Smaller businesses putting it up to big boys with appetite for change

Irish Independent – Business Brain: John Harty Feature Article, Jan 23rd

Ireland is a great country in which to work and do business. Only recently we were named the best country in the world to do business by ‘Forbes’ magazine.

The reasons are numerous: large labour pool, low tax rates and price stability are but a few. Considering this, it shouldn’t really come as any surprise that we’re home to more than 1,000 overseas organisations, employing more than 150,000 people.

Traditionally, businesses such as these lost customers and prospects to their streamlined competitors. Now they’re losing them to a different source: new, emerging, small businesses with a focus on a more specific market segment.

These smaller companies are leaner, more agile, more adaptable and adjust to new technological advances more rapidly, allowing them to “reach over the top” and gain customers from the main-stay players of the sector. The net result is a smaller piece of the pie for the larger organisations – the PLCs.

While in the past small businesses have aspired, and rightfully so, to be more like the big multinationals in their sector, this shift is causing PLCs across Ireland to look more closely at the ‘little guys’ when choosing their business’ next leaders.

They’re looking for individuals working in this type of smaller competitor that are experienced in applying new digital and online strategies to such sectors.

Those individuals that can combine such skills and experience with a leading brand and assist in the new customer proposition being introduced by PLCs, are the ones for whom the future looks most bright.

In recent months, when searching for that next executive leader, we have found skills and experience such as adaptability; dealing with adversity; project-focused experience; and multifaceted project work, to be almost more important now than the traditional “safe-pair of hands” and “lengthy experience of the sector” that so many once looked for.

This new generation of leaders is needed now to drive change in the culture within teams and the organisation as a whole, encouraging them to reconsider how they retain and acquire customers, rather than by following the internal norms of the megalith PLC.

The leaders of smaller companies – and the future leaders of our PLCs – understand that businesses need to redefine their concept of a customer and that in order to retain them they must look more closely at the experience they provide.

Did you know that of the most successful online businesses globally, 90pc of their users (customers) never transact with the business?

Most CEOs in this sector are fine with this – they are doing enough business with the other 10pc to make significant profits and become the large-scale PLCs of the future.

Traditional businesses such as banking, insurance and others are slowly adapting to this concept and seeking leaders who understand that, in order to capture more future customers, the employees within the business must believe that their role is not to make the company profits soar, more so to provide greater service and a better experience to the customer.

The best leaders and the leaders of tomorrow are able to translate this into a very profitable scenario on the books of the business, while leaving the customer with the experience of receiving a lot and that sense of the transaction being just one part of his/her commitment to the relationship.

It is time for big businesses to start looking at their smaller competitors and adopting their agile, technology -embracing attitude.

Most importantly they must accept that an ability to capture customers is the key quality to the leaders of tomorrow.

John Harty is Managing Director at Harty International, a leading Executive Search firm with offices in London & Dublin

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John Harty is a Senior Client Partner based in the Korn Ferry Dublin Office. Operating internationally, he is a core member of the firm’s Global Financial Services practice and leads Financial Services in Ireland.