Central Europe gave growth to Fast 50 winner

5 Nov 2004

Communications company eTel scooped top spot in this year’s Deloitte Fast 50 awards. Picking up his prize at the Guinness Storehouse last night, CEO Sean Melly said that further growth for the company was likely to come from the acquisition trail rather than an expansion into new markets.

At an annual event where growth statistics of technology companies have long since spiralled off conventional sales charts, eTel had registered a staggering 2,652pc aggregate growth in revenue over the past five years. With its HQ in Austria the company describes itself as “central Europe’s leading alternative corporate telecommunications service provider”, taking on large and incumbent telcos in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

Founded in 1999 eTel’s strategy of focusing exclusively on serving the central European market evolved from an earlier incarnation that had operated exclusively at home. “We had been selling voice, data and internet services into Ireland against an incumbent and decided to take the same concept to a larger market region,” Melly told the Fast 50 audience.

He went on to pay tribute to his firm’s 300 employees: “We have a very young group of people that have taken on the giants of the telecoms markets. Working in five countries with all the regulatory issues, it’s been a real challenge.”

He was adamant that the next stage in his company’s growth would not be about exploring new markets. “It’s tempting to expand into other countries but we’re not going to do that,” he said. “In the next five years growth will come through acquisition, consolidation and extracting all the synergies from the customers we have.”

The runner up in the awards had also focused on overseas business, albeit in a very different way. The expertise of Connect Global Solutions was in helping its corporate customers localise products for global markets. But there was a reassuring reminder that there was still business growth to be had from Irish customers when web development and marketing firm Webtrade won third place. The company has provided online marketing solutions for a whole host of Irish organisations including the Irish Internet Association, the Small Firms Association and the Galway Chamber of Commerce.

On a night where the recurring theme was about technology companies emerging from a period of sustained entrenchment, Webtrade CEO Jack Donaghy summed up the mood of the moment when asked what the firm’s biggest achievement had been to date. “It’s been just an achievement to stay alive over the past five years,” he quipped. But a room full of technology survivors knew he wasn’t joking.

By Ian Campbell