'If someone offered me €100m . . . maybe I would sell'
Mary Connell, founder & managing director, SSE Cleanrooms
What sets your business apart from rivals?
We are specialists in the cleaning industry; we have an in-house microbiologist and the flexibility to respond quickly to our clients needs.
We clean the entire factory from the warehouses to reception to boardrooms to the labs. We clean the areas where medical devices are developed and we even clean the toilets. We prepare pharmaceutical and medical device companies for audits by the Irish Medicines Board, so we’d tell them what maintenance they need to do in the facility.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
Never keep the customer waiting. We can anticipate most of the time what will pop up so we try to stay one step ahead and always be on the case. We are always trying to help them maintain the highest standards.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
If I was setting up the business again, I would push it more and expand more quickly. In the earlier years, we were very cautious, nearly too cautious, and expanded very gradually.
The upside to that is we have more than 100 staff and have been in business nearly 10 years, most likely because we didn’t rush into anything.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Letting multinationals know what we can do and how we do it. It was really hard break- ing into the multinational cleaning sector. The cleaning industry itself is a huge challenge. There are a lot of intricacies and regulations set out by various bodies, including the US Food and Drug Administration and the Irish Medicines Board.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
Noel Noonan, the founder of Noonan Services Group. There used to be a very bad impression of the cleaning industry. Cartoons mocking the cleaning industry were everywhere. Noel changed all that. Nowadays our staff get a lot of respect on site.
What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
There are so many people applying for jobs and they have no experience on their CVs, so they are not getting jobs. There are thousands and thousands who can’t get work.
The Government should organise a work-experience scheme, different to the JobBridge scheme, in that the work experience placements would just be for a few weeks. That way, people will have at least some experience when applying for jobs.
Do you think the banks are open for business to SMEs at the moment?
We don’t have any loans and we don’t have an overdraft. We didn’t even have a loan when we started the company. We’re lucky in that we’ve always had a good cashflow and we expanded slowly so we never required huge amounts of funds.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
We’ve hired reps in Dublin and have started expanding there in the past 10 months. Besides that our main aim is to keep doing what we are doing at present.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
I wouldn’t have a clue what it’s worth. I love what I do. If someone offered me €100 million in the morning maybe I would sell it. I’d definitely pop some champagne and think about it.
In conversation with Pamela Newenham