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“Ideas are worth nothing until you get them out of your head and into the real world.”–CEO Q&A: DC Cahalane, Republic of Work

By Business & Finance
11 July 2018
DC Cahalane, Republic of Work.

In our next CEO Q&A, DC Cahalane of Republic of Work speaks about recruiting people with the right attitude and giving them freedom to do their best work.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

Like most CEOs my role is mainly focussed in two areas; firstly, managing the ongoing growth and forward planning of the business and planning for the future and secondly, helping our team here at a high level by doing everything I can to remove any obstacles that are impeding their progress. Our General Manager, Frank Brennan, manages all day-to-day operations of the business so I do my best to avoid micromanaging the team here and focus instead on where I can add the most value.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

When we deal with overseas companies, like the many great multinationals based here in the Cork region, they have an innate understanding of the value of what goes on here at Republic of Work in terms of innovation. For native Irish companies, it can be a bit of a harder sell–Irish SMEs and Corporates aren’t focused on innovation in the same way, a lot of it is very new to them. That situation is changing rapidly though because of Brexit and global markets becoming more and more available to Irish companies.

Another challenge for me is making sure that I’m laser focused. We work in a very exciting space where there are exciting things happening every day. I need to be exceptionally careful not to get dragged into day-to-day activity, which is thankfully, expertly handled by the team here.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

We are very lucky to have an incredible team at Republic of Work. As the first dedicated innovation campus of its kind in Ireland it wasn’t like we could go out and recruit talent from other competing businesses. In many cases, we had to focus very much on finding the people with the right attitude. We look for people with a very entrepreneurial way of thinking and then give them a huge amount of freedom in how their work is done. Our people are very invested in the success of the business.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

As an industry, I think the challenge is always going to be one of timing. Companies usually don’t start thinking about innovation and business change until some outside circumstance catches up and threatens their existing business. We need to be better as an industry in terms of getting our potential customer base to understand the value of ongoing, collaborative innovation programs can have in solving business challenges and creating opportunities. Companies should always be innovating, it should be part of their day to day processes so that they are always one step ahead of their competition.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Cross Company Collaboration is the big one. Businesses of all kind benefit from working in a collaborative environment. Interacting with other businesses can teach you a lot about your own business, as well as creating multiple business opportunities from access to new networks of people and potential business partners.

For the same reason, Innovation Pollenisation, where you take elements from other industries into your own innovation projects, is becoming a critical consideration for businesses. It is no longer good enough to just look at Innovation in terms of ideas that you can acquire and implement from within your own industry sector. Areas like customer support and customer experience are now judged very harshly by consumers independent of industry.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

As a relatively new sector, I think we are going to see a huge number of tremendous changes over the next few years which is very exciting.

I think more three-way collaboration between companies, third level research institutions and spaces like ourselves can only be beneficial for all involved.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

We have been very lucky with our own hiring but we see a lot of our members struggling to hire. Data driven roles like data analysts and data scientists used to be something that were key hires for technology- and scientific-led companies, but now the use of big data is working its way into every industry and every job. If I had to single one gap out, companies seem to be struggling to hire the sort of data-driven marketers and sales people that are now badly needed to drive forward company growth, compared to the traditional skill sets in marketing in sales.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

We happen to be one of the very few businesses that Brexit benefits in many ways as companies face up to the challenge of the unknown. We are dealing with several enquiries from companies looking to set up new bases outside the UK that let them access European markets, Cork is an ideal, cost-effective location for them to locate.

A lot of Irish companies are taking the challenge of Brexit as an opportunity to take a long, hard look at their business and overhaul their processes so that works well for us and the services we provide. We are constantly tapping our international connections and network to find new opportunities for our members.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

The success of Republic of Work is so closely tied to the success of our members that it is very hard to separate. We love to see our member companies grow and expand, launch new products, open overseas offices and generally succeed.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

The market is the market. Often people get over-excited about an idea they have and how successful it could be. Sadly, just because an idea is great doesn’t mean that it’s going to be successful – the market gets to decide that. Ideas are worth nothing until you get them out of your head and into the real world so you can see how customers, markets etc. react to them and whether the market is primed and ready for the change that you’re trying to introduce.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Celebrating our first anniversary this April was a big step forward for us obviously. The recent visit of the Chinese Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Yue Xiaoyong, to Republic of Work was another highlight for me, having visited Shanghai at the end of last year and seen the amazing innovation projects going on there.

Q. What’s next for your company?

The rest of 2018 is a very busy time for us.

I think 2018/2019 will be big years for Republic of Work.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We have a few new services and products to launch this year, as well as some new physical facilities for members to open. Our Cork campus is where the majority of our growth and activity will always be located but we are looking into expansion, both nationally and internationally.

Sadly, just because an idea is great doesn’t mean that it’s going to be successful – the market gets to decide that.