Kefron’s Paul Kearns discusses taking over the family business, expanding into the UK, and helping companies move to the hybrid world of work.
Paul Kearns is the managing director of Kefron, a Dublin-headquartered business that specialises in information and document management. The company has 120 employees across Ireland and the UK, and provides digital solutions to more than 900 businesses.
Kearns has worked in management roles in both Ireland and the UK. He is also non-executive director of i-Sigma, a trade association for secure information lifecycle management based in Arizona.
‘In the early days as MD, my biggest mistake was being too cautious in expanding into new markets’
– PAUL KEARNS
Describe your role and what you do.
As managing director, I’m responsible for the strategic direction of Kefron. I have been leading an incredible team of experts at our business for more than a decade as we help an ever-growing number of organisations to make the move towards a smarter office.
As a family-owned and run business, I take particular pride in forging lasting relationships built on trust and transparency and which provide our customers with the services that best meet their needs.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
No two days are the same in this business. However, I try to strike a balance between time dedicated to our customer base and time spent working on long-term transformational projects that drive innovation in our service offering and the growth of our business into the future.
Given the experience of the past year, I’ve come to place greater emphasis on a work-life balance. I try to disconnect for a few hours each day – it gives me the chance to step back from my day-to-day work and think ahead. Family time is also very important – we love to travel and we’re looking forward to visiting some new places in Ireland this summer.
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
As with many businesses in Ireland and the UK, the Covid-19 pandemic has proven to be a key challenge facing our customers. Organisations have embraced remote working at speed – this rapid change presented many logistical challenges for firms, especially when it comes to ensuring the accessibility and security of their documents.
Kefron has helped those both in the public and private sectors respond to these challenges and successfully manage the move to a hybrid workforce. From the National Museum of Ireland and Tullamore Hospital to the University of East London, we’ve been putting our solutions to use to help organisations maintain vital services while their employees work from home.
The risk of fraud and cybercrime is also impacting businesses and organisations. Our team at Kefron have been helping organisations put in place the digital controls and automated processes that will help to mitigate future risks within a smart office. No company is untouchable when it comes to fraud, but by automating processes and moving them online, businesses can ensure smart protection for their most valuable asset: their information.
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?
With the unprecedented change over the past year, Kefron is focused on supporting organisations of all sizes to adapt to the future of work by creating the ‘smart office’.
By moving documents and information online and rolling out new services such as a digital mailroom, we can ensure that employees – whether working at home or in the office – have access to the information where and how they work best. We’re also laser-focused on putting in place the smart business supports that help SMEs in particular to become more efficient and be best placed to recover over the coming months.
I believe there is a unique opportunity for Kefron to build on our track record of helping clients to meet their storage and security needs. Harnessing digital technology will undoubtedly bring new growth opportunities for Kefron and our customers.
What set you on the road to where you are now?
Kefron has always been a part of my life growing up. My father Michael Kearns co-founded a previous iteration of the business, Filestores, back in 1989 with Tom Hefferon.
Over the years I have taken leadership roles within the organisation and, with our team, transformed the company’s offering from a traditional document and information management and storage operation to the fully digitised solution that it offers today. I took over the leadership of the company in 2014.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
Looking back over the early days as MD of Kefron, my biggest mistake was being too cautious in expanding into new markets. At the beginning, I placed a lot of emphasis on developing our service offering and expanding our customer base in Ireland. This strategy has worked well for us but our recent expansion into the UK market has opened up new opportunities for us.
It has proven to us that there is scope to scale up and meet the information and document management needs of organisations in Ireland, the UK and beyond.
How do you get the best out of your team?
I trust my team to do what they do best. Everyone who works at Kefron has their own area of expertise and unique skills that they bring to the table. By placing trust in their ability and determination, I believe that employees can be empowered to do their best work.
I think it’s important to ensure that the values and overall mission of the business are properly communicated. This means that although different teams may be working on different projects at a different pace, we all operate according to a shared vision.
Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?
At an industry level, there is a need to address the diversity and gender gap that continues to linger. It will require a greater number of females to gain an interest in STEM subjects in school and an increase in the number of female role models young girls see working in the sector.
Our workforce is more diverse than it’s ever been before, and with that diversity comes a greater need to adopt a company culture that’s inclusive for all.
Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?
I’ve been fortunate to have mentors within Kefron and those in the wider industry globally that have given me inspiration and guidance throughout my career. Even on a day-to-day basis I aim to learn something new from the people across our business who have different approaches and perspectives. I think it’s crucial that you don’t feed into a group-think mentality or live in your own echo chamber.
Outside of Kefron, I’ve been struck by the success of Jeff Bezos at Amazon and his mantra: “It’s always day one.” For me, this means placing flexibility and innovation at the centre of your business.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
A friend of mine recently sent me Gary Keller’s book The One Thing, which offers important insights into leadership, innovation and results-focused organisations.
At Kefron, we are continuously returning to the ‘why’ of what we do, as well as the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. I think it’s important to regularly remind yourself of the purpose of your organisation, and Keller’s book is a great guide.
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
Like most businesses since the start of the pandemic, we have largely moved our operations online, which means a lot more email and a lot more video conferencing. Microsoft Teams has proven invaluable in helping to keep connected with my team and to continue supporting our customers.
Podcasts have been my go-to outside of work during the past year. They have helped me to disconnect and keep me up to date on all that is going on in the world at the moment, along with ensuring I walk our puppy every day.
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