From Young Scientist hopeful to the twinkling lights of Hong Kong
Wild Geese: Anne O’Riordan is senior managing director at Accenture Life Sciences
Anne O’Riordan has worked for Accenture for the last 28 years, having joined as an analyst in 1990
Anne O’Riordan credits what was then the Aer Lingus Young Scientist Exhibition with whetting her appetite for biotechnology while she was still at school. O’Riordan was part of a group that entered a project on the potential for mussel farming in Bantry Bay and she subsequently went on to study biotechnology at DCU before moving to Galway to do a postgraduate diploma in financial accounting.
O’Riordan has worked for Accenture for the last 28 years, having joined as an analyst in 1990. Since then she has spent most of her time working abroad with the company, first in the United States, then in London and most recently in Hong Kong where she has been for the last 11 years.
“I enjoyed studying biotechnology,” says the senior managing director at Accenture Life Sciences . “It was a terrific course, covering genetics, immunology, biochemical engineering and marketing. However, as I looked towards graduation, I realised I was more interested in the business side of science and knew that I wanted to work globally with large pharma companies.”
A career in consulting, particularly within life sciences, was the perfect fit.
“For most of my career, I’ve been working with pharmaceutical, medical technology, biotechnology and consumer health companies to help them achieve their business objectives and deliver better health outcomes. The secret sauce lies in combining new science with leading-edge technology to revolutionise how medical treatments are discovered, developed and delivered to people around the world.”
O’Riordan spent most of the 1990s in New York before moving to London for nine years. She was flying solo when she first moved to the US, but subsequently married and had two children. That made the last move from London to Hong Kong “a little more complicated.”
What appeals to her most about living in Hong Kong is “the multicultural society, the fast pace but ease of getting around a small landmass and the incredible hiking and water sports opportunities that come with a territory that has 75 per cent of its landmass covered in a country park and 261 islands spread over 500 square metres.”
One of the challenges of living in Hong Kong, however, is finding suitable accommodation as it is at a premium both in terms of availability and cost. O’Riordan was fortunate. She was able to find and buy a house in a good location with enough room for two adults, two kids and two golden retrievers.
“The cost of housing is the biggest expense of living here as you can eat out for a reasonable cost and there is great public transport,” she says.
The co-author of Healthcare Disrupted: Next Generation Business Models and Strategies, O’Riordan is an avid hiker, biker and water sports enthusiast who enjoys diving, sailing and swimming. In 2017, she climbed both Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Fuji. She is an active member of the Women’s Foundation (which promotes equal participation in all aspects of Hong Kong society) and co-chairwoman of the Women of Influence Committee there.
Asian business culture
O’Riordan, is well used to Asian business culture and not at all fazed by the etiquette of its more hierarchical structure. “In many ways, the modern approach to work is quite universal but there are some fundamental differences here such as the way decisions are made, the impact of the consensus mind-set and the effect of Guanxi – a Chinese term meaning networks or connections – on how networks are formed,” she says.
“People also give and receive feedback in a different way and there are subtle inferences in communication that are very much embedded in the culture and language. But, for me, all of these things make transnational working both interesting and challenging,” she says.
“Actually, well worth a read for anyone interested in different business cultures is Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map which provides many useful examples.”
The twinkling lights and skyscrapers characteristic of the Hong Kong skyline hold a fascination for those attracted by its fast-paced environment and O’Riordan says there are good job opportunities there for lawyers and those with skills suited to financial services.
“There is also an ever-expanding technology sector in this part of the world, with the growth of Tencent, Alibaba and Huawei among others. We also see a rapidly evolving start-up community in Hong Kong, fuelled by both the tech industry and the strong private equity culture.”
Asked about the opportunities working abroad have presented, O’Riordan says a lot of it has to do with scale.
“In the US, I had opportunities to help launch multibillion dollar pharmaceutical products and enable their growth. The market is just so big there that it brings a whole new level of complexity.
“When I ran the life sciences practice in Europe, I had the opportunity to learn about the different health systems all across Europe, while in Asia, I have had the experience of operating in very rapidly emerging markets.
“In my global role I have also been able to do M&As (mergers and acquisitions) and interact with start-ups in multiple countries. All have been enriching experiences.
“My philosophy is that we should learn something new every day. Here’s a quote I love that underscores this idea: ‘Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I learn.’ People generally attribute this quote to Benjamin Franklin, but some say it’s an ancient Chinese proverb. Either way, I love its essence and think it’s true.”