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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Mary McCarthy

This Working Life – Why having kids at home made aviation high-flyer more productive at work

‘Working from home is efficient, but the office is essential to build relationships,’ says Cliona O’Faolain. Photo: Mark Condren

I joined Vistra in May 2022 as head of aviation. At that time their aviation business was Canyon CTS. It’s been rebranded to Vistra and in October I became MD of Vistra Ireland. With 190 employees and four pillars – aviation, corporate services to other structured finance products, corporate accounting and we’ve applied for a fund admin licence with the Central Bank.

Ambition equals time

The job is more than I anticipated, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it, learning so much.

The past six months I have put in a lot of work. This has not magicked itself from a 40-hour week.

I have been juggling time with family, my children and friends. I’m lucky they understand the first year in a new job can be hellish.

Intrinsic motivation

I grew up between Ireland, Africa and London. My father was an occupational therapist who set up resources in Zimbabwe. We went in 1985 for three years. He was a huge inspiration for his kids. He went beyond teaching us work ethic, he taught us to work too hard.

My mother looked after the four of us, always with a book in her hand. When my parents separated I moved to London. We were living in Dublin again when I went into second year.

I liked St Louis school in Rathmines but if I was to have a word with myself it would have been to push myself more and not rely on my photographic memory.

At UCD I studied economics and here I realised pushing yourself always comes from inside. I spent a summer in Martha’s Vineyard with a plan to defer my masters and stay on. However, after September 11 in 2001 I wanted to go home. Which is when I stumbled into securitisation.

There were no jobs going. I went to the library, got a directory of companies, and wrote to 100 of them.

Deutsche Bank replied. I had no idea what securitisation was before but I loved it. I stayed a year and a half, but Ireland was the back office.

Securitisation is present-valuing a future receivable. I wanted a front-row seat on these complex transactions.

So I got myself transferred to the New York office. I pestered and pestered until I set up an interview with HR and paid for my relocation myself.

New York was the best craic – I was going out with Terry, who I had known in my teens, and it was a different music gig every weekend.

Wall Street learning

Up close I learned so much about the parameters of these deals. There was no work-life balance – I worked from 7.30am until 10pm.

When Bear Stearns kicked off I was learning at the same time as the market, my work absorbed me. When I had Rian in 2007, I knew I would have to pick either work or motherhood but I wanted both.

I got 12 weeks’ maternity leave as Deutsche was generous – it was six weeks at the other banks. I remember sitting in the sparkling breastfeeding room, pumping, and wanting to be near my child.

Terry was running a recruitment firm and was feeling burnt out so when Rian was six months we moved home. He took his time before taking a job with Google.

The plan was for me to take some time out, though it didn’t quite work out like that.

Cliona O'Faolain, Managing Director, Ireland & Head of Aviation at Vistra. Photo Mark Condren

Moving to aviation finance

I sent a recruitment company my CV, and said keep me in mind for the future but then they said Wilmington Trust was looking.

My work in New York was structured finance, it did not involve aviation, though my new boss taught me so much.

When he went off to run the Europe division I took over running the Irish operation in 2014. It was a big role but I was ready. I was there 14 years and loved it, but I had learned all I could there.

In this game you get approached a lot by recruiters and then one day I opened the message. Vistra was private equity-owned and positioned for growth – this enticed me.

I also wanted to show my kids, now aged 12 and 15, that in a dynamic market you can move around.

Helping hands

Having kids at home has made me so productive. I had other obligations 

When our daughter was born in 2010 we had a creche beside our house which shifted their opening hours to accommodate me and my saviour was my late mother-in-law. Trudi took the kids when they were sick and when I needed to work late.

We had an incredible nanny for two years when I took on the bigger role in 2014. These were my busiest years when I needed more time than I had.

Terry and I separated and I am proud of how we managed it.

I saw with my parents how it is possible to remain very good friends. We have two houses and are very supportive of each other’s careers. The kids come first.

Daily building trust

I took up pilates during Covid, and trained to be an instructor, that’s my retirement plan. I get up at 6am and do 45 minutes.

I get the kids up, make the lunches, and hang out with them in the kitchen before they leave.

I have been vegetarian since the age of six, so I bring something healthy to eat into the office, at home I grab something quick.

I aim for two days in our office in George’s Quay and I try to get down to our office in Shannon every second week for a day.

Working from home is efficient, you get a lot off the list, but the office is essential to build relationships, for building trust.

I do a good bit of client calling, I enjoy this and there was a massive Dublin aviation conference this week with a lot of networking.

I’m happy with life, I would not do what I do otherwise.

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