Influential Leaders

Niamh Brennan

Michael MacCormac Professor of Management
Recognition Year(s): 2024
Area of Impact: CSR or Sustainability
School: College of Business, University College Dublin
Location: Ireland

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Niamh Brennan is the Michael MacCormac Professor of Management at University College Dublin (UCD) and the founder and academic director of the UCD Center for Corporate Governance. Her research interests are in financial reporting (accounting narratives, impression management, rhetoric and argument, and silence) and corporate governance (boards of directors, audit committees, and whistleblowing). Brennan’s research has highlighted the importance of high standards in corporate governance and how these standards impact business and people. Brennan was the first in Ireland to offer education and training to company directors.

Description of Research Impact

Most financial reporting research assumes that company managers provide useful information to shareholders; however, Brennan argues that some managers are self-serving and engage in impression management to portray a good image of company performance. She has used rhetoric and argument both in the context of hostile takeover bids, in which the bidder or target-company managers try to persuade target-company shareholders to accept or reject the bidder’s offer, and also in analyzing a dispute between Greenpeace and six organizations in the fashion trade, which arose because of Greenpeace’s “Dirty Laundry” campaign.

Brennan’s corporate governance research has highlighted the importance of high standards in business conduct and how these standards matter to ordinary people’s lives in ways we may not have imagined. She, along with a co-author, is only the second academic to access the “black box” of the boardroom and has audio- and video-recorded nine board meetings of three U.K. organizations.

Brennan has also served on several boards of directors and audit committees. She is a former chair of the National College of Art and Design and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. She has held several policy roles, as well. She chaired an Irish government’s commission that led to the establishment of the Health Service Executive, which runs Ireland’s health services, and she was vice-chair of the Irish government’s Review Group on Auditing. Following a scandal, in 2023, the minister for the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport, and Media appointed Brennan to chair an expert advisory committee examining governance and cultural failures in Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), Ireland’s national broadcaster. Brennan applies practical insights gained from each of those roles in her academic research.

With over 100 publications to her name, Brennan was recognized by Stanford University as one of the world's top 2 percent of scientists for 2022. She was elected to the Royal Irish Academy, Ireland’s highest academic honor. She has also received a British Accounting and Finance Association Distinguished Academic Award, was inducted into the Interdisciplinary Accounting Research Hall of Fame, and was awarded a fellowship of the Irish Academy of Management. In addition, Brennan was appointed an inaugural fellow of the Institute of Directors in Ireland and an honorary fellow of the Society of Actuaries in Ireland.

Brennan is also a regular contributor to newspaper articles, media interviews, and discussions on the subject of responsible corporate governance, accountancy, and education. She plays a highly visible role in promoting good governance, the responsibilities of directors, and ethical behavior.

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