Ernst & Young Entrepeneur of the Year international finalists


Four more nominees in the international category of the Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, in association with 'The Irish Times', Enterprise Ireland, InterTrade Ireland and Newstalk, are profiled today

John Craven

Cove Energy plc International Category

JOHN CRAVEN is CEO of Cove Energy plc (Cove), a Dublin-based company involved in joint-venture oil and gas exploration with a specific focus on the emerging basins of East Africa.

Cove was established in 2009 when Craven, and a group of like-minded investors, took control of a listed mining “shell” and implemented a new strategy to create value through acquiring oil and gas exploration and appraisal assets in geologically promising areas.

A respected petroleum geologist, Craven had previously founded Petroceltic International plc and he set a strategy for Cove to be an opportunity-driven business that targeted assets in areas where larger oil companies were not yet active or had overlooked opportunities, particularly focusing on capturing value through exploration and appraisal.

Cove began by entering into a joint venture in Mozambique where it drilled and identified the largest gas field to be discovered worldwide in the past 10 years. Plans are afoot to build large plants to ship the gas abroad in its liquefied, natural form.

In addition to its two separate gas discovery areas in Mozambique, the company holds almost 10.5 million acres of deepwater exploration interests off the coast of Kenya, where promising 3D seismic results have been produced and two wells are planned for Q1 2013, as well as the Mnazi Bay Gas Field in Tanzania which is currently under sale to Wentworth Resources.

To fund the significant drilling and seismic costs involved in such high-risk and costly endeavours, Cove has raised about £180 million from public markets over the past three years, and today holds a market cap of some £1.4 billion – more than eight times the capital invested.

In keeping with the company’s strategy, the board of directors put Cove up for sale earlier this year and offers of up to £2.40 per share from Shell and the National Oil Company of Thailand are being considered.

The group currently has no debt. It has unrestricted cash reserves of £60 million and is confident that it is fully funded for exploration and appraisal programmes into 2013.

Whilst the global economic environment is undoubtedly challenging, Cove’s successful equity placings throughout 2009 and 2010 and debt-free status ensured the firm maintained a strong balance sheet into 2012. Going forward, Cove intends to complete the sale process which started at the beginning of the year, but until this time  it is business as usual.


The identification, exploration and discovery of petroleum, with a current focus on the young and emerging oil and gas basins off the coast of East Africa.


Cove Energy matures its discoveries into marketable opportunities for medium and large-scale oil and utility companies.

What prompted you to start the business?

“Having worked for big oil companies such as Gulf and Chevron, who are generally risk averse, I felt could apply my petroleum geology skills to starting a new oil and gas company focused on exploration.”

What were the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

“Selecting the right board, sourcing the right opportunity, raising equity capital in what were, in 2009, adverse economic circumstances; overcome by the right contacts, trust and intuition.”

Shane Leahy


SHANE LEAHY is the CEO of Oxygen8, a global provider of integrated mobile solutions based in Birmingham, UK.

Comprising three distinct divisions, Oxygen8 was established in 2000 to develop specific mobile services that enable businesses to drive new revenue streams, improve customer communication, build brand awareness and increase customer loyalty.

Oxygen8 Corporate Solutions offers a range of innovative and dynamic mobile solutions services that connect corporations with their customers through automated multi-channel communications such as messaging, e-mail, voice, social networking, and other mobile media.

The Oxygen8 Mobile Payment division develops and supports innovative payment mechanisms that allow consumers to pay for goods and services using their mobile phone. Oxygen8 Money was recently launched as a standalone division within the group to capitalise on the phenomenal worldwide growth in “mobile wallets” and to provide solutions for mobile money transfer with the aim of becoming a leading global solution provider.

The provision of a broad range of mobile services enables clients to fully embrace and incorporate mobile solutions into their overall business strategy, and, as a global business, Oxygen8 has the infrastructure, technical skills and resources to take new products and services to market quickly and easily.

Clients include a broad range of mobile networks, media groups, banks, marketing agencies and utility companies. Centralised technical, product development and marketing teams support local commercial sales and customer support teams within the group to ensure maximum levels of customer service and global delivery.

The company’s turnover in 2011 was £75 million – a 22 per cent increase in growth for 2010. The company aims to grow more than 20 per cent year-on-year and is on target to surpass £90million turnover for year-end, May 2012.

Oxygen8 currently employs more than 200 people in offices in Dublin, London, Birmingham, Australia, Canada, Caribbean, Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania and the US. The firm hopes to open offices in South America and South East Asia later this year.


Oxygen8 services include: worldwide mobile solutions; mobile marketing; voice and IVR solutions; billing services; mobile commerce; SMS services; fraud management; and mobile web and apps.


Amongst the firm’s corporate clients are Paddy Power; Aer Lingus; FÁS; UTV Radio Group; Communicorp Group; Unilever; O2/Telefonica; Bank of America; United Utilities; SonyBMG; Cadbury; Fairfax; ARN; Sky News; Amobee; Travelex; Insure Go; Scotia Bank; 7DKS; Tesco Mobile; and MC Saatchi.

What role does CSR play in your business strategy?

“CSR is extremely important to us. In 2011, 18 ‘builders’ and I raised £40,000 when we travelled to Durban in South Africa to build a house for HIV/Aids orphans.

“This year, we are planning a further house-build in the Caribbean and are developing a graduate training programme to encourage entrepreneurship in future generations.”

What motivates you to succeed?

“As a former professional rugby player, I have a healthy fear of failure! The continued growth and evolution of Oxygen8 as a company, and providing for my family, are my primary motivations, but as demonstrated by my sports background, I’m a highly competitive person who is driven to succeed.”

Malcolm Hughes

OSG Group Ltd

OSG GROUP Ltd (OSG) is a leading provider of professional managed outsourcing services.

Group CEO Malcolm Hughes was one of the founding partners who established the business as a professional loss adjusting practice in 1984. Over the past 28 years, OSG has evolved into one of the most comprehensive providers of technical outsource services in the market.

Focusing on five key areas – customer care; technical services; recruitment placement; provision of education and training services; and consulting – OSG provides the service “middleware” to its corporate clients and their customers through its pioneering business model.

Its combination of deep industry experience, lean process management, effective communication and cutting-edge technology has gained the Dublin-based firm a global reputation for excellence.

The company was bought by Fishers International plc in the late 1990s. After this, senior management, led by Hughes, completed an MBO of the company in 2002 and, 10 years on, the group employs a skilled staff of 280 and has ambitious plans for the future in both the domestic and international markets.

In 2011, OSG handled more than a million customer service calls, managed in excess of 65,000 claims, and assisted more than two million individuals from its nine service centres.

By focusing on the importance of consistent and effective communication OSG has set itself apart from the competition. Hughes strongly believes that staff empowerment and the promotion of an entrepreneurial culture within the company are key to its success.


As a broad-based service middleware outsource provider, OSG concentrates on developing five core business areas: customer support solutions; technical services; recruitment placement and provision of training services through OSG academy; and consulting to areas that include regulation and compliance; complaint resolution; deep market insight; and strategic product positioning.


The company has more than 100 blue-chip clients within the insurance and financial services industries. These range from niche specialists to the largest multi-national organisations, including four of the top 10 global insurers and a number of the world’s leading retailers.

Are there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution?

“The evolution of the business to the multi-platform organisation that it is today has been an incredibly rewarding – albeit challenging – journey: from establishing a start-up operation, to becoming the CEO of an international plc, to the completion of an MBO in difficult circumstances.”

What are the biggest challenges you faced starting up and how did you overcome them?

“Breaking in to a traditional and established market place was one of the greatest challenges. However, we achieved this through innovative marketing and a focus on exceptional customer service.

“The lack of availability of working capital at critical stages in our development – particularly post-MBO – was also very challenging, but a combination of persistence, risk-taking and the support of a number of key partners proved successful in the end.”

Michael Carvill

Kenmare resources

MICHAEL CARVILL is the managing director of Kenmare Resources plc, a Dublin-based mining and exploration company that is a member of the FTSE 250 Index and has listings on the London and Irish Stock Exchanges.

The principal activity of the group is the operation of the Moma Mine, which is located on the northeastern coast of Mozambique.

The mine contains large deposits of heavy mineral sands which include the titanium minerals ilmenite and rutile, as well as the zirconium silicate mineral, zircon.

Titanium metal’s unique properties – its high “strength to weight” ratio and high melting point – make it the metal of choice within the aerospace, chemical, electronics, medical and leisure industries; while zircon is used in applications ranging from the production of ceramic tile and sanitary ware to the manufacture of refractory products used in the steel and foundry industries.

The demand for titanium pigment is expanding at above trend-line growth rates due to a steep increase in consumption in newly industrialising economies, such as India and China. Such demand is facilitated by the presence of a dedicated export facility at Moma Mine with full customs clearance that allows for shipment of parcels ranging from 1,500 tonnes to 50,000 tonnes.

A 50 per cent expansion of the Moma mine and processing facilities is well underway and due for completion by the end of 2012.

This expansion will enable Kenmare to access the growing market opportunities presented by the deficit of titanium feedstocks and zircon.

Kenmare has 14 staff based in its Dublin office, a regional sales office in Singapore, and more than 900 staff working at the Moma Mine.

In 2011, the company generated a profit after tax of $23.7 million (2010: loss $16.3 million).


The Moma Mine produces heavy minerals used to produce titanium dioxide pigment and titanium metal, as well as the relatively high-value zirconium silicate mineral, zircon. Titanium dioxide (TiO2) pigment is used in the manufacture of paints, paper, plastic, cosmetics, food additives, ceramics and textiles.


As a major global producer of ilmenite, rutile and zircon products, Kenmare has customers in 19 countries and growing. These range from DuPont, Huntsman Tioxide and Sachtleben to Industrie Bitossi, St Gobain and Endeka Ceramics; to VSMPO-AVISMA of Russia, which produces titanium metal for supply to Boeing and Airbus.

What role does CSR play in your business strategy?

“At Kenmare, we recognise the importance of carrying out our activities in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. With this in mind, we established the Kenmare Moma Development Association (KMAD) in 2004, for which we have received a number of prestigious awards.”

Describe your progression from start-up to current status?

“Although today the principal activity of the group is the operation of the Moma Mine on the northeast coast of Mozambique, Kenmare previously operated the Ancuabe Graphite Mine in that country from 1994 to 1999, establishing itself as one of the worlds leading producers of high-quality natural flake graphite. While that mine is currently on care and maintenance, we are seeking new investors in the project and hold a small number of exploration licences in Ireland.”