How a company reacts in a crisis is a good barometer of its core values

Covid-19 has created logistical headaches for hiring, but in the foreign direct investment sector the show must go on

Richard Haxby runs the Irish arm of the US software company MathWorks, which employs 90 people in Galway. During the lockdown it has taken on 13 new recruits, and more are due to join in the coming weeks.

“There were a few hiccoughs getting people set up as the restrictions came into effect, but we’ve continued to hire throughout, and the actual skills we are looking for have not changed at all. Our ideal candidate is still strategic, creative and focused with a strong work ethic,” he says.

In Haxby’s opinion how a company reacts in a crisis is a good barometer of its core values. Those that behave well and show concern for their employees earn kudos, and when this is added to evidence of resilience, stability and adaptability it adds up to an attractive combination for prospective employees.

“People want to join companies that are solid and stable, and if a company is still recruiting in the current environment then they are likely to be both,” he says.


“What the Covid crisis has highlighted for candidates is that they need to find companies with a strong foundation, ones that have weathered similar crises in the past and emerged successfully. MathWorks went through the financial downturn of 2008/2009 but we retained all our staff without any layoffs or hiring freezes.

“I was with the company at that time and have been drawing on this experience to reassure people during the current crisis because, understandably, everyone is anxious,” says Haxby. “This time we are maintaining our staff profit-sharing as it sends the right signal about the value we put on our people.

“We haven’t seen a lot of revenue through Galway since this started as some businesses are delaying their investments for now. Equally, we have paused some of our own strategic decisions, but we are still hiring and investing.

"What has been an unexpected positive from the crisis is seeing our tools being redeployed by our customers in traditional areas such as aerospace and automotive – McLaren and Rolls Royce, for example – to meet frontline needs for equipment like ventilators. It has really given people a lift to see the alignment between what we do and its impact at a time of crisis."

Chosen market 

Ten years ago the Irish-owned international recruitment company Morgan McKinley set up a dedicated foreign direct investment practice. It's a pre-recruitment service that provides clients expanding internationally with background information about salaries, skills availability and how to attract talent in their chosen market. Specifically the practice advises those moving into Ireland, Singapore and China, and increasingly into Canada and Australia.

"Ireland and Singapore are our busiest markets and historically the split would have been 60:40 in favour of new businesses coming in. With Covid that's dramatically shifted to 80:20 in favour of existing companies expanding as new opportunities have emerged during the pandemic," says Trayc Keevans, the company's global foreign direct investment director.

“Decisions on new operations coming into Ireland have slowed down, and one of the main reasons is because more than 80 per cent of foreign direct investment comes from the US. At the moment US companies are not in the headspace to make decisions about new markets. However, they are looking at what they already have, and Ireland is benefiting from this.

“One sector that’s really seen the benefit is supply chain,” she says. “The pandemic has made companies look at their global sourcing and the disruption to it and where their supply chains need to be. Ireland is ahead of the curve in that we already have virtual supply chain operations here, particularly in the pharma sector, and that’s driven more of the same.

“One of our busiest business areas is supply chain and procurement for analysts and specialists. Tech is always important and there is continuing high demand in engineering, quality and data.

“We’ve also seen activity where private equity firms and VC companies in the US have acquired businesses during Covid and are making decisions about generating returns. Hiring talent is a big part of that.

“In the US tech world the cost of talent is very high, up to three times what it is here, so that makes Ireland a very attractive proposition. We’ve been speaking to a number of them about setting up small satellite operations of maybe 10-20 people in Ireland. They look on Ireland as an extension of the European talent market.”

Essential hires

Keevans says another Covid-driven trend is that hiring is only happening on a need-to-have basis.

“There has definitely been a shift more than a slow down with the focus on essential hires. We’re not seeing any speculative probing which is always something you get when the market is buoyant. Companies that are advertising positions now are committed and serious about them.

“What’s also beginning to emerge is a change in perception among employees,” Keevans adds. “There’s been a very human element to this crisis, and that has made people stop and re-evaluate what kind of life-balance they want since they’ve been working from home. People with long commutes are beginning to question whether they still want to do them, for example.

“This is driving a lot of activity from the candidate side, with people asking us what’s out there that might suit them and how they want to work in the future. This wasn’t a consideration for most candidates pre-Covid.”