Mar 8, 20203 min read

Interview with Aoife Houlihan, Vice President Communications at Klarna.

Emily Thomas

by Emily Thomas

Where did you start your career, did you always know what you wanted to do?

The short answer is no. I honestly didn’t know this job existed when I was in school and choosing university courses. Most of my classmates had fairly set plans and sought graduate programmes or pretty defined career paths. I am not sure this was because it was something they always wanted but rather it is what was expected of them and/or was safe and certain. I haven’t had the most linear or classical career route. I travelled the world, went a bit wild, taught secondary school in Tanzania, I completed an LLM without a primary degree in law and then moved on to a PhD in Trade Law. I started my career as an assistant to an elected member of the European Parliament which was sheer luck, I opportunistically wrote to a whole bunch of people looking for a start anywhere doing anything and one actually wrote back a few minutes later and I started the next week. Little did I know then the opportunities that first role would open up for me and eventually shape so many things in my life. I am however still convinced I will be the next Dolly Parton or run the world’s finest supper club from my home, so watch this space.

What are the greatest challenges or frustrations you face as a woman at the top (if any)?

One thing that has struck me on the way to leadership in certain industries is there is often an underlying sense that women need to work harder, longer, faster and to basically overachieve just to prove their capability. Working hard does not bother me in the least but it absolutely has to be for the right reasons.

Who is a woman who inspires you?

My mum. My north star. Phenomenal woman.

What’s the riskiest move you’ve taken in business?

Plenty of them and I’m still employed, so when the process may not be clear, be confident in outcomes! But there is a distinction between managing risk and taking risks. Every day, I am managing how the company is represented to a wide variety of audiences globally. This means quickly moving between very different and often complex topics, contexts and geographies, needing to make constant judgement calls and trying to anticipate what’s ahead. Equally, being prepared to take risks is crucial to moving forward, you have to dare to begin before you are ready, there will never be a ‘perfect time’. I actually love both elements in my current job. Working at Klarna means I am surrounded by people and contexts which stretch me intellectually and creatively everyday. The day I stop being challenged, inspired and optimistic on what we can achieve, is the day I need to move on.

What 3 traits do you think are most important when running a successful business?

1. Passion
2. Optimism
3. Adaptability
+++ Understanding why EQ + IQ = success

What’s the best business advice you have ever received?

Super simple and not fancy; set high standards and lead by example. Don’t ask others to do something you would not be willing to do yourself.

Any advice to future female leaders?

Ask for what you want, most especially if it’s a challenge for you, because someone else always will. They’ve hired the wrong person for the business in general, if you are not negotiating.