In 2004, Jim Sheehan decided to go into business for himself. Today, Tipperary-based Surecom employs 50 people and in recent weeks won the Best Services Provider category at the Small Firms Association’s National Small Business Awards 2009.
What was the catalyst for going into business as a telecoms outsourcing player?
In 2004, we saw a change in the telecoms marketplace. Operators were moving their engineering to the outsourcing model and traditional competencies and jobs were being outsourced.
It all started with a conversation around our kitchen table about going out on my own. It was a risk because my wife was expecting a child, but I decided it was now or never.
In the first year, the company grew to six people and midway through the second year we took on more people with the capabilities to broaden Surecom.
How did you deal with the sudden growth spurt in the company?
We were fortunate to have caught the crest of a wave. By the second year, we had around 14 ex-O2 engineers, as well as engineers from Nokia, Nortel and Eircom, working with us.
I took advice from the people around me who said I should add a layer of management before it all got out of control, so I took on an operations manager and a marketing person.
How big an opportunity is the telecoms outsourcing market?
Traditionally, telecoms operators kept all of their technical knowledge in-house and it took a number of years before engineers moved on. But, as operators sought new economies of scale, the outsourcing model made sense and, in terms of engineering talent, the pieces fell into place. My specific talent was radio planning and engineering, specialising in core network skills.
When I left, O2 was looking at outsourcing this work and it became our first customer. Today, our clients include O2, Vodafone, Meteor, Ericsson and Nokia. We’re a business-to-business company, but now we’re getting a lot of interest from large private companies.
What plans do you have for the future of Surecom?
We want to be a one-stop-shop for next-generation telecoms networks for operators and private businesses. We are also looking at exporting our skills overseas and have already done some work in the UK.
There is an opportunity to do some network engineering for Denis O’Brien’s Digicel in Panama, while we are also looking at opportunities in Malaysia, Dubai and India.
On the home front, we are engaged in exciting projects such as drive testing Meteor’s new 3G network.
A lot of people right now will be looking to set up their own business. What advice do you have?
Get into something you know a lot about and not something you have a romantic view of. There has to be a real business in what you are thinking about.
You also need the buy-in and support of your family because setting up your own firm takes a lot of time.
But, more than anything else, it’s fundamental to have a good financial controller.
What growth rate do you project for Surecom?
Our aim is to double turnover by the end of this year. We want to hold our own in the marketplace and are now being invited to tender for a lot of jobs. We’re confident of going the whole way.
By John Kennedy