Celtic warrior happy to wield the sword in fun and fury

 

Officially Pearse Flynn is described as having "high energy and dynamic leadership". Unofficially, there are stories of him brandishing a sword, nicknamed Excalibur and actually a trophy from the film Braveheart, at company presentations while wearing a kilt and being flanked by bagpipers.

Originally from Ballycotton, Co Cork, he is now based - rather loosely - in Glasgow as executive vice-president of the Canadian company, a position he took up in February. He is also general manager of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region for the firm which provides networking solutions for telecommunications and digital communications companies. His sense of the dramatic comes from a desire to avoid ossification in organisations.

"I like to do things a little differently. That is half the fun. That is where the Irish personality comes in."

His previous job was with Compaq when he was ranked 28th, by ZDNet magazine, in the top 50 most influential computer industry executives and as EMEA Service Personality of the Year by an independent industry body.

These accolades mean that Mr Flynn is not just a sword-wielding nice guy: Heads have rolled as he consolidated operations at Newbridge, closed down offices, reduced his employee numbers by between 10 and 15 per cent across Europe, to 1,500, and, at the same time, improved morale.

"There is a quandary. That is like saying floggings will continue until morale improves."

He expanded the business by 40 per cent over the period, up from "an anaemic 7 or 8 per cent".

"The place was lacking leadership. There was a bit of the emperor's new clothes going on. Everyone knew what was going on but nobody was saying it," he says.

Removing personnel is not easy. "If it ever gets easy, you should be doing something else," he says, describing how he spent six hours in a meeting with one manager who was being made redundant. He believes that, ultimately, the same fate will befall him, perhaps if there is a personality clash with a future boss.

"The danger with a lot of people when they get to this level is they think their farts do not smell. They start believing their own press releases."

He has little time for managers "massaging their own empires", saying success comes through people and through customer focus. "Find out what they want and energise your company round delivering it," he says.

To create a more personal atmosphere, he gave the rooms in the company offices names, taking away the numbers. He is "a big advocate of management by walking around" and held meetings with the ordinary workers, inviting them to ask any question they wanted. "Within three weeks of doing that, I knew what the issues were."

Every Thursday he gives an online broadcast. "It is called `Voice from the Bridge' because I got a huge complaint from people about them not knowing the hell what was going on."

Being away from home has made him more Irish and proud of Irishness in a pan-Celtic way. When he moved to Scotland first as an employee of Wang Laboratories, he discovered Glasgow Celtic, a team he now supports with such adulation that he has flown especially from the US to see them play.

"I try to relate a lot of things to sport: If I am the manager, if the crowd can see that that guy is rubbish, eventually it reflects on me."

He moved to Newbridge Networks after being headhunted, and found there were acronyms for everything and a "technical snobbery".

"Are we selling to humans or are we selling to technical droids? The reality is we are selling to humans.

"I said you need to make this so I can explain it to my mother."

Newbridge, called after a town in Wales where its founder is from, suffered from `stealth marketing', he adds, where it allowed its products to spread the company's reputation. "I have seen companies with a lot less than Newbridge doing a lot more."

The company is a developer of Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) technology, which promises to transform our lives by allowing not just voice, but data, moving images to be delivered over existing telephone lines. Among its Irish clients are Telecom Eireann and Esat Digifone.

He is calling the process alchemy. Changing the use of copper is tantamount to turning it into "gold", and controlling the process is a big prize for companies. They will go on to dominate the single point access for broadband services to the home. "I see the whole industry changing now. Traditionally BT [British Telecom] - when they were deregulated - were worried about other telecom companies. The competition is Microsoft, Rupert Murdoch. . . Everyone is fighting for the `eyeballs' that will be available."

The new generation of TVs will double as personal computers, to be used for online communication, business transactions and entertainment, with programmes available on demand to the user.

Mr Flynn also believes providing broadband wireless services - Last Mile Distribution System (LMDS) - will be applicable to remote areas and to the competitors of BT and Telecom [Eireann] who "have to pay those guys to get access to your house".

"It transforms their business model," he says.

It is all a long way from a Ballycotton childhood where a rare phone call would be received in a neighbour's house. As a teenager Pearse Flynn, named after Padraig Pearse, went trawler and lobster fishing, which meant a 5 a.m. start. A particularly character-building task was the preparation of lobster bait which involved mackerel and salt being mixed in a barrel, left for nine months, and then being scooped out by hand.

"I will always be just Pearse Flynn when I go back there. That is a great grounding."

After school in Midleton CBS, he went to University College Cork to study Applied Physics and later worked for Wang. Working on an assembly line as a production manager was "the best job I ever had". "When you have a group of 40 or 50 women and you are a young man, they will try everything. When you go from there to managing professional people, it is a doddle.

"Most professional people want to do a good job. I just have to point them in the right direction."

He does not pretend to be an overly technical person himself, relying on his managerial skills to do the job. "When I arrived there [Newbridge], I thought I was as thick as mince. The only word I understood on the slide was `Newbridge' down in the corner." But having studied physics, he felt sure enough when he moved into management now to be overawed by the technical jargon of technicians. "I guess my upbringing gave me a good, healthy scepticism for that."