Leaders’ Insights: Martin Roche, Aqua Comms

17 Dec 2015

Martin Roche is the chief financial officer of Aqua Comms.

Aqua Comms is the company behind the $300m transatlantic fibre cable that will connect the US to Europe via Mayo, which was recently spliced together in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The system, called America Europe Connect (AEConnect), will provide a terrestrial connection running from Mayo to Dublin, then across the Irish Sea and on to London and greater Europe.

The cable is due to be officially launched by the end of January 2016. It is aimed at providing capacity networking solutions to content providers, cloud-based networks, data centres, IT companies and the global media.

Martin Roche has held finance roles in a wide range of companies. He started his finance career at PwC, before moving on to IBM, and then going on to hold senior roles in a variety of companies.

He took up the role of CFO with Aqua Comms in March this year.

Describe your role and what you do.

Well, given that we are right in the midst of finalising Aqua Comm’s new $300m America Europe Connect (AEConnect) transatlantic cable, my role is primarily broken into a number of key elements. As with all large infrastructure projects, the management has been a 24/7 process, involving many complexities and deliverables. It’s extremely challenging and rewarding work, based on a platform of committed people who share a common goal to succeed.

Another of the key aspects of my role involves ongoing communications with all the key stakeholders. Projects like this impact on so many different people and organisations, you need to make sure that everyone understands where things are and how the infrastructure is progressing. That doesn’t come without its battles and can sometimes involve overcoming problems in real time, as well as successfully guiding the business through this initial phase.

When I think back on how far we have already travelled, it’s hard to believe that Aqua Comms only came into being in April of this year and now we stand on the cusp of owning and operating the first and only dedicated modern subsea fibre-optic cable system running directly from Ireland to the US. To get this far from a start-up to a company offering a best-in-class business has been challenging but it’s been a phenomenal journey and I can’t wait for the next step.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

So many people are involved in this project, we have to be careful to ensure there is a clear direction and that everyone understands the path we are taking. That can be challenging at times but I’m lucky to have a great team working with me in Aqua Comms. They have all achieved so much. Never before has any company in this space been so bold and achieved so much in such a short time. They all deserve tremendous credit for the work they have carried out and it is because we have such a great team capable of taking on so many varied challenges that I have been able to balance my professional and home life.

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

If I were to give the broad answer, the initial challenge has been deadlines. We have a strict timeframe to manage and that can be difficult when you are at the mercy of so many variables, such as weather and tidal conditions. Thankfully our final splice was completed on 28 November, which meant that we completed the complex, physical build on schedule. The focus is now transitioning to a sales and marketing dynamic. We have already made great strides in this area with our relevant personnel achieving strong results and, as AEConnect gets closer to going live, we are seeing an ever-increasing client interest in its capabilities. We keep hearing how this infrastructure is putting Ireland on the map from a connectivity point of view, so that makes our job a lot easier.

What are the key industry opportunities youre capitalising on?

We are an independent telecoms infrastructure wholesale operator, entirely based out of Ireland. We’re designed to deliver state-of-the-art connectivity from our coherent technology and software-defined network for a new generation of connectivity and capacity not seen before. This work has overlays with the significant research and development that was carried out in advance. We effectively believe we have raised the bar and will deliver this service to our customers.

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

I believe the sum of your experiences defines you. No differently to anyone on our team, the journey culminates in equipping you to draw on the knowledge you develop readily and to deliver on your shared goals. You also have to be able to stay calm, with clear objectives, and show leadership to the team around you. That goes for everything from major calibre projects such as this to smaller tasks. Calmness and communication are always critical.

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

The mistakes are always more personal in nature, such as the time you lose with your family, which you can never get back. I became a father for the first time in July and I would have liked to have had more time to spend with my wife and child. My advice is never sacrifice it all, remember time is precious and breaks are a good thing.

How do you get the best out of your team?

That is easy – be approachable, open, transparent and fair and call everyone ‘Boss’. Without a team empowered to deliver collectively, you will fail them and the business.

‘My advice is never sacrifice it all, remember time is precious and breaks are a good thing’

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

I remember my childhood and having a balanced education in Ireland and being allowed to make the choices in school that shaped the course of my learning and impacted on the course my career developed. All children need to be allowed to enjoy those years and while there is a need to create greater awareness of how the choices they make could impact on their later lives, they should still have the chance to make their own decisions.

The concept of having a battery farm approach to [skills] shortages certainly does not sit well with me. A line could be crossed if children were inadvertently pressurised by parents and teachers pressing them to make particular choices. Life is hard enough without putting barriers before kids stopping them becoming the people they were meant to be.

Who is your business hero and why?

I don’t have any one hero, because my heroes are the unsung people that make companies great. The people who we never hear of, who ensure businesses work and make them successful. They don’t get the credit they deserve but practically every successful business has many in different and diverse roles.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

There is a range of titles from so many different authors, including Nelson DeMille and Raymond E. Feist. But if I had to name one it would be Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, which is unbelievably good. Despite the name, I maintain the hero, Kvothe, has to be Irish!

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

The phone, coffee, ensuring you have fun and are working with good people who are coming with you on the journey – without the latter, nothing would be possible.