The world’s largest tech firm, Hewlett-Packard, employs around 4,000 people in Ireland, covering the entire gamut of IT, enterprise and print technology. Martin Murphy is country general manager.
Q. In a very short space of time, both Ireland and the world’s economic fortunes have changed. In your opinion, what are the priorities that need to be addressed to steer this country back to a sound economic footing?
A. Clearly Ireland Inc is currently at an inflection point in its economic development, and we are in the midst of unprecedented global turmoil. Strong leadership and a very clear vision of where we are going is absolutely essential.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) has been the single most important constituency and growth driver of our economy. Creating a new vision for Ireland, a new brand, is essential to get Ireland ‘back in the game’.
Putting a ‘stake in the ground’ around the information age/knowledge industries will be central.
Our vision is Ireland as a worldwide hub for knowledge, innovation and know-how, with an education system geared to supply the demand that will create competitiveness and infrastructure powering it, wrapped with ‘can-do’ attitude that makes it happen.
Q. More than ever, Ireland needs breakthrough science and technology business stories, with local companies reaching global markets. What’s missing and what areas of technology could deliver rewards?
We really need more home-grown success stories. Irish entrepreneurs should look to collaborate with and break into well-established international businesses alliances and networks. Global organisations based out of Ireland already have a well-established global footprint – that is a resource to be leveraged.
Irish business already has a platform on which to grow internationally – by promoting our own products and services, but also by enhancing the products and services of international businesses that we collaborate with.
In the short term, closeness to the customer is key – knowledge businesses that harness this will be very, very successful.
One example is the medical devices industry – where an Irish business is reaping the rewards of its international business alliances, acquiring technologies and products under licence from a collaborative partner. HP recently made an agreement with a Galway medical devices company, Crospon, which saw it use HP InkJet intellectual property in the development of a new medical drug-injection patch for humans.
Q. Ireland is continuing to win its share of FDI. Why is this, and how sustainable is this going forward?
A. Multinationals have been the single greatest force of economic growth in this country, both through employment and exports, and we have built a national asset around them. Our success stands as a testament to what we can do with a ‘why not?’ approach, not ‘why ?’.
In order to attract the rising generation of knowledge industries to come to Ireland, we need to be absolutely forensic in our understanding of their business and where Ireland Inc can compete and win for investment in the future – we need to understand the value chains and the type of FDI that will make Ireland successful.
Q. Education was the bedrock of the economy that was known as the Celtic tiger. But the evidence is Irish schools are not receiving the same level of investment as counterparts in neighbouring and competing economies. What can and should be done about this?
A. Investment in our Education System is a must. Ireland will always need to create the best and brightest global talent if it wishes to be a key location for global businesses. Knowledge is a people business. In order to build knowledge industries, we need to create and retain specialist skills to supply that. Competing for international talent and specialist skills is the other side of this equation.
Unfortunately, we have seen a trend in recent years towards downward numbers of students taking subjects like science, technology, engineering, maths (STEM) and physics. These subjects are important to multinationals like HP because they form the basis of careers that are essential to our operations. This will lead to skills gaps emerging in the future, which will make it harder to justify continued investment here.
Q. In terms of infrastructure, is Ireland, in your opinion, adequately equipped to perform as an agile economy in 2009, and do you think it could emerge stronger as the economic storm clouds clear?
A. Agility is one of Ireland’s key tools for success, and as we move up the value chain, it is what will help keep us ahead of other countries.
A central element of Ireland’s recovery will depend on delivering an agile Government using knowledge businesses and readily available knowledge systems to streamline public services and drive efficiencies and public-sector costs down.
Attracting a new generation of companies to this island requires decisive and positive action on the next-generation infrastructure needed to support them – there is no doubt about that.
By John Kennedy