Breathing life into the international mobile phone business
INSIDE TRACK Q&A:Shane Leahy, group chief executive of Oxygen B
What is the most unusual thing about your business?
I would say the diversity of the business and the constant changing nature of it. We’ve evolved along with the mobile phone industry.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
About three years ago, we acquired a 10 per cent stake in a competitor, Win plc. But then an Indian company (IMI Mobile) came in and bought it and we sold out for a profit of £1 million.
We made money out of it but it’s really the opportunity that got away. We should have bought it and combined the two entities as combining the two would have given us substantial scale and access to stock exchange, which would help. There would have been very significant synergies.
What has been your major success to date?
Our biggest success has been the growth in the business. We’ve had consistent growth, growing by in excess of 20 per cent in the last five years.
You were a finalist in this year’s Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition. What are the benefits of being recognised and involved like that?
It’s the exposure that you get to other businesses and to other business people. Our trip to California and the education that goes along with that was absolutely fantastic.
Who do you admire most in business and why?
While I have met people like Denis O’Brien and Liam Casey throughout the EY process, the main one for me would be JP McManus. As a Limerick man, I admire what he’s given back to the local community and in business.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge?
Probably dealing with the growth and international nature of our business. We have offices in the Caribbean, Kenya, Dublin, Australia and southeast Asia, and we’re looking to expand into South America.
Managing the international nature of the business and the constantly changing nature of the business is a challenge. But it’s a blessing that we’re not reliant on the Irish economy.
Do you think the banks are open for business at the moment?
Thankfully, we don’t have a requirement for bank lending at this time. I’m delighted we don’t because it’s not a pretty picture out there.
What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
“Pray but row away from the rock” – have faith in your ideas but work to attain them. To make it happen, you’ve got to put the effort in. The main mantra for me is that you should have goals and aspirations but you have to put in the hard work to achieve them.
Has your former career as a professional rugby player with Munster helped you in your current role?
I genuinely think there are significant similarities between the two. With a business, you’ve got to drive it forward and provide that drive to bring it forward. You’ve got to put the effort in. If you want to win, you’ve got to make it happen yourself.
Looking forward, what’s Oxygen8’s biggest opportunity?
In geographical terms, I’d say southeast Asia and Africa will be big growth markets for us. Productwise, we’re doing a significant amount of business with mobile networks in the UK.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
We are currently on revenues of about £100 million and will finish out our year at £105 million. It’s substantially profitable and cash rich, and we have got a very good business.
Putting a worth on it would be very difficult but I’d say £50 million plus. I absolutely love running the business and wouldn’t see myself exiting it, but the other shareholders might look to monetise their shareholding.