Leaders’ Insights: Conal Henry, Enet

12 Feb 2016

Conal Henry, CEO, Enet. Image via Enet

Conal Henry is the CEO of wholesale fibre and wireless network operator Enet.

Conal Henry joined Enet as its CEO in 2006, prior to that he was the managing director of Energis in Ireland.

He has also held senior positions in Ryanair, Asda and Procter & Gamble.

Enet manages the Irish Government’s network of Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) in 94 towns around the country and its network is used by 60 different telcos to serve broadband to 600,000 homes and businesses across Ireland.

The company recently unveiled a 1Gbps fibre-to-the-home service for 340 homes and businesses in Ballyseedy, Co Kerry, and it also revealed that it intends to go head-to-head against Eir and SIRO for the Irish Government’s National Broadband Plan.

Describe your role and what you do.

I have three jobs:

1. Setting out a sustainable strategy for Enet and trying to ensure it stays relevant and realistic.

2. Making sure that we only recruit the very best people. We are looking for people who are motivated, capable and skilled, in that order of importance.

3. Enabling the Enet team to deliver on our shared strategy.

On a day-to-day basis, the role of a CEO is to coordinate stakeholder interests, making sure that colleagues are motivated and enthused to keep the customers happy and that doing so makes the shareholders happy.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I’m no role model here! I try to work on those things where I’m adding the most value and let my team take care of the areas where they can add value. I try to spend as little time as possible inspecting the work of others, though I do like a structured review of work and workload with my team at least once a week. I have the concentration span of a five-year-old, so I tend to be dealing with four or five different things at once.

On a personal level, I like to get to the gym before work, I try to avoid working weekends, and I make sure to take all my holidays if I can over a year.

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

Staying competitive in an ever-changing market. Telecommunications is very forgiving in the short term when you don’t do the right thing by the customer – but in the long run you lose ground that you never recover. Staying aware of this is key to remaining competitive. As we don’t have a proprietary technology, we focus on our other big advantages. A big part of this is finding the right people and keeping them motivated.

‘I try to work on those things where I’m adding the most value and let my team take care of the areas where they can add value’

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

Enet’s entire strategy is based on exploiting three major changes in the global telecommunications landscape:

1. The demand for really high bandwidth: We only build services that can deliver greater than 1Gbps. This means fibre where possible and world-class licensed P2P wireless elsewhere.

2. Wholesale: 20 years ago, telcos delivered services over their own network. This has changed radically and now the majority of traffic is transiting third-party networks. This creates the ideal environment for an exclusively wholesale network.

3. Working with government: The Irish telecoms history shows that value of State involvement in telecoms infrastructure. This can and will be achieved through well-structured public-private partnerships (PPPs); Enet has a deep understanding of these. We have spent a decade operating the Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) for the Irish State and we are wholly supportive of the Government’s National Broadband Plan as the logical way to deliver high-speed broadband to rural Ireland.

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

It was all fairly accidental. My career moved from FMCG to food retailing in the UK to banking in Ireland and into Ryanair. While I was working at Ryanair my old boss at Asda, who was then chairman of Energis, asked me to run its Irish subsidiary. This was too good an opportunity to further my skills and experience to turn down. That was 12 years ago, I’ve been at Enet for a decade and I enjoy it more today than ever.

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

I have made and continue to make numerous mistakes. The trick is to never repeat them. I once hired someone because they had the skills I was looking for even though I had reservations about their outlook and motivation – I won’t do that again.

How do you get the best out of your team?

My team are performing at or near their best but I’m not sure it’s got much to do with anything I do. If you hire the right people the rest becomes much more straightforward. I try to focus on ensuring that my own actions do not undermine their talent – I’m not always successful.

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?

I wish I knew the answer. As I observe telecommunications, I think the primary challenge is our gender balance – I still see far too few women at all levels in the industry. To that end, I admire Vodafone Ireland under Anne O’Leary for the leadership they have shown in this area.

I think the industry more accurately reflects our wider society in terms of diversity and I feel sure the telecoms sector outperforms others in providing great careers for people from more diverse backgrounds.

‘I still see far too few women at all levels in the industry’

Who is your business hero and why?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with many ‘big beasts’ of the business world, including Michael O’Leary and Walter Scott, our director who now sits on the board of Berkshire Hathaway. British businessman and politician Archie Norman taught me the value of simplicity, whilst my first boss at P&G Jeremy Darroch (now group CEO at Sky) helped me understand that a good forecast is the ideal tool for managing a business’ performance.

If I do have a business hero, though, it’s probably my late father who, through watching him spend his career in youth and community work during ‘the Troubles’, really taught me perspective.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Most business books contain few real insights and are too frequently vanity exercises by their authors.

The one business book that I do think is worth reading is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly-Effective People, while it can be a bit of a statement of the obvious, mostly it’s a simple yet profound handbook to help you navigate what life throws at you.

‘Most business books contain few real insights and are too frequently vanity exercises by their authors’

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

Coffee! I probably consume a dozen cups per day. I use Outlook to manage my email, calendar and to-do lists. Silence is in short supply and I find that car journeys with the radio off provide the ideal time for thinking things through.