Leaders’ Insights: Shay Walsh, BT Ireland

25 Jul 2016

Shay Walsh, managing director, BT Ireland. Photo via Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography

Shay Walsh, managing director at BT Ireland, shares his tips on what makes a good leader and how he winds down after a day’s work.

After graduating from Dublin City University (DCU), Shay Walsh worked with ESB, Galileo and Dataport before joining Esat Telecom in 1995, where he held a variety of roles before his move into management. In 2000, BT bought out Esat and Walsh became director of network services, followed by head of network operations for BT Global Services the following year.

What followed was a further string of leadership positions until, in 2015, Walsh was appointed as managing director of BT Ireland.

Future Human

Inspirefest 2017

What is your role at BT Ireland?

I am the managing director of BT’s end-to-end business here in the Republic of Ireland. We’re a global company with local expertise, specialising in managed networked IT services for multinational corporations and public sector organisations in Ireland. Our network not only serves customers’ Irish operations but also provides global connectivity to 197 other countries and territories worldwide.

There are 600 employees here in BT Ireland based in five cities across the island, and I’m lucky enough to lead this talented group of people.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

My two main priorities are my customers and my team. Once they are looked after, the rest tends to look after itself.

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

The biggest challenge for us, and so many businesses today, is remaining relevant to our customers while they grapple with the fourth industrial revolution: digitisation. We are investing in the key infrastructure that underpins this digital journey, namely our world-class data centres (we have invested over €60m in our Dublin centre), cloud services, software-defined networks, carrier class networks, and unified communications.

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

Two major opportunities are the increasing adoption of cloud services and the growing need for security to be further embedded in the network.

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

My degree in electronic engineering from DCU set me on the path, but joining Esat Telecom as a field engineer in 1995 was the turning point. Esat was bought by BT in 2000 and since then I have worked my way through the business in various leadership roles – including director of network services, MD of wholesale, and MD of business sales – to ultimately take on the role of overall BT Ireland leader in October 2015.

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

Compromising on talent within my management team (not my current management team I hasten to add) and going for the safe option rather than being bold and taking a risk.

How do you get the best out of your team?

The foundation is to set a clear strategy that each member of the team has played a part in defining, and then match individual skills and ambitions to the roles and responsibilities that deliver to that strategic vision. The whole team can then be rigorous and relentless in execution.

I also try to lead by example. I wouldn’t ask my team to do anything that I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself. I try and have fun along the way as well, I find that you generally produce a better output if you’re happy while doing the job.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?

The simple answer is that we need to commit to recruitment with diversity in mind, and create an environment where you can achieve what you want to achieve, whether you’re female, male, disabled, LGBT, and so on. We run the annual BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition and our experiences there demonstrate that gender is not a barrier to entry or success in STEM. So why should it be different when you move into third-level education and beyond?

Who is your business hero and why?

Dr Tony Scott and the late Fr Tom Burke whose vision and passion in the 1960s resulted in Ireland becoming home to one of the largest school science and technology events in the world. They were educators, but also entrepreneurs with a belief in the potential impact on Irish education and society at large. From its origins as a small science fair to an exhibition which now attracts over 50,000 visitors per year, Tony and Tom had to communicate their vision and mobilise a nation of educators and learners, as well as sponsors, to back the project.

Also, the young entrepreneurs we work with every year as part of BT Young Scientist and Technology Business Bootcamp. The event is designed to bridge the gap between the worlds of education and business and mentor the next generation of young innovators. Every year, I’m so impressed by their critical thinking, optimism and their focus on finding solutions.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Why Should Anyone Be Led By You? by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones. It focuses on what it takes to be an authentic leader.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

My bike. I cycle to work as often as I can and the journey through the Phoenix Park in the morning is the perfect start to get the blood pumping for the day. And, on the way home, it’s the ideal detox so I’m refreshed when I open the front door to my family.

Other than that, my iPhone 6 has become invaluable for access to my email, conference calls, news, social media (Twitter and LinkedIn – I refuse to have a Facebook account), flight tickets, online banking, etc.