Enet’s Peter McCarthy on ‘brown-bag lunches’, diversity in telecoms and the three key business tips his father taught him.
Peter McCarthy is the group CEO of Enet, which operates a wholesale telecoms network in Ireland.
McCarthy has gained more than three decades of experience working at companies such Actavo, Digicel and Esat Telecom (now BT), specialising in the areas of telecoms, utility services, real estate, renewable energy and consumer-facing digital technology.
Enet has more than 115 employees based in Limerick and Dublin, and currently works with more than 70 different retail service providers to bring broadband and wireless to more than 1m end users throughout Ireland.
‘Telecoms has been historically poor for gender diversity but, that said, two of the largest telecoms companies in Ireland are now run by women’
– PETER MCCARTHY
Describe your role and what you do.
I joined Enet in October 2018 as group CEO. In this role, I have overall responsibility for all Enet Group businesses including P&L, business strategy and operations. For me, you have to understand your business and the goals set for you – that’s critical in delivering on people’s expectations.
I first became involved in the telecoms industry as head of commercial and procurement with Esat Telecom, before going on to serve in senior roles with Accenture, the Thornsett Group and Digicel, where I led in expanding its digital business beyond its first operational market, Jamaica.
My career path is far from orthodox, but in each role I believe I added real value while growing in knowledge and experience. Whether it was planned or not, it is what it is and I would not swap the great experiences I had along the way.
How do you prioritise and organise your working life?
We have just embarked on a new three-year strategy in Enet. This sets out our objectives and plan for every part of the business, providing us with a clear roadmap to follow. Directors and managers are empowered to deliver on this, and my role is to review, guide and support their efforts in delivering this plan.
We have a very fixed structure of KPI-driven meetings which happen at the same time weekly or monthly, followed by monthly board meetings where the key performance data is presented and discussed to ensure we understand fully what is behind this data.
What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?
Across the telecoms industry, the biggest challenges are increased competition, the rising costs of infrastructure development, an economy that is nearing full employment and, consequently, increased labour costs.
One of our main objectives at Enet is to strive for a new level of excellence in everything we do, with the customer at the heart of this. This enables us to compete in a more effective way in the market while also instilling the right culture within the organisation. We want to be seen as the go-to company in the telecoms sector for talented people who are focused on advancing their careers in an exciting environment.
Building successful infrastructure is about assembling an experienced team who have done it before, systemising as much as possible, meticulous planning and tight management of the execution.
What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?
Enet operates the largest alternative wholesale telecoms network in Ireland, which comprises over 5,400km of fibre infrastructure, including the Irish State’s metropolitan area networks (MANs), proprietary metro networks, a unique dark fibre backhaul infrastructure, as well as one of the largest licensed wireless networks in the country.
This allows us to offer a fully integrated, nationwide network that is truly open access in nature, enabling retail service providers to deliver world-class bandwidth services to their customers throughout Ireland.
What set you on the road to where you are now?
My late father, Dr Paddy McCarthy, was a great supporter and adviser to me in my early career. He was an engineer and businessman way ahead of his time. He had three pieces of advice: always go above and beyond, where possible always part with people on the right note, and that integrity is the bedrock of success.
What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?
In a previous business, I learnt the hard way that property can fall 95pc in value in a collapse situation. I am not a fan of high-gearing and even though we operated at 40pc loan-to-value in that business, poor cashflow and lack of cash reserves at a time of crisis will catch you out every time. The main learning from this was to tailor debt to cashflow and cash reserves, and always consider the worst in evaluating risks.
How do you get the best out of your team?
I always look to set clear goals and expectations. It’s hard to measure people on their performance if you don’t equip them with this at the outset.
It’s also important to listen to people. ‘Brown-bag lunches’ with the teams, especially in the field if you have off-site operations, are way more insightful as to what is happening in the business than all the reports combined. Meetings must have a purpose, and everybody should know what that is.
Lastly, people want to know how they are performing, and they need honest feedback that compliments achievement and guides them through failures and poor performance.
STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?
Telecoms has been historically poor for gender diversity but, that said, two of the largest telecoms companies in Ireland – Eir and Vodafone – are now run by women. For me, it’s important that business leaders focus on operating businesses where we nurture equality, by creating the kind of environment that is welcoming to all and facilitates diversity.
Who is your role model and why?
I got to know the Taylor family from St Louis in the USA in the early ’90s. Jack Taylor was the founder of Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the business went from strength to strength under his son Andy. If Jack was ahead of his time, then Andy was ahead of everybody in building one of the most successful private family-owned companies in the USA. He created a business based on inclusion, retention and integrity, where the customer comes first.
What books have you read that you would recommend?
Commit by Enda McNulty is a great light read that really gets you motivated. It’s a simple guide to getting yourself in gear and achieving anything you set your mind to.
Another great book that encourages you to question people and organisations is The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. It describes a classic case of business leaders who lose the run of themselves and their businesses, inflicting significant collateral damage when they crash. How many cases of this have we seen in Ireland? Lots!
What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
Eating well, exercise, planning, to-do lists, strategic meetings, and key support staff and colleagues. It’s a fast-paced industry but I look forward to every week – especially with less than six months to go to make this year a success!
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