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A secure family business

Sysnet chief executive Gabriel Moynagh on the family dynamic that underpins the company’s success

Tom Moynagh and Chanelle Moynagh at the Energia Family Business Awards. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

Tom Moynagh and Chanelle Moynagh at the Energia Family Business Awards. Photograph: Paul Sherwood

 

Established in 1989 by Tom Moynagh, Innovative Family Business Award-winner Sysnet provides cybersecurity solutions to more than two million customers around the world with annual sales of €28 million. Those statistics are all the more impressive given the company had sales of less than €400,000 as recently as 2005.

According to current chief executive Gabriel Moynagh, being a family business has been an important factor in that success. “My dad started the business with my mother in 1989 as one of the first IT shops in Ireland to provide support and services to companies around the country,” he says. “He had worked with Digital in the US so had come from an IT background.”

He attributes his own arrival into the family business to a need for “cheap human capital”.

“I’m a zoologist and I had no interest in going into the business long-term,” he recalls. “My most recent job had been working in an American amusement park when I got the call to come and join the company in 2004. There was a bit of a crisis as it had lost a few clients and I came in to help out. I had worked in the business doing holiday cover in reception and so on over the years, but I really didn’t know the business.”

The rapid growth phase for the business came about as a result of a chance telephone call in 2005. “A guy from Realex called me and asked me if I had heard of something called the CCI-DSX,” says Moynagh. “I quickly Googled it and found it was the new cybersecurity standard being introduced by the global credit card industry.”

The company gained first-mover advantage by getting itself accredited to the standard. “We became a qualified security assessor and this allowed us go into any merchant and put in cybersecurity controls and audit them for compliance to the standard. Our growth really took off in 2009 when we developed our own cybersecurity software solution for banks.”

Family has been crucially important to the success of the company over the years.

‘Shared responsibility’

“I might be the chief executive, but my sister is my assistant and treats the company like it is hers as well. There is that sense of shared responsibility which is very good. The problem is that you end up talking about the business at Christmas dinner. But there is no issue about calling family members at any time of the day or night to discuss the business – that would not be fair to other people.”

Plain speaking and long-term thinking are other benefits. “You can cut out the small talk and get straight to the point when you are dealing with family members. Also, being a private business majority-owned by the family means we can take a longer-term approach. We have an advantage over other businesses which might be private-equity-owned and have to hit certain targets and number each year. That allows us to be more client-centred and take more sustainable decisions.”

The development of the software solution was a case in point. “I don’t know if we would have decided to do that if we weren’t a family business. We didn’t go through an extensive cost-benefit analysis at the time. We just knew it was the right thing to do. That may not have been the case if there were other shareholders at the table and we would have missed out on the opportunity.”

The are downsides, of course. “Sometimes, as a member of the family, you might not have as much respect for the hierarchy as you should do. My dad and I could get into screaming matches and that’s not right.”

But that can be a positive as well. “There has been a push-pull dynamic between myself and my dad which has really helped,” Moynagh says. “If he hadn’t been around, I might have run the business into the ground because I didn’t respect things like cash flow enough or because I pushed my own ideas too hard.”