Kaon Automation MD Dominic Finlay discusses the ‘ever-growing sector’ his company is focused on and the challenge of attracting engineers.
Dominic Finlay trained as an accountant with Cadbury Schweppes and worked with the group in a variety of finance and marketing roles in the UK, US, Australia and the Netherlands, focusing largely on business development. He moved back to Ireland in 2005, working with the Quinn Group and then Liberty Insurance.
Finlay joined Kaon Automation in 2016 with the aim of adding more business structure to an engineering business where the focus had traditionally been on the product. Kaon is an automation specialist that works with manufacturing companies in industries such as medtech. It is headquartered in Sligo but announced plans last year to expand to Cork.
‘We design and build customised automated machinery for many of the largest medtech manufacturers operating in Ireland’
– DOMINIC FINLAY
What does your role at Kaon Automation entail?
As managing director of a medium-sized company, I am very hands on across the business. We design and build customised automated machinery for many of the largest medtech manufacturers operating in Ireland. I see my primary role as steering the business in the right direction and developing people.
Day to day, I spend a lot of time looking at performance, future plans, effective controls and opportunities for improvement. I also meet my direct team on a regular basis to help them resolve issues and review their own development. While some days are focused more on operations (Mondays and Fridays), each day tends to be different and, as each machine we are building is different, there are always new things to deal with daily.
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
Supply chain and recruitment are our biggest challenges – which is common to many businesses and sectors.
On supply chain, we added resources and initiated a full review of our processes leading to a move away from a just-in-time approach to a mix where we now also stock key materials where lead times are long. We are also standardising many of our components to further improve efficiencies and simplify our production and procurement process.
In terms of recruitment, we have put more emphasis on presenting ourselves as a great place to work that offers employees great opportunities to develop their skills and careers. Each day presents technical challenges for our engineering team – which our team thrives on as finding solutions, designing and delivering great machines is what attracted them to be engineers in the first place.
Getting this message to potential candidates is key and to do this we are constantly reviewing our communication tools and have applied more resources to recruitment. This year alone we have directly contacted thousands of engineers across Ireland, Europe and Asia to build awareness of Kaon as a great place to develop an engineering career.
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?
We are automation specialists and this is an ever-growing sector as manufacturing industries seek to gain efficiencies to remain competitive while improving quality.
We predominately work with the large medical device sector in Ireland and there is an ongoing move towards automation as customers strive to reduce their manufacturing costs and struggle with recruitment challenges.
Having built up a strong reputation with most of the leading operators in the sector, we are trusted to deliver innovative solutions and machines that perform to a very high standard. Our collaborative approach puts us in a strong position to capitalise on opportunities.
What set you on the road to where you are now?
Being encouraged as a child to be curious and ask questions opened me to a bigger fascinating world beyond Monaghan, where I grew up.
This motivated me to want to travel, which has led me to opportunities to live and work in great places and meet many interesting and inspiring people. I learnt to embrace change, the importance of open communication and to become more empathetic.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Probably the biggest risks I have taken have been when I have resigned from roles without having a new position to go to. As this has always worked out well, in hindsight it doesn’t seem like much of a risk. But, at the time, I wasn’t quite as confident.
What one work skill do you wish you had?
I am quite organised but often easily distracted, so would love to have laser focus!
How do you get the best out of your team?
I think being clear on expectations is important. Then open communication to let people know when they are doing a good job and when they are not, why not and what areas can be improved on, while listening and taking on board feedback.
This approach builds trust and fosters mutual responsibility, which in the end delivers results for team members and the company.
Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?
Engineering is still very male-orientated and while we have seen an increasing number of female applicants, there is still some way to go. I think schools, industry and parents all have a role in demonstrating that engineering is a rewarding and interesting career for everyone with great long-term opportunities.
Gender diversity is very important to us and we like to demonstrate that. On our office wall, we have the names of many pioneering engineers, including Alice Perry who was the first woman in Ireland or the UK to receive a degree in engineering back in 1906.
We have around 60 employees at present and we are fortunate to have about one-quarter of colleagues from 13 countries across the world. Increasingly we are recruiting from India and Brazil as well as eastern Europe – this mix adds to a great blend of cultures and backgrounds.
What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
I have worked with many inspirational, successful and interesting people over the years. I have been very appreciative of the support, guidance and encouragement that many of them have given me.
The best piece of advice that I think I ever received was to work hard, do the best job possible, and always try to do myself out of a job as there is always another one around the corner. I have tried to live to this approach and, so far, it has worked out fine!
What books have you read that you would recommend?
Skeleton Coast by John H Marsh is a gripping true story of a rescue of the passengers aboard the Dunedin Star, which was lost off the coast of Namibia during World War 2. The drama is worthy of a movie, which I’m surprised has never been made!
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
As a finance person, I don’t know if I could live without Excel!!
But more seriously, I think effectively using the standard productivity tools like a calendar, to-do apps and Teams is crucial to keeping organised and for effective communications. However, I probably still rely most on pen and notebook to record ideas, notes, thoughts, actions, etc.
Having a great team around also helps – people who think differently, have different experiences and interests helps keep me invigorated and makes each day enjoyable, and the working week flies by as a consequence.
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