‘Believe in yourself but take advice from those you trust’

Inside Track: Dooley Insurance Group managing director Tim Dooley

Set up in 1957, the Dooley Insurance Group has doubled its business through organic growth and acquisitions in the last five years.

What is special about your business?
We're extremely people focused both in terms of clients and staff. We relied heavily on the loyalty of our clients in the downturn and firmly believe loyalty is a two-way street. As regards staff, I believe in hiring hard and managing easy. All our staff have strong insurance and financial services market experience, with third-level or industry qualifications and a willingness and the capability to self-manage.

What sets your business apart in your sector?
Our experience and the fact that we are firmly anchored in the local community in Kildare and believe it is vitally important to give back. I worked for Ark Life and Ulster Bank before following in my father Ned's footsteps and setting up my own brokerage. I know from observing him do business what really matters to people when it comes to buying insurance products. Ned started his business 60 years ago and devoted extraordinary attention to people. His client retention rates reflected this. We strive to do the same. If we can't be in a space where we can impart quality advice then we don't want to be in that space.

What have been your biggest challenges?
Finding and attracting good employees is one and technology is another. Technology is not something I'm entirely comfortable with. The introduction of IT to the insurance industry was somewhat difficult, given the number of different stakeholders. However, I recognised that having a first-class tech proposition was essential to achieve my vision for the business. We now have the most advanced customer-focused technology systems available and were one of the first brokers in Ireland to have a paperless office and implement a cloud-based solution for storing documents securely.


What has been your biggest success?
We have acquired eight companies since 2002 and doubled our business in the last five years. We will double it again in next five years. I am proud of the fact that we successfully integrated the acquisitions: staff buy-in was key to achieving this. My wife Mary and I took a massive leap of faith to set up our business. We extended ourselves financially and otherwise to do so. And looking at where we are today, I would consider building the business to this point our biggest success.

What piece of would you give someone starting a business?
Believe in yourself but take advice from those you trust. Make technology your friend. Hire well. You are only as good as the team around you. Always have a vision and a business plan. It's an invaluable measuring tool. Revisit this plan regularly to ensure that it stretches you and the people around you. Involve employees as their buy-in is essential. Make the customer the centre of all major business decisions. Make sure you have the backing and full support of your partner and family.

Who do you admire most in business and why?
My father. He has shown me what it takes to succeed. He is 89 and only merged his business with mine two years ago. He taught me that this is a seven-day-a-week business. I remember customers calling to our house to settle premiums with my father even on Christmas Day. This work ethic has been ingrained in me, I hope. I also admire my clients who have come through the recent recession and are the lifeblood of the country. I believe, despite the prospect of Brexit and other barriers to trade, the future is bright due to their entrepreneurial and resilient spirit.

Do you have business hero or heroine?
Feargal Quinn. For him, quality and customer service were king. That's something we try to emulate. He was competing against formidable opposition but he found a niche and made it work. We're trying to do the same thing. It's tough when you're selling a quality product and you're surrounded by people undercutting you. But those that joined in the race to the bottom in the insurance industry are no longer here. We are.

What two things could the Government do to help SMEs in the current environment?
Offer financial supports for training to get companies up to speed in areas such as digital technology and maybe give PRSI relief on new hires. Indigenous firms don't get the breaks and grants FDI companies do. We need both, but the SME sector deserves more support than it's getting.

In your experience, are banks lending to SMEs?
It's mixed and it depends on the bank. Decisions are very slow and very selective. There is a shift happening though. In the early 2000s, all they wanted to know about were your property assets if you wanted a loan. Now they're at least beginning to look at the business proposition and its ability to deliver. That's a welcome change.

What's the biggest mistake you've made in business?
Making snap decisions without weighing the downside enough.

What is the most frustrating part of running a small business?
I really don't find it frustrating.

What makes it all worthwhile?
Being able to work at something I feel passionate about. The difference you can make to people's lives at times of distress is considerable if you have advised them well.

What's your business worth and would you sell it?
Well it's not for sale. It's tough starting a business and we're now at the point where the hard work is paying off. I'd like to enjoy that for a while.