'I worked on building sites and got covered in dead rats - I was the lackey'

Big Red Cloud CEO Marc O’Dwyer also talks about a common work habit he’s tried to kick.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

MARC O’DWYER FOUNDED accountancy software firm Big Red Cloud 16 years ago after acquiring its predecessor Big Red Book.

The company specialises in providing payroll and accounts services to micro and SME businesses.

At the Business All-Star Awards earlier this year, Big Red Cloud picked up the gong for brand of the year while O’Dwyer was named chief executive of the year.

As part of our weekly question-and-answer series, we spoke to O’Dwyer about why poor listeners drive him mad, how he hires staff and learning to avoid nice-to-have businesses.

Here’s what he had to say:

What was your earliest or childhood ambition?

To be a vet. I loved animals and had every aspiration of being a vet, but life took hold and I ended up on a different path.

I keep a dog, although not as big a one as the dog I used to have, which was a German Shepard. My wife isn’t a big dog-lover, so we got a small one.

How would you describe your work/management style?

I’m focused and move at 110 km per hour. Basically, I’d say I’m pretty motivational while remaining relaxed. What I mean by relaxed is that I’m not over-attentive. I let people get on with their jobs and do what they’re meant to do.

I learned at a very early age in business, if you can’t do something, get somebody in who can do the job and let them get on with it. If they make mistakes, mistakes can be fixed.

marc o dwyer Marc O'Dwyer
Source: Microsoft Ireland/YouTube

What’s the worst job/task you’ve ever had to do?

I was working as a builder’s labourer back in the day when I was a student. I was given the task of pulling down ceilings in Georgian buildings up near the Mater Hospital.

I got covered in dead rats and dead pigeons while I was doing it. Being the lackey on the site, that’s the kind of jobs you used to get.

What do you find most irritating in other people?

People not listening and asking the same question about something that’s already been discussed. It drives me absolutely crazy. I understand if someone doesn’t understand something, that’s fine.

Even in a forum like a business meeting where somebody’s made a presentation and then they send me questions and somebody puts up their hands about something that’s been made clear in the presentation. Just listen to it, would you?

I’m probably not a good teacher. Maybe I’m moving 100km per hour and just don’t have the patience.

What has been your biggest mistake to date and what did you learn from it?

I invested in a sports business just before the recession. It was a nice-to-have business. When people had disposable income, it was grand, but when things got tight it didn’t work.

I guess what I learned from it was to stick to the knitting. Stick the business you know and stick to a business that is necessary irrespective of there being a recession.

What’s your favourite job interview question and why?

What can you bring to this company, why and how will you put it into use here?

Accounting software is not the most exciting thing in the world, but if people have some kind of quirk or angle that they have used in a different industry that might liven things up or help us engage more with our customers, it helps us as a customer-service business to give more back to our customers.

Do you think it’s OK to have a lunchtime drink when you’re meeting a client?

I’m not a drinker, but I wouldn’t be offended if the person I was meeting decided to have a drink.

I think we’re probably a little bit strict and strange in that sense in the Irish culture. I meet regularly with executives in Europe. A glass of wine or beer at lunch in Germany or Belgium is certainly completely acceptable.

I wouldn’t be adverse to it at all. If that’s what somebody feels comfortable with, then fine.

What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?

I wouldn’t mind a nice sports yacht. Or a Harley Davidson. One of those two things would be nice.

What bad work (or business) habit have you had to kick?

This might be contradictory to my management style… Basically, my door is always open. That’s good in one way and bad in another. If you’re in the middle of something and you’ve got an open-door policy, you can lose concentration.

I don’t like turning people away, but sometimes it takes me longer to complete tasks because my concentration has been knocked.

Who is your business hero?

All startups. I have a huge amount of respect for somebody who takes the plunge to set up their own business.

I think the guys that are in a paid, secure job and take the risk to do something on their own, they’re my heroes.

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