“Be kind. Life is more enjoyable that way.” – CEO Q&A with Jonathan Grey of Ovation Incentives

By Business & Finance
23 November 2023
A photo of CEO Jonathan Grey of Ovation Incentives and and Managing Director of OptionsCard focused on customer gifting
Pictured: Jonathan Grey, CEO of Ovation Incentives and Managing Director of

Jonathan Grey is CEO of Ovation Incentives and Managing Director of Ovation Incentives is a technology-focused performance improvement agency which specialises in HR and channel sales environments.

In October 2023 Jonathan launched OptionsCard, a multi-brand gift card specifically focused on the Irish business and consumer gifting market. is owned and operated by Ovation Incentives Ireland Ltd and is a 100% Irish-owned business.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My priority is to ensure that we make the right investment decisions. Each year at Ovation Incentives we get together as a team, review our market, our position within it and set our growth path for the next 2-4 years. This year the goal has been to successfully launch, our digital new gift card venture in Ireland, while at the same time ensuring that our existing business remains strong and continues to grow.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

I think the biggest challenge is to maintain our ambition as a business while at the same time not overextending ourselves with that ambition. It’s quite a balancing act to sustain a constant investment cycle in technology and services for our clients so that we remain at the top of our game, and at the same time not place too much pressure on the resources available to the business.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated? 

I’m very lucky that I’ve got such a great team with me, who have been with me for a long time. To have a team that’s motivated they must have a strong sense of purpose and live the core values of the business. Our core values are Respect – our internal facing value between ourselves; Integrity – our outward facing value to our customers and suppliers; and a Pioneering Spirit – that reminds us that as a smaller business with very large competitors, we have to be the one to break new ground to stay ahead of the competition.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

One challenge facing the industry is always going to be one of adaptation. The industry is collectively known as the incentive marketing industry and takes in areas such as customer incentives, employee rewards and motivation programmes. The demographic of the workforce is changing rapidly. We’ve just about figured out how to motivate millennials effectively, now we must adapt and figure out how to incentivise and motivate Gen Z. This brings a new series of challenges, particularly around technology and social media, and we must adapt to make sure that we continue to be relevant for this new generation.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

In the past the big industry trend was internationalisation, going from managing local client programmes to global ones.
Now I think the trend is reversed, where clients want their incentive and reward programmes to reflect the local market and having a strong local offering that is unique can really be an advantage. This trend was central to us developing OptionsCard.

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

Yes, and ironically I think it’s around more regulation and standards in the gift card sector. Consumers need to be properly protected and have confidence when using our products. I think it’s difficult for them to understand that one gift card can have a five-year expiry by law and no fees, but another product that also calls itself a gift card has activation and dormancy fees for non-use. It just creates confusion and a lack of confidence in our sector – if it’s called a gift card it needs to have the same set of rules for the consumer.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

In Ireland, we’re lucky enough to have a highly educated workforce that is exposed to amazing international business experience. We don’t see any skills gaps in our sector that can’t be filled.

How has Brexit affected you?

Luckily, we’re a services-based industry as opposed to a goods-based one so the impact of Brexit has not been as significant as other sectors. However, we do see future issues emerging as the UK diverges from EU regulation, particularly in data management and compliance.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

After the initial shocks of COVID-19, business rebounded quickly in a number of our client sectors. I think the defining impact of COVID-19 is that there will never be a crisis as big as that again, and if you can get through that, and come out the other side, you can get through pretty much anything.

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

When your clients keep coming back again and again and recommend you to their peers, that for me is a success. You know you’re doing the right thing, and that you are acting the right way when you build long-lasting trusted relationships with your clients.

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

If you don’t ask you don’t get! That was said to me once many years ago by a client in negotiation and I’ve taken that forward as an attitude and action ever since. No one ever got business by sitting around waiting for it to happen, you must get out there and shout for it.

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

The launch of was certainly the business highlight for me in the last year. However, on a personal note last July in Boston I was honoured to receive a lifetime achievement award from the Incentive Marketing Association in recognition of my service to the industry over my career. That was a special highlight.

What’s next for your company?

Having just launched OptionsCard in October, next year will be about developing a really strong network of retail partners so that we can deliver their gift cards and offer exclusive offers and discounts to our cardholders. We’re very excited about where this might bring us in the coming 12 months, and we know that with success in Ireland we can bring OptionsCard to other countries in the coming years.

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

We want to be the number one destination for businesses and consumers looking to send a retail gift card to their employees or friends.

What advice would you have to others starting out in business?

Perseverance is 90% of success. It’s always so hard starting a new business particularly when you are doing something new. If you look after your customers well and hang in there long enough to get your brand recognised, you will succeed in the end.

What is the best, non-business, book you’ve ever read?

Dracula by Bram Stoker jumps to mind. Terrifying and riveting in equal measure. However, the use of English really stood out for me — it is an amazing piece of literature.

What is your favourite hobby? 

I seem to spend most of my time watching my kids playing football these days, but when I get some time to myself, I love sailing or being on the water.

What is your mantra for life? 

Be kind. Life is more enjoyable that way.


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