Wild Geese: Ray Downes, CEO KEMP Technologies, New York

‘The focus is on maximising the return here’

Ray Downes: He rises at 5.45am for a long commute often not returning until 9pm. Photograph: Maxwell Photography

Ray Downes: He rises at 5.45am for a long commute often not returning until 9pm. Photograph: Maxwell Photography

Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 01:00

Ray Downes is chief executive of Kemp Technologies, having previously run the company’s international business from its Limerick office. KEMP develops software that makes business-critical applications perform better. It employs more than 160 people in 24 countries.

After the company was acquired by a number of venture capitalists two and a half years ago, Downes was asked to relocate to New York as chief executive. At the time of the acquisition Kemp Technologies had 35 employees. It hopes to end this year with 190 and double that number again over the next two years.

“Whilst our investors are all very different, they have in common the fact that they usually invest in companies that have mature products,” says Downes who explains that the company’s software is used to deal with heavy traffic through servers.

One of its customers is RTÉ, for example. Kemp’s technology allows the station to cope with high traffic periods during events such as the World Cup or Six Nations Rugby.

A native of Pallaskenry, west of Limerick, where his parents still run the local post office, Downes says he had very little time to prepare for the move to the States “because we were so involved in getting the business plan for the large-scale increase together”. Luckily, he says, some of the employees helped him to find the right place to live.

The company has offices in Manhattan and on Long Island, where he now lives with his wife. He rises at 5.45am each day for the long commute into Manhattan often not returning until 9pm.

A report issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the US recently stated that New York was the unhappiest place to live in the US but Downes doesn’t agree.

“I think it’s unfair to say that it’s the unhappiest place to live – there’s great culture here and people live for their down-time whether it’s short weekends or short evenings,” he says.

“Costs are higher for the employer in terms of rent and salaries in New York and the individuals have very high costs as well. If you are a commuter, the travel costs are very high and in the city the rent is very high. So I think people are very acceptant of the fact that you need to work long hours to be able to afford to live here.”

On his arrival in the US, Downes got to travel extensively to meet clients and says that customers there are basically the same as in Ireland and the rest of Europe. “I found that if you strip out federal government (which represents significant business) really the customers are similar worldwide. They like to be dealt with in the same way so it was great to get out in the field in the first year.”