Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Interview with Neil O'Connor, CEO of O'Connor Mortuary

This month my gracious guest is Neil O'Connor.  Neil is a recognized leader in the mortuary industry, he runs a highly successful business with his team in Orange County: and has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for many decades.  I invited him to be part of my interview series because he is a pioneer - innovating and enterprising - in an industry known for being traditional and measured.  I believe he has accomplished so much at such a young age, because of his leadership skills.  We can all take a few tips from his keen perspective.

JS: How does using EQ help you to be a more effective CEO?

NOCI think the essence of being a CEO is modeling the behaviors and attitudes we want to see in others. Organizational Health has become a huge focus in our company over the last 2 years. Reading about and seeing the results it has started to have on our staff has clarified and motivated me to be incredibly intentional about knowing myself emotionally and paying sharp attention to the emotional needs of my staff.

Many of us spend more time with our colleagues at work than we do with our families throughout the week. Our coworkers are important to get along with but not all companies prize it as their top priority. My sense is if people have healthy, functioning and collaborative relationships here at work, it will carry over into their personal lives. It’s a win-win for everyone.

For me personally, clarity on EQ has revealed to me that I have a great ability to uplift people or drag them down emotionally. It’s easy for me to be critical and disciplinary, the harder work is to hold people up, be accountable, transparent, and encourage candid conversations one-on-one or in groups. Knowing my limits and personal emotional capacities has helped me draw better boundaries and know when to step out of certain situations that someone else might be able to handle better.
It’s a continual learning process.

But I’ll say this, I would much rather have a small company where people are cohesive, get along and are willing to walk that second mile with each other than 15 locations and millions of dollars working alongside people I don’t like or respect. 

JS: In your opinion, out of all the EQ skills (self-awareness, self-control, empathy, flexibility) which one is most important for executive leaders to demonstrate?

NOCSelf-Awareness. If you are not self-aware it is very hard to gauge when you need to be more controlled, empathetic or flexible towards others.

I have been aware for a while that listening is not one of my strengths. Knowing that about myself means that I need to really slow down to be an active listener. My tendency is to listen to respond because I think I already know the answer. I have to stop and intentionally tell myself that the most important thing to do in this moment is really listen to understand what’s being said. If I fail to listen, I will fail to understand and support my staff.

JS: What challenges do you anticipate business owners will face in the next two to three years?

NOC: I don’t think it’s anything new to say that business owners of all kinds are going to face the continual struggle to find organizational health. The business climate has changed rapidly since my first year in this seat and those changes have only proven to me the need to have a solid team in place that can handle the changing needs we face.

About Neil O'Connor

Neil O’Connor was born into a large Irish Catholic family in 1967 as the youngest of seven children. His parents, Jane and Joseph O’Connor had met through their families, both of which owned funeral homes. Jane's father, John Cox, owned a funeral home in Oakland, California, while Joseph's father, Joseph A. O'Connor, owned a funeral home in Los Angeles, California. John Cox and Joseph A. O'Connor were close friends, so close in fact that Joseph O’Connor was the best man at Johnny Cox’s wedding. 

In 1975, Neil's family moved to Laguna Niguel, where Neil attended Dana Hills High School and graduated in 1986. Three years later, he joined the family business and became part of O'Connor Mortuary, starting at an entry-level position and working his way up from washing cars and performing service support. From 1991 through 1993, Neil served in the United States Navy as an Operations Specialist.

After serving in the Navy, Neil returned to work in the family business, and in 2000 he became the President and CEO of O'Connor Mortuary, carrying on the family tradition of serving the community with high value, dignity, and respect. In 2003, Neil met his wife, Lisa, while on a yoga retreat in Maui. Together, they have one son, Jesse Joseph O'Connor. Neil continues to practice Ashtanga Yoga at Pacific Ashtanga in Dana Point, and he also enjoys playing beach volleyball at Victoria Beach in Laguna Beach, California. 

Neil is involved with numerous local organizations and care providers, including Age Well Senior Services, Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, Mission Hospital, Trauma Intervention Program, and the Interfaith Council of South Orange County. Neil serves on the Board of Directors of Selected Independent Funeral Homes, an international organization of independent, locally-owned funeral homes whose common interest is in continuous growth and improvement to best serve families and individuals. He is passionate about helping the community learn the benefits of pre-planning and the value of meaningful ceremonies, and above all, he strives to continue on the respected family tradition as the President and CEO of O'Connor Mortuary.

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