What are Ireland's entrepreneurs really like?

There is plenty to learn from those that have already walked the path.

By Liam McHale EY

WE ALL HAVE impressions about what the CEOs of successful companies are going to be like. You might expect someone with a big ego, pounding the boardroom table, demanding results at all costs. Thankfully the reality is often much different.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many of our island’s leading business people through the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year programme.

A couple of years ago, going into a room including hundreds of previous winners of the programme for the first time, which includes a few household names, was a tad daunting. I soon realised there was plenty to learn from them. 

Building resilience

Whether it is looking for funding or pitching for business, entrepreneurs are constantly getting knocked down but always pick themselves up and go again.

Many have faced financial ruin and come back from it. They are born problem solvers and always face a challenge head on.

As Mark Dowds of Trov says, “failure is the best form of feedback.” It is a brilliant perspective.

Be interested in what others have to say

Entrepreneurs by their nature are curious, and constantly asking questions. Regardless of how little you think your opinion will matter to someone who is leading a massive company, they are always asking and always listening.

Very few crack it on their first try. Nobody builds an empire alone and I am always struck by how much trust they place in their teams.

They’ve had the idea, they’ve put countless hours into building the company but they can’t be everywhere at once, looking at every detail and they realise that they need to empower the people around them to bring a company to the next level.

Don’t be in business just to get rich

Entrepreneurs are not just in business to get rich, you might probably rolling your eyes but it’s true. They thrive under the pressure of back-to-back meetings, constant travel and sleep deprivation.

It’s easy to say that you love your job so much you’d do it for free but the vast majority of entrepreneurs have put all their own money into their company.

Many of them have lost everything and picked themselves up many times. For them life isn’t about the big house, the cars of the flashy watches, it’s about a vision they have in their head about the legacy they want to leave.

Be generous with your time 

A lot of entrepreneurs realise that a rising tide raises all boats and I have found they are willing to take a phone call or meet for a coffee when I’m trying to tap them up for advice, regardless of how busy they are. 

This extends to things such as mentoring. Many of our EY Entrepreneur Of The Year alumni have volunteered to mentor Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI). Looking at someone like Anne Heraty is mind boggling, she has a family, runs a listed company, is chairperson of our judging panel and still finds the time to mentor people. 

It also extends to charity: In 2007, a group of our alumni led by Aldagh McDonogh, John Bowen, Michael Dawson and Michael Carey, formed the Soul of Haiti, which focused on empowering communities in Haiti through social entrepreneurship.

They applied their know-how and boundless energy and have made a lasting impact on a huge number of people in Haiti – but you won’t hear them shouting about it, they’re too busy rolling their sleeves up and getting stuck in.

There is no secret formula for success

We see an incredibly diverse range of characters that have gone through the programme. The one characteristic they all share is an incredible work ethic.

Someone like Pat McDonagh of Supermac’s is a great example of this. He has built his company to 116 restaurants, six hotels and a chain of motorway plazas. You don’t get there through luck, it’s through constant hard work.

Liam McHale works in corporate communications at EY and spends much spends much of his time working on EY Entrepreneur Of The Year

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