PCH International CEO harbours dreams of Ireland being global tech hub

29 Oct 2013

Liam Casey, CEO of PCH International

Cork native Liam Casey is seen among Silicon Valley’s elite as something of a go-to guy or kingmaker in a world where good design and innovative products, from smartphones to smart watches, are at the top of the consumer’s wishlist.

As far as Casey is concerned, “geography is irrelevant” and Ireland should be capable of building on the current start-up momentum to conceive globally recognised brands that can sell anywhere in the world.

Founded in 1996, Casey has built up his company, PCH International, to be one of the most crucial supply chain and delivery providers for some of the major global tech brands. For example, it is the only non-Taiwanese final assembly company to be listed on Apple’s global supplier list.

Working across the entire technology spectrum, the company completes the design and delivery of products from Beats’ Dr Dre headphones to cutting-edge smartphones arising out of emerging Chinese phone maker Xiaomi.

PCH International, which employs 80 people in Cork, revealed earlier this year plans to employ an extra 1,500 people at a facility in Shenzhen, China, in a move that will grow the number of staff to 3,000 worldwide.

Turnover at PCH International has soared from US$150m in 2009 to US$710m in 2011 and Casey has been busy establishing engineering and product facilities in San Francisco, California, that will forge a link between innovators in Silicon Valley and manufacturers in Asia.

The momentum that is driving PCH International and the markets it focuses on is something Casey said will find a fitting home in Ireland.

PCH International and Tyndall National Institute MoU

Recently, Cork’s Tyndall National Institute has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with PCH International aimed at fast-scaling tech companies in Ireland to global status. The agreement is part of Tyndall’s new five-year strategy to generate more than 500 new jobs in both start-ups and established firms.

The MoU provides for collaboration between PCH’s two programmes for start-ups, Highway1 and PCH Accelerator, and Tyndall’s international network of more than 200 industry clients, to identify market opportunities.

Potential projects will target the electronics, medical devices, energy and communication industries, with research and development at Tyndall’s research and pilot-line fabrication facilities in Cork.

“Tyndall has a phenomenal team of people doing great research work and there is an opportunity for us to help them commercialise some of the work,” Casey said.

Tyndall National Institute employs more than 460 researchers, engineers and support staff, with a full-time graduate cohort of 135 students generating more than 200 peer-reviewed publications each year. 

With a network of 200 industry partners and customers worldwide, Tyndall generates around €30m in income each year, 85% from competitively won contracts nationally and internationally.

Yet Casey said there is an opportunity to go further and play to Ireland’s strengths.

“The depth of Tyndall’s capabilities is incredible. We don’t care where it is but if we can take something from a lab in Cork and manufacture it anywhere in the world and sell it to a market anywhere in the world, the implications for Ireland are enormous,” Casey said.

 “I believe they can be more commercially rewarded for their work and that it can be done – anywhere in the world and straight to the consumer.”

Designed in Ireland

Casey pointed to the recent breakthrough at Intel in Ireland, where a local R&D team completed the design and manufacture of the chip giant’s latest Galileo dev board, pushing Ireland to the upper echelons of the tech design community.

“That’s why we think that if we can get our mindsets away from the traditional geographic barriers there are huge opportunities for Ireland. Look at what Kerry Group is doing in Naas – it’s all about global perspective,” he said, referring to the food company’s €100m investment in Naas that is set to create up to 900 permanent jobs by 2016, as well as 400 construction jobs.

“I think what has changed globally is the channels to market that have been a challenge in the past have shrunk and there is a revolution going on in terms of entrepreneurial, maker activity, where people are inventing new products, making use of 3D printers and raising funding through sites like Kickstarter to get their goods to market. Ireland can play a great role in facilitating this momentum.”

Casey said PCH is an end-to-end contract business that takes products from the industrial design stage through manufacturing to the final packaging and logistics.

A key aspect in enabling PCH’s reach has been the acquisition of Irish technology distribution firm TNS Distribution for €21m.

Looking at fellow Irish tech entrepreneurs, Casey said the leadership in these firms is more global, more ambitious.

“Recently, two Irish start-up CEOs came to me asking for contacts I had in Silicon Valley. Two weeks later, I bumped into one of them in the Silicon Valley offices of one of those contacts.

“What we have at the moment is perfect momentum and a confidence coming back in – confidence is more important than currency or gold.”

A version of this article appeared in the Sunday Times on 27 October

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years