Leo Clancy is well used to major job announcements. In his former role as the head of the ICT sector for IDA, he was involved with most of the major Apple, Google, Facebook and others.
Now, as the new CEO of Enterprise Ireland since the end of May, he is focused on celebrating local success.
âThere is huge potential, confidence and ambition to bring businesses out of Ireland. We are at a really interesting inflection point, âhe told the Independent Sunday in his first big interview since taking over the role.
So, when Limerick’s engineering contractor Kirby Group announced 300 jobs in July, he eagerly watched the announcement in the press alongside the Taoiseach.
But he quickly noticed a difference from the big tech gigs he has attended regularly over the past eight years: “The media was there, but probably not in numbers that you would have seen with IDA ads of the same size,” says -he.
There is a tendency in Ireland, he says, to take local success for granted and to celebrate the success that comes from
abroad a little more.
âThere is almost â¬ 30 billion spent by Irish exporting companies in every part of this state. We have to figure out how we can make this story resonate a little more. “
After taking over from Julie Sinnamon in the hot seat of Enterprise Ireland, Clancy’s first task was to start developing a new strategy to lead the organization through 2030 – which will be launched early next year: ” With the launch of our new strategy, we are going to be able to bring a little more oomph.
At IDA, Clancy dealt with the world’s largest tech companies, regularly speaking in billions of dollars. Now he is dealing with exporters in all corners of Ireland, where every euro is hard earned.
âI’ve seen this rocket growth that we’ve had in technology, which has been brilliant for Ireland. But it’s a very exciting time to take on this role because I think there is huge potential for it. Irish company and that it will be a really exciting adventure over the next five or 10 years. â
However, this is a particularly volatile time for Irish exporters. Covid and Brexit have combined to create a heady cocktail of lockdowns, customs confusion, logistics bottlenecks, staff shortages and an imminent threat of inflation.
Clancy will have heard these concerns – and more – last week as part of the agency’s International Markets Week, which saw 700 companies meet with their advisers in 40 offices overseas. But he’s eager to focus on the positives. More than half of Enterprise Ireland’s customers have increased their exports this year compared to 2020, according to a survey it carried out.
âThere is a risk in dwelling on challenges that people take too far back. Businesses around the world are benefiting from the recovery of the global economy and the scarcity of demand for products. The flip side of globalization and logistical challenges is that Europe is seeking to localize supply chains much more. We are undervalued in terms of market share in the euro area. It’s a huge opportunity right on our doorstep.
There has been real progress. In 2010, Irish companies exported goods worth 2.85 billion euros to the euro area; it now stands at 5.85 billion euros, more than double. By comparison, exports to the UK, affected by the uncertainty and complications of Brexit, reached 7.5 billion euros currently against 5.6 billion euros in 2010.
Clancy refuses to comment on the tensions in Anglo-Irish relations.
“There are the risks. But Irish exporters have worked very hard to deal with it. Enterprise Ireland, to his credit, was absolutely at the center of it all, but I can’t take credit for it because it all happened before my time, âhe says.
Last month he took part in a trade mission to the UK, hosting panel discussions on sectors such as healthcare, insurance, technology, housing and construction.
âWe met a new electric scooter product company that had won contracts in different boroughs across the UK. These are the kind of markets people overlook when they wring their hands about Brexit. There is a huge opportunity in the UK and the UK is undergoing a massive transformation.
âThe danger in the narrative right now is that we are turning people away from the market when in reality we are in a unique position in terms of our common travel area and our EU membership. best party. “
Clancy cites various examples of growing Irish success stories on the global stage, such as Fenergo, Let’s Get Checked and Workhuman, not to mention Donegal-based E&I Engineering, which last month sold for almost â¬ 1.7 billion.
But it is fitting that life in a small business is often a difficult task: âI really appreciate the last few months how difficult entrepreneurial life is for people. Everyone is looking at the story of the person who made $ 100 million or $ 50 million. But for each of those people, I’ve seen a lot of people paying themselves tiny wages compared to what they might have made had they stayed in their jobs or taking risks with their homes.
When people put the time and effort into building a business, they need a return on their investment, he says. âA deal can come at the right time, it makes sense and helps them achieve that personal result. But what what we would like to see more of is that in such scenarios the company remains Irish, the founders stay involved, they can take money off the table, they can pay off their mortgage and put money aside for their child’s college and they also stay true to the business and develop it further. There are not yet enough sources of this type of capital, âhe says.
âSomeone said to me in an interview for this role, ‘you have to empathize with entrepreneurs.’ And it’s only been the last few months that I’ve really internalized what that means.
He readily admits that he was never an entrepreneur but he has seen the ups and downs of life in the private sector.
Coming from an agricultural background in Tipperary, he studied to become an engineer. He started his career in the stable ship that is Swedish network giant Ericsson, but gave up that to become employee number 32 of the new telecommunications company ENet.
âI gave my notice to Ericsson, which was a solid 13-year job, the day Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in September 2008. My first month at ENet was the first month the company hadn’t taken. order of its history.
After several years in the management team of ENet, the opportunity arose to become head of the ICT sector of IDA in 2013.
âAll the ads from Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Google were all somehow in my portfolio. Huge investments were made during this period from 2013 to 2020. I think that’s when we went from a actor of foreign direct investment to be a technological capital of Europe. It really crystallized during this time.
âWe went from 2013 where we worked really hard to get small numbers to 2018 where Dublin was still on the list of these companies, even though we weren’t sure we would win the investment. “
He doesn’t buy into the idea that the government’s recent concession that it will endorse a global minimum corporate tax rate suggests Ireland needs to reinvent its business model.
âI don’t think we need to reinvent a model. I think in fact we have already reinvented ourselves. This is the piece that is often missed in this conversation. We have diversified, perhaps moving from a heavier tax in 2013, to more skills, to more diversified regulatory options such as data protection and a massive increase in R&D.
“And I think this dialogue when predicting the death of FDI following the new deal is definitely overestimated.”
Of course, FDI is no longer Clancy’s real concern and he tactfully brings the conversation back to the importance of Ireland’s native export sector in every region of Ireland.
âSixty-five percent of the jobs supported by Enterprise Ireland are outside the Dublin region and it contributes enormously to rural and regional economies,â he says.
Indeed, many small Irish companies benefit from minority investments from Enterprise Ireland which make the state agency, at least in terms of transaction volume, a major player in venture capital.
âIn terms of transactions, Enterprise Ireland is the world leader in terms of venture capital investments. We are not the biggest investor, but we certainly try to participate in as many equity investments as possible in order to help as many companies as possible in Ireland.
Clancy says there’s room for the organization to start shouting louder about this story to show how its venture capital investment is tied to future economic growth. Last week’s budget underlined this again with the private equity fund for innovation administered by Enterprise Ireland which increased from â¬ 30m to â¬ 90m to support Irish SMEs mainly in the development phase. start-up, particularly in areas such as female entrepreneurship, climate change initiatives and regional developments.
âThere is a need for seed capital to start the first operations and we are seeing a huge appetite for this type of money coming from the funds. “
Risk, of course, does not always come naturally to public bodies. Clancy agrees that a prudent approach is inherent in the public sector, but says taking risks is part of Enterprise Ireland’s mandate.
âYou never get praise in the public sector for losing money or making the wrong investment decision. But you have to take risks. If you don’t take risks, you aren’t investing in start-ups. What we have is a very good process. When we sign these kinds of agreements. The discussion is very rigorous.
Every aspect of an investment is examined, from potential state aid issues and value for money, to potential returns and other investors involved.
âBut we always know that in some cases there is going to be a risk. None of us have a crystal ball. You can’t say where a business is going to land in two or three years, but we try to manage the risk.
But, he said, a much greater risk to the Irish economy would be “if we do nothing or if we only take decisions which are good value”.