Connecting Business – Growing Opportunities

From Scotland to Ireland, in Leadership and Mentorship

Experienced Scottish and Irish coaching consultant, Brian Cavanagh shares his career journey from leadership to advisor, working on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Brian Cavanagh is a mentor and coaching consultant and runs his own consultancy, Calibrate Limited. He has had a long career in leadership roles in Scotland, and today, he lives in Ireland and works with clients on both sides of the Irish Sea as a trusted advisor, mentor, and coach. He specialises in supporting chairs and CEOs; in providing strategic positioning guidance; and in offering advice for board governance and board development, with vast experience in the public and not-for-profit sectors. He is also currently chair of a SME in Scotland.

A diverse journey to leadership, from shoe salesmen to councillor, to trusted advisor

With a name like Cavanagh, Brian jokes his heritage “can’t be anything but Irish”, but he was born in Edinburgh and lived and worked there for many years, with an earlier career path he describes as “fairly eclectic”. Explaining more: 

“I did not have a specific career path. I started as a civil servant and moved to a footwear salesperson, before attending university as a mature student to study Politics and History at the University of Stirling. I later worked for a housing association for a period before setting up my own consultancy. Inevitably, my involvement in politics became intertwined with my work, and throughout my time as a salesman, university and at the housing association, I developed a leadership role in public life.”

Alongside these roles, Brian was a City of Edinburgh Councillor for 17 years, where he spent many rewarding years chairing the Social Work Committee. He also for 10 years was Chair of NHS Lothian, where one of his key achievements was bringing together four separate organisations into one single all-purpose NHS Board, and he also led a large service change programme to ensure the clinical viability of NHS Lothian acute sector. Commenting, Brian says: 

“My key career highlights have been my 25 years of strategic leadership in public life in the city I was born in. I was most proud of my leadership role in the closing of institutions for people with learning disabilities and the development of housing and support in community-based settings. Similarly, tackling the challenge of HIV/Aids in Edinburgh in the 90s by bringing together a coalition of partners to develop preventative programmes and community-based supports for those affected was rewarding work.”

From leadership to advisor - “I know what it is like to be in their shoes” 

With a significant number of years of leadership experience, Brian understands acutely the challenges business leaders and CEOs encounter and face on a daily basis and in the long-term strategic planning, and he now works through his consultancy to support and guide leaders in business, charities and CEOs into becoming more effective. Expounding, Brian says: 

“Acting as a trusted advisor, I know what it is like to be ‘in their shoes’ and therefore can help them navigate their challenges. Being ‘in charge’ can be a lonely place, and being expected to always have the answer can be a big pressure - I provide a safe space for them to share problems, explore their leadership and offer guidance through mentoring and coaching.

“I am passionate about how companies and not-for-profits are led and governed, and enjoy supporting them to improve the board governance through development programmes.”

The valuable post-Brexit, Europe and UK connection Causeway provides for businesses 

In 2008, Brian and his family moved to Ireland and he now lives in the Cooley Peninsula, County Louth, where today he earns his living providing advice and coaching to business leaders in both Scotland and Ireland. He is enthusiastic and driven in improving leadership and governance in business and the not-for-profit sector and believes joining Causeway is a way in which he can contribute and support fellow professionals in the network.

Brian first became motivated to join Causeway to connect with businesses and decision-makers on both sides of the Irish Sea and found joining the network was a good way to find out more about what was going on in the island of Ireland. Explaining more about what attracted him to joining Causeway, Brian says:

“When I first heard of the Causeway network, I was intrigued by the specific connection with the North of Ireland, and the metaphor of ‘the Causeway’ appealed to me as the bridge between two communities that have so much in common and shared challenges. Not least as a frequent traveller from Cairnryan to Belfast, I realised the connector now between Europe and the UK.

“Post-Brexit is going to be a very uncertain time in relationships between Ireland and UK. However, Causeway can provide an opportunity to share ways to tackle similar challenges faced by all partners and businesses, especially around transport links, European links, problems around demography, developing our economies, and attracting foreign direct investment.”

The benefits for a Scot in Ireland and for Irish-Scottish professionals joining the network 

As a Scot living in Ireland, but working in both countries, Brian is well positioned to understand the key advantages the Causeway network brings both professionals and businesses. Commenting more on this, Brian says:

“The value for Scots living in Ireland joining the Causeway network is clear. It provides great networking opportunities if they want to return to Scotland, as well as offers opportunities to help Scots who wish to set up businesses so they can trade in Europe. It also gives a voice and provides a platform to citizens who are working in a different country that is part of Europe. That is a valuable voice for the Causeway network to have, as well as the official voices of consular and ambassadorial professionals.

“Causeway also enables Scottish based companies to look at how they can partner with Irish companies to operate in Europe and, in turn, enable Irish companies explore how to access or expand in Scotland and the UK post-Brexit. It allows a safe space for interactions between civil servants, businesses, and trade associations to have these conversations.

“What I enjoy most about Causeway is that there are such a wide range of expertise, industries and people. Causeway provides a real learning opportunity and a sense of hope that, beneath all the talk of economic and political uncertainty, there are many creative individuals and robust businesses across the island of Ireland and Scotland that are good to be connected with.

“I think Causeway can help my consultancy by giving me a clearer sense of what business opportunities there are; intelligence on what business trends are looking like; and a sense from individuals about the challenges and opportunities they face.”

Recent challenges and new ways of working

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Brian’s consultancy approach was very much people-facing focused, involving working with clients and having meetings in both Scotland and Ireland, with a preference for face-to-face mentoring. However, during the crisis this has not been sustainable and has demanded a new way of working for Brian and presented new pressures for his clients. Commenting Brian says:

“For the sector in which I mostly work, the not-for-profit sector, it faces huge pressures. Anecdotal evidence is that people are working harder than ever, however some of the sector face significant financial challenges, due to donations having dropped significantly, and that redesigning how they engage with clients is another added pressure. A less obvious pressure is the physical and emotional toll caused to charities who work directly with vulnerable people. The loss of life, and the illness of both service users and staff impacted by Covid-19, is something that many charities have never experienced before.”

Adjusting how he currently works, Brian has shifted most of his one-to-one coaching sessions online, using Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Commenting on the changeover to online consulting and mentoring, Brian says:

“Although my preference is for face-to-face coaching, I have found working with groups has become easier online and that provides opportunities for the board development work I do. The shift to online is part of a long-term trend, and I am currently working with a business advisor on how to do that for my own business. Though due the complex trading nature the SME I chair faces, it has been important to also have face-to-face board meetings recently. All my other meetings and contacts are online just now.

“I would welcome the opportunity to connect with fellow Causeway members to explore if I can offer advice or help for your business, in particular around board governance, or just to have a general chat about the recent challenges of Covid-19 and its impact in your leadership to see if my consultancy can offer guidance and support.”

Exclusive Causeway Membership Offer – Free Mentoring Session

Brian is offering active Causeway members a free 30-minute mentoring session. This will be of value to senior managers and CEOs on leadership challenges. Find out more about Brian by visiting, connecting on LinkedIn or by emailing

Author: Aoife O'Sullivan

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About The Author

Aoife O'Sullivan

Aoife is currently Business Engagement and Communications Manager at Edinburgh Napier University, supporting the Research, Innovation and Enterprise section of the university to showcase its research and expertise through its Innovation Hub, and helping to build business connections and collaborations between industry and academia that spark innovations and encourage industry growth. Focus areas are in the specific fields of: AI & advanced technologies; health; environment; and culture and communities.


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