Suc­cess­ful con­ver­sion from pro rugby to re­cruit­ment

For­mer Ire­land player Bob Casey re­turned from Lon­don Ir­ish to work in ex­ec­u­tive searches

The Irish Times - Business - - WORLD OF WORK - Bar­bara McCarthy

It’s a far cry from be­ing tack­led by a 19-stone rugby player, but for­mer Ire­land in­ter­na­tional Bob Casey is rel­ish­ing his new Dublin-based cor­po­rate role.

Af­ter 15 years in Bri­tain play­ing for Lon­don Ir­ish, cap­tain­ing the team and then mov­ing up­stairs as chief ex­ec­u­tive of the club, 39-year-old Casey has packed up and moved home with his fam­ily to pur­sue a ca­reer in se­nior ex­ec­u­tive re­cruit­ment with Korn Ferry at its first Ir­ish of­fice.

“The time was right,” the for­mer sec­ond row says. “When I re­tired from play­ing in 2012, it was too soon to come back. The op­por­tu­ni­ties weren’t here yet. Also I was build­ing some­thing in the UK and wanted to bridge the gap be­tween the scrum and the board­room.”

The Maynooth na­tive was ed­u­cated at Black­rock Col­lege, like many of his peers, room­ing with Leo Cullen, and went on to play for North Kil­dare RFC and Le­in­ster, win­ning seven caps for Ire­land be­fore mov­ing to Lon­don in 2002.

“Looking back, I would have loved more Ir­ish caps. I never re­ally got into my stride, but I don’t re­gret my de­ci­sion to move to the UK,” he says. “The un­writ­ten rule in rugby meant my chances of play­ing for Ire­land were less­ened by the move.”

World-class play­ers

Pro­fes­sional clubs across Europe of­fer more lu­cra­tive con­tracts and, re­cently, Si­mon Zebo an­nounced his de­par­ture from Mun­ster to pas­tures new in France. In re­turn, he was axed from the Ir­ish team and his ca­reer stalled on 35 caps.

“The door for him is firmly closed in the na­tion team,” Casey says. “That’s the way it’s go­ing now. When I was still play­ing, I got some op­por­tu­ni­ties with Ire­land, but at the time I was also up against world-class play­ers with Paul O’Connell and Don­n­cha O’Cal­laghan, among oth­ers.”

Af­ter Casey, who has a com­merce de­gree from UCD, hung up his boots, he com­pleted an ad­vanced man­age­ment pro­gramme at Ashridge Busi­ness School, be­fore test­ing the un­charted wa­ters of life out­side the li­ne­out by tak­ing on a role as se­nior busi­ness de­vel­op­ment man­ager at a Pow­er­day re­cy­cling fa­cil­ity. With that un­der his belt, it was back to Lon­don Ir­ish to rein­vig­o­rate their rugby pro­gramme.

The im­pli­ca­tions of a hard Brexit were part of the rea­son for the move home in March, he says, but so was the fact that Ire­land is a great place to raise chil­dren.

“My wife and I have two kids un­der four and an­other on the way. We had a great life in south­west Lon­don, but we wanted them to be schooled here and be closer to their nieces and neph­ews.”

A lot of the di­as­pora who have done well abroad are com­ing back – “But don’t blame us for the hous­ing cri­sis. There’s not that many of us,” Casey quips.

Casey ad­mits he got lucky find­ing a house and Montes­sori close to where his fam­ily bought a home in south Dublin.

“Now I walk into town or cy­cle to my Mount Street of­fice. There’s only so much Tube a 6ft 7 guy can take,” he adds.

Casey has thrown him­self into his role at Korn Ferry. The in­ter­na­tional ex­ec­u­tive re­cruit­ment firm has of­fices in 45 coun­tries, en­gage­ment data on six mil­lion pro­fes­sion­als and man­age­ment data in 114 coun­tries.

A good in­di­ca­tor of a bur­geon­ing econ­omy is a well-per­form­ing ex­ec­u­tive search mar­ket. “We didn’t see or hear much from ex­ec­u­tive search firms dur­ing the re­ces­sion, so the fact that Korn Ferry saw op­por­tu­ni­ties in Dublin is a great thing, for sure. Good ex­ec­u­tive search firms serve a pur­pose. Find­ing the right per­son for the right role is time-con­sum­ing and pick­ing the wrong per­son can be costly,” he says.

Com­mer­cial leader

Casey works as a com­mer­cial leader, op­er­at­ing at se­nior man­age­ment and board level both in Ire­land and in­ter­na­tion­ally, re­cruit­ing chief ex­ec­u­tives, chair­men, non-ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors and other se­nior ex­ec­u­tives spe­cial­is­ing in con­sumer, hospi­tal­ity and re­tail in­dus­tries.

“What at­tracted me to the role was the fact Korn Ferry com­prises three main groups un­der one um­brella: ex­ec­u­tive search; the Hay Group, which helps you align your or­gan­i­sa­tion to its peo­ple; and Korn Ferry Fu­turestep, which de­liv­ers pro­fes­sional tal­ent that builds up lead­er­ship,” he says.

But go­ing from be­ing a pro­fes­sional player to sit­ting in an in­ter­view room can be tough. “As a pro­fes­sional sportsper­son, you’re pretty much told what to do in ev­ery as­pect of your life. Even your days off aren’t your own.

“When you stop play­ing, it’s a weird thing. I played over 200 times for Lon­don Ir­ish, then my ca­reer in Ire­land be­fore that. Ba­si­cally, since child­hood, I was told what to eat, drink, wear, what I could do at the week­ends and sud­denly it’s over from one day to the next.”

Some sports­peo­ple go into a state of shock, as they are ill-pre­pared for the tu­mult the change can bring to their lives. “It’s im­por­tant to be proactive so you don’t get caught off your guard,” Casey says. “I laid a lot of ground­work in Lon­don to en­sure I wouldn’t be caught out.

“The cor­re­la­tion be­tween be­ing on the pitch and ex­ec­u­tive search is larger than you might think. I work with high-per­for­mance teams, seek out ex­cel­lent lead­ers and have a good un­der­stand­ing of what makes a team suc­cess­ful,” he adds. “It has been a very smooth tran­si­tion.”

So does he still play rugby in his spare time? “Ha, no I’ve no in­ter­est. I don’t know if I’d be good enough to play pro­fes­sional rugby now if I were to start. The com­pe­ti­tion is so fierce these days. The stan­dard is in­cred­i­bly high across the pitch.”

But that is all be­hind him now as he wel­comes a new chap­ter. “I’m back and it’s a re­ally ex­cit­ing time to be home.”

Good ex­ec­u­tive search firms serve a pur­pose. Find­ing the right per­son for the right role is time-con­sum­ing and pick­ing the wrong per­son can be costly


Bob Casey dur­ing his ca­reer as a pro­fes­sional rugby player for Lon­don Ir­ish .

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