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EP:19 – A Conversation with Conor Brennan

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This episode showcases the business of Leadership and what good leaders need to notice in our current VUCA world. Conor Brennan is CEO of Arachas Corporate Brokers in Ireland. He says his role as a CEO, isn’t just to make sure we have the expertise and resources to make good on the promises we make every day, it’s to make sure our people truly understand the role they play in being there for our customers when they need us most. Conor was formerly CEO of Zurich UK General Insurance & CEO of Zurich GI in Ireland. He held roles as Deputy CEO Chambers Ireland and roles in print and media with a BA Hons, Commerce and Communications from Dublin City University.

Show Notes

Podcast episode summary: This episode discussed Leadership and some of the needed competencies for leaders today. The conversation spoke to the importance of societal change and its impact on business, especially the war for talent. The insurance business of which Conor is apart can be seen as traditional and hierarchical often with a legacy of heroic leaders. That way of leadership is changing.

  • Conor did not dream of being in Insurance he almost fell into Insurance after a significant period working as Deputy CEO for Chambers of Ireland
  • He loved his degree in college, it was new and exciting to be in communications in an Ireland that was a two station TV nation, a country governed by the Church where much of Ireland was really insular.
  • He quickly appreciated the power of reading and reading voraciously to equip him in Business
  • To him the construction of business leaders is broadly governed by societal changes.
  • Generational understanding is critical. Important to be able to listen, the new generation of workers expect this as a minimum, it also allows for collective intelligence leading to better decision making
  • Leaders have to be mindful of the generational mix in business and to ensure the wider system is respected.
  • Quality of debate seen in recent Brexit talks by our Taoiseach, Simon Coveney and Helen McEntee was inspirational & speaks to the brilliance and educational minds of our young leaders
  • We are not having harmless conversations about climate change anymore and people like Greta Thunberg and our own young protesters are heralding a sea change in our response to this crisis-shows how the opinion of the next generation is feeding into our contemporary conversations
  • Impact of Brexit is having an impact on the war for talent. With companies choosing Ireland over the UK as a centre along with Direct Foreign Investment means tightness with respect to labour.
  • Demands of younger generation & what appeals to them from a career perspective much different to what was. Purpose paramount, ethics essential, continuous learning, flexible work conditions/terms and older workers mean a lot to consider over financial remuneration
  • Leaders have to be congruent and you have to believe in your intentions -audio has to match the video
  • Behind language is action-tough challenges in a competitive market means much greater need for mature conversations on the top team
  • Norms are important, respect, integrity, an ability to dialogue and appreciate difference
  • Leaders need to mind their inappropriate use of EGO
  • Conor’s Leadership Style is inclusive, and he works hard to bring diverse opinions into the room to form better decisions. He ensures the conditions on his team allow for mature and respectful conversations where a common and shared view of the business is held.
  • Conor shared his journey into Leadership and how preparation, passion and a willingness to invest in himself and change his style including getting coaching meant he could then assume greater and more responsible roles in Zurich. He was well resourced by Zurich in terms of leadership development
  • In hiring for his top team, he looks for attitude first. Technical skills are necessary but can be taught
  • In terms of our VUCA world Conor helps leaders especially younger leaders to look less for perfection and encourage other intelligences including listening to their gut
  • Conor draws inspiration from many sport’ teams and he is especially proud of the Dublin GAA. He cites a story where a player came off the pitch after a major win and in the moment did not recall the point win, instead he noted the team’s performance.
  • Conor admires the naturalness, connected nature of high performing sports teams who do the right thing. He sees harmony and symphony as necessary prerequisites to teams’ performance in our complex networked world.
  • Conor is a big fan of coaching and he employed team coaching for his top team at Arachas. Getting team members to get at mutual goals is hard work and a continuous practice
  • Culture change is hard and rewarding but it must be worked with commitment and effort.
  • Conor’s top 3 tips or nuggets for teams include
  1. Be appropriate with your ego
  2. Work with people that stimulate you and challenge you
  3. Have fun


Quotable Quotes: “helping people do their best work elsewhere” “Be appropriate with your ego”


Resources: the following include the resources we alluded to over the course of our conversation


  1. Prisoners of Geography
  2. Unauthorised Biography of Tiger Wooods
  3. Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood

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