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“It’s like seeing yourself, your career and your life very clearly for the first time.”

Billy Doyle

Billy Doyle, Chief Executive Officer at Dundalk Credit Union in Ireland, was in conversation with INSEAD’s Alex MacDougald. Taking the Advanced Management Programme at INSEAD was a journey in self-discovery and self-acceptance, the lessons of which continue to percolate over time.

There isn’t much that Billy Doyle doesn’t know about credit unions (financial co-operatives) in Ireland. For almost 30 years, he has held leadership positions within some of the sector’s key organisations; more recently as CEO of Dundalk Credit Union and previously as CEO of the Credit Union Development Association and Strategic Development Co-Ordinator with Dublin’s Dubco Credit Union. He was also a Government of Ireland appointee to the Commission on Credit Unions set up in 2012 to chart a development course for the Irish Credit Union Sector in the 21st century. During his tenure, he has seen plenty of change – industry disruption coming from the burgeoning fintech sector, sector re-structuring and shifts in thinking about the nature of management and strategic leadership. Navigating change across his long professional trajectory brought him to an inflection point in 2020, he says: a moment where he was keen to reflect on the expertise built up over the past to brace for the emerging challenges of the future. He felt what he describes as a need for a refresh in his thinking about leadership, strategy and the management of teams. It was this need that brought him to INSEAD and to the Advanced Management Programme (AMP).

“I finished my MBA in 2003, so I’d been out of formal education for nearly 20 years. Simultaneously, I had reached the upper echelons within my sector, having been CEO at my organisation for more than a decade. There was a sliding doors moment, where I felt ready for profound reflection on what was next for my organization and for me as a leader.”

INSEAD as a school tipped the scales competitively, he says, because of the quality and international dimension of its faculty and programme cohorts, and also because of its unique educational offer: a combination of world-class thinking on leadership and its “superior focus on self-reflection and awareness.”

“I came into the AMP looking for tools and insights to help me navigate the strategic direction of my organisation. But I was also looking to the programme for a kind of personal and professional rejuvenation and inspiration. My expectations were that this would be a learning experience that would deliver real transformation in thinking and approach – something deep and wide enough to really wrap my arms around.”

My advice to anyone considering taking the AMP at INSEAD is simple really. Open your heart and mind to the experience and you will get a huge return.

Doyle’s expectations were more than amply met by the AMP, he says. As well as providing the cutting edge, next level “integrated update” on leadership and strategy he wanted, the programme created a “space to gain that vital introspection that you need when you’ve already achieved a lot, and you’re looking for a spark to ignite ideas for what’s next.”

Coaching, one-on-one analysis and feedback from INSEAD coaches, faculty and fellow peers were revelatory, he says, in terms of pinpointing strengths and weaknesses, new approaches to engaging with others, and in revealing a “new picture of who you are.” These processes provided surprising clarity around a critical takeaway for Doyle.

“I think most of us have a tendency at times to go through life on auto-pilot. What I really took away from the AMP however, is that you are the pilot of your own life. The programme and the coaching give you a powerful new awareness of your own agency in the decisions you make. You gain clarity and with clarity, greater motivation to be a more conscious decision-maker. One of the greatest takeaways for me is that leadership, like life itself, really is a journey – and you are at the heart of that journey.”

Conscious decision-making, greater self-awareness and a heightened awareness of other people – the dynamics at play in interpersonal engagement – all of this translated into tangible benefits for Doyle in terms of people management and team performance as he progressed through the programme. In this sense, the AMP also provided a “positive space” in which to share ideas, tools, processes and frameworks – as well as the time to enact suggestions and feedback, and bring the learning back into the programme to explore with peers and faculty. This was a particularly valuable dimension of the hybrid nature of the programme, as virtual and interactive sessions were purposefully interspersed with weeks spent back in the workplace, putting theory into practice, he says.

Altogether, this experience was nothing short of “uplifting.”

“You learn to observe the habits and processes you deploy as a leader to bring your organisation forward, and to focus on those things that you can improve in order to become a better version of yourself.”

And such was the depth of intimacy and trust established within his cohort – the psychological safety established within the AMP – that the “human bonds” remain intact long after the programme itself concluded.

“On the one hand you get all the networking, learning and insights from other international leaders from other sectors, which is an education in itself. But then there’s the hidden gem – the intimacy and the willingness to be open and to share personal experiences with each other that really force you to stop and look at yourself as a leader and as a person. It’s like seeing yourself, your career and your life very clearly for the first time.”

Three months out of the programme and its learnings continue to percolate, says Doyle. The experience still washes over him. And the heightened consciousness he feels as a leader has equipped him to better navigate the change that is reshaping his own industry, he adds – the digital disruption and uncertainty that characterise today’s financial sector.

“You emerge with clarity and reassurance. The AMP gives you an invaluable sense-check on your own drivers and blockers, how to interpret and navigate change, and how to lead your own team of corporate athletes in this ever-changing context where things are constantly evolving.”

The AMP as a learning experience is transformative, says Doyle. It is also a very welcome journey in self-discovery and self-acceptance, as challenging as it is supportive and affirming. It is a programme that he would recommend to any leader looking to enhance their business toolkit and self-understanding in order to achieve better outcomes.

“My advice to anyone considering taking the AMP at INSEAD is simple really. Open your heart and mind to the experience and you will get a huge return.”

Find out more about the Advanced Management Programme

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