Currently closing a seed investment round of £1.5 million, Gillian is leading the expansion of Cerebreon's commercial operations in the UK with top insolvency firms and Tier 1 banks. Gillian combines her role as CEO with an extensive technical career in the debt industry where she led technical teams within data analytics, machine modelling, and system development fields.
She completed her Ph.D. in nanophysics at University College Dublin and is a strong advocate of supporting her community by hiring locally in conjunction with the Irish Government.
You can read Gillian's thoughts in our Role Model Insight Series. We've borrowed the format from Tim Ferriss's book 'Tribe of Mentors'. You can read about the book here and buy it directly here.
Why are you supporting LEO Donegal's Female Founder Pre-Acceleration Programme in partnership with NDRC?
Pre-accelerators and accelerators must be decentralised from Dublin, Cork, and Galway as it restricts those with family commitments, for example, from partaking in these supports due to the amount of travel involved. I'm delighted to see one take place in Donegal and led jointly by NDRC and LEO Donegal.
What is the book (or books) you've given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
I'm an avid reader but when I buy books, it's for the person's taste not my own so there isn't one book that I've purchased a lot.
As a child, I fell completely in love with The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton. Looking back now, it completely appealed to the part of my personality that loves constant change, different people, and understanding why people behave the way they do. I love the idea of magic and this was pure imagination.
The Christmas re-read book for me is the Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I love the language of the book and how every word is used for detail of the masterplan. I'm a big vision person but this book makes me appreciate how important the detail is. It's a lesson in pure focus and determination.
I've read so many business books over the last number of years on a wide variety of topics but quite honestly, only parts of them have resonated with me and so I don't have a standout go-to book for this. However, one that massively influenced my life was my university textbook, Fundamentals of Physics by Halliday, Resnick & Walker. It answered so many of the questions that I had about life and how the world works (google was only really starting then) but it's bigger influence was giving me the awareness of how little we know and understand and that there are worlds of possibilities out there.
What purchase of €100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months?
At the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, I bought bright pink Asics trainers for about €65 – they were nothing like I would normally wear (actually they are like little girls runners) but for me, this was going to be a different journey and so they couldn't look like my past purchases. My runners and I have done a lot of miles, some great, some awful but for me, they were part of the decision to learn to love to run again and this has helped me immensely over the last six months.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why?
Believe in your ability to learn.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you've ever made?
In general, I’m very happy in my life. I consider myself very lucky to have the people I do, the support I have, and the opportunity to have started a business. No one investment stands out but my investment in people and theirs in me is why I build very strong relationships.
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
I love practical jokes. My poor husband usually gets the brunt of them!
In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life?
The Navy Seal's 'How to Fall Asleep in Less than Two Minutes' process. Anything is possible with a night's sleep.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven woman about starting a business? What advice should they ignore?
Be where you are. If you're in work – be there and focus on that and don't try to solve everything else. The advice that I would ignore is that you can do everything or are expected to be able to do everything. You just simply can't. Running a business is all-consuming most of the time and so you need to figure out how to win the best you can at the different parts of your life. Reimagine what a win looks like!
What are the bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
There is a lot of bad advice out there and some of it is extremely expensive. Always challenge the advice and if it doesn't sit right, get another opinion.
When it comes to recruitment, if there are any alarm bells about someone, walk away.
In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to?
Unnecessary internal meetings. I won't accept a meeting unless I know why they want me there and what needs to be achieved by the end of the meeting, so much time is wasted. Also, I rarely accept a meeting that is an hour long.
I start work at about 7 am because there are no distractions in the morning and you get a huge amount cleared. I am a night owl and so changing this behaviour is difficult but the pros far outweigh the cons!
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
Overwhelmed is different to unfocussed so let me address them separately. If I am overwhelmed, I write my worry list and that is everything in my life. If it's down on paper, then I don't have to worry about remembering it. Once I have the list done, I split it out into keys areas and then use the Urgent/Important quadrants and start to tackle that. For me, eliminating the feeling of overwhelm is about re-establishing some element of control and this process helps me achieve that.
Focus on work is a different ball game and for me, if I feel that I haven't achieved what I wanted to in a day/week then I ask myself the question, am I working on the right priority. If I'm a bit lost, I will also ask someone else. Having people you trust to speak to is extremely important. With all that said, however, focus and lifestyle tend to overlap a lot for me. When I'm exercising and eating right and getting decent sleep, focus is usually pretty easy to achieve. If I'm having difficulty with focus, I look at my broader behaviours as well.
What one word would you add to the following for women entrepreneurs?