Introducing the NW RFCA new Chair – Brigadier (Retd) Tom O’Brien CBE TD DL VR

We put Tom in the hot seat to discuss his new appointment and to see what wealth of experience he can bring to the role.

What military experience do you bring to the role?

My forte has been in leading, transforming and changing organisations both in the Military and Business.

I come from a Military Family and joined the Territorial Army in 1976 as a Driver. After attending the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, I commissioned on the 1 April 1979 into the Royal Corps of Transport, joining 152 Ambulance Regiment, Royal Corps of Transport in Northern Ireland. After many staff appointments, squadron command and attendance at the Army Staff College, Camberley I was selected in 1995 to commanded 156 (North West) Transport Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, the first Volunteer to do so. After command I was appointed Deputy Commander 42 (North West) Brigade.

Subsequently selected as Colonel Reserves in the 5th Division, I was appointed Aide de Camp to Her Majesty The Queen. My appointment at 5th Division was quickly followed by attendance at the Royal College of Defence Studies and Colonel Reserves on the staff of the Chief of the General Staff in MoD Main Building. In 2007, I was selected to be a Brigadier and appointed Deputy Commander Theatre Troops. My final appointment in the Army was as Director Army Reserves/ ACOS Reserves working for the Adjutant General and Commander Land Forces. I was the Army lead on the Prime Ministers Commission into the Future use of the United Kingdom’s Reserve Forces (FR2020).  In the 2012 New Honours List I was appointed Commander of the most Excellent Order of the British Empire. I retired in 2016 after 40 years’ Service.

Chair Tom O’Brien pictured at the recent AGM

What business experience do you bring to the role?

After I finished my first degree, I worked for the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) shooting seismic lines in the Rubal Khali and in ARAMCO’s Exploration Centre in Dhahran. I also worked for ICI Pharmaceuticals in Alderley Park, Cap Gemini, held senior consulting and technology partnerships at Andersen Consulting, Accenture and Deloitte. Was on the Board of Amey plc, Vertex Data Sciences and I’m now the founder and CEO of a Financial Services Business. During my career I have been the Non-Executive Chairman at Virtalis, a Virtual Reality company, MorganAsh a Life Insurance business startup and Chair of a technology business. I also holds mentor appointments in several startups. I am graduate of the University of Ulster, Leeds University, LSE, Kings College London and the Chartered Institute of Banking.

What are the biggest tasks you will be addressing

I’m still new into the appointment so my initial thoughts would be:

  • As we know we are moving to a NDPB construct – the detail of which is currently evolving but we are now approaching a nexus of change. As the Chair of the NW RFCA I will need to help shape and inform this process using my experience and networks, just as my predecessor has done.
  • My experience tells me that to ensure the success of such a major organisational change you need good Governance, Accountability, Transparency, Communications and Compliance, all of which are important, if we are to remain agile and relevant.
  • I think we need to increase the size of our current membership and broaden the involvement of our local and wider community. Importantly we will need to attract and broaden the diversity mix and get employers and others involved.
  • Importantly, and something always on my mind, is how do we continue to attract the right people, train, develop, and retain our staff? What skills and capabilities will we need in the future. Should we be seeking Partnerships with business and society to leverage these skills and capabilities, maybe consider other business models to supplement our income?
  • Finally, what direction from Central Government will we get on Climate Change? How will this affect our outputs and provision of the estate and training facilities. Glad to see that the NW RFCA is ahead of the game in this area with the solar array and recent development in Barrow which uses the latest UV solar panels and air heat pumps. More to do but going in the right direction.

What excites you most about the role?

I have been a member of TAVRA and the RFCA for nearly 30+ years during which I have seen the organisation transformed into the organisation that it currently is. Things don’t stand still and if we are to continue to effectively deliver our outputs and support our Reserves and Cadets then we must remain agile and relevant to the military and our community. As the Chair of the NW RFCA this is the most exciting element of the appointment – how do we continue to do this in a post-Pandemic world, with challenges to our budgets and changes to fiscal policy, new organisational change, new ways of working and an increased focus and pressure on our Estate and the impact of environmental and climate initiatives.

Any additional interests and hobbies?

In my spare time I am a Deputy Lieutenant of Cheshire. For nearly 25 years I have been involved with Military Charities and have just finished 23 years as a Trustee of Broughton House the home for Ex-Service Personnel in Salford. A member of the Army Benevolent Fund and was appointed in January this year as the Honorary President of the Royal British Legion in Cheshire.  My hobbies include rowing, cycling, scuba diving and when I can afford it drinking good wine!. Catherine, my wife, and I have three children and are lucky enough to have eight grandchildren who keep us busy commuting between Cheshire, London and our house in Donegal.

Reserve Forces