Wild Geese: Michael Kenny, CEO of Kenny and Company
Dubliner runs management consultant with Silicon Valley and Portland offices
Michael Kenny of Kenny and Company: “Here in San Francisco being on your second, third or fourth start-up is seen as great experience. Most of the start-ups in Silicon Valley have emigrant founders.”
Michael Kenny grew up in Dublin and attended CUS and UCD, graduating with a BComm in 1998 and a masters in business studies in 1991.
“My first job out of UCD was with Electronic Data Systems (EDS) in Luton in England as a systems engineer. I lived in Luton for three years before returning to Ireland with EDS in 1996.”
After obtaining a green card in the 1996 US visa lottery, he left for the United States with his wife Sally Ann Flood.
“We were happy in Ireland and had good jobs, me with EDS and Sally Ann with Deloitte. Our mindset at the time was that, via the green card, we had been given the opportunity to experience life in the US for a few years and we could always come back to Dublin.”
The couple looked at New York, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco and settled on San Francisco as Deloitte offered to transfer Sally Ann directly.
“It was the height of the dot.com boom and it was the place to be, full of entrepreneurial excitement and was perfect for us. We planned to live here for three to five years, thinking it would be an adventure but we have now stayed 20 years.”
Kenny initially joined Deloitte Consulting before moving to Accenture (Andersen Consulting) where he became a partner in 2008.
Working at Deloitte and Accenture and at clients such as HP, Cisco, Microsoft, Applied Materials and Boeing proved a tremendous experience and everything he had learned in the BComm and the MBS became real. However, Kenny’s father had had his own business and he remembered thinking that someday he would too.
It took him a long time to get started as he enjoyed Accenture and there was always another engagement or client or promotion. “I eventually started my own management consulting business in 2010 with two close friends and a vision to “change the way consulting services are delivered, with a clientcentric model and putting professional fees at risk, based entirely on client satisfaction – every engagement every time.”
“This was the one of my most exciting and rewarding decisions I have made – other than proposing to Sally Ann of course!” Kenny adds.
Kenny & Company focuses on working in small teams, hand-in-hand with clients on their most challenging strategy, operations and technology issues. They now have more than 20 consultants, with offices in Silicon Valley, and a newly opened office in Portland, Oregon.
Kenny has been managing partner and chief executive of Kenny & Company for the past six years.
“I started the company in the middle of the 2010 recession, essentially making a bet on myself. It was challenging in the first year, investing our savings, generating business and hiring talented people in Silicon Valley. I’ve been very fortunate in having great partners, clients and employees.
“Economic growth here over the last six years has been sporadic but we’ve been able to grow at 15-25 per cent each year through a combination of measured investments, business development and good fortune.”
Accounting wasn’t Kenny’s favourite subject in college but running his own business through the great recession and investing his own money made it real very quickly and he figures he’d do much better now.
The Kennys return to Ireland once a year and have looked to invest in several start-ups. However, the opportunity and entrepreneurial energy of San Francisco has a hold on them.
“I think the difference is really the local market opportunity, business environment and attitude. The market here is huge with over seven million people in the Bay Area alone and over 38 million in California. The business environment is conducive to starting and doing business.
“We complain about government red tape but in reality starting a business here is easy. When I started my company the most common response was ‘good for you’.”
Kenny sees new Irish emigrants and J1s arrive every year and, while they recognise the opportunities, some need a push to take the risk.
“There is still that fear of failure we all grew up with. Here in San Francisco being on your second, third or fourth start-up is seen as great experience. Most of the start-ups in Silicon Valley have emigrant founders and the opportunities are tremendous.”
His one concern is Irish emigrants not “wanting it more”. Kenny helped an Irish graduate last year find a job with a start-up. Previously he was working in a call centre for AT&T. It was only when Kenny asked him if that was what he really came here for, that he realised he needed to take a risk and embrace the start-up opportunity in Silicon Valley.
Professionally, Kenny wants to continue to grow his firm and expand in the US and open offices in Seattle and maybe LA and New York.
“I also want to make more Venture Capital investments in Ireland and give people some of the opportunities I have had.
“We’ve three children Eamonn (14), Deirdre (11) and Fiona (9) so we need to get them through school and then university.” He’d love them to do a year in UCD or Trinity as part of their education and reconnect with Ireland and perhaps open an office in Dublin.