Irish

Changing careers might not be as hard as you think

These days it’s more usual than it used to be to meet people who are onto their third or fourth career.  I can think of quite a few examples amongst my own group of friends and associates.  On Friday at the London IIBN conference I met Niall Quinn & then heard him talk about his own transition from footballer (Arsenal, Manchester City, Sunderland and of course the Republic of Ireland) to Sky Sports commentator to entrepreneur/businessman (when he led the buyout of Sunderland AFC by the Drumville consortium) and now executive Chairman of newco Q Sat, a rural broadband provider.

Any of you who know me will not be surprised to see there’s a photo involved – many thanks to Sinead Crowley of IIBN for snapping that one below!

Mary McKenna with Niall Quinn at the IIBN conference in London on 9 Nov 2012

Niall shared his brutally honest insights with us in his talk & I thought I would in turn share some of them with you.  He talked first about how he now views his former life as a footballer as quite a false existence.  He used to go training in the mornings & then come home & lie on the sofa.  His wife would bring him his meals & make sure the children left him alone.  When his first career came to an end he was quite depressed about it & drifted into a job at Sky Sports which although it paid the bills, didn’t really put fire in his belly.

Then he saw his old club Sunderland AFC in trouble, met with his former chairman & after talking to a few of his Irish contacts decided to lead the buyout & after a short (unsuccessful) spell as manager Niall moved into the Chairman’s seat.  Along the way he had to stop being a footballer and learn to be a business person.

He found he enjoyed the change and the new challenges and he began to take an interest in new technology.  This interest has culminated in Niall moving into a start up business as their executive Chairman.  He commented what a big difference it is between selling footballers for £50m & persuading someone to pay you £35 per month for broadband.  Q Sat has grown from 22 to 50 employees in the time he’s been there and they now have 11,000 customers (6,000 of those in rural Ireland) and are about to open an office in Nairobi.  It’s clear to see that Niall enjoys building relationships with partners and putting something back as well as building a successful and profitable business.  He talked a lot about the mentors he has learned from (in football and in business) and the way his company is seeking to build on the work that other Irish people have done before, especially in Africa.  One of the pieces of advice he offered to us was in business to keep some space aside to meet people, have conversations and network.  I’m a great believer in this approach too.

One of the funny stories he told us was about one of his friends Patrick M’Boma, a Cameroon striker and former teammate at Sunderland.  The two guys had clashed heads & both gone down.  Niall claims he knew his time playing at Sunderland was over when the physio ran onto the pitch & ran straight past him & over to Patrick.  For me thinking about this since, it seems that the life of a footballer is indeed different – as you’re either on the way up or you’re on the way down – the time at the top seems fleeting & hard to define.  Hopefully Niall doesn’t miss that aspect of his first career although I’m guessing the same boy has hung onto his competitive streak which will do him no harm.  I’m also guessing he’s enjoying being part of a team again as that team spirit is one of the most fun things about being in a small, growing company.  He said that one of the odd things about being a footballer is that although you play in a team, you still hope you are the best in the team – something that doesn’t really come up in a business because everyone has their own defined role to play as part of the overall team success.

He finished by saying that looking back he wonders now how much further ahead he would be in business if he’d quit football 10 years earlier.  We have a rule Niall – no regrets.  It’s the experiences you have along the way that makes you the person you are – and if you meddle with the order then who knows where we’d all end up.  Good luck with career number 4.

So – some people change career because they have to & some because they want to.  Whatever your reason get on, grasp the nettle and don’t be afraid to ask your network for help and advice.  Great speaker, great conference and thank you to all at IIBN for making it a lot easier for the Irish diaspora to do business outside of Ireland.  Please share your career change stories in the comments below – you know I love to read them.

 

Some thoughts from Rosaleen Blair – entrepreneur, Dubliner and superwoman

Rosaleen Blair

Great female role model Rosaleen Blair speaking at an IIBN London event

As I’m sure the whole world is by now aware, I’m coming to the end of my first week living back in London.  Everyone I’ve met this past week or asked for help has been extremely welcoming and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to a few really useful networking events.  Best of all, however, from the perspective of a newly arrived Irish entrepreneur in London has been the Irish International Business Network or IIBN as it’s known.  The link is here for anyone that would like to know more or find out how to join http://www.iibn.com/london/

I’m lucky enough to have been introduced to the original Wild Irish Guy himself, Damon Oldcorn, and it seems that once you know Damon, you don’t really need to know anyone else.  I’ve always found this to be a good strategy.  Bryan Keating was the first business person I met in Northern Ireland, he’s the exact same and it’s never done me any harm.

Thursday night’s IIBN event started with drinks & chat and it was very easy to circulate and get talking to a few people as everyone’s very friendly and open.  Everyone has an Irish connection even though many, like me, don’t have an Irish accent.  Don’t let that fool you! – they all know their Leitrims from their Letterkennys and their Dungloes from their Dingles.  Our diaspora is a beautiful thing.  There were bankers, recruiters, reps from private equity houses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, investors and no doubt many more besides.  If you’re Irish, in business and in London you need to join IIBN.

As part of the evening, our speaker was the charming and self-effacing Rosaleen Blair.  Rosaleen is one of those women who have achieved a helluva lot but doesn’t go around shouting that from the rooftops.  She just gets on with things.  Most of all, I liked the way she described the values her company operates by and I liked her statement of the 3 things she demands from people in her team and recruits against.  I’ve used these a few times already in conversation with others I’ve met this week but having chatted with Rosaleen on the evening, I don’t think she’ll mind.  They are as follows:

·         Trust – the members of a team have to really trust one another; of course this takes a bit of time

·         Collaboration – people need to be able & willing to work on projects with each other and to work hard to make that collaboration work

·         Sharing – Rosaleen hates it when people hold back knowledge & refuse to share it with other members of the team

I also loved what she said about encouraging a culture of “intrapreneurship” within your own organisation as a way of motivating and retaining the people in your team.  If anyone’s unsure what that means, it’s about encouraging positive aspects of entrepreneurial behaviour but within a large organisation.  It’s something we always tried to do at Learning Pool.

Rosaleen told us her story about how she arrived in London from Dublin in the 1990s, not knowing a soul but with a background in recruitment and having run a few small businesses in Ireland, believing herself to be fairly unemployable.  She went to work at Alexander Mann and over the course of time, persuaded her employer to allow her to try something new to fill a gap in the market and co-create adjacent services with clients (the first one being ICL/Fujitsu).  As it happened, she, working along with James Caan, became one of the early pioneers of what these days is known as RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) and the rest is history.  In 2007, Rosaleen led her team through a £100m management buyout with the backing of private equity house Graphite Capital.  These days her company Alexander Mann Solutions employs 2,000 people working in 70 geographies and 42 languages.

Rosaleen also gave us some priceless bits of advice which I hope she won’t mind me passing on here to others:

·         When looking at which private equity house to go with, do some research and talk to some of the companies your main players have divested themselves of

·         As CEO, always keep your bank manager close & don’t give them any surprises; don’t pass that bank relationship off to someone else in your team

·         If your company is going to be working in some way with a private equity house, get yourself a CFO that has previously worked with a PE house, a CFO coming from a big corporate background won’t have the right sort of experience

·         Trust your own instincts and that of your team every day of the week over the advice given to you by external “experts”

Thanks Rosaleen, thanks IIBN and hello London!

 

Irish – it’s not a dead language after all…

Liv_with_medal

Here’s a photo of my talented god-daughter Olivia with the medal she won a couple of weeks back for second place in the Irish poetry recitation at the Feis.  Well done Olivia!  You really are a superstar.  67 children entered this year – and as the poem was the same for all – and as most of their parents probably don’t even speak Irish themselves (according to Wikipedia, about 10% of the Northern Irish population has “some knowledge of Irish”), it must have been a bit of a trial for the audience to endure. 

However, as we all know – and Olivia certainly – the pursuit of a medal is a worthwhile sport and you just have to do whatever you need to in order to get into the final 3!

Irish received official recognition in Northern Ireland for the first time in 1998 as a result of the Good Friday Agreement and these days about 4,000 kids start to learn every year as they go to secondary school.  Where I live in Northern Ireland, there’s a rich wealth of Irish culture to embrace – so perhaps it isn’t a dying language after all…