Irish Director – Homeward Bound

UK Election May Be Our Cue To Consider EU Exit
April 12, 2015

Dragon Flyer

Known in Ireland as an investor on the RTE TV series Dragons' Den, Peter Casey is currently phasing out his day-to-day involvement in his company Claddagh Resources and plans to enter Irish politics, writes Sorcha Corcoran.

Derry-born Peter Casey is basing himself in Ireland after 30 years of operating businesses in the US and Australia, although he doesn't see it as 'coming back' as he has been travelling to Ireland at least once a month for quite a while.

Known to the general public here as an investor on the RTE TV series Dragons' Den, he is currently phasing out his day-to-day involvement in Claddagh Resources, the executive search company officially opened by Mary Harney 15 years ago in Co Donegal, although he will continue to be Executive Chairman.

"One of the challenges facing every small business owner is thinking that it won't survive without you. I tried to set up the company so that it is not dependent on 'Peter Casey'. The management team both in Ireland and North America are very strong, having worked alongside me for 12 years. Some of our employees have worked with Claddagh for 20 year. Over a period of time, I will be less and less involved on a day-to-day basis." he says.

Still headquartered in Lisfannon, Co. Donegal, Claddagh Resources also has a US headquarters in Norcross, Georgia and operates in five continents. It has delivered executive search and recruiting outsourcing solutions to many Fortune 100 companies, including Coca-Cola, SAP, Oracle, IBM and EY.

Casey has been living in Atlanta, Georgia since the mid-1990s and in settling back into Ireland mainly because of 'the Mammy factor', he says "I only have one passport and am proud of it - although it is true that Ireland has a lot of advantages from a business point of view in terms of the regime, availability of graduates and the fact that it is a springboard into Europe."

He wants to enter Irish politics, as it is something he says he always wanted to do and feels strongly that there should be more input from business generally in terms of how the country is run.

"I think I have a lot to offer having dealt with international businesses for the past 30 years. I understand how to make hard decisions and solve problems and have a good understanding of the Irish position around the world," he explains - keeping quiet for the moment on whether he intends to join a political party or put himself forward as an independent candidate.

Having grown up in the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, Casey says he wasn't a very good student at school and got lessons to be a heavy goods vehicle driver "to do anything other than college".

His mother Patsy Casey who was a teacher persuaded him to do otherwise and he ended up studying economics and philosophy at Aston University, Birmingham. He was recently selected as one of its top 50 alumni and invited to give a talk on entrepreneurship to students to mark the university's 50th anniversary.

"Everybody needs to understand nowadays that you're more likely to get employed if you have certification in something that businesses need. You need to be in tune with what businesses are looking for. I never saw a businessman during my time in college come in and give a talk. At the beginning of my lecture I asked the 150 students to put their hands up if they'd like to run their own company - all of them did and at the end of the lecture there were 30 incubator businesses queuing to ask my advice." says Casey.

Claddagh Resources' origins date back to 1985 in Australia when Casey decided to go it alone aged 26 further to working for Xerox, rising through its European structure and being ranked in the top 5pc of sales people for the organisation in Australia.

"I called the company The Trinity Group as I wanted it to identify with the Irish business community in Australia. It did well and I sold it and wanted to set it up again in Atlanta, but realised I couldn't call it Trinity because this had a religious association for the people there, so I came up with the name Claddagh and set up operations there in 1996." he explains.

CEO Insight

Dealing with CEOs and finding them over the years has given him an insight that very few people get, he reflects.

"I have learned why it is that some CEOs become hugely successful very quickly and saw what they did right. This goes back to the early days when I was responsible for appointing an MD for Australia for Oracle."

"One of our largest clients, the Tata Group, completely changed its entire business model over a 10-year period. Tata Consulting Services was at the bottom of the consulting food chain and wanted to move all the way up. It was fascinating to watch how they went about executing the business model, part of which was to set up centres of excellence."

Tata Sons was founded in 1868 in India by Jamsetji Tata who Casey describes as his hero. He was the son of the first businessman in what was otherwise a family of Zoroastrian Parsi priests who had the vision of establishing a company that would exist to finance and initiate projects to improve the lives of the people of India.

Today the Tata Group employs nearly half a million people, and earns annual revenues of US$100bn. It reported a profit of US$6.23bn in 2011-12, and controls assets valued at US$77.7bn. Consisting of more than 130 companies, 32 of which are traded on stock exchanges, 65pc of Tata is owned by philanthropic trusts and the organisation is one of the biggest charities in the world.

Despite describing himself as an "unapologetic capitalist", Casey was so enamoured with what the Tata Group has achieved and its philanthropic ethos that he wrote a book about it, The World's Greatest Company, which was published last year.

Former SDLP leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient John Hume said of how the book: "Peter Casey's account of Tata provides a fascinating study of how a clear ethical code can ensure that business serves the needs of communities rather than communities serving the needs of business."

Tata's ethics have impacted Casey's own approach when it comes to 'giving back' as a business, "After 9/11, Claddagh was helping to support an orphanage in Africa for children with Aids when all our big clients stopped hiring. This was partly because they had all spent their money prior to Y2K and tech spending went on a three to four-year cycle. We started losing a lot of money and had to make significant cutbacks in the firm. My accountant said to me he assumed we wouldn't make a donation to the orphanage that year but I said we would.The following week we took on two major assignments."

Tata became a Claddagh Resources client in the 1990s, Casey recalls. "We were one of the largest recruiters for EY at the time placing partners all around the US and expanded this into Latin America, hiring over 300 people in Mexico. Then Gabriel Rozman told me he was stepping down as director of global strategic ventures and acquisitions at EY and was joining Tata as head of Latin America. He called on Claddagh to hire leaders for the India-based firm after that in Europe and North America."

With an office in Dublin, Tata is considering setting up a centre of excellence in Ireland focused on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), of which Casey is a passionate advocate.

"MOOCs are like the Wikipedia for education and will do for education accessibility what iTunes did for music. There is currently a five-year gap between what businesses need and universities delivers. Pioneered in Ireland, MOOCs are rapidly gaining popularity in the US and cover a massive range of topics that immediately address current urgent business needs, such as the latest in predictive analytics." he says.

Casey personally invited all the heads of universities in Ireland to an event in the Shelbourne in Dublin last October to allow the current Tata CEO Natarajan Chandrasekaran (Chandra) to present his vision for MOOCs here. "I believe this is an unmissable opportunity for Ireland to Lead the world in online learning." he contends.

Online Interview Ltd

Not willing to reveal specific financials about Claddagh Resources - except to say that he was able to put his five children through private school - Casey is setting up a spin-off now in Ireland called Online Interview Ltd, which is focused on a recorded interview video system.

"It allows companies to send video clips explaining about jobs on offer and for prospective candidates to go on-line and answer three or four questions on video and submit this. The technology was developed years ago but the files were huge"

"Innovators spend all their time and money educating a market, imitators nip in and take advantage and idiots jump in too late. I have been an innovator in the past and I lost a lot of money. This time I've decided to be an imitator by partnering with another company, RIVS LLC, to tap into the opportunity. We have exclusivity for the service in Ireland, the UK and India and it is already being used within Tata. Our plan is to expand it and target Fortune 100 companies."

The money that Casey lost was as a result in investing in the property market in Australia as well as a company called Sky Dome in 1993 which produced a tubular lighting product. "The product was hugely successful in Australia and we didn't have anything like it in Europe. It was very successful initially. We got the product manufactured in Ireland and England and assembled in Derry and distributed it to Australia and the US. But then we got hit by a cease-and-desist case."

This experience taught Casey one of the most important lessons of his career, he says. "A lot of businesses don't understand exposure to downsides. We got hit by a law suit and didn't have adequate insurance against it. When you go into an investment, it is not about the initial amount you put in, but when you get sucked into having to put more and more in you need to define what failure is - decide when the dog is not going to hunt."

"Everybody does wonderful projections for the years ahead, but don't say 'this is the line in the any when the business has to be buried if it hasn't achieved its targets'. I say to enterprises starting out that they should always define when they should pull out and always leave a bit of gas in the tank to start again. I didn't do that. I didn't go bankrupt but I did run up €75,000 in credit card bills. Fortunately I started Claddagh when I did and it turned profitable within six months. To understand your exposure to risk, you have to look at the worst case scenarios that could happen, double your cost base and half your revenues - and in the US take out legal insurance."

Casey has made a commitment to get more involved in mentoring this year, providing advice online and in other ways. He made eight investments in emerging companies while on Dragons' Den, four of which are "alive and well" and which he mentors. He gave one of them, David Monson, found of Monson Jewellery in Co Kerry, an extra investment afterwards as he sees him as "a young man trying really hard".

So after all of this business experience and looking ahead to a possible career in politics, what kind of leader would he say he is? Casey replies: "There are two types of leader in my view - autocratic and democratic - and I recently asked one of my team which one I was. He said the latter. When you own a company you have to make the decisions at the end of the day, but a good leader listens."