Published on 5th August 2021
In this first episode of the Leaders with Ambition podcast, Nicky Acuna Ocana, UK Managing Director at Ambition, talks to Nick O’Reilly, Chief Operating Officer at Manolete Partners Plc, a respected veteran in the business insolvency space whose career spans over 40 years.
Nick answers a broad range of questions about how he carved out a place in the insolvency industry, the challenges, highlights and advances he has witnessed over the course of his career and his insights into the insolvency market as the pandemic-related government protections ease.
Key takeaways from this episode:
How Nick got into the insolvency profession
"When I left school, I had no real idea of what I wanted to do so I applied for various management trainee roles but I also applied to the Civil Service as my mum was a nurse and she worked in public service. So I thought a Civil Servant role might suit me.
The first vacancy that caught my eye was the Official Receiver - the Insolvency Service as it offered the chance to go to college one day a week to study to become an Accountant.
I applied and was successful and joined the Insolvency Service.
It very quickly became apparent to me that dealing with people in financial difficulty suited my personality.
I've always been somebody who's interested in people, their stories and their lives and I'm interested in treating people with respect, the way I would like to be treated myself.
I realised that this was a career that suited a lot of my skills. I also enjoy the sound of my own voice as I like talking, so communicating with people was a good thing to do!
It took Nick 6 years to qualify as an Accountant, studying part-time.
"But within that, there were a couple of fallow years where I didn't study as hard as I could have. I think that's one of the difficulties when you're 18 and just starting a new job and you're enjoying your social life. Maybe if I’d gone to university and studied full time I would have got through it quicker."
"It was important to me to qualify because having a professional qualification meant that if I ever got fed up of dealing with insolvency issues, I would be able to use that qualification to move into another area of Accountancy, rather than restricting myself to insolvency.
It's never happened, but it was always a fallback for me if I needed it."
An advocate of flexible working
Nick was ahead of his time, working a 4 day week during a time when this was uncommon.
Why? He noticed early on that most business failures occurred Monday-Thursday (in an effort by owners to spare workers bad news on the eve of their weekend) so he proposed a condensed four-day work week that was a win for him personally and for his employer.
"I think [the firms I worked for] would all say that actually, they got as much productivity out of me as they would have done if I'd been in the office all day."
Nick has always supported flexible working for his employees, particularly working mothers.
Nick highlights the advantages yielded when working mothers are given the opportunity to shape flexible schedules with room for both working from home and collaborating at the office.
Nick's work with R3
Nick has committed time over his 40-year career to theR3 Association of Business Recovery Professionals, where he has served as President. This was a personal career highlight (even if badly timed to coincide with the tsunami of financial collapse that occurred during his tenure in the late aughts).
A personal and professional highlight of his career:
Nick uncovered an insolvency case in which, due to bank error, £10,000 was due not only to his firm’s client but also to the family whose home was liquidated in financial distress.
“You must have come from heaven,” wrote the woman whose family was on the brink of homelessness in a heartfelt thank-you note to Nick.
Nick recognises the importance of work-life balance.
Nick has found it challenging to persuade Partners that – far from a loss of productivity – extra holiday time increases productivity, loyalty and enthusiasm among employees over the long run.
His business philosophy:
Nick believes it’s key to provide as much openness and transparency as possible across the board – within the bounds of a heavily regulated environment.
Gender equity in insolvency:
There have been tremendous strides in terms of evolving the male-dominated culture – but work remains to be done to bring parity among the executive ranks.
The best advice ever received?
Nick subscribes to a “Do Unto Others …” approach that respects even those in financial distress.
He never loses sight of the fact that a whole range of things can lead to insolvency. It’s not necessarily a moral failing.
What career would you be doing if you weren't working in insolvency?
Nick believes he most likely would have been a trade union steward. The idea of negotiating on behalf of people is very appealing and a good fit with his natural skill set as a “people person.”
Nick's ultimate Ambition:
To get out before people start saying “Nick who?” He loves his work but only wants to do it while at the top of his game and relevant to the industry.
Incentive to stay:
Working with people he enjoys makes work a pleasure, but Nick is still looking towards retirement, enjoying undistracted holidays with his family and more all-around leisure in life.
Insolvency market insights post-pandemic
Governmental support packages have staved off Covid-related financial duress for many companies, but Nick believes that at some stage an uptick in insolvency will occur. How sudden and severe such an adjustment might be remains to be seen.
Key quotes from the podcast:
“Dealing with people in some sort of financial difficulty suited my personality.”
“Lots of the employee-employer relationship comes down to trust.”
“I look at it from a more holistic point of view: When you have a happy staff, you have a more productive staff.”
“I don’t see the pursuit of money as the most important thing to running a business.”
“You spend so much time working with people. I would hate to work with people who just resented me the whole time. I’d much rather work with people who feel engaged.”
“In the past a lot of women may have given up insolvency because they thought, ‘I’ll never get to the top’ or ‘What happens if I do?’ ”
“Just because someone has failed financially, it does not make them a bad person.”
“Everybody I meet who has come to me for insolvency advice has a backstory – a fascinating backstory. Don’t judge them based on the fact they’re (in financial difficulty) at that particular moment.”
“I don’t want to hang around too long so that I become the person everyone says, ‘Why don’t you clear off. You’re not serving any use or purpose. Why don’t you just go?”
“Insolvency activity will rise. The only discussion point is whether it will rise enormously or whether it will rise gradually. We’re going to have to wait and see.”
“I would assume the government would not suddenly want to see a massive increase in insolvencies, having spent so much trying to prevent that from happening over the last 18 months. It would look like a waste of money.”
About Nick O'Reilly
Nick O’Reilly, FCCA, FIPA, FABRP, joined Manolete Partners Plc in November 2019 and became Chief Operating Officer in March 2021. His role is focused on business development in the insolvency litigation practice area. He has worked at Partner level for Rothman Pantall, Levy Gee, FRP Advisory, HW Fisher, and Moorfields Corporate Recovery.
Nick lectures widely on all aspects of business recovery and has acted for the Crown Prosecution Service and HM Customs & Excise in Confiscation and Restraint Order Receiverships. Nick is a former President of R3 and has expert knowledge on all aspects of personal and commercial insolvency issues.
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