I was introduced to Arden O’Connor in the fall of 2012 by a mutual acquaintance who thought we should meet given our shared interests. At the time, I was the CEO of a non-profit that provided veterans access to and funding for dual-diagnosis substance abuse and trauma treatment programs. I was in the midst of designing a case management program with one of our clinical board members and was intrigued to learn about her company, O’Connor Professional Group (OPG), which offered exactly these types of services. I knew very little about Arden other than this was a passion, that she was a Harvard MBA grad, smart and as our mutual friend said, was “impressive”.
Impressive was an understatement. As we spoke while having coffee at The Essex House, I distinctly remember thinking “wow, she’s done the research, she understands what’s needed and why. Absolutely no B.S. and she’s got a realistic plan”. I was immediately struck by her ability to connect and engage in a very genuine way; not arrogant and very much interested in connecting and learning. Her mission was clear: stop the cycle of relapse and self-destruction with proactive therapeutic case management and provide supportive services to the family, friends and colleagues. Unlike others in the field her modus operandi was not to make money off the backs of those in crisis but to provide solutions and save families from the abyss of trying to ‘wing it’. Her motivation was deeply personal, a product of witnessing her brother struggle with this very cycle and a deep desire to disrupt this pattern and create an innovative approach to promoting sustained recovery. We both knew from our respective family experiences that money would never solve the problem but you could spend endless amounts of it trying and get the same results over and over. There had to be a better way. And so she built it.
Arden’s vision for OPG was to offer highly agile and responsive concierge case management and behavioral health navigation services that met each client’s unique set of circumstances. Central to the core mission of OPG was the preservation of family and of family assets which were collateral damage in the battle for sobriety. As a female CEO in the largely male-dominated treatment and recovery industry, she faced an uphill battle against those who said she could not be successful: she was not in recovery, she had not worked in the field and was basically an outsider. That did not deter her. She was extraordinarily strategic in building relationships both within the treatment and therapeutic communities as well as with wealth managers, legal professionals and those who would want high-touch, discreet services. She spoke at conferences, met with treatment providers, would meet with others in her field to learn as much as possible and see where the gaps existed.
Equally impressive was her ability to secure funding to build OPG. Women are statistically at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to securing financial backing but her benefactor saw the potential and believed in her. That in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. Since that first meeting, I have watched Arden build a deliberate and highly nimble firm that consistently delivers what it promises. She is shrewd but never arrogant and never forgets the ‘why’ behind the work, which is why nearly 10 years later, she is one of the few who is still in business, growing, innovating and having a significant impact.
What Arden has created and continues to build is a testimony to the power of women with vision, perseverance and pure guts. What makes it all come together is a very special blend of intellect, compassion and never losing sight of the why and her unbreakable bond of love for her brother.
Margaret is an executive and professional development coach at O’Connor Professional Group. For more than 25 years Margaret has provided executive search, coaching, performance leadership and development services to professionals at every level and phase of their careers, including individuals. Previously, she founded and led one of the leading financial services executive search firms working with global investment banks, hedge funds, private equity and boutique firms.