'People are fallible and it's important to generate a culture where they can understand that'

PhoneWatch boss Eoin Dunne talks level-headedness and a post-recession shock to the system.

By Zuzia Whelan Reporter, Fora

EVERY WEEK, FORA gets inside the heads of some of Ireland’s top entrepreneurs to gain insights into what got them to the top of their trade. This week we speak to Eoin Dunne, managing director of PhoneWatch.  

FOR THE HEAD of a security firm, Eoin Dunne is fairly relaxed when it comes to life’s pressures. 

The managing director of PhoneWatch joined the company about three decades ago and in that time has weathered the company’s sale from Eircom to Norwegian company Sector Alarm Corporation and the post-2008 recession after a decade of the Celtic Tiger. 

The company’s turnover last year was just over €45 million. It currently employs about 300 direct staff and another 100 contractors.  

For our weekly Tools of the Trade series, we spoke to Dunne about keeping a cool head and why every problem has a solution. 

What are the main principles that inform what you do?

Our basic purpose as a commercial entity is to provide customers with a service and service is a really important word here. Everything we do is informed by the fact that we understand that the customers are the revenue stream in this business. 

It’s a sort of religious-like focus on understanding that it is the customer that we’re here for in the first instance.

That’s a fairly liberating philosophy because it allows us to keep it simple when we have decisions to make and we have complex issues to address. We just say: ‘what’s in the best interest of the customer?’

What makes you feel under pressure and how do you deal with it?

I tend not to look at pressure as pressure, I look upon it as a situation that challenges either me or the people around me. 

I have a high degree of confidence and trust that with the people around me, we will collectively be able to address any issue and be able to meet any pressurised situation or challenge. 

I just try to look at any pressurised situation as a problem that needs solving or a challenge that needs to be overcome. 

It’s also important to understand that not everything works all the time. Not every problem has an immediate solution. Not everything you do is going to work. People are fallible and it’s important to generate a culture where people can understand that. 

What quality has helped you stand out?

I’m calm. I’m not given to extremes in anything I do and I will adopt the same transparency, regardless of who I’m dealing with. 

What differentiates your company from the competition?

We’ve been in this business for 30 years. PhoneWatch has not just been the market leader but has actually helped to develop the market for monitored home security in Ireland.  That has allowed us to gain a reputation and a scale. 

Where would you like to improve?

The world is changing. Technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) present a whole host of opportunities and challenges to us. What I’d like to do better is probably to be a little quicker to identify what is a threat and what is an opportunity. 

What has shaken your confidence and how did you get past it?

The crash in 2008 to 2010. I think pretty much everyone can say that after a decade of growth, that shook us as an organisation where we took a significant reduction in our customer volumes and our sales. That was a shock to the system. 

How we got past it was just by keeping a cool head, understanding what’s going on and making sure that we kept true to our values. 

How do you deal with stress?

I’m lucky to be possessed of a fairly level headed approach. I understand that things can go very well and things can go very badly. 

If I feel that I want to go out and get a breath of air, I do. I enjoy going to the gym, I go for a jog in the morning before I start and that helps me to collect my thoughts. I try to do something every day. 

How do you spot when something isn’t working? How long do you give it before changing?

I had an old boss that said to me that numbers are our friends. We’re quite an operational business. We don’t give it very long, we measure our progress and success on a 24-hour basis. Everything has a solution, it’s just a case of how long it takes to find it. 

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

On a personal level, I’ve got a family. I think that’s a pretty good achievement. From a career perspective, I joined Eircom back in the early 1990s. In the late 1990s, at a relatively young age, I was made marketing director within the organisation for the consumer market, which was at the time a fairly significant achievement. 

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What was a big turning point in your life?

The advent of family totally changes your perspective on life and grounds you in a way you couldn’t have ever imagined. Moving from being young and single to a scenario where you’re got responsibilities and other human beings that you have to look after, I think that was the key. 

What’s your main motivator?

Enjoying the challenges that life presents, big or small. Particularly from a business perspective. 

Aside from your own, what industry do you find most interesting and why?

The media. I think it’s kind of like another world.

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