'We often say in this business that feedback is the breakfast of champions'

Tools of the Trade: Entrepreneur and radio host Karl Fitzpatrick on vision and motor shows.

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 Karl Fitzpatrick, MD of Chevron Training and Recruitment and CEO of Eduplay.

Karl Fitzpatrick is methodical – and sometimes that can frustrate those who work with him.

But the entrepreneur is confident that his system works and it  has helped him to juggle being CEO of franchise company Eduplay and MD of Chevron training and recruitment – and hosting a business radio show. He’s also an avid motorsports fan, concert goer and meditates daily. 

Chevron was set up in 2005 and Fitzpatrick joined two years later. The company employs 56 people directly and had a turnover of €3.6 million last year.

We spoke to Fitzpatrick for our weekly Tools of the Trade series about being visionary and why he enjoys cruise holidays. 

Are you a specialist or a generalist?

I’m definitely a generalist. As an entrepreneur, I’m always seeking out the next opportunity. I’m a firm believer that my skills are transferable across industries and sectors.

We’ve adapted the business into training in different sectors across the country over the past 10 years. I’ve also diversified the business, while it started as a training business we also expanded into recruitment.

Since then we’ve also diversified into franchising and in 2015 we brought a master franchise for a Lego education concept into Ireland called Bricks4kidz.

What’s the most important part of your daily routine?

Creating a priority-based to-do list. That keeps me very focused on the business and the most important tasks to be completed. and makes sure that I maximise my value to the businesses that I’m involved in.

It prevents me from getting sidetracked and getting involved in areas that I’m adding little value to – and it helps me manage my time over the day as well.

How do you judge success?

The most important asset to me and my businesses is my staff. Keeping them happy and making sure that they’re satisfied is of paramount importance. If I can keep my employees satisfied and happy, they do a good job and will have their heart and their head in the business.

The second area is measuring my clients’ success. We do that in a number of ways including monthly surveys, course evaluations, post-course completion. We often say in this business that feedback is the breakfast of champions.  The more feedback that we can get from clients, the more we know what to focus on and improve on.

The third metric is growth. This year we’ve achieved 31% growth across the business. That’s phenomenal.

Finally, the real acid test is the profitability of the business. That allows us to invest in the business.

What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?

My involvement both directly and indirectly in job creation. Through Chevron Training and Recruitment we employ 56 full-time staff. We also employ another 20 through the franchise-based businesses.

Indirectly, if you look at the impact I’ve had on the wider landscape of our franchise partners, I’ve been involved in indirectly creating over 200 jobs in Ireland. That’s something I’m truly proud of. 

What ambitions do you still have?

We have transformed Chevron over the past five years from being purely a further education training business to also be a dominant player in the higher education space. 

We have invested heavily in developing new higher education, online programs in those sectors over the last number of years. They’ve proven to be very successful.

We will continue on that trajectory and continue to add new higher education programs to our portfolio over the coming years. Also, we want to continually invest in the franchising phase of the business – we’re currently assessing a cosmetic surgery franchise.

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

At the moment, I am in the third year of completing a law degree by night. The legal sector has interested me for years, I think it’s really relevant to business. 

If I was starting from scratch today and I wasn’t involved in franchising, or recruitment or training, it’s the legal world that I’d be looking at spending my time in. 

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

I’m very fortunate. I’m not somebody that reacts to situations.  I’m not somebody that needs to make immediate decisions.

When a problem or an issue comes to me, the first thing I’ll do is write it down. Then I’ll understand exactly the root cause of the problem. The third thing I’ll do is collect all of the available information accessible to me.

I will then speak to experts, speak to people within my organisation and, if needs be, speak to people outside the organization to make sure that I can get the best possible advice. I will look at the entire range of options that are available to me. 

Sometimes that can frustrate people that work with me because it’s quite a methodical approach. But it’s something that has worked very, very well for me over the years and served the business very well.

What quality has helped you stand out?

I’ve taken a global perspective on business, not just a local one. I’m always seeking opportunity. 

I take time out of the business every year to travel and attend trade shows and conferences of a global nature. I’m open-minded in terms of the concept, the industry and the sector that I’m looking at. I’m somebody that believes that the real magic is when you step out of your comfort zone.

Where would you like to improve?

I’m excited by the big picture and the big opportunity. Once I identify the opportunity I like to hand it over to somebody else to take the reins and run with it. 

That’s something I’d like to improve on, to have the patience and discipline to be able to get more involved in the day to day element of it. 

What past business decision would you change?

About 10 years ago I attended a franchise show in the UK and identified at the time that there was an emerging trend in home care franchises. The UK market was a number of years ahead of the Irish market at that time and there were very few operators, especially under franchising, in the Irish market at the time. 

It was an area that I had an interest in, but it’s not an area that I decided to invest in. As I look back now, it’s something I should have invested in at the time. It’s too late in my opinion to do it now. The market is well catered for at this stage. 

Certainly 10 years ago, it would have been ripe for me to bring a franchise concept in and to grow it out across the country. If I had done so, I think it would have been very successful.

What helps you switch off?

I like to travel, especially cruise holidays. When you’re out at sea, there is no mobile phone reception. As a consequence, you move away from the business and having a telephone ringing into your ear all day every day. That’s one of the great things I find with a cruise holiday. You don’t have that intrusion in your life. 

From a day to day perspective I’m a firm believer in mindfulness and taking 15 minutes out of the day to do some meditation. That’s something I always start my day with. 

I’m a big lover of cars. I often go to car rallies, motor shows, Grand Prix and Formula One events and things like that. Also, I’m an avid concert-goer and love comedy gigs. I think they’re a great stress relief to the stress of everyday business.

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