Career Profiles: John O’Donoghue

Questions about your career and its development

 

1. What is your name

John O’ Donoghue

2. Where do you work and what is your role/job title?

I’m the CEO of a company called Enbio. The company was originally started to put coating on metals that go into the body for orthopaedics. A few years after starting the business we were contacted by the European Space Agency to see if we could coat some of their hardware in space, such that it would be able to deal with the conditions around the Sun, and that was game-changing for us as a business.

3. What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?

I suppose, going into the medical side of the business was really exhilarating for me. I never imagined when I was growing up that there was a crossover between health and engineering. That came as a real surprise to me. That was probably the biggest milestone along the way until the European Space Agency approached my business, and then all of a sudden, we’re working in space and that was another huge milestone. Just an incredible dream to be working in space.

4. Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

I suppose the first person would’ve been my dad. He was always working at something new. My mother for telling me to get a good education. The teachers in my secondary school because they gave us that grounding, and then the engineers I met along the way. Seriously good engineers.

5. Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

Sometimes. Being the CEO of a small company and working on something like we do is difficult.

 

Questions about your current job

 

6. Describe a typical day. 

There is no typical day. It’s a complete mish-mash of different functions; trying to guide people, trying to project manage, trying to raise money, trying to get new customers in, determine where the technology is going… A lot of meetings a lot of meeting and greeting people. It’s a very, very, varied day.

7. What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

The main task is leading this business. Trying to grow this business. Trying to get the technology out into the world. That’s the main task. Everything else is ancillary or supportive of that task.

8. What are the main challenges?

The main challenges are getting the technology out. Getting people to understand this technology is real. Working with ESA has made that so much easier. Our technology coats 80% of the solar orbiter coatings that are on that craft. Two of those coatings are mission critical. That helps the wider metal-working community to understand what we have.

9. What’s cool?

The coolest thing about my job is meeting phenomenal game-changing, game-setting people around the world. I’ve just been really privileged. I’ve met two presidents of this country, been out on trade missions with them. Working with John Halligan as Minister for Innovation. I’ve met two Taoisigh on my travels, as well as a whole lot of dignitaries and notable people in other countries. Particularly technologists.
Working with ESA and the depth of knowledge that they have, and just phenomenal brains that they have in science and engineering, and in the importance of what’s happening in space to how we live and continue to live into the future on this planet. That’s just such a privilege. It’s nothing short of a privilege. It is just an honour.

10. What’s not so cool?

When I live in one place and I work in another that’s 2.5 hours away, spending so much time on the road, is a challenge. Being on your own on planes and in hotel rooms where you’re completely out of sync with home, and trying to figure out when to call, when to eat, when should I go to bed, how am I going to get enough rest… All that goes with travel is hugely exciting and is hugely draining as well.

11. What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

I bring change, and I bring persistence and tenacity in that I don’t give up. Ever. No matter how bad it gets, no matter how hard it gets. I don’t want to get off this merry-go-round. This is as good as it gets. I don’t tolerate failure and I don’t tolerate “no”. So persistence and tenacity I think are two of the traits. And also, the need to continue to change.

 

Questions about education and training

 

12. What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

Science, science, science! Everything had to do with science. I didn’t do biology, but I’m a biomedical engineer. When I was a kid there was no internet. My parents bought the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and I read it cover to cover. Just that insatiable need to understand how things work, and science best met my needs in school then, to satisfy that hunger as to how things work.

13.What is your education to date?

I went to UCD to mechanical engineering in 1982 and graduated in 1986, I took on a masters at the time that I didn’t finish because I got a job before I finished it. I regretted not having the masters so when I was in my late 30s I went back to do a masters in biomedical engineering because I’d spent all my career doing biomedical engineering with American multinational companies. I didn’t really do much mechanical engineering which was my qualification so I went back to try and get a qualification around what I was doing day to day, and that proved to be a pivotal move because I did that masters with Trinity but it also involved spending time at University of Limerick and the University of Ulster up in  Jordanstown and I met people in those two universities, as well as in Trinity, that gave me the grounding for starting the business Enbio. My thesis project in that masters program helped me to solve a problem in work but it also introduced me to titanium and grip-lasting and they became the two main ingredients in the concept that is the invention in Enbio.

14. What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

Further education is really important. Keeping up with developments is really important. Being part of that frontier of change is really important. Understanding how the world around you works, not just from a science point of view, but from a human nature point of view. And feeling now that I can contribute something back. All those things are really important.

 

Questions about yourself

 

15What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

I suppose it’s hard to beat being accepted as the mission critical coating for a mission to the sun. When the probe has done its job, for a while, we will be part of the closest man-made thing to the sun. We protect the front of the sun-facing solar orbiter when it’s ¾ of the way to the sun, for a number of years, at 500+ degrees Celsius. That’s sort of humbling, but that’s my version of being on the podium at Croagh Park on All Ireland day, and holding the Sam Maguire aloft. That’s hard to beat.

16. What personal qualities do you have that help you in your career?

An inquiring mind; I never stop looking for answers, ever. I don’t think I’m I have the best tools from an engineering or science point of view to fix those problems, but I bring people around me who have.
I work well with people and I’m persistent in driving to make sure that anything that I think is worthwhile pursuing, that I pursue it to the very, very end.

17. What is your dream job?

Probably the best way to answer that is to pick a person that I’d absolutely love to be. If I had my choice to of people that I would like to be it would be Sergey Brin of Alphabet and formerly Google because he doesn’t have the headaches of running the business. He has the privilege of scouting for the technologies.

 

Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice?

 

18What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

Do it, is the first thing. There’s not enough people doing science. There’s not enough girls doing science. Girls in particular bring a different atmosphere to research and to advancing that research and applying that research. I just don’t think that there’s enough inclusion, at all, of that mindset that women bring to science.

19. What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

For any job in science and engineering I think the first one has to be curiosity. You have to have an enquiring mind, you have to want to know what’s out there, or what’s in there, or how does it work. Why is it the way that it is. I suppose that’s the “why” piece.
I think that another characteristic that people have to have is determination to see it through so persistence to follow through on what it is that they’re looking at and to try and get an answer.
I think another characteristic that people have to have in science is empathy and understanding of where its going and for what reason. Change for the sake of change is useless. It has to have a purpose. It has to have a reason. And maybe making money is not always the right reason.

20. What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

Be curious and go out there and understand how things work in nature. Do anything to do with animals. Anything to do with plants. Anything to do with materials and understanding those materials and to be curious about how they work, and to understand, even if it is just a phone, to have an idea of how it works. To understand how the software works, but also to understand the material that they have in their hands. Do jobs that can get them those insights.