‘One of the challenges has been competing against global unicorns’

26 Nov 2019

Joe McGinley. Image: Iconic Offices

Joe McGinley of Iconic Offices discusses why he’s an early riser, how he is separating the company from the competition, and why Brexit has been kind to the Irish workspace business.

Joe McGinley is the CEO and founder of Irish workspace provider Iconic Offices. Since the business was founded in 2013, it has opened 16 office spaces around Dublin, including locations on Thomas St, St Stephen’s Green and Mount St.

‘We are currently capitalising on two key sector trends: Brexit-related opportunities and the increasing appetite for flexible workspace generally’

Describe your role and what you do.

My role involves running the business on a day-to-day basis. My primary responsibility is to liaise with all my direct reports to ensure the smooth running and future planning of most departments. Some of my additional responsibilities include sourcing and designing of new locations, exploration of new business opportunities, and oversight on our food and beverage arm of the business.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

Daily, I will try and close out many quick wins first and then I try to be ruthless with my priorities next. I do write lists but if I wrote a full list, I would never get any work completed, so I try to keep the list in the mornings to my top four or five priorities.

I normally wake by 5am and focus on my priorities for the day, dealing with any critical emails or any serious issues that need peace and focus to be resolved. Once 9am hits, the madness starts, and the day predominately involves back-to-back meetings and firefighting, so 5am to 9am are my ‘power hours’.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

One of the largest challenges has been competing against global ‘unicorn’ competitors who are extremely well-funded, loss-making competitors, while continuing to grow the business and increase turnover as well as profitability.

2019 will mark our most challenging year to date, however, when you look at the numbers, it was our most successful year to date. It took a lot of discipline to hold true to our values of remaining lowly leveraged with minimal debt.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

We are currently capitalising on two key sector trends: Brexit-related opportunities and the increasing appetite for flexible workspace generally.

Brexit has been kind to our business and we have reaped numerous new clients opening Irish offices, directly as a result of Brexit worries. The sectors we have benefited most from include financial, legal and business services.

We are seeing a continued trend in the market, which is supported by nearly all the peer-reviewed work available, that more and more companies are seeking flexible workspace to fulfil all or part of their real estate strategy. Companies no longer want to be locked into 10-year contracts and recognise the immediate benefits it brings to their business and staff.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

After a couple of sales roles, I completed an honours degree in property studies in DIT, while working full time. From there, I opened a number of residential and commercial estate agency businesses, where I worked closely with the flexible workspace industry.

During this period, I understood the market better and could clearly identify a gap in the market for a ‘design-led’ operation, at which point there was none available in the Irish market. Despite being at the depth of the recession in Ireland, before I even opened the first building, demand for my space was outstripping supply and I knew I was on to a good thing.

A man in a grey suit stands in front of a wall that reads, 'The Masonry'.

Joe McGinley. Image: Paul McCarthy

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

There’s not enough space here to record them all. There was so many buildings I should have taken that I didn’t, vendors I shouldn’t have dealt with, however, I just see all that as part of the journey. When I look back, I don’t regret anything.

You need the failures and the mistakes to make you wiser and stronger – I truly believe that. One of my mottos in life is ‘the days that break you are the days that make you’, and nothing could be truer.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I would describe my leadership style as ‘free rein’. I don’t like to micromanage. I put the time in at the start to make sure they are the best person I can possibly conceive for the role, I make sure they are onboarded satisfactorily, and then I take a hands-off approach.

I believe there is no point hiring someone who is better than you to do a role and then standing over them daily. I give the person the authority to make the necessary changes and I back them up 100pc. This strategy has worked well for me, but I don’t think it’s a style everyone should implement and that even applies to departments within my own organisation. 

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Actually, no. As a sector, it is very open and accepting. An operator deemed to have a diversity problem would soon discover they have a business problem when their clients with morals start walking out the door.

As an industry, to be fair, it has historically always had a high level of diversity. Personally, I believe the industry has always been very attractive to females and that more balanced approached early on opened the door to diversity very naturally.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

I had a couple of people who I could call on if I needed advice, but I would say I never had a true mentor. It is actually something I would have really relished and something I would really have benefited from.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

My top business books I read in 2019 would be Shoe Dog by Phil Knight, which is the story of how the brand Nike came to life. It is amazing to see how that business grew, with such integrity, from just a concept to one the best-known brands in the world.

Am I Being Too Subtle by Sam Zell makes for a fascinating read. The book details Sam’s rise from an ‘average Joe’ to becoming chair of five NYSE-listed companies. An unbelievable journey with some thrilling deals done along the way.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

Like a lot of Irish people, it used to be alcohol, but I haven’t had a drink in nine years.

In work, it’s probably my Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max. I love large screens on my phone. Some days I don’t even open the laptop and just pound away on the phone between meetings. It literally has everything I need to do a full day’s work.

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