Philip Maguire is founder and chief executive of Dublin company IT Alliance Group. Established in 1997, IT Alliance provides IT outsourcing services and has a sister company, Auxilion, which provides support services to companies making the transition from on-site to cloud-based IT systems. IT Alliance employs 500 people in Ireland and Britain. It will shortly record revenues of €34 million for 2015, up 12 per cent on 2014.
Are you where you expected to be in your career?
As a teenager I was fascinated by Jacques Cousteau and wanted to be a marine biologist. However, my mother pointed out the cost implications of studying the relevant degree course in Galway (then UCG) and the limited career opportunities that existed globally.
Then there was the fact that there were perfectly fine third-level colleges in Dublin and with great opportunities. I was good at science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, so I opted to study electronic and electrical engineering at Dublin Institute of Technology.
At that stage, I did not intend to become an entrepreneur; I just wanted to be a good engineer. In that sense, I am ahead of where I expected to be. Mind you, Galway is a great party town, so who knows what I missed along the way.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to insist on regular financial reporting. You have to know your numbers on a monthly, even weekly basis in order to flag potential problems and keep on top of cash flow. The dot.com crash happened quickly, but because of our historic financials, we didn’t react quickly enough at the time. More immediate financial data meant we were much better placed to weather the economic crash in 2008 and we actually grew the business during the recession.
What was the best career advice you got along the way?
My first boss taught me the vital lesson that being a great salesperson is not about having the gift of the gab, but focusing fully on customer needs. This is an art in itself, as sometimes customers can’t identify, or won’t say, what they really want. Listen to the customer and remember that you have two ears and one mouth.
The second piece of sound advice came from a close friend, who advised me not to build a lifestyle company, but to focus on growth instead.
Based on your own experience, what are your top career tips?
Aim for experience, not money – and not just at the start of your career. When I left college, I took a job in a start-up. I had another offer for a public sector job, offering twice the pay, but I decided I could learn more with the start-up.
At 28, I took another salary cut to become managing director of an Irish subsidiary in Britain. When I came home, I worked for Digital Equipment on a no-foal, no-fee basis because of the experience I felt I could gain. This formed the basis of the foundation of IT Alliance Group.
It’s equally important to learn to become a problem-solver. Bosses and customers adore problem-solvers. Too many people rush into their boss saying they have a problem. If you can come in with suggested solutions, your rise up the career ladder is ensured.
How would you define your work style, and how has this evolved over the years?
My role is increasingly about providing leadership and direction for the group. This means constantly looking to the future to make sure that we differentiate ourselves. Like most CEOs, I can be dragged into day-to-day firefighting, but I need to discipline myself to keep my eye on the ball. This means making sure that we constantly evolve and change. Simply maintaining the status quo is not an option. It is essential to make time to think on a regular basis.
I also have multiple to-do lists in which I list the priorities across a range of headings, including strategy and direction, communicating this to make sure your people are with you, setting up the processes to implement it, and then making sure it all happens.
In terms of managing teams and individuals, what are your insights?
Empower: this means providing people with the opportunity to grow and develop within the company. If they have a good idea, then give them the responsibility to run with it. You may need, initially, to oversee what they are doing, but they’ve got to learn that they are responsible for delivery.
Praise: chief executives always have other things to do, but taking the time to lift the phone to congratulate someone on an award or a particularly good piece of work is an important part of managing a team.
What about communication and negotiating the typical ups and downs of working life?
The most important part of communications, whether with customers or staff members, is to listen. When I left college, I was terrified of making presentations. Now, a large part of my life is making presentations or pitching to customers, staff or investors. To deliver a good presentation, you must always start with the ears, not the mouth.
Has networking played an important part in your career?
I would not consider myself a natural networker. However, in some ways, this can be an advantage when you move into new markets like Britain. Then it’s a case not of who you know, but what you know.
If you had to choose another career tomorrow, what would it be and why?
Genetic and biomedical engineering are amongst the most exciting sectors today combining technology and leading research. They have massive potential, from feeding the world to ensuring that increased longevity does not come at the expensive of mental and physical health. They also lend themselves to new areas of opportunity for entrepreneurs.
Original Article – The Sunday Business Post