according to Charley Stoney, Group Managing Director, Alternatives Group speaking after a breakfast briefing on the topic of Creative Leadership hosted by Business to Arts ( and Alternatives Elect.

Andrew HAndrew Hetherington said; “Our wide ranging conversation covered the diverse aspects of creative leadership from what it meant and how achievable it was within an organisation. It was especially interesting to get our speakers’ perspectives on how they facilitate creative leadership and their insights into how to take on that mantle. At Business to Arts we engage with the corporate and cultural sectors in many ways, and support, advise and develop creative solutions for our members – the emergence of a culture of creative leadership can only be beneficial to the arts and commerce. ”  


FCM“Apathy, scepticism and fear are the enemy of creative leadership. Encourage ideas and take risks, you’ve no option but to.” – Angela Dorgan

NCH logo“Don’t be hierarchical; be more fluid in the way you work; make use of the full range of skills and talents in your organisation– Simon Taylor

bnp logo“No business, no matter what size, is an island. The organisation should reflect the world in which it operates in.  Challenge the enterprise to move out of its natural comfort zone to embrace new thinking and new ways of conducting business. And benchmark how that change is progressing.” – Derek Kehoe

dig hub logo“Accept that creativity is a key skill for the modern day leader – it may sound counter intuitive – it’s not. Take a risk and adapt quickly to change.” – Gerry Macken


Gerry Macken singled out Helen Shaw of Athena Media. Describing her as an “evangelist for creativity who leads from the front, she has a very clear vision of what her business stands for and is energetic in bringing clients and staff on that distinctive journey.”

Helen Shaw

On reading his biography recently, Gerry also admires Harry Ferguson, the Ulster businessman who pioneered hydraulics and is one part of the Massey Ferguson brand.  “He encouraged all his engineers and designers to keep a notebook and pencil under their pillows, as he believed that you are most creative just before you go to sleep and wake up.”

Derek Kehoe identified a category of creative leader rather than pinpoint an individual one. He cited businesses that survive on limited resources as being a source of inspiration. He said:” Big business can learn a lot from such companies – many have perfected the difficult task of remaining nimble, adapting to market demand, embracing new ways of working and responding dynamically to customer needs.”

For Simon Taylor, the arts are full of people who make great things happen on tiny resources. Francis Humphrys, Director of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival, is reflective of what it takes to be a creative leader in the sense of both creating something from nothing and finding creative ways to sustain it.  His passion Francis Humphryand commitment to a vision for the Festival together with its humble origins in the small town of Bantry, Co. Cork is a classic combination of determination and sheer force of will making something important. Simon also made the emphatic point that the term “Not for Profit” as applied to many organisations is an absolute misnomer because, while there may be no commercial profit generated by such bodies, there was definitely a societal or cultural profit.

Angela Dorgan mentioned that she admired the way that Bob Geldof had transitioned from Boomtown Rats frontman to media mogul.  However, she also identified the characteristics that are important in a creative leader. From her perspective, emotional intelligence is essential as is being insightful enough to know your strengths and work with those who compensate your weaknesses. Most importantly, have the strength of character to not take everything personally and be self-aware enough to know that it’s not all about the individual – it’s about the team, maintaining their enthusiasm for a shared vision of success – whatever form that might take.

Bob Geldof


Derek Kehoe, CEO, BNP Paribas Group, Ireland Now employing 500 people in Ireland, and with an ethos of “The Bank for a Changing World”, attracting and retaining new people is a key priority for BNP as the economy recovers. He says: “A big part of that process is re-imagining old, entrenched systems, either abandoning or adapting them for the realities of the market in 2015. He said: “We’re actively developing a culture of thinking differently, not being driven by the rigid processes of the past and being willing to embrace change.

For instance in recruitment, we’re far more open to looking at candidates from fields unrelated to banking – there’s a lot of transferable skills that are valuable in a banking context and we want that questioning new perspective within the business.  We’ve found that staff are very responsive to the challenge of thinking differently about how we do business.”Derek Keogh

“It’s an evolutionary process that we see reflected in two other aspects of the business. We are promoting a strict code of conduct in our teams. This Conduct policy is all about achieving good outcomes, for our Clients, our shareholders, our staff and the society in which we operate. It is about fostering a culture of seeking to do the right thing.”

It’s a facility to allow us to inculcate a positive team culture of customer service, integrity, professionalism and support.  Personally, I have a very strong belief that if you are part of a community then you should be present in that community. It goes back to my point that no business can be an island – it needs to integrate with the environment in which it works.”

“Our sponsorship programme is about giving back to the community that supports our business. It’s not about what’s in it for us. Our priority in our Sponsorship programme is to favour initiatives that promote social inclusion and those that have artistic or cultural merit. ”

Simon Taylor, CEO, National Concert Hall – Running a beloved national institution where there’s 30% state funding but 70% needing to be generated from commercial sources presents its own challenges. According to Simon: “there’s a tightrope that needs to be walked in terms of programming events which you absolutely know will fill seats and those which, while not as populist, are important culturally.

Simon TaylorWe’re consciously stepping away from being very genre-specific because only taking that approach means that you end up super-serving one audience and another not at all.  So, from my perspective there’s no contradiction having Paul Brady and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in the same Calendar of Events – both are valid musical expressions which appeal to disparate audiences.

Ultimately, my ambition is to realise the NCH’s potential as a real national centre for music.  Already we are home to the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, The Irish Baroque Orchestra, Chamber Choir Ireland, Music Network and Music Generation while a new 120 seater venue opening within the building in the next year will add an important new dimension to the National Concert Hall.“

Simon also pointed out that there are subsections of talents and performers within each musical genre. While he feels that there is a natural core of supporters for NCH there’s another increasingly fragmented audience which he believes will be interested in events at the venue.  That’s where a renewed emphasis on marketing (and digital in particular) makes a difference by reaching out to these new adopters.

Angela Dorgan, CEO, First Music Contact could be described as the embodiment of creative leadership. With an industry worth €470 million annually and employing 11,000 people nationwide, she was determined to give musicians an outlet that showcased their talent and didn’t use the artist to make money.

As a result, she created Breaking Tunes a music portal that now, after six years in operation hosts 10,500 artists in the 32 counties. Described as a place for “music to find new music”, it operates on a stream only, non-monetised basis.

However, there’s a commercial aspect in that artists are offered advice and support on how to negotiate the vagaries of the music industry in terms of contracts, licensing their music and so forth. Angela Dorgan

Importantly, First Music Contact is a facilitator that allows other industries work with the music business. As an example, Angela points to technology companies which might be well resourced for tech needs but not for music.

Having incubated Gig Starter and Soundwave, there’s much more to come from this dynamic organisation including Hard Working Class Heroes, a festival for emerging bands that took place in Dublin between October 1st and 3rd this year.

Gerry Macken, CEO, Digital Hub Development Agency says “As far as I’m concerned innovation and creativity are one in the same thing – it’s where Science and the Arts meet and where the possibility of a new Age of Enlightenment is palpable.  However that depends on imaginative, creative leadership that embraces change and questions the paradigms of the past.”

Gerry MackenThe Digital Hub is a hybrid, a place that’s home to 90 of the most advanced new technology businesses in Ireland and Europe but firmly entrenched in the local community in Dublin 8 and committed to its redevelopment. 

Companies sharing space and technology grow faster and are more sustainable. At Digital Hub companies work in clusters that are managed, developed and supported.

Gerry said: “One aspect that makes Ireland very different from other nations working in the tech space is our storytelling skills and how that translates into world leading creative content and product. Brown Bag Films is an excellent example of a creative Irish business while an acclaimed company such as Havok started business in The Digital Hub. Currently we’re working with dozens of businesses with all vying for the title of Next Big Thing. It’s this possibility that makes working at the Digital Hub such an energising experience.”

For further information please contact

Charley Stoney, Managing Director of the Alternatives Group,

Andrew Hetherington, Hetherington, the CEO of Business to Arts,