You began your career with Failte Ireland and then moved on to Forfás, before becoming CEO of IDA Ireland in 2014 - has your career evolved as you had anticipated at the outset?
There was never a grand plan. My career path wasn’t “over-engineered”. I started in the private sector in hospitality and tourism, then moved from Failte Ireland to Forfás and on to IDA. For me, it has been about doing the best job you can do in whatever role you hold at the time and, as opportunities arise, making sure you are in a position to avail of those opportunities.
I would imagine that your role involves a great deal of variety - do you have an "average" week? How does your working day generally pan out?
There is no such thing as an average week for the CEO of IDA Ireland. My weeks tend to be very long. I spend a lot of time travelling abroad. I can spend up to two weeks of any given month outside the country, and indeed travelling around Ireland.
The day job involves meeting with clients, prospective investors and the media, both national and international, to promote Ireland. I have the privilege of leading a fantastic team of more than 300 people in 22 countries.
In my work, I have the opportunity to meet with very senior business leaders around the world. I have met a lot of political leaders and I have the pleasure of interacting with some of the most sophisticated companies in the world on a daily basis. There is never a dull moment at IDA Ireland. There is never a day that doesn’t throw up something new and interesting.
Before taking over at the IDA helm, you became CEO of Forfas after just over five years with the organisation - an impressive trajectory. In terms of career planning, work-style or philosophy, to what do you attribute your success?
I think, as is the case for all people, it’s a combination of hard work and luck. I have been in the right place at the right time on a number of occasions. Becoming CEO of Forfás, I think, came down to my academic background in education and skills and my labour market expertise at the time.
It was probably the right mix for the challenges we were facing in 2010, when I took on that role, which had a policy remit and was very focused on how we would drive job creation in the context of recession and very high unemployment.
What do you see as your proudest achievements as CEO of IDA Ireland?
I am proud of what the IDA Ireland team has delivered over the past three to four years. The fact that our results have been so consistently strong is a credit to the team. It is their delivery that has led to the results we have achieved, including reaching an overall job creation target, which we set in 2015, two years ahead. Obviously, there is a lot still to do. We never rest on our laurels here. Every day presents a new challenge and I’m sure our best achievements are yet to come.
What are the foremost economic/business trends driving IDA policy currently - what is the agency's strategy for 2018?
The international environment at the moment is extraordinarily fluid. We have had Brexit alongside the change of administration in the US and the new policies that has brought. We see developments in Europe in terms of new policies being promulgated.
However, the core of our business remains the same. It continues to be about attracting investment into Ireland. Ireland remains extraordinarily competitive internationally and even more so given the country’s relative stability from a policy perspective relative to some of the locations we are competing with.
Again, we have to be conscious of the downside and risks. We have to ensure that Ireland is being as competitive as we can be, as we see other countries up their game. We will continue to focus on the key sectors we have been focused on, which includes technology, business services, pharm, biopharma, international financial services, engineering and food. We are certainly very cognisant of changing technological trends.
I mentioned AI and Robotics already as being two of the technologies that we see having an impact on some of the sectors we support. We need to get ahead of those trends and make sure that some of the activities that happen in developing AI and Robotics happen in Ireland, as well as other technological trends, like Cloud, Social, Mobile and Data Analytics, all of which are having an impact on different sectors.
IDA Ireland announced last month that we will move into some new markets in 2018. We will open a new office in Canada this year. We will also invest in resources in the UAE, Turkey and South Africa. We will be putting pathfinders on the ground to test the markets to gauge the level of interest in Ireland as an investment location. That is in addition to the 22 offices we have already, which in some cases, service multiple countries. We have very ambitious targets in our overall strategy and a key element of that, from an IDA perspective, is ensuring that we get investment into regional locations. That continues to be a key focal point.