“The best way to keep staff motivated is by creating a good culture” – CEO Q&A: Michael O’Hara, DataSolutions

CEO Q&A | Wed 11 Sep | Author – Business & Finance
Michael O'Hara, Group Managing Director of DataSolutions
Michael O’Hara, Group Managing Director of DataSolutions

In our latest CEO Q&A,  Michael O’Hara, Group Managing Director of DataSolutions, speaks to Business & Finance about the challenges exponential growth brings – including attracting the right talent to handle the expansion.

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

As Group Managing Director, my priority is to ensure that DataSolutions is progressing and achieving the strategies and goals as agreed by the management team. For example, we have set ambitious growth targets for the company this year, so that is a big focus for me right now.

Another priority for us as an organisation is to spread awareness within the end-user business community of the technology threats facing organisations today and the targeted solutions available from the vendors we work with in the UK and Irish marketplaces.

Finally, but just as important as the other objectives, I have to ensure that the unique and positive culture that exists within DataSolutions is not just maintained, but continues to thrive and make us a great place to work.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Managing our growth! DataSolutions is in its fourth year of exponential growth, whereby our revenues have increased by over 30 per cent per annum. This creates its own set of challenges. Firstly, we have to find the right talent for our team to enable further growth. Secondly, we have to ensure that our internal systems and controls are robust and powerful enough to handle the expansion of the company.

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

The best way to keep staff motivated is by creating a good culture within the company. The culture in DataSolutions is vitally important as the company evolves and grows. This is underpinned by open communication, trust and respect. It’s also important to give people in the company responsibility and allow them to grow their own personal careers. We’ve found this to be central to our continued success. As Peter Drucker, the famed management consultant, said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” – and it is so true!

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry?

Finding talent is an ongoing challenge but we invest a lot of time in identifying the right people for our team. After all, it’s the team that enables us to meet our goals and drive market penetration for vendors. Without their expertise and experience, DataSolutions wouldn’t be where it is today.

Of course Brexit is another challenge, especially for Irish and British businesses, due to the uncertainty surrounding it. But change is constant in the IT industry and it is often a positive thing. From a DataSolutions perspective,

we embrace change and are always looking for the right technologies that allow us to better support our partners and become a better business as a result.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Probably the biggest trend we are seeing is the continued shift by businesses in all sectors towards digital transformation. It is the move from the “old” physical way of doing business to the “new” and faster digital way. Businesses are using technology to change the way they work and how they bring products or services to market – for example, a traditional retailer with a number of physical shop units deciding to trade online by setting up an e-commerce site to sell their products.

Ecommerce is creating great opportunities across the IT industry because, on the back of this movement towards digital transformation, comes the need for strong cybersecurity solutions which safeguard the new digital solutions invested in, and adopted by, organisations. Cybersecurity has become even more important and relevant to companies and, as a result, we are seeing exponential growth in this area over the last few years.

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

Yes, but I think it’s the same for every business operating in Ireland. As a country, we have pretty much reached full employment. I do think it’s a bigger issue within the tech industry due to the worldwide shortage of skilled IT engineers but, as I said, we do take our time to ensure we find the right individuals and we are prepared to do that.

For DataSolutions, we find the best way to address this skills issue is by explaining our goals and strategies for the next three to five years to prospective employees. As I mentioned, there is plenty of choice for the potential new hires we are talking to and once you are offering a decent renumeration package, the key deciding factor comes down to the business strategy and how well run the company is. People want to work in an organisation that knows what they are about and that they are going places – this works for us.

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

In the immediate aftermath of the global recession in 2008/9, corporate confidence was very low which led to a lack of a willingness among business leaders to invest and spend money in their organisation. This was totally understandable but it meant that we also had to adapt our approach. At DataSolutions, we focused our sales strategy on technologies that would save companies money by reducing the cost of running their business and strengthening the return on investment.

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

Brexit is being seen by most businesses as a negative for both Ireland’s and the UK’s economies. Negativity creates uncertainty about where the market is going and this, in turn, reduces confidence which slows down buying decisions. However, from a DataSolutions point of view, we operate in the IT industry which is seen as a business enabler and organisations are often willing to continue to invest in technology – be it in a digital transformation project, the securing of corporate data, or a solution to cut operational costs.

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

Success is achieving goals that you set yourself, but it’s also having peace of mind and good physical health as part of the process! There is no point pursuing unrealistic business goals if you end up sacrificing your physical health to achieve them.

Success for me has been building a team in DataSolutions that works well together to achieve goals. After all, no one builds a successful business on their own. I have my own approach that drives me to succeed. I set myself targets and envisage how good life will be when I achieve these targets. Then I strive to make that scenario a reality.

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

I have received some great advice throughout the years – too much to mention. Probably the best advice I would give someone is to work hard, have a positive attitude and try to have fun in what you’re doing.

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

Achieving set goals is always a highlight and last year for example, we grew the business in excess of 30 per cent. However, one of our biggest achievements this year will be raising €25K for the homeless charity, Focus Ireland. For 2019, we set ourselves this target which represents the 10 per cent deposit needed to buy a new €250K home for a homeless family. The remaining balance will come from housing authorities and a mortgage. Being able to help a family in need would be an amazing team achievement and we are well on the way to achieving it, having raised €20K so far.

Q. What’s next for your company?

In the short term, we are focusing on this year’s Secure Computing Forum, which we are hosting in partnership with INM Events. It’s taking place in the RDS on Thursday 12th September and we are delighted to be bringing some of the brightest minds in cybersecurity to talk about the latest trends, challenges and opportunities in this area.

In terms of the long term, our focus will be on continuing what we’re doing and being profitable. That means driving revenue growth for the company, whilst targeting new resellers and new vendors.

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

Over the next 12 months and beyond, we hope to expand further in the UK. We are also planning to invest more in the team. This will help us to strengthen our relationships with our partners and achieve continued success. As long as we keep striving and evolving as a business, I’ll be happy!

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

I think there needs to be more education of business leaders, particularly in the area of cybersecurity. Knowledge and awareness is the first step in terms of protection and prevention, and I think it’s something that all businesses – regardless of size or industry – need to incorporate into their strategies. Otherwise, they could be putting not only their systems and staff at risk, but their data, customer base and reputation, too.

Michael O'Hara, Group Managing Director of DataSolutions

Michael O’Hara, Group Managing Director of DataSolutions