‘I genuinely believe in creating career opportunities in tech’

12 Jun 2017

Liam Ryan, managing director, SAP Labs Ireland, pictured at an event in the Aviva Stadium with Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD. Image: SAP

This week on Leaders’ Insights, SAP Labs Ireland managing director Liam Ryan leads by example through promoting and encouraging others to take up careers in tech.

Liam Ryan joined SAP in 1999 as manager for the remote service delivery team in active global support. He was appointed managing director of the service and support centre in Ireland the following year and has since overseen the growth of SAP’s operations in Ireland. Today, that equates to more than 1,900 employees across 40 lines of business in both Dublin and Galway.

Ryan began his career in Germany working for Siemens in Amberg and Softlab AG in Munich. On returning to Ireland, he worked as an automation engineer with APV and as engineering manager for Motorola, before finally joining SAP.

As well as his role in SAP, Ryan serves on the Export Trade Council and was appointed to the recently formed National Skills Council.

Describe your role and what you do.

As the managing director of SAP Labs Ireland, my role involves leading the SAP business in Ireland, meeting with customers and bringing in new lines of business, whilst maintaining profitability and a happy workforce.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I tend to get to the office very early, as I find that’s when I do my best work. I like coming into the office before everyone else so I can focus on the tasks at hand and set my agenda for the day.

I split my time between our Dublin and Galway offices, so organisation is key. In terms of prioritisation, it differs; if I have customer visits, then they come first but equally, I focus on actually managing the business.

Outside of my day-to-day role, I have a few other plates to balance. I’m on the board of Fast Track to IT (FIT), which is an NGO that focuses on opening access to IT for the long-term unemployed. I serve on the Export Trade Council as the IT industry representative. I’m also the chairman of FIT and I am a council member of the National Skills Council, in addition to also being the councillor of the German-Irish Chamber of Commerce. Alongside all this, I sit on the board of Technology Ireland. It’s a lot to balance, but I genuinely believe in creating career opportunities in tech.

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

For me, it’s the availability of talent. That’s why SAP Ireland is actively raising the profile of the industry in schools and in universities. By doing this, we’re able to position careers at SAP at the forefront of people’s minds. When we speak with students, it always amazes me how enthusiastic they are about technology. It’s no surprise really, given that they’re the ones who have grown up surrounded by the latest innovations and emerging technologies.

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

A major industry opportunity is investment in technologies like machine learning and the internet of things (IoT). I think over the course of the next few years, we’ll see our relationships with technology changing due to these innovations. The impact of AI and IoT on business process will be beyond anything we can accomplish right now. Selected process steps will become unnecessary, entirely digital or reinvented. We see tremendous potential for our customers who want to employ these applications. We can help them leverage their data and make their applications intelligent.

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

When I was growing up in Navan, there was a real lack of opportunities for people my age. So, after studying, I emigrated to Germany, where I spent a number of years in electronic engineering roles for Siemens and Motorola. I got my break at SAP Ireland 17 years ago as a manager in our services business and, although it was a change switching to software, it’s a change that I’m glad I made.

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

I think a mistake on our side was not creating strong links with universities in the earlier days of the business. There’s a massive pool of untapped talent rising through universities and we’re now really focusing on educating them about the industry. We learned that by just getting out there and meeting students. There were so many amazing and committed candidates who are genuinely motivated to grow a career in tech.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Communication. Being open with your team is so important in getting results. I’m hugely committed to making sure that all employees are supported by me and the rest of the office, as well as the wider organisation. Being a global company, we have access to so many brilliant minds and I always encourage my team to leverage these opportunities so that they can grow in a professional, as well as personal, sense.

Who is your role model and why?

From an SAP perspective, I have huge respect for our CEO, Bill McDermott. He’s a natural born communicator, which is something that I really admire. Further to this, I look up to our co-founder, Hasso Plattner – he’s an absolute visionary and his work has become such a powerful force within the industry. In the wider industry, I also think that the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were complete revolutionaries.

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