‘The biggest challenge is changing the traditional mindset’
Inside Track: Paul Cummins, MD, SeaChange
Paul Cummins of SeaChange: ‘Safety is often seen as external but, in reality, safety is a core part of every business’
Paul Cummins is managing director of SeaChange, a behaviour-based safety solutions consultancy based in Naas, Co Kildare. The family business was founded in 2005 by Paul’s father, Ger, with Paul joining the business full-time in 2014 having completed a PhD in the psychology of leadership.
What sets your business apart from the competition?
We don’t just stop at compliance. Most traditional safety providers focus on the compliance aspect of things, but the facts show that most accidents occur as part of behaviour. Therefore our systems connect staff to safety standards. Eighty-five per cent of accidents are not about the environment, they are behaviour-based – it’s about people. We go beyond technical safety assessments in order to impact the behaviour of staff by creating simple, practical, visual and digital products which make safety part of the work culture on a day-to-day basis, instead of safety being a compliance report in a lever arch file gathering dust on a shelf.
If a business’s risk profile can be improved then its insurance premium costs can come down too. Safety is often seen as external but, in reality, safety is a core part of every business. Everyone wants to go to work or visit somewhere and leave it safely so what we do is improve safety culture in the workplace.
What was the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
We are an Enterprise Ireland client and EI connected me with a mentor called Will McKee, who is unfortunately no longer with us. He said: “As an SME, never underestimate the value you bring to clients. If you are working with a client and they don’t understand the ‘why’ of what you are bringing to them – the core aspect of what you do – then it may not be a sustainable partnership and the business with them may not be worth pursuing.”
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
In the early years, we hired people that we probably knew in our gut weren’t the right culture fit for us. This is something which is a challenge for all SMEs – especially now with low unemployment figures. We now focus on hiring people with the right attitude. Skills and competencies can be learned, but it’s very hard to change someone’s attitude.
And your major success to date?
When I joined, we were a small family business with a team of three; now we have 26 staff. I’m proud of the fact that we have a 95 per cent client retention rate across 1,000 client sites. We have backed ourselves and reinvested in developing our own proprietary digital software and applications – reinvesting close to €1 million since the company was established in our growth, development and digital product offering and in creating our own proprietary software, and we have managed to do that without seeking external investment so far.
Who do you most admire in business and why?
Not to sound too cliched but I admire my father Ger. He is extremely passionate, very authentic and is a visionary in terms of where the world of safety is headed.
Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?
During the downturn we looked to extend a small overdraft by a small amount and the doors were closed to us. It made us more resilient, but I would say that the banks were disconnected from the realities of SMEs. Over the years, we have accessed grants from Enterprise Ireland, and recently we used a company called Linked Finance which was a very easy process.
What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?
Encouraging and supporting start-ups and the development of SMEs is critical. Look at increasing the entrepreneur tax relief and look to stimulate grassroot coders in Ireland. We are home to tech giants and many start-ups but from my own experience many of the coders come from outside of Ireland. It would be good to get ahead of the curve so we are still leading development in 10 or 20 years’ time.
What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?
I could talk about growing during the recession but, to be honest, the biggest challenge we face is changing the traditional mindset to health and safety. In Ireland, box-ticking safety compliance is entrenched and is a mindset that needs to change given our high claims culture and rising insurance costs. We are disrupting that mindset with fruitful results but it is something we face every day in business.
How do you see the short-term future for your business?
Very positive. We are focusing on new product development in the digital space, which is part of our medium-term strategy to scale the business. We are seeing growth in all of the sectors in which we operate – in particular the high-footfall sector.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
Since 2014, the business has grown year-on-year by 30 per cent and obviously our value has also grown. While I won’t put a monetary value on it, it has never been as valuable as it is today. Every business would sell to the right buyer at the right time but, for us, it would be very important that there was a shared philosophy and vision so that the legacy we have created would be preserved.