So this is a make or break for your career as well as for Leabhar agus CupánTae!

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So this is a make or break for your career as well as for Leabhar agus CupánTae!

Leabhar agus Cupán Tae(from the Irish meaning ‘A Book and a Cup of tea’) is a small independent chain of bookstores with operations in Galway City, Dingle in Co Kerry and Letterkenny in Co Donegal. It was established byJames O’Connor in Galway City in1985 and was simply known at that time as O’Connor’s Bookshop.

James was born and raised in the Connemara Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) in Co Galway and graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1979 with a degree in English and Irish. After graduating he worked in various fields including as a laborer on a motorway in England, as a barista in a tea house in Rome, as a stable hand with a racehorse trainer in Co Kildare, and finally as a junior editor with a publisher in Dublin.

In 1985 he unexpectedly came into a small inheritance from an aunt in Philadelphia, his mother’s sister who had emigrated to the USA in the 1950s. She had started out as a seamstress there but eventually had established a successful dressmaking business. The money enabled the young James to buy a small rundown barber’s shop in a side street offShop Street in Galway’s city centre and start up a business as a bookseller – something he had always dreamed of doing. He also got married that year to Olivia,a Colombian girl,whom he had met while working as a barista in Rome. Olivia runs the tea shop side of the business.

The bookshop stocked popular titles in English from authors from across the English-speaking world; it also had a smaller section of works in Irish. Although James believed it would not be economically feasible to stock books of a specialist nature,he put up a sign in the shop window offering to seek out and supply any book on any subject at the request of customers.

Not long after opening the shop quite by chance the poet, Seamus Heaney, happened to walk into the book shop asking if he had a copy of Beowulf. Heaney was staying with friends outside Galway and had taken a fancy to re-read the Anglo-Saxon classic saga. James told him that he didn’t have a copy in the shop but would endeavor to have one for him by the next day. When Heaney left, he immediately rang around all the booksellers he knew across Ireland and located a battered old copy in Mullingar.

That evening, after he had closed the shop, he drove to Mullingar to collect the book. When Seamus Heaney arrived the next day, he was very impressed by such good service and they got talking. When he realised that James was only starting up, he offered to do a poetry reading and a book signing in the shop. This was the start of several similar readings and signings by Heaney and led to James being able to attract other writers to undertake similar ventures – popular writers like Maeve Binchy,Róisin Keyes as well as literary figures like Sebastian Barry and Joseph O’Connor, andBooker Prize winners like Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright and Anna Burns.

So the business thrived and by the mid-1990s James was able to move to bigger premises on Shop Street itself and then to open bookshops in Dingle and Letterkenny. The bookshops became well known for the readings and book signings he organized as well as for special events for children with well-known children’s authors like Eilis Dillon, Marita Conlon-McKenna and John Boyne. These continue to be a feature of the business’s success and only last summer JK Rowling visited the shop while on holiday and offered to do a signing of her next book.

In the early 2000s, at Olivia’s suggestion, each of the bookshops added a small tea shop that sells a wide range of teas and vegan snacks where customers are able to peruse copies of whatever books are currently most in demand while enjoying a tea and a snack.

She got the idea on a visit to Boston where she was impressed by bookstores that had tea shops on their premises, At the same time the stores underwent a rebranding and became Leabhar agus Cupán Tae(which in English means ‘A Book and a Cup of tea’).James, who is a native Irish Gaelic speaker, was keen to give the business a distinctly Irish identity, especially as Galway is the gateway to the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) of Connemara. The other two bookstores in Dingle and Letterkenny are also based in or near to the Irish-speaking Gaeltacht areas of Kerry and Donegal.

By 2005, the three bookshops, although still essentially a small enterprise, were employing 50 people, one of whom was engaged in dealing with orders from abroad – especially fromthe UK, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Germany and Scandinavia -as well as, and increasingly, from the US. These orders were primarily from individuals who had visited the shop whilst on holiday and who wrote directly to the shop to order books.

The bookshop weathered the recession of the late 2000s largely because of its niche nature in the bookselling market but also because James was careful toplough a significant segment of the profits back into the business.James prides himself on offering every customer who contacts any of the stores, whether in person, by phone or by email or otherwise remotely, a personal and individually customised experience, whether they are seeking to buy one book or stock a home library.It has remained an independent, privately owned business which has given James and his family a comfortable living.

In the early 2010s, James brought in his son and daughter to join himself and his wife as directors of what has remained a family firm. His daughter, Mairéad (33), who has a degree in Business Studies from University College Dublin and who later took an MSc in International Business at Griffith College Dublin, now oversees the financial and administrative side of the business; his son, Pól(31), who studied Marketing at DCU, is responsible for the marketing, buying and distribution side of the business as well as for online sales, having persuaded his father to develop their own website.

Pól is keen to expand and ‘modernize’ the business.He has proposed greater investment in the online presence and believes they should proactively be seeking to grow the business across the EU, especially in those countries, primarily those mentioned above, which all have large numbers of English speakers.He also wants to expand the business in the US where he believes they should be tapping much more into the Irish-American market. And with Brexit now a reality he has also been trying to persuade his father to open an outlet in Belfast so that they can continue to access the UK market; customers from England, Scotland and Wales have for long been a key element of the operation’s success.

Mairéad and Pól have also persuaded their father to consider diversifying the firm’s range of merchandise by adding Irish linen and lace, Arran knitwear and Celtic-themed gold and silver jewelry, items which can be easily shipped and which are particularly popular with American customers.

James is a bit wary of his children’s plans, what he calls their ‘big ideas’, having seen several bookshops he knows well in small towns across Ireland close their doors. He is often heard to say,“What’s put food on the table all these years is books – not fancy gifts or cups of tea! His management style has always been very traditional and paternalistic; he is very respectful towards his employees, many of whom have been with him for a long time, and values their loyalty but he believes the business is ‘his baby’  and that he is responsible for its success or failure.

He is reluctant to lose control of it; as a result he rejected lucrative offers to take over the business from chain bookstores like UK booksellers Waterstones and US firm Barnes and Noble. He has often been heard to say: ‘I built this business up from nothing and I’ve had all sorts of people telling me to do thisand to do that. I’ve ignored them all and we’re still going strong while I’ve watched other bookshops up and down the country fold and die. So let’s make sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.’

However, James is now planning to retire and has agreed that the business will now need to find a new CEO. Neither Mairéad norPólwishes to take over from him as managing director. Mairéad has two young children and likes to work no more than three days a week whilst Pól plays in a rock band and is often away on tours and so also does not wish to take on the responsibility of running the company full-time. However, all three will remain on the Board of Directors.

They have appointed the HR consultancy firm (Top People Recruitment), for which you work as a graduate entry trainee,to seeksuitable candidates for the new post of CEO  through a call for applications as well as through headhunting. As assistant to the consultancy partner, Helen Reilly, who is overseeing this recruitment,you have been helping her undertake the task of conducting initial face to face interviews with a longlist of over twenty applicants; together you have honed this down to a shortlist of three candidatesto be called for final interviews.

As directed by Helen you have put together a report on each of these three candidates which has been circulated to your boss and to each of the three Directors (see below). Although these three candidates will be formally interviewed by your boss and the four family Directors, with you present to take notes, they have made it clear during a recent meeting that they want you to give your opinion as to which candidate you would recommend to them. They have asked you to present a report on the day before the formal interviews.

Pól, who still believes the company’s image is quite old-fashioned, has also asked you to include in your report a new vision, mission statement and values for the company; this will be put to candidates during the interviews for their comments. He has also asked you draw up a SWOT analysis relating to the proposal to establish a second operation in Belfast.And with a Green Month planned for Galway in July 2021 he has asked you to come up with ideas for the bookshop to promote the Week anda ‘greener’ image for all the bookstores.

Mairéad, not to be outdone by her brother, said that it would be important for you to identify very clearly the strengths and weaknesses of your recommended candidate and has asked you to propose a professional and personal development plan for him/her for the period of the next three years for  the Directors to scrutinise.  She has also asked that you identify the five key challenges facing the successful candidate over the same period.

Your boss has indicated that she has been very happy with your work to date and that there is every possibility of a fulltime post with Top People Recruitment once your traineeship comes to an end in three months’ time but that it will all hang now on the quality of the report for the O’Connor family. So this is a make or break for your career as well as for Leabhar agus CupánTae!

Therefore, you are required to provide a power point presentation as follows:

  1. PowerPoint presentation with a minimum of 20 Slides and a maximum of31 slides (excluding the bibliography and references), in which you cover the following items:

1.An Executive Summary of your key recommendations.(This is a crucial element of the presentation as it demonstrates the ability to communicate information clearly and concisely).(1-2 Slides)

  1. A list of the key criteria (knowledge, skills and attributes) which you believe the new CEO should possess with a clear explanation as to why each criterion has been chosen. It is not enough to simply give a list. You should provide 10 criteria and give each criterion a score so that the total adds up to 100. Scores for each criterion are likely to vary depending upon the importance you attach to it; (i.e. they do not all need to be worth 10 points. (2-3 Slides)
  2. A list of factors which ought not to be considered in the selection decision with a full explanation as to why certain factors should not be considered. (1 slide)
  3. A slide on each candidate showing how they score against your criteria with a full explanation of why you have given each score. (3 – 6 Slides)
  4. State clearly which candidate you believe would be the best ‘fit’ for the position of CEO. Justify your decision. (2-3 Slides)
  5. Undertake a SWOT analysis of the proposal to establish a second bookshop in Belfast. (1-2 Slides).

7.A draft Vision, Mission Statement and Statement of Values forLeabhar agus Cupán Taefor the candidates to comment upon as part of the second interview process. (3-4 Slides)

8.Suggestions for promoting the ‘Green’ credentials of Leabhar agus Cupán Tae(1 – 2 Slides)

  1. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your proposed candidate anddraw up an outline plan for his/her personal and professional development suggesting the areas for development which you believe that person should undertake over the next three years. (3 Slides)
  2. Identify thekey challenges which you believe will face the new CEO over the next three years. (1-2 Slides)
  3. Communication and self-reflection(2-3 Slides) (10% of the overall module grade is for the overall standard of communication in evidence throughout the assignment andfor a critical self-assessment of your work.

In reflecting on your work you should provide answers to the following questions:

  1. What have you learned about leadership and management in completing the assignment?
  2. Which area or areas did you find the most enjoyable and why?
  3. Which area or areas did you find the most difficult and why ?
  4. What challenges did you face in completing the assignment?
  5. Which material and sources did you find most useful and/or interesting and why?
  6. Did you find the decision difficult or relatively easy? You probably come made an initial choice of candidate on reading the material based on first impressions or ‘gut instinct’ – we all do, it is a normal human reaction – but did that remain your final choice or did your view change after going through the process in detail?