Category Archives: Network

From Graduation to Innovation – Interview with Trinity Start-Up Covid Interns

Trinity Global Business graduates Rob Muldowney and Paddy Ryder experienced the all too familiar story of having their graduation plans unexpectedly dismantled by the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Except, their story stands out – Rob and Paddy adapted and identified an opportunity to use global chaos to launch a successful business  – Covid Interns. With support from Trinity Business school the entrepreneurs hit the ground running. Here Rob tells us how.

What does Covid Interns do? “It offers an array of opportunities for third-level students to work with SMEs.” Rob and Paddy are uniquely positioned to understand the flexible employment needs of students. Their business offers three types of placements – “projects, part time roles and full time roles”. Rob provides the example of a student working part time in the hospitality business. Covid Interns can connect their third-level skills and learning to the admin side of the industry, for instance to run a social media platform. This provides the foundations to gain practical experience in their chosen field and helps build the CV. Covid Interns is epitomising the redefinition of business purpose captured by leading Oxford University Professor Colin Mayer at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, in terms of businesses now producing profitable solutions to the problems of people rather than profiting from the problems they create. To date, Covid interns has supported in excess of 180 businesses and placed over 200 candidates with experience from New York to Singapore from more than 40 leading universities including the University of Cambridge, Science Po and Imperial College London to name but a few.

With “first-hand knowledge of the anxiety and stress students face when sourcing internship opportunities”, their idea hatched from “the beast of a strategic management module assignment.” Rob and Paddy agreed that the pandemic was ripe with opportunity for innovation as the “SME market was hugely overlooked and underserved”. The outcome would provide a win-win scenario for students and SMEs as an industry that was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. While students bring fresh skills and talent to the table, SMEs provide practical experience and bespoke learning opportunities.

Envisioning the future of Covid Interns in a post pandemic world, Rob affirms that their business is here to say, albeit with the baptism of a new business name on the horizon. There “will always be a market for flexible opportunities” and gusto from students for seizing them.  Next, I asked Rob how can a student apply to Covid Interns.  It is as easy as going directly onto their website and completing the student friendly application form. You can also stay up to date with Covid Interns via their active social media domains – Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook. With four strategic additions to the team Covid Interns is constantly growing, and with links to global platforms such as the Irish International Business Network it is only going to grow faster.

Entrepreneurship comes with a host of challenges, especially in a global pandemic. Rob identifies the biggest challenge facing students as “trying to start a business from the four walls of your  bedroom.” In absence of the possibility of “face to face interactions it can difficult to build relationships and collegiality with business teams.” Rob suggests three key strategic moves students pursuing an entrepreneurial position during the pandemic can make. Start with “identifying products and services that can stand the test of time”. The benefit of launching a start-up in a pandemic is that you can clearly spot gaps in the consumer market and successfully fill them. Next, Rob maintains that “ a feel good story” can act as a springboard to capture positive press and people’s imaginations, simultaneously helping to grow a loyal consumer base.  Lastly “although Covid can mess up plans” as the saying goes every cloud…

1 Continent, 1 Billion+ People, Endless Opportunities – Maeve Rafferty, International Development in Africa Specialist

Think about the t-shirt you are wearing. Who sew it? What are their working conditions like? Where they paid a fair wage? The rhetoric of a global village means the habits of consumers of the Global North have wide-ranging ramifications, stretching from the factory floor to the price of your t-shirt on the high-street. However, student decisions as ethical industry leaders of tomorrow can break ground in new markets while leaving a positive footprint. As global business interest in Africa flourishes, I recently interviewed Maeve Rafferty, a Trinity College Business, Economics and Social Studies alumnus with a passion for international development, innovation, and identifying opportunities for entrepreneurship in the emerging African markets. She spotlights Africa’s underestimated potential as a market for innovation, investment, and social entrepreneurship for enterprising students. Maeve also discusses the interaction between social entrepreneurship and positive societal development.

Market Opportunities
As an MSc in Africa and International Development at the University of Edinburgh candidate, Maeve has extensive insight and practical experience in understanding how globalisation interlocks with policy, practice, and business strategy. Acknowledging the market reluctances on part of buyers and suppliers in the West towards doing business with companies in Africa, Maeve highlights two reasons driving opportunities in these markets for forward looking student entrepreneurs. Firstly, delineating the economic shift that is under way in the continent Maeve draws
parallels with development challenges experienced in the 1960’s Asian markets which turned into a rapid growth period for the Four Asian Tigers- Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea. Where is next? Maeve suggests “Africa, as it is far too big of a global player to ignore.” According to a recent United Nations Forecasts, the continent is expected to double its population by 2050, from 1 billion to nearly 2.4 billion inhabitants. The implications of this growth present high long-term rewards for entrepreneurs who unleash Africa’s strategic position and potential.

Trends indicate rising incomes across the continent presenting an “attractive market” for those who identify gaps in the consumer market and seize the opportunity before competitors do. Secondly, innovation is needed where there is a lack of infrastructure. According to Maeve “Africa presents underexploited potential for sustainable industrialisation and innovation.” A 2016 report by Afrobarometer indicated that only 63% of the African population has access to piped water, and half the population live in areas without paved roads. It is important to bridge the distorted historical perception gap of Africa as a disconnected continent, 93% of the population has access to mobile networks. This reflects a continent of innovators and digital adopters. Developing sustainable infrastructure is an important step towards increasing productivity and competitiveness.

Social Entrepreneurship
Social entrepreneurship can create value in societies while also assisting their development. This is particularly pertinent in “lower or middle income countries which have less employment provided by the public sector, making the private sector a crucial employer.” For example, 3% of Tanzania’s employment is in the public sector. The remaining 97% presents opportunities in the private sector for social entrepreneurs seeking to create benefits which can improve “living conditions, and ensure people can live a dignified and secure life”. The wider knock on effects of entrepreneurship enables society to benefit from “more expenditure and higher demand for consumer goods which increases the ability for to create the supply to meet consumer demands”.

What can students do to drive social entrepreneurship? From Maeve’s experience in the education sphere, she suggests that students are already empowered to know that “decoupling needs to occur”. We need to decouple the idea that in order to have “economic growth there also has to be negative ramifications for the environment
and wider society.” Maeve views students as “ethical industry leaders of tomorrow, if they acknowledge and work towards ensuring the organisations they lead are conscientious in how their decisions are made, they have the power to contribute to sustainable development or hinder it.” The challenge of the COVID-19 lockdown presents opportunities for students to “reflect on society’s needs and meet consumer demand.” Maeve sees the student generation as social innovators, intuitively possessing skills that organisations are now acquiring, she recommends “reaching out to these global players and applying those skills positively to have a powerful impact” not just locally, but globally.

“Be Brave, Be Bold and Take Risks” – Kate Simpson, President of the Irish Chamber of Commerce Singapore

‘Be brave, be bold and take risks’

Meet the Corporate Globetrotter, Kate Simpson, President of the Irish Chambers of Commerce Singapore speaks about the strategies students need to succeed in the global business playing field.

Grappling with virtual networking, applying for internships and preparing for dream job interviews in an increasingly competitive environment, students and graduates alike can feel overwhelmed by the pressure of the hunt. I recently interviewed Ms. Kate Simpson, to discuss a range of issues pertinent to students, including insights from her journey to corporate success, her thoughts on how students can utilise their professional connections and prospects, as well as the importance of achieving gender equality and greater diversity in the corporate world.

Kate graduated from University College Dublin in 2008 with a Bachelor of Commerce in International Commerce with Italian. Attributing her adventurous nature to her Erasmus year spent in Università Boconni, Milan, Kate went on to achieve a CEMS (Community of European Management School) Master’s degree from UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School in International Management and HEC Paris.

Graduating at the onset of the global financial crisis, Kate faced a challenging employment climate where “jobs were few on the ground”, exacerbated by a fragile economy similar to the pandora’s box 2020 has unleashed on “Covid graduates”. Before the pandemic shook the world and rocked the global economy, students expected to graduate into a landscape of fruitful employment opportunities and promising prospects. The hiring field has drastically changed.  However, as the world gains understanding into emerging economic trends, Kate remains optimistic for the prospects 2021 will offer graduates.

Drawn to Singapore as a fast paced city and global financial hub, Kate and her husband relocated there in 2014 from Paris. With an Irish diaspora of approximately five thousand people, Kate describes how the Irish community has been supporting each other on a commercial as well as a personal level throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

As an investment banker at J.P. Morgan Singapore, Kate’s role focuses on new markets and product access of derivative products in the Asia-Pacific region. Kate became the President of the Irish Chambers of Commerce Singapore in September 2020 having served as Vice President since 2017. The organisation aims to create networks and connections of business leaders and, support Irish companies and professionals seeking exposure and launching into the South East Asia region. From a practical perspective, companies that would have traditionally visited Singapore to scope out a market or business opportunity are currently unable to do so given travel restrictions. This is where the Irish Chamber of Commerce Singapore steps in to be the sounding board for prospective companies who wish to expand their business East. 

The Global Irish – Insights for Students Planning to Emigrate

Kate invited me to join the Chambers of Commerce first virtual event, “An Evening with An Taoiseach” which she hosted. The event was truly international with opening words from the Irish Ambassador to Singapore His Excellency Pat Bourne, alongside ambassadors representing APAC countries and guests from every corner of the globe. Discussion revolved around the gateway the Irish Diaspora Strategy 2020-2025 offers to expand cultural innovation as well as foster dynamic commercial relationships for Irish entrepreneurs and businesses abroad.

Expanding the cohort of the Irish diaspora, driving growth, and promoting international networks, the strategy is ground breaking for both students and graduates. Embracing a vision that reflects the flexibility and adaptability of the Irish abroad, students planning ventures overseas can be assured that they will be supported by the Emerald isle.

Key to Success

Persistence, drive and vision are key components to success. I asked Kate what she did differently to excel in the corporate sector. Kate pin points her success to “remaining humble and hungry combined with a little luck”. She advises students not to be “deterred by rejection in the context of a job or internship interview since a greater opportunity is always around the corner”.

The job market in 2021 is going to be more competitive than ever before so positioning is key. Going into an interview “up to speed on the latest news pertaining to that company, being ready with meaningful questions and sending a follow up note after the interview will help you stand out”. Trusting your gut feeling, taking opportunities as they come, and maintaining a “say yes” frame of mind are inroads to success. 

Integral to success is the ability to network effectively. According to Kate the best place for students to start is “joining a University society that reflects a keen interest and passion”. This provides you with the opportunity to meet friends outside of your course and also adds another “feather to your hat” when interviewing for roles.

Diversity and Inclusion

How does the financial services sector fare when it comes to gender equality? According to a 2019 Deloitte report the proportion of women in leadership roles within financial services firms stands at 21.9%. In order to stop the permeation of gender related roadblocks in the financial industry some firms have taken strides to empower, encourage and energize women to progress in the corporate sector.

As co-chair of JP Morgan’s Women on the Move Initiative Kate is committed towards ensuring both men and women receive equal opportunities and career advice. Kate hosts a range of events for women to advance in the business world ranging from “coaching, presentation and technical skills and financial education with a role on financial independence”. Her motto is “you can’t be what you can’t see,” it is imperative for a firm to have both gender diversity in a management team as well as cultural diversity where everyone can voice their opinions openly.  

Graduate careers are affected by a firms commitment to gender equality and diversity in more ways than one. A diverse company will attract the most talented graduates and often “forms a priority for millennials selecting a job”. Kate views company culture as crucial in “promoting and valuing diverse teams,” it is well known that a diverse workforce leads to smarter, stronger and innovative decisions, “contributing positively to financial performance”. Diversity makes sense both socially and commercially. Graduates are central players in accelerating positive change by forcing companies to refocus and rethink their inclusion and diversity policies. Embrace the opportunity to “ask about your perspective firm’s diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives”.

Making a Positive First Impression in the Corporate World

A flawless application, a distinct LinkedIn profile and a bulletproof CV undoubtedly  plagues the conversation of students as the season of internship applications approaches. Reminiscing on her first-hand experience as a marketing intern at the New York Stock Exchange Euronext’s European headquarters in Paris, Kate elucidates how this sowed the seeds to securing a full time contract with the company for six years. Kate prospered in an environment where she was “thrown in the deep end” and faced the challenge of conducting business through French head on. Describing the cultural difference alongside the initiative linguistic challenges, Kate embraced the experience as a “firm believer in what doesn’t kill you makes your stronger”. One of the key lessons from Kate’s experience in Paris was to be empathetic when people are studying or working in a second language.

Those fortunate enough to secure an internship often mention how a coffee meet up with a senior member of a firm sets the tone of the much anticipated agenda. I asked Kate her opinion on how students can develop a relationship beyond a “one-off coffee”- here’s what you can do. According to Kate “first impressions count”. It is important to make a lasting impact on a prospective employer. Kate advises to “think big and beyond the scope of your internship.” Finding common ground is essential, it is human nature to connect through shared passions and experiences. Asking “questions about the long term strategy of the company, challenges ahead and always sending a thank you note can go a long way in ensuring [a partner] remembers you and demonstrates a genuine appreciation for their time and advice”.

Students working as interns or graduates entering the corporate world aim to portray an image that is confident, intelligible and driven. To reflect these traits Kate recommends to start by “removing these words from your vocabulary”. The first word is “sorry” – a series of studies found that women apologise more than men. Over apologising can have a negative effect on your career by “undercutting professionalism” and “diminishing credibility”. Next, eliminate the words “just” , “like” and “think,” using phrases such as “I just want to ask” or “I think” implies a “degree of doubt” and has the potential to create a “weak impression of yourself where there need not be”. You can replace these words with “I suggest,” which reflects confidence and authority. Establishing credibility and professionalism from the outset of your career is an invaluable asset.

“Be brave, be bold and take risks” is the advice Kate advocates to aspiring business leaders reading this article. Living in the “digital age anything is possible,” Kate encourages students to connect with a strong sponsor to share ideas and confide in – a process which can be an invaluable “two-way learning curve”.  There is a large difference between a mentor and a sponsor, you need both according to Kate. A sponsor will be someone who has clout and vouches for you when you are not in the room, while a mentor can provide guidance and support through their career path.

Simultaneously, Kate points to the trend of employers researching candidates to screen CVs, being social media savvy is more important than ever, as future employers can obtain their “first digital impression” of employment candidates with just one click. She advises to be cautious with what you post online as it will be picked up as part of the initial CV screening process.  Post graduating, keep connected with your local alumni association,  this also provides an opportunity to give back to the current student base in the form of speaking at career meetings or mentorship. Kate maintains that Ireland has an incredible education system that allows us to work globally. 

Message from Kate –

If you are reading this and are based in Singapore or are considering a move, please feel free to reach out to the Irish Chamber of Commerce Singapore to help you hit the ground running – https://www.irishchamber.com.sg/

Interview with Mr. Conor O’Kelly – CEO of the NTMA

By Victoria O’Connor

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the global community on the broadest of spectrums. One area that has increasingly been overlooked is the impact the crisis is having on student entrepreneurs, their motivations to launch businesses and their ability to establish new enterprises. I recently interviewed Mr. Conor O’Kelly to discuss how new and evolving hurdles have challenged youth-led enterprises as they learn to sink or swim.

Conor, a proud Trinity alumni, is the Chief Executive of the National Treasury Management Agency. He has an extensive range of experience ranging from former Chairman of Investec Holdings (Ireland) Ltd to Chief Executive of NCB Group. He is also a former director of the Irish Stock Exchange. Conor studied ESS (today’s BESS) in Trinity. During his college years, Conor embraced student life representing Trinity in both rugby and golf, two passions which he still holds today. He graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1982 and the first student to be awarded a prestigious scholarship to Senshu University in Tokyo, Japan, where he completed a master’s degree.

The outbreak of COVID-19 is having a profound impact on the global economy, commercial markets and consumer behaviour. I asked Conor his thoughts on the repercussions of lockdowns and if we’re moving towards a society where the average consumer will no longer shop on the high street. He sees the issue as two fold, firstly, the pandemic’s role in shifting consumer behaviour and secondly, the trends that are developing from the global remote working experience.

It is important for young entrepreneurs to separate and identify the short-term repercussions of the pandemic from the permanent trends that are materialising. Businesses are either on the “right side or wrong side of the digital divide”. Conor sees the challenge for businesses as keeping up with the acceleration of the market shift from “bricks” to “clicks”.  As the pandemic unfolds, existing trends in the market have been accelerated dramatically, Conor describes it as “time traveling forward to 2030”.  Young entrepreneurs must respond and be experimental and innovative in not only with what their enterprise can offer the consumer but also how they can connect, engage and sustain a customer base.

Shifts in Consumer Spending and Attitudes

The pandemic is changing city centres around the world in irreversible ways. The global “working-from-home experiment” has meant consumer spending has shifted from city centres to local communities. City centre businesses whose success is based on a commuter workforce are going to be adversely impacted by this crisis. One strategy for centrally located enterprises is to focus less on their traditional presence and increase efforts towards driving consumers towards their online channels.

Young entrepreneurs aspiring to operate in retail outlets, must take steps to build consumer trust by adapting to the new health and safety expectations in the community. It is both a responsibility as well as an opportunity for business owners to provide a “safe environment” where consumers are comfortable with the risk, thereby encouraging shoppers to return. Conor opines that emerging technology is likely to be a prominent method in which business owners can confidently deliver on this. Scientists at Oxford University have developed a COVID-19 test that can produce a result in less than 5 minutes. While logistically implementing this at scale may be difficult, it demonstrates the potential for businesses to establish COVID-free spaces.

Opportunities and Challenges Facing Young Entrepreneurs

As the pandemic increasingly pushes consumers towards the world of e-commerce, Conor considers this as a golden opportunity for young entrepreneurs to maximize the opportunity presented by changing consumer behaviours.  A report by Digital Business Ireland found that 74 per cent of shoppers surveyed have been put off by the queues, capacity limits and social distancing requirements in stores. Most young entrepreneurs form the large part of the digital generation, Conor sees them as possessing an “intuitive sense” of how to understand the online spending pattern and behaviours of today’s consumer.

Overall, the pandemic has had a tremendously adverse impact on SME’s who face a unique and difficult challenge for survival. In spite of the turbulence caused by the crisis, a number of companies have improvised, adapted and thrived. Conor provides insight into the ways in which student enterprises can mirror the resilience and success of global companies – “if a business has a good product, they will be able to access distribution channels and will be encouraged to do so”.  Amazons “shop local scheme” is just one example of a global platform opening up access to local businesses.

Reimagining Business – The Role of Technology

Young entrepreneurs must seek opportunity for reinvention and differentiation in times of market disruption. Zoom, an app that was available 9 years ago and largely unknown, has emerged as one of the leading platforms for businesses to ensure their teams can function and communicate effectively and is now worth approximately €25bn.

Encouraging consumers to adopt new products is one of the most challenging obstacles for new businesses to overcome according to Conor. The world has experienced a simultaneous collective grief like no other, and consumer behaviour has changed as a result of it.  We’re living through “seismic societal change “, and the opportunities are endless for the entrepreneurs who successfully identify opportunities and react to consumer demands and expectations living in the “new normal”.

Technology is playing a key role in reducing barriers to business entry for young entrepreneurs launching businesses, it opens a window towards perpetual innovation. Before the internet, start-ups faced costly processes of finding and operating a premise, ordering stock and paying for licenses etc. Now, with an ability to eliminate the majority of traditional overhead costs, online opportunities are increasingly available and more accessible than ever.

Risks Facing Young Entrepreneurs

The short-comings of e-commerce are exposing the difficulties many entrepreneurs face in connecting emotionally with their consumer base to establish loyalty. One recommendation Conor offers is for young entrepreneurs to enhance, augment and personalize the online shopping experience for their consumers.

Providing consumers with an enriched experience by connecting with them is likely to establish both brand loyalty and brand awareness, these can be developed as competitive tools for new and adapting enterprises.

Creativity, imagination and innovative marketing ideas can be driving factors that enable organisations to connect with their target market, and are crucial constituents for young entrepreneurs in 2020.  In the dawn of the internet, any brand can instantly become a viral sensation or a viral nightmare. Companies must prioritise developing and protecting their online reputation as the image of an enterprise is more pertinent than ever before. Citing being on the “wrong side” of a sustainability issue or exercising “greenwashing” as examples,  Conor explains how reputational risk can threaten the survival of the business itself. With a global audience comes a global risk. Money talks, but it’s the consumer who decides where that money goes. In an increasingly cashless society,  a transaction is only a click away with the consumer in ultimate control – that’s a powerful concept at scale.

Advice

Most young entrepreneurs with innovative business concepts face obstacles without the benefit of having a lived experience. Against the backdrop of the current pandemic, youth-led enterprises should adapt and find experience and partners that can help. Conor advises them to take advantage of opportunities to learn from others, whether it’s through a mentor, alumni or listening to podcasts from industry leaders. The perspective and insight of others added to the imagination and creativity of student entrepreneurs is a powerful combination.

Interview with Liam Booth – President of Trinity Business Alumni

I sat down recently with Liam Booth, Managing Director of Investec Ireland’s Corporate Finance Advisory Business and President of the Trinity Business Alumni to ask him about his career, Investec, the corporate finance industry and what advice he would give to students.

Liam attended Trinity from 1978 to 1982 before graduating with a Bachelor of Business Studies. He went on to have a very successful career working for a number of different companies before securing a job at NCB Group. NCB Group was acquired by Investec in 2012 and it was then that Liam became Managing Director of this company here in Ireland where he remains today.

Q1. What did you study in College?

I did Business Studies in Trinity, which was ESS at the time. I graduated with a Bachelor of Business Studies in 1982.

Q2. What did you then go on to do after college?

After college I went and entered the Chartered Accountants programme and worked with Coopers and Lybrand (now PwC).

Q3. Could you outline what you do here at the corporate finance side of Investec Ireland?

I head up the corporate finance business here at Investec and we’re essentially M&A and equity capital markets advisors. The world of M&A advice revolves around advising, either on the sale of Irish businesses or working with our corporate clients and acquiring other businesses. There’s the two terms sell side and buy side which tend to be how we look at it from an M&A point of view. Our business probably has good mix of sell side and buy side mandates and working with companies on transactions that range from deals of €30 million, coming up into the hundreds of millions.

Then on the fund raising / equity capital market side. We work on fundraising both for private companies as well as for public companies. The public side of that can involve IPOs, which we have done with companies like the Irish Residential REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) and also follow on offerings in the market. So it’s the blend of both of those activities from a corporate finance point of view, both M&A and fund raising.

Q4. Was the Irish REIT IPO a recent occurrence?

IRES, as we as we refer to it, had its IPO in April 2014 and we did a follow on fundraising of €130 million in June for Irish Residential REIT which it’s the third substantial fundraising . IRES has been a great Irish success story for investors and the REIT property sector.

Q5. What would your job as Managing Director of Investec Corporate Finance Ireland entail on a day-to-day basis?

The good thing about the world of corporate finance is that no two days are the same. Typically it can involve sitting down and meeting with the rest of the team, talking about the pipeline of activity that we have going on in terms of the slate of transactions, how we are resourcing those transactions, how we are engaging with clients, what our go-to market strategy is on live transactions, that is generating interest and positioning companies who are looking to sell or indeed how we are researching buy side opportunities.

In terms of the internal side of it, it involves a lot of interaction and collaboration with the rest of the team here. We have a team of 15 professionals and there is both a formality and an informality to those meetings. We operate in an open plan area so there is a lot of interaction on a day-to-day basis between us.

More and more of my time is outward-looking. This involves meeting with existing clients and also then looking to see where we can originate new business. Typically, this involves pitching new ideas to companies, some of which you may know and have met before and others where you’re literally going and saying “This is who we are, this is what Investec Corporate Finance have been doing over a long time in the Irish market, here’s a really good, interesting and relevant idea for your business and this is why you should work with us on that”. So there is a fair bit of my time that goes into new business origination. This means that most days involve varying degrees of client engagement and prospecting as well as working on business planning internally.

Q6. Would you say that your work on new business origination coincides with your long-term responsibilities as Managing Director?

Yes, if you think about the nature of any M&A transaction from start to finish it can take anything from six to nine months. Occasionally you do get shorter deals but given the world that we operate in now where there is increased regulation and complexity, deals generally do take from the start to finish about six to nine months. So, whilst it’s good that you are busy and active on current deals, you’ve also always got to be thinking about how you’re filling the pipeline for the next wave of transactions, so there is medium and long-term planning that goes into that.

As well as this we must try and identify where there are the next attractive areas of opportunity. As we all know in business, certain sectors can be particularly hot and interesting for a period of time and others can become less interesting. So at times you’re just looking to see where those deep pockets of opportunity are going to lie. In an Irish context there are sectors such as technology and food that are constant and then there’s others that have become more interesting from a deal point of view, particularly the whole areas of energy and health care. So to some degree you’re just trying to anticipate where those opportunities are going to be and that’s where some of the medium and long-term planning comes into it.

Q7. You formally worked as a Director at NCB Group before it was taken over in 2012 by Investec, what effect did this have for the company?

We enjoyed good success in running NCB as an independent small Irish investment bank as it were from 2003 when we bought the business in a management buyout from Ulster Bank. Even though we had built up a very successful business, we had to face into the enormous challenges of the global financial crisis in 2008. So from then through 2010, there was some very tough decisions to make around the business but we were fortunate that we went into the crisis in good financial shape and we were able to withstand it. But we realised that survival wasn’t enough as we had seen how as a relatively small financial services business you are subject to the vagaries of substantial macro trends so we decided that it was probably right to look at a new home for the business with a bigger international partner. We were fortunate to come together with Investec and agree the deal in late 2011. It got approved in 2012 and that’s been really good for the business and the business has gone on to prosper under Investec ownership.

Q8. Was there an effect for you personally of this change? Did you move positions due to this take over?

Yes and no, I continued to do what I was doing to a large extent. At NCB I was both a head of Corporate Finance, an executive director of the business and also a shareholder in the business. Now at Investec I am still the head of corporate finance and also an executive director of Investec Ireland. The main difference now is being part now part of a large international bank and making that international network relevant for our Irish clients.

Q9. Gift Voucher Shop, the company that operates the One4all gift card scheme was sold to Blackhawk Network in a deal worth roughly €100 million. Investec advised An Post on this sale but what exactly is involved in a project like this?

The origins of our involvement with Gift Voucher Shop was through An Post who would be a longstanding client of ours that we’ve done a lot of work for. Gift Voucher Shop, although it was majority owned by An Post, a substantial portion of the equity was owned by the management team led by Michael Dawson and some other private shareholders. In the first instance, although An Post introduced us to the opportunity, we had to meet with Michael and his team and persuade them that Investec were the right people to hire.

Michael is a hugely successful entrepreneur and has built up that business from scratch with the support of An Post, so from that point on it was a matter of looking to identify who we considered would be the best buyers for the business. In that regard we looked at two potential pools of buyers. The first we certainly looked at the leading trade players in the gift card and digital card space. We also looked at the private equity firms that are active in fintech who would have had an interest in it. We went after both of those potential pools of buyers and Blackhawk emerged after a number of months as being clearly the best buyer for the business. Given their international footprint they had the most to gain from the acquisition of GVS and so were in a position in a sense to pay that strategic premium that was attractive to An Post, and to Michael and the team.

Q10. What would you see as the biggest threats and opportunities for Investec Ireland at the moment?

Of course, the Brexit threat that we’re all growing quite weary of. The reality of it is from the Investec Ireland point of view we’ve had to make some substantial changes in our business on account of Brexit. Thankfully we have made those changes and we are now in the best place to deal with whatever form and shape that Brexit may take. Aside from that, the main issue for any Irish financial services businesses comes down to the strength of the Irish economy. We are roughly 5 million or so people, we are a small country and so we’re constrained by the opportunities that are largely here. The main concerns revolve around the strength of the Irish economy, which thankfully, notwithstanding the threats of Brexit, has been remarkably robust and hopefully can remain that way for some time.

On the other hand, the opportunities we have to address as a result of that is looking to see where we can develop and generate more business internationally and not to be overly dependent on the local market.

Q11. What are Investec’s plans for the future here in Ireland? What are your long-term goals?

We decided as part of our strategic planning to exit our wealth management business, which we’ve recently sold to Brewin Dolphin. We had a really fantastic wealth management business, but it’s an industry that requires scale, so you’re either going to be the consolidator and getting much bigger in that area or you take advantage of the opportunity there is to realise substantial value. We went down that latter course, but that means for the remaining businesses, the opportunity now focuses even more on growing our corporate finance business, our treasury business, looking at further opportunities in private banking.

I think in large part we can continue to look at gaining more market share in Ireland in all those areas which is good in itself.

However, we are also looking to see where we can look at doing more international business in particular in Europe maybe post Brexit or indeed depending on how things shake out in the UK there could be opportunities to do more business in the UK. There could be opportunities also maybe to partner with other institutions that are looking to deal with someone who has the fully Brexit approved platform to transact in Europe. There are obviously a lot of US companies and institutions looking at Ireland now as a hub or base rather than the UK.  

Q12. Would you be looking to work more with companies in Europe in the future?

We definitely are. We have done deals in Europe before. Recently this year we did a deal in Europe with one of our main clients, ATA Engineering which is a hugely successful Cavan based engineering company. We worked with them on an acquisition of a German company. Through collaboration with both the international network that Investec has and then some other partnership relationships that we have in Europe, we are looking to use that international network to generate opportunities, be it in Europe or indeed as we’ve successfully done that using the Investec network in terms of finding opportunities with South African businesses. We have had two substantial deals here in Ireland with South African businesses, the first was Spar South Africa who bought BWG Group which is the Spar franchise owner here in Ireland and then Bidvest bought Noonan Services. So that’s part of not just looking at the set of opportunities that are here within the Irish economy but looking further afield and using international networks to see where opportunities for either those companies to buy and invest into Ireland or vice versa for we can facilitate our clients in doing deals internationally.

Q13. What does the Trinity Business Alumni involve?

The TBA is first and foremost a network for graduates of Trinity who are involved in business, they don’t have to be a business graduate like you and I, but any graduate of Trinity involved in business. The idea of the network, as with most networks, is that it can have both a business and social purpose. You can use that network for your career, for your business, for finding a financial partner and or for finding other entirely new business opportunities. It also does afford a social dimension to it in terms of keeping in touch with people that you were either in college with or developing other relationships. So, there is that network side of it but I think the other interesting aspects of it are for those of us who have warm memories of our time in Trinity, it’s a way of remaining connected with Trinity.

In this regard, I think an increasingly interesting area is the opportunities for continuing education. For people who left Trinity like me in the early 1980s it’s a bit ridiculous that was the last point of contact with Trinity from an education point of view. Now the business school has a tremendous range of executive education modules. I know one of the things that Dean of the Trinity Business School, Andrew Burke is keen to do is facilitate members of the TBA being able to access those modules. That doesn’t mean going into an MBA for a year or two years, it could be much shorter courses and just increase the relevance of Trinity from a continuous education point of view.

Q14. What does your role of the President of the Trinity Business Alumni involve?

The role of the President is to help promote and make a number of these previously mentioned things happen. The main role I believe is to try and increase the relevance of TBA through the series of events and activities that we run. We do this to make sure that we remain relevant to the network of business graduates and look to foster that network as best we can. Throughout the year we look to run a series of what we consider to be interesting events such dinners or master classes. We have a master class coming up in November on artificial intelligence that one of our corporate partners Deloitte have arranged. Alongside that we also look to support the student activities in the college if they are business related such as Foresight Business Group, the SMF and sponsoring the business student of the year. Through that we’re hoping to get the next wave of business graduates signing up to become members of the TBA.

Q15. How did you become the President of this group?

I was involved with the TBA about 15 years ago where I was the treasurer on the committee for a good period of years. After that I stepped back from a direct committee involvement. Both NCB and Investec have been corporate sponsors so there has been an ongoing involvement at that level. I was privileged that the committee through that involvement over the years asked if I would be open to take up the presidency which I was delighted to do.

Q16. You have changed companies on multiple occasions and have progressed your career whilst doing so, what advice would you have for young people entering the professional world that are looking to make the most of their careers?

Yes, I have had a number of career changes along the way, less as I’ve gotten older with the last seven years here now with Investec and at least the same with NCB. Before that I was certainly open to a degree of career exploration, of not feeling tied to a straight-line career. I was looking to explore different aspects in terms of either working in professional services, working in a startup, being involved in an Irish technology company, being involved in a company that listed on NASDAQ. I suppose it was a sense of willing to explore as I said and look at new challenges and opportunities. Some of these I would have to say worked out great and others quite frankly didn’t. But when you’re young and have both equal amounts of ambition and resilience I think the one thing I’d say is just don’t be afraid to pursue those opportunities and be prepared to take a certain risk and if it doesn’t work out you can dust yourself down and find another opportunity. I think that’s a great way of accumulating experience and ultimately develop your career. It’s about building that experience and learning and also developing that resilience along the way which is a great attribute to have.

Q17. What was it that made you want to go into corporate finance? Did you always have an interest in it?

When I was in Trinity doing Bess (ESS) I liked finance and corporate finance and I certainly had an interest in accounting for my three and a half years studying to be an accountant. I had a fantastic time at Coopers and Lybrand or PwC as it is now but I quickly realised that I didn’t want to be involved with auditing and around that time there was the emergence of more public company activity in Ireland in the mid-1980s. I was very attracted to the profile that Dermot Desmond built up in establishing NCB. I wrote a letter to Dermot saying that I’d love to go work for NCB. I was then fortunate enough to get an interview and a job in NCB Corporate Finance, so yes it was always an area that I wanted to get into. As I said my career has moved around a little bit and if you go back to NCB my career spans over thirty years. Of that time frame I spent about twenty four years in corporate finance and the other years have been in business. I think the effects of having had spent time in the business side of it, in both a startup and in a public company which are two different extremes, is that it does give you slightly better empathy as an advisor. You understand what it’s like to be at the sharp end of raising money or doing deals and pressures that that involves. So yes, it was right from the get-go an area that I wanted to get into corporate finance and I’m delighted that I did.

Q18. Do you see this industry as an attractive industry to work in right now, especially for students leaving college?

Yes, I think it is. It doesn’t have to be necessarily a career long vocation. I have seen over the years that we’ve attracted a lot of wonderful talent into the business and a good number of those individuals have worked for us for years and obtained some great experience working on a wide variety of transactions, exposed to a wide variety of sectors, different people, different personalities and they then have leveraged that to move into industry. Quite a number of them have gone into corporate development roles where they act as the internal M&A advisor with a large company and others have gone into the world of private equity which is an increasingly big area of opportunity in Ireland. By all means it can be a great career as I’ve enjoyed or it can be the springboard to do a number of other roles in business or financial services.

Q19. Are there graduate or internship opportunities at the Investec offices here in Dublin at the moment?

We have for the last five years taken on into our corporate finance team at least one if not two graduates each year and we tend to do that in six month cycles. We have been delighted with the talent that’s in the market and I’m glad to say that our most recent hire has come from Trinity, but we are broad church, and we have recruited graduates from UCD, UCC and Queens as well. We ourselves have got better in terms of being able to best assimilate graduates into the team. Graduate talent can be great but equally raw so we just have to find the best way to upskill new recruits and that’s generally best done through on the job mentoring by more senior members of the team. 

Q20. Are there things that you now know that you wish you knew when you were younger/ in college? What would you go back and tell yourself?

Opportunities come with the possibility of risk and reward so don’t get overly seduced with the potential of massive rewards but equally don’t be afraid of the downside of risks that go with it. In looking at those situations I think it’s useful to have some form of mentor, an experienced businessperson that you can turn to and say “This is how I’m looking at this opportunity, what do you think”. To  have someone that you have a trustworthy relationship is very valuable, whether it’s a family friend, relative, someone you’ve got to know in business, in college or through the TBA. That way you have a reliable sounding board when you’re faced with a situation and you don’t have all the answers.

Q21. What societies were you involved in at trinity during your time there?

Apart from the rugby club I was involved with DUBES for a while (Dublin University Business and Economics Society). Back then the societies weren’t as developed or evolved as they are now. DUBES were good in terms of organising a number of business breakfasts but I think the good thing now is that there’s a lot more involved student societies such as the SMF, Foresight and the initiative that has been taken in establishing the Trinity Business Review which is great.

Q22. Do you think being involved in societies in college is important in terms of gaining relevant experience before entering the workplace?

The more practice you get at being involved in anything that just takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to go into a room to network with other people is a really good thing. No matter how young or old you are, there’s just are countless times you’re going to have to do that. Developing skills and just being comfortable in those environments and understanding how best to conduct yourself from an interpersonal point of view are the habits you want to learn early as it will be really worthwhile.  

Q23. What have you learned during your career about managing people and what advice would you give to students looking to become managers themselves in the future?

For anyone who assumes that responsibility there’s a lot of learning that is best done on the job. I think an important thing is not to pretend to be someone that you’re not. It is important to be open and authentic with people. Nothing beats developing the ability of being able to be part of a team and not being afraid to take on more responsibility. In terms of managing people I would recommend involving them in the whole process and giving them ownership of what that process is, what the objectives are, as this makes it easier to manage people. If you sit down and look to keep it all to yourself and then try to dictate and tell people “This is how it’s going to be done”, that doesn’t generally lead to very good outcomes. I think for students getting exposure to teamwork is very important, be that within Societies or where you are working on projects in college. It’s also great if you can assume a leadership role to get that added exposure and learning so as to become comfortable in assuming more responsibility. We are in a world where you deal with a lot of different personalities and there’s no such thing as the secret sauce but it is hard to beat practical experience.

Q24. Is there anything that stands out for you in an interviewee?

Just doing an internship in a firm so that you can put a certain brand name on your CV isn’t in my view the best use of someone’s time. For example, amongst a number of candidates we were recently reviewing was a candidate who stood out to me because they were running their own business through college. It was a proper business with real customers and some heavy service demands to make sure that the business performed. He kept that business going and when he wasn’t around he outsourced it to his friends to ensure it kept going. The point here is that such a real world experience is very important when it comes to interviewing for a job because being able to show to your perspective employer that you have good interpersonal skills, can work in a team, that you could deal with potentially difficult situations, that you’re used to negotiating over the price of things as opposed to sitting in a large professional services firm doing an internship where you may get some learning but it may not really challenge you in the ways you should be. So, I think it’s looking for those type of real world opportunities and then at an interview being able to talk about in a manner that brings your personality to life.

Q25. Is there something that you’re most proud of during your career?

I think it’s certainly important that we all have a degree of humility so equally well I can remember lots of things that I wish hadn’t happened! I wouldn’t look to call out any single deal but one thing I am proud of is how we in NCB built up a superb corporate finance business and how we have successfully transitioned that franchise into Investec and continue today to be highly relevant as one of the leading players in corporate finance in Ireland. I think that is certainly is something that I’m proud of. I am equally proud of the people have been part of that journey along the way. It is certainly fulfilling when you see how their careers have developed and prospered, in some cases they have gone on to become clients of ours and that is particularly gratifying.

Q26. How do you deal with failures?

It’s can be a feature within the world of corporate finance where you’re not always going to win every mandate! Then when it comes to deals themselves, sometimes the best advice you can give to a client is to say “maintain your discipline and don’t chase the deal”. You have to tell them not to do something even if it means we’ll be disappointed that the deal hasn’t happened. The important thing in any of this is looking to do that post match analysis. You need to analyse what happened, how did it happen, what more could we have done to influence the outcome and some cases you’ll say to yourself that we did what we could. Then in others you might say we could have done more and should have done more. You need to learn from these situations and it is as simple as that. It’s something that we do here. That post match analysis is very important.