For the past six years, Ireland has been named the best country in the world for attracting high-value foreign direct investment. Much of that success is attributable to the work of Ireland’s inward investment promotion agency, the IDA.
But while we are used to hearing announcements about the setting-up of US and other multinational companies here, with the prospect of hundreds of new jobs, it’s easy to forget that even the largest FDI investment typically starts with just one person and a desk.
This time last year, Angela Canny was that soldier. “I was employee number one in our Dublin office,” says Canny, regional sales director EMEA at Sojern, a San Fransisco-based online travel-data company that has delivered more than $10 billion in direct bookings for its travel industry clients.
While the company, which was founded in 2007, has 350 staff worldwide, for the first few weeks Canny remained the sole constituent of its “landing team”.
Her first step was to find an office. Canny, who is Irish, opted for Upper Mount Street. “We’ve been really lucky in that we found a really flexible landlord who has accommodated us as we have grown. We have already moved three times within the building,” says Canny.
Sojern has offices in New York, Omaha (where it was founded), Dubai, Singapore and London. The reason it chose to also open in Dublin was because Tiffani Ingham, its senior director of people operations, had previously worked with US cloud-based customer service software company Zendesk, and had been part of its landing party in Dublin. "She had lived here for a number of years so she understood the level of talent here," says Canny.
After finding an office, the next step is to populate it. Canny spent much of the past year recruiting. Sojern’s Dublin office now has a team of 19, with three roles currently open. By June of next year she expects staff levels to hit 40.
In the past month she has taken on an in-house recruiter, a decision which has freed her up enormously. “Obviously we had help from external recruitment agencies in the beginning but what we are looking for in a candidate doesn’t easily fit with either a specialist multi-lingual recruitment agency, or with a specialist sales recruitment agency, or with a specialist hotel-sector agency. We look for people skilled in all three,” she says.
The big challenge for any landing team is that they often arrive as unknown employment entities, competing with familiar brands such as LinkedIn, Google and Facebook, the current 'employers of choice'.
Rather than being a drawback, Canny believes Sojern benefits from their presence here. “Quite a number of our team are ex those companies, and the reason they left is because they felt they had become a number in a large organisation. Here, they get a chance to make an impact in a start-up environment. It’s all about test and learn for us right now and they get to make decisions that will help create the culture of the business here.”
A landing team provides a unique opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new business, similar to a start-up, yet backed by a large organisation.
“The number one characteristic I hire for is entrepreneurial spirit. If you are process-oriented and can’t manage change, this is not the job for you,” explains Canny.
Patricia Duchene headed up the landing party for Wrike, the US work-management and collaboration platform company. Established in the US in 2006, it has more than one million users and 500 staff.
Duchene has worked with Wrike for five years and came to Ireland in 2015 from its headquarters in San José, California. The company’s management had considered Amsterdam and London, but opted for Dublin for two reasons.
“First was the talent community. Dublin was a tech hub already with a rich talent pool that we could tap into. Second was the IDA. We worked very closely with them and they just made it so easy to envisage ourselves in Dublin, they mapped out that process for us,” says Duchene.
“When you are a US-based company, the idea of opening an office in another country can be very daunting. Everything is different; your Government departments are different. The IDA does a great job of translating all that for you,” says Duchene.
“The single best thing we did was to make our first hire an Irish recruiter – an in-house person with a degree in HR who could understand both Wrike’s culture and the local recruitment market and the talent pool here. Irish CVs look very different to US resumes. Having that person gave us a huge advantage. We hired her before even I landed and explained that ‘You might be on your own for a while in an office and have to fix the copy machine if it breaks and are you okay with that?’ More than anything we needed someone on the ground to help us navigate.”
Duchene followed in July 2015 with her husband and their dog. By Christmas, she was employing 15 people. In September 2016, Wrike moved out of its initial office in Fitzwilliam Square to a bigger one on Harcourt Street, where it currently employs 50 people. By 2019, that number will be 80.
“I’m really happy with the people we have here. Sure, everybody is competing for the same talent but it is talent I’m happy to compete for. We’re a customer-facing organisation so we need lots of different languages and I don’t know of any other place where you would get that – it’s so diverse,” says Duchene.
Competing in the ‘war for talent’ is about more than salary, she points out. “You can hire mercenaries or you can hire missionaries and we’re looking for missionaries. It is daunting to think ‘How can I compete with Google and Facebook, I don’t have a sushi chef, we don’t offer massages?’ But what we do offer is opportunity for someone to make an impact and that is incredibly valuable for people in tech, especially those looking to expedite their career path, doing in five years what it might take 10 years somewhere else.”