‘The AV crew is often first to arrive and last to leave’

5 Dec 2018

John Roche. Image: Ion Solutions

John Roche of Ion Solutions fills us in on the challenging nature of the AV industry, and why diversity is key to brainstorming sessions.

John Roche is group managing director at Ion Solutions (EMEA), which supplies and installs audiovisual (AV), broadcast television and digital video communications equipment, as well as delivering technical services to live events, conferences and exhibitions.

In 1983, he joined Eurotek Ireland, a Dublin-based company specialising in the broadcast, professional AV and visual effects sectors. During the ’90s, he was involved in the successful management buyout of Eurotek, later becoming group CEO of the company.

Roche was also a director of Avtek Solutions, a provider of AV technical production to the conference, events and incentives market. Ion Solutions was formed on 1 January 2018 by merging sister companies Eurotek Ireland and Avtek Solutions.

Describe your role and what you do.

Our main focus at the moment is to continue enhancing the services we provide to our clients and ensuring they see and feel the benefits of the merger.

As group managing director, I am responsible for the strategic direction of the three business pillars – live, integration and managed services. Over the next 18 months, we plan to engage in strategic growth through a combination of organic development, acquisitions and entry to a number of new markets. It’s also important to us that we continue operating a great working environment for our team, who have been extremely supportive of the recent changes in the business.

On a day-to-day basis, I’m often out on site with clients but I do try to be present in the offices in Sandyford at least three days a week. 

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I have a background in project management and am used to using lists to prioritise work tasks.

The nature of the events business is that the AV crew are often the first to arrive and the last to leave so it can be difficult to switch off, but it’s something I’ve become used to after nearly 40 years in the business.

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

We operate in a fast-changing technical environment and it’s crucial that we are flexible enough to respond to the needs of our clients. In many ways, the main challenge we face is to constantly ensure we continually provide the best service possible, continue to stay ahead of the game and make sure our company strategy reflects this.

Brexit and the uncertainty around it is creating is a challenge, but one we have been preparing for since the UK’s decision in June 2016. We work with clients across Ireland and the United Kingdom, so the fluctuating value of sterling needs to be watched closely, as does any contraction in the economy brought on by companies tightening their belts in preparation of a potential economic downturn.

Availability of suitably qualified staff is a third challenge but one we are addressing through dialogue with colleges and other training institutions.

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

There are lots of exciting developments at the moment, particularly around collaborative virtual workspaces, cloud-based services and facilities, and developments in virtual reality and augmented reality.

Companies are changing their work practices to reflect the changes technology is having on the working environment. We held a showcase in the RDS called Activate, highlighting these technologies and their capabilities, and we got a great response from clients. It’s crucial for us to be at the cutting edge of these advances so we are in a position to provide the best service possible to our clients.

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

I’ve always been interested in technology, from when I started out working in BLB Radio in Bray many years ago. I later completed a City and Guilds telecommunications course, and in 1982 took up a position in sales with Video Service Ireland. In 1983, I joined Eurotek Ireland. In 1999, I studied for a diploma in information systems from Trinity College.

Eurotek was 50 years old in 2017 and Avtek more than 20 years in business. In recent times, the synergies between both businesses became more and more apparent as customers wanted companies like ours to offer a wider range of services. This led to the merger of the two operations earlier this year and put us on the road we currently travel.

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

Early on in my career, I made an appointment that wasn’t the right fit for the company I was working in at the time – it’s something I really learned from. Since then, I always ensure that all team members go through a rigorous training process, so it’s clear what is expected from them. 

How do you get the best out of your team? 

A satisfied and motivated team is crucial to our business. We’re a front-facing business, and customer service is a vital part of the service we provide. For this reason, we focus significantly on our team’s needs and ensuring they are happy in their work.

‘The AV industry is often thought to be male-dominated but we have found that as the skills required to complete projects have broadened out, this perception of the industry has diminished’

Each member of the team undertakes extensive training when they join Ion Solutions, meaning when they are working on site and dealing with clients or the public, we’re confident in their ability to handle any situation.

We have also initiated a wellness programme for our team and we encourage them to take on work-related and non-work related activities.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

Ion Solutions is a multigenerational company. We have some staff members reaching retirement age while others are just out of college, so we ensure we take time to understand the needs of the new working generations such as Generation Z, the first generation of ‘digital natives’.

The AV industry is often thought to be male-dominated but, in recent years, we have found that as the skills required to complete projects have broadened out, this perception of the industry has diminished.

We produce events for clients and we have found that diversity is crucial to coming up with creative ideas. Everyone comes to their role with different insights and experience, and these can all add up to a unique experience for our clients.

Who is your role model and why?

I don’t have one particular role model as there are many people I admire in business, sport and other walks of life. I have a keen interest in golf and have always found Jack Nicklaus to be particularly inspirational, as he was a solid, consistent golfer. Everyone knows Nicklaus won the most majors (18), but he also finished second in 19 other majors, which is quite an achievement by anyone’s standards.

I also take a lot from the way my parents lead their lives and their demonstration that there are no shortcuts to success – just hard work, learning from failure and trying again.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

My newfound love for photography is currently filling up my book list. One of the best books I’ve read about photography is The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression by Bruce Barnbaum. It’s almost like a photographer’s bible.

I have also read a number of business-related books, including The Six Principles of Service Excellence, which I found to be very useful in bringing our customer service to a whole new level.

Sports-wise, I really enjoyed Cracking the Code: The Winning Ryder Cup Strategy by Paul Azinger and Dr Ron Braund. It gave me some real insights into how Azinger turned the 2008 squad into a winning team.

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

My smartphone and my laptop are key pieces of technology when I’m out on the road. As you would expect, we benefit from meeting-room technology, including StarLeaf, Bluescape and Ross Video – they allow us to interact with our crews around the country and our clients across the world.

The most critical resource I have available to me is the incredibly talented team who work with Ion Solutions – that’s really what gets us through the week!

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