“Ireland will be resilient to what may come,” — CEO Q&A with Leo Clancy of Enterprise Ireland

By Business & Finance
21 December 2022
Pictured: Leo Clancy, CEO, Enterprise Ireland

Leo Clancy is the CEO of Enterprise Ireland. Enterprise Ireland is a government agency that assists businesses in their development in world markets.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

The key reason for Enterprise Ireland to exist is to ensure that we have a thriving Irish-owned exporting enterprise sector. In that respect my key goal is sustaining and growing jobs across all regions in Ireland.

My key priority in my role is ensuring that all we do contributes to that job growth – I believe Irish enterprise can make a huge additional contribution to our economy in the coming decade.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

The biggest challenge for me is ensuring that we are structured in a way that allows us to do our best work on behalf of our clients. 

The more basic challenge is time and focus – this is a very public role with a huge number of stakeholders.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I try to ensure that we are a listening organisation and that we are addressing some of the key areas of both concern and opportunity for our people at all times. 

I also believe that a client-focused organisation that is proud of its contribution to those clients will be intrinsically motivated by that mission more than any amount of internal measures. 

What are the challenges facing the Irish business community going forward?

Key challenges include inflation and skills availability and the related competitiveness challenge that presents. 

Unfortunately, those challenges may be replaced by more macroeconomic factors in the coming year should parts of the global economy go into recession. 

However, I do expect Ireland will be resilient to what may come as our economy is starting from a very good place.

Are there any major changes you would like to see in the Irish business community?

I would like to see more collaboration on real innovation between businesses, that is on value adding research and development and product offerings where the whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.

Are there any major skill gaps affecting the Irish business community as a whole?

Tech skills are the obvious ones that are in shortest supply but that is true the world over. Ireland punches at least at its weight but I think we could do better through a more flexible approach to hiring and developing these skills as well as on encouraging more young people to take on STEM careers.

It’s been my recent experience that companies don’t place enough focus on their strategic finances at an early enough stage and that could also be beneficial – I believe that is more about focus than availability, however.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

Our strategy was to help Ireland’s recovery through that very difficult period through ensuring that we had jobs and economic opportunity for our people to access at a time when we had unprecedented unemployment. 

Of course, this went hand in handwith ensuring that companies were supported to keep operating and making those jobs available.

How has Brexit affected Irish business?

We have been much more resilient than people might have feared at the outset. This is in no small part due to the very resolute and structured approach from the Irish State, including my colleagues at Enterprise Ireland, to ensuring that business was supported to be ready for the transition.

How has the COVID-19 crisis impacted Irish business?

At a macro level, 2020 was a year without growth in exports or jobs for the Irish exporting sector while companies consolidated their positions and managed cash while adapting their businesses. Some businesses, like those supplying food service, suffered badly and others, like those involved in certain medical products, did well. 

At a post-pandemic level, we have seen that Irish business has bounced back stronger than ever.

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

Success is achieving your goals and stretching what you’d previously thought possible, while also growing yourself and developing into a better, more capable person.

Learning is the biggest personal driver for me.

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

“Make a decision.”

What have been your highlights in Enterprise Ireland over the past year?

My highlights have included seeing the highest ever net job growth and export growth levels in 2021 – I was delighted for our clients and for the entire team at Enterprise Ireland after all the hard work to ensure business continued through the dark days of Brexit and the pandemic.

Another highlight is being made so welcome in the new role and seeing the great openness of our team at Enterprise Ireland and the wider business community.

What’s next for the organisation?

I believe we can significantly grow the number of Irish companies scaling significantly over the coming years, making the Irish-owned enterprise sector a much bigger element of our economy.

Where do you want Enterprise Ireland to be this time next year?

I want us to be ever more focused on serving our direct clients and our ultimate client, the people of Ireland, through continually improving our organisation and offer.

Read more interviews with leading CEOs below:

Danny McCoy of Ibec

Barbara McGrath of Brightwater

Mark O’Sullivan of Provest