The Business Show 2021 – Rebooting Ireland – Highlights of the afternoon sessions

Irish News, The Business Show | Thu 22 Apr | Author – Business & Finance

The Business Show 2021, the second in a series launched by the Business & Finance Media Group, took place today. Set across two stages, with 70 speakers and 30 sessions, the event was designed to help guide businesses through challenging times with a view to emerging stronger and more agile.

To read an overview of this morning’s sessions, click here.

You can access all of the content from The Business Show here. The content will be available for 90 days.


The Evolution Stage – afternoon sessions

Events resumed on the Evolution Stage with a Joint Keynote by Siobhán Smith, Global Marketing Manager, Expleo, and Graeme Clarke Global DevOps Lead & Solution Director Expleo

The pair spoke about Digital Transformation, with Ms Smith noting that it is “an act of rebooting. going back to the start, trying things again in a new way, leveraging technology in the process.” The pair acknowledged that the power of Digital Transformation allows teams to align with a new sense of purpose.


Moderator Joan Mulvihill, Digitalisation Lead, Siemens, moderated a panel titled ‘Building Digital Transformation into your Business Strategy – A Leadership Discussion,’ featuring panellists Carolan Lennon, CEO, eir, Susan Spence, Co-Founder, SoftCo, and Brian Kennedy, Head of Digital & Innovation, Expleo.

Moderator Joan Mulvihill opened proceedings by noting that, “in the last year, there has been no other strategy, it had to be digital strategy.” Building on this thread, she continued: “There’s no such thing as ‘digital marketing’, it’s just marketing, it happens to be digital.”

“There’s no such thing as ‘digital marketing’, it’s just marketing, it happens to be digital.”

Susan Spence, Co-Founder, SoftCo, responded with, “Digital strategy & business strategy, you can’t have one without the other.” Brian Kennedy, Head of Digital & Innovation, Expleo, added: “Digital transformation isn’t about technology, it’s about building business capabilities that allow you to leverage the latest technology […] A huge part of digital transformation is the people and their capabilities. Digital is just the enabler to building business capacity.

Carolan Lennon, CEO, eir, had this advice: “Simplicity is key. Keep it simple.”


Francesca McDonagh, Group Chief Executive Officer of Bank of Ireland, joined Moderator Sarah Freeman, Managing Editor of the Business & Finance Media Group, to discuss Future-Focused Leadership.

Francesca McDonagh discussed the delicate balancing act between urgent action and long-term solutions: “I think for any business leader, you’re always a bit worried, actually, about ‘are you doing enough in the here and now, [the] tactical, urgent’ whilst balancing that with the more medium-term strategic. I think there’s always a little bit of a balancing act. That was pronounced more than ever during COVID, where there was the real here and now urgency, but you couldn’t forget the longer-term strategy of the organisation.”

“For me, it’s about purpose: If in doubt, the purpose should serve the near-term immediacy, but also the longer-term strategy. In Bank of Ireland, our purpose is to enable customers, colleagues and communities to thrive, and applying that to our decisions both long term and more medium/short-term strategic […] But also to be deliberate […] Very early on, for example, during the pandemic, we would have been very explicit about the team and the resources that would be focused to the here and now, those were the colleagues who set up payment breaks for a 100,000 customers, they set up special helplines and special services in branches for vulnerable customers and carers, and they were also the team that provided support for businesses, for customers, for our colleagues – overnight, we went from having 30% of people working from home some of the time, to 75% working from home all the time.”

We’ve met and exceeded a tipping point now in how customers choose to engage and want to engage with banks, for day-to-day and even for some of the bigger decisions like getting a mortgage. People are increasingly wanting to do it online.

Ms McDonagh then spoke about how COVID-19 has impacted the banking sector: “Even before COVID, the banking sector in Europe has gone through a lot of change and challenge, and an actual threat to the viability of the entire business model. We’re in a long-term low-to-negative interest environment, and that has reduced the profitability of any bank that has had income from deposits before.

“Credit formation has been muted. Before anyone had heard of COVID-19, and despite the growth in the Irish economy, because of Brexit partly and uncertainty and people just not wanting to take on debt, we saw very muted credit formation, we were growing or lending but not in line with what you would expect in a fast-growing GDP market.”

She continued: “Risk management, balance sheet size and structure, and capital position was very strong for Irish banks going into the crisis. The sector has weathered a period of uncertainty quite resiliently. At Bank of Ireland, we would have made a full-year underlying loss in 2020, like many businesses, but we were profitable in the second half of the year.”

Ms McDonagh then spoke about digitisation: “We’ve met and exceeded a tipping point now in how customers choose to engage and want to engage with banks, for day-to-day and even for some of the bigger decisions like getting a mortgage. People are increasingly wanting to do it online. That was true even before the pandemic, and it has only accelerated.”

Regarding the dismantling of hierarchical structures in place in business, Ms McDonagh said: “Yes, it’s a permanent change. I’m very supportive of that dismantling, despite being part of an organisation that is one of those institutions. We have to change how we operate for our customers, but also for our colleagues […] Working from home has changed the tone and nature of how we interact within an institution […] COVID has exposed cultures.”


Pat McCann, CEO of the Dalata Hotel Group, joined Dalton Philips, Chief Executive of the Dublin Airport Authority, and Moderator Sarah Freeman for a Fireside titled ‘Check In to Check Out: Hospitality and Travel – A Year in Review.’

Pat McCann spoke about the impact COVID has had on his sector:”I’m 52 years in the business and if I added up all the crises that I’ve gone through in my life this one far outweighs any of them, so kind of dramatic in many senses and devastating for a lot of people. I think the lessons we’ll have learned from this will stand to us well. One of the things that’s very clear to me is the way you structure your business, even prior to COVID, is of critical importance so that you come into it in a strong position because inevitably we’re going to have different crises over the years and you must be well prepared. We decided at the very beginning that we’d do three things: we’d look after our people; our business and our customers, and we’d look after our cash. We said if we did those three things well, our business would remain robust.”

I’m 52 years in the business and if I added up all the crises that I’ve gone through in my life this one far outweighs any of them

Dalton Philips spoke about the future of travel in Ireland post-pandemic: “The first step is restoring consumer confidence. We’ve got to get people comfortable getting back on a plane. And unfortunately in Ireland, we don’t have a big domestic network so in other countries people are getting comfortable because they’re travelling domestically and they’re easing their way back into travel but Irish consumers are being absolutely terrorised by horror stories of infection levels on flights, mainly by the media, and they’re completely disproportionate to reality.

“The clear evidence is that where passengers feel comfortable with the overall travel environment they’re happy to travel. So from our side and the airlines too, we’ve invested huge sums of money in terms of reviewing and revising the processes to make the journey as comfortable as possible. Vaccines are going to be absolutely critical because obviously they’re going to reduce the risk of infection among the general population and that in itself will enable a phased return towards travel.”


The Elevation Stage – afternoon sessions

David McCourt, Chairman of National Broadband Ireland, spoke to moderator Gary Fox, Entrepreneur & Podcast Host of The Entrepreneur Experiment Podcast & HostButlers. Mr McCourt spoke about fibre as a foundation stone to solving larger issues: “We have to, as a business community, develop the products and services that lay on top of that fibre to solve problems around the environment, around healthcare, around education, around these big problems that need to be solved and the fibre is just the foundation.”


The Rt Hon Greg Hands MP, Minister of State for Trade Policy Department for International Trade – UK, joined Thomas Byrne, Minister of State for European Affairs, Department of Foreign Affairs, and moderator Daniel McConnell, Political Editor of the Irish Examiner, to discuss ‘Brexit – 6 Months On: The Impact so far’

Thomas Byrne TD urged businesses in Britain to consider the potential of Northern Ireland: “We would strongly encourage businesses from Britain who see an advantage to being placed in the single market to consider Northern Ireland. That would go a long way to alleviating concerns on the ground about being separated from Britain. That would be enormously helpful.”


Danny McCoy, CEO of Ibec, joined Seamus Hand, Managing Partner, KPMG Ireland, in a fireside titled, ‘Looking Back to Move Forward – Analysing the Impact a Year of Changes had on the Business Landscape’. Mr McCoy said:  “The other bit from the Biden move is this swing to collectivism, and of course collectivism has been out there particularly in the later markets through social media, where people have been under different movements – be they hashtag or whatever – but we’ve also seen that in the gig economy and workers rights [with regard to] Uber and Deliveroo, but now increasingly in technology companies.”


Bernard Brogan, founder of PepTalk joined moderator Niall O’Carroll, Chief of Program & Performance Strategy, PepTalk, to discuss ‘Learnings from The Hill – Moving from Sport to Business’

Bernard Brogan discussed leadership and teamwork: “For a team to be successful you need to have people with different skill sets that compliment each other […] it’s about leadership and understanding the difference between manager and leadership. Manager […] is just to facilitate the execution for the people on the pitch and leadership should be shown at all levels through an organisation or through a team […] In the business world, it’s about how you create an environment where new people can become leaders or future leaders and can come up with innovation […] they have a different viewpoint, they have a different outlook, they have different experience in life than maybe the older generation.”

He continued: “Anytime you’re hiring someone, how can you bring in a new skill set, how can you add to the team? Not just more of the same, how do you bring in someone but someone with a different outlook and also how do you set up an environment where people are empowered enough to go after and show their best self?”

For a team to be successful you need to have people with different skill sets that compliment each other

With regard to company culture, Mr Brogan said: “As an organisation you can have the best senior management or board room or CEO of the best vision of what they want an organisation to be, you can have the words on the wall behind them, the values they have in their handbook or brandbook but fundamentally, culture is the living and breathing of the organisation, it’s how people interact with each other, respect they have, it’s about how they interact with their customers, how they walk the walk, and how they act as individuals.

“So the organisation can have the best will in the world about how they treat their people and how they walk the walk but if that middle management isn’t bought into that vision really more so than the boardroom then what manifests itself is that people below them have a different experience in the organisation and not having the same fulfillment or purpose the organisation would like them to have […] Culture, you can’t just turn this on overnight in a sports team or in a business, it has to be lived and lived through experiences.”


Mark Little, CEO and Co-Founder of Kinzen, joined Áine Kerr, COO and Co-Founder of Kinzen, and moderator Richard Forde, PR Director, BeachHut PR, to discuss ‘Fake News! – Standing Out in an Era of Misinformation’

Aine Kerr spoke about the intentions behind Kinzen: “Day by day, we hope and believe Kinzen plays a really important role in the detection and the disruption of disinformation.”

Mark Little spoke about the proliferation of digital information, and difficulty in sorting out the truth from falsehoods: “It has never been easier for people to create information. There’s 500 hours a minute of video uploaded on Youtube. It is incredible! So when we think of the volume, we all lose our capacity to sort the news from noise […] The bad actors out there, the people we know that are the harm of all of this, they are exploiting this for all its worth.”

Check your sources.

He continued: “We are not trying to suppress freedom of speech or stop people or take people off platforms. What we are trying to prevent is freedom of reach.” Ms Kerr built upon Mr Little’s sentiments: “We have to hold the platforms accountable and we need regulation in some areas for sure, but we also have to think about, what is our responsibility then with quality journalism and how we elevate and support that […] Practice that critical thinking. Be that person who checks, who thinks, who asks questions, when you get a message […] Check your sources.”