EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist: Brendan Mooney, Kainos Group plc
Northern Irish firm provides digital technology solutions to number of industries
Brendan Mooney: “The Kainos business model is simple: recruit the best people and encourage them to deliver exceptional services and products to customers.”
Kainos is a digital services company, offering information technology products and services to clients in markets and industries across the world. It was founded in Belfast in 1987 and is now the largest indigenous IT services in Northern Ireland, employing approximately 860 people in five countries.
Brendan, who joined the company in 1989 as a graduate software engineer, was appointed CEO in 2001.
Kainos is now a global business with increasing scale, resilience, ambition and expertise.
It has delivered about 33 per cent compound growth in the past four years and is now recognised as a continuing disruptive force in its core markets of government, healthcare and commercial industries where it provides digital technology solutions that help them conduct their business more efficiently.
Describe your business model and what makes your business unique?
The Kainos business model is simple: recruit the best people and encourage them to deliver exceptional services and products to customers. Everything the company does is centred on this core principle, and it has served us really well for 30 years.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
I took over as CEO in 2001, in time to experience the latter parts of the dotcom implosion, followed quickly by the collapse of our core market (supplying IT service to our largest shareholder, Fujitsu, represented over 90 per cent of our business). I was far from equipped to deal with this rapidly changing environment at the time.
But with the loyalty and hard work of my colleagues and the support of the company board for a rookie CEO, we built a great set of customers in Ireland and then in the UK.
What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
Best advice? It would be “to work hard” – although I’m not sure if that’s something I’ve been told or just something I have absorbed from watching my parents and colleagues.
To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?
We are growing our international customer base rapidly, winning big name clients such as Netflix and the New York Metropolitan Museum and we have global partnerships with companies such as Apple. This year, we’ve opened offices in Boston, Houston and Amsterdam – it’s very exciting.
Describe your growth funding path?
In 1986 Queens University Belfast and ICL (later Fujitsu) raised £50,000 to set-up Kainos and we have been self-funded since then. We have spun-out two software companies – Meridio (document management) and SpeechStorm (speech recognition) and we completed an IPO on the London Main Market in July 2015. Queens University Belfast remains our largest shareholder at c17 per cent of issued share capital.
What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?
Perseverance. Stuff happens – that’s absolutely guaranteed, so you need to be determined and have the personal conviction to work at it until you get it right.
What would make you a better leader?
Being better at celebration. As a business we solve complex, challenging business and technology problems. That’s not easy to do and every time we are successful, we should take a moment to acknowledge that success and celebrate it. I have a tendency to skip past the celebration in my haste to get stuck into “the next thing”.
A Montegrappa Fountain Pen (about £300, bought in 2007). I take lots of notes, so I like a good pen – I’m the son of a teacher and hence my notebooks are very neat and tidy.