Here is a guest post from Mary McKenna founder of LearningPool on her recent move from Northern Ireland to London and the welcome she has received. Mary and I met for the first time at my business club at 8, Northumberland Ave - 200 yds from Nelson’s Column. A place that seems to be gaining ground as an economic West End base to work from, if you want to connect to the London start up world and the Irish business network in London. IIBN will be hosting their usual new and prospective member informal drinks there on the night of the 23rd of Feb – all with an Irish connection welcome. (If from the start up world and not Irish, I am always glad to connect with you at the Club – just get in touch) Over to Mary…..
As I’m sure the whole world is by now aware, I’m coming to the end of my first week living back in London. Everyone I’ve met this past week or asked for help has been extremely welcoming and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to a few really useful networking events. Best of all, however, from the perspective of a newly arrived Irish entrepreneur in London has been the Irish International Business Network or IIBN as it’s known. The link is here for anyone that would like to know more or find out how to join http://www.iibn.com/london I’m lucky enough to have been introduced to the original WildIrishGuy himself, Damon Oldcorn, and it seems that once you know Damon, you don’t really need to know anyone else. I’ve always found this to be a good strategy. Bryan Keating was the first business person I met in Northern Ireland, he’s the exact same and it’s never done me any harm.
Thursday night’s IIBN event started with drinks & chat and it was very easy to circulate and get talking to a few people as everyone’s very friendly and open. Everyone has an Irish connection even though many, like me, don’t have an Irish accent. Don’t let that fool you! – they all know their Leitrims from their Letterkennys and their Dungloes from their Dingles. Our diaspora is a beautiful thing. There were bankers, recruiters, reps from private equity houses, lawyers, entrepreneurs, investors and no doubt many more besides. If you’re Irish, in business and in London you need to join IIBN. As part of the evening, our speaker was the charming and self-effacing Rosaleen Blair (pictured). Rosaleen is one of those women who have achieved a helluva lot but doesn’t go around shouting that from the rooftops. She just gets on with things. Most of all, I liked the way she described the values her company operates by and I liked her statement of the 3 things she demands from people in her team and recruits against. I’ve used these a few times already in conversation with others I’ve met this week but having chatted with Rosaleen on the evening, I don’t think she’ll mind. They are as follows:
- Trust – the members of a team have to really trust one another; of course this takes a bit of time
- Collaboration – people need to be able & willing to work on projects with each other and to work hard to make that collaboration work
- Sharing – Rosaleen hates it when people hold back knowledge & refuse to share it with other members of the team
I also loved what she said about encouraging a culture of “intrapreneurship” within your own organisation as a way of motivating and retaining the people in your team. If anyone’s unsure what that means, it’s about encouraging positive aspects of entrepreneurial behaviour but within a large organisation. It’s something we’ve always tried to do at Learning Pool. Rosaleen told us her story about how she arrived in London from Dublin in the 1990s, not knowing a soul but with a background in recruitment and having run a few small businesses in Ireland, believing herself to be fairly unemployable. She went to work at Alexander Mann Solutions and over the course of time, persuaded her employer to allow her to try something new to fill a gap in the market and co-create adjacent services with clients (the first one being ICL/Fujitsu). As it happened, she, working along with James Caan, became one of the early pioneers of what these days is known as RPO (Recruitment Process Outsourcing) and the rest is history. In 2007, Rosaleen led her team through a £100m management buyout with the backing of private equity house Graphite Capital. These days her company Alexander Mann Solutions employs 2,000 people working in 70 geographies and 42 languages.
Rosaleen also gave us some priceless bits of advice which I hope she won’t mind me passing on here to others:
- When looking at which private equity house to go with, do some research and talk to some of the companies your main players have divested themselves of
- As CEO, always keep your bank manager close & don’t give them any surprises; don’t pass that bank relationship off to someone else in your team
- If your company is going to be working in some way with a private equity house, get yourself a CFO that has previously worked with a PE house, a CFO coming from a big corporate background won’t have the right sort of experience
- Trust your own instincts and that of your team every day of the week over the advice given to you by external “experts”
Thanks Rosaleen, thanks IIBN and hello London!