Leaders’ Insights: Philip Maguire, I.T. Alliance Group

23 Dec 2015

Philip Maguire, CEO and founder, I.T. Alliance Group

Philip Maguire is CEO and founder of Irish-owned I.T. Alliance Group, which employs 500-plus people.

The Dublin-headquartered company provides IT outsourcing services to the world’s biggest outsourcers. In 2012, it established a sister organisation, Auxilion, which helps companies transition from on-premises IT to the cloud, and provides them with 24/7 backup and support globally.

Established in 1997, the I.T. Alliance Group grew rapidly to 230 people within three years. Then it hit a wall in 2000 when the dot-com bubble burst, and had to reinvent itself – which it did.

Describe your role and what you do.

My role is to provide leadership and direction for the group. This means constantly looking to the future to make sure that we differentiate ourselves in the market. Like most CEOs, I can be dragged into day-to-day firefighting. But I need to discipline myself to keep my eye on the ball. This means making sure that we constantly evolve and change – otherwise, as we nearly found out to our cost in 2000, we are dead in the water. I travel extensively, especially in the UK where we continue to develop and grow the business.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

While there will always be some distractions that can drag you away, it’s absolutely essential to make regular thinking time.

In addition, I have multiple to-do lists in which I list the priorities across a range of headings, including strategy and direction: communicating this to make sure your people are with you, setting up the processes to implement it and then making sure the processes actually happen.

A key priority is to listen and talk to customers as this influences future direction and strategy.

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

Change, especially in the IT business, is the biggest challenge. It is also the biggest challenge for our customers. So we constantly review and research how we can help them manage that change. If we can do that then we will be successful.

Keeping ahead of the pack is our objective and that involves a lot of listening to customers.

What are the key industry opportunities youre capitalising on?

In a word, cloud. It’s the biggest disruptive technology of the last 15 years, which is why we set up Auxilion in 2012 to help companies of all sizes exploit the technology by moving them to the cloud and then providing backup no matter where in the world their people or subsidiaries are located.

We are also developing that opportunity by building new skillsets on our cloud platform. For example, earlier this year we launched a new cloud-based Project Support Service, which provides project management people, processes and technology on demand.

Cloud is also feeding heavily into our core I.T. Alliance outsourcing business. The customers of the major international outsourcers need cloud transformation support and back up and we help them provide that.

We employ more than 50 people in project management and recently announced that we want to recruit 25 more by the end of this year. That demand is partly being driven by the shift to cloud.

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

I worked as the MD of an electronic engineering company, which was part of a PLC. The short term-ism, which is an inevitable consequence of the focus on quarterly or half-yearly figures, did not fit my ethos of building for the future.

I felt there had to be a better way. I was keen to leverage technology in a way that would make a real difference to the operation of businesses.

‘I’m also a big believer in the old HP philosophy of MBWA (Management by Wandering Around) and chatting to your people’

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

Not insisting on monthly accounts from the off. When I began the company back in 1997, I received quarterly accounts. But as Henry Ford is reputed to have said, “History is bunk”. From the beginning, I should have demanded monthly accounts. You have to know your numbers on a monthly, even weekly, basis in order to flag potential problems and keep on top of cash flow.

The dot-com crash occurred quickly but because of our historic financials we never reacted quickly enough. More immediate financial data meant we were much better placed to weather the financial crash of 2008 and we actually grew the business, our brands and offerings during the recession.

How do you get the best out of your team?

You’ve got to empower people. That means giving them the opportunity to grow and develop themselves within the company. If they have a good idea then give them the responsibility to run with it. You may need initially to oversee what they are doing but they’ve got to learn that they are responsible for delivering.

I’m also a big believer in the old HP philosophy of MBWA (Management by Wandering Around) and chatting to your people.

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

As an IT company, nearly a third of our staff are female. The first head of Auxilion was a woman and the head of HR is female.  But as an industry we must boost the pool of women in IT. I think this has to start early on in the schools where we must work on eliminating the nerdy, antisocial image of computing.

Who is your business hero and why?

I’ve a number of heroes and, as in good literature, they all have flaws. There are not many Irish global success stories but Michael O’Leary and Ryanair is one. His flaw is that he was dragged screaming into realising the importance of customer service. To his credit, he was able to change and is seeing the benefits.

Steve Jobs was a genius. But unless you had share options, I’m not sure you’d want to have worked for him.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

An Unsung Hero by Michael Smith, which tells the story of Tom Crean, an incredible unassuming, driven individual, explorer and survivor.

The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton M Christensen. What happens when there is a paradigm shift in your industry when disruptive technologies emerge?

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

Accessed through my Surface device or phone, Microsoft Office 365 allows me to work any time, any place, anywhere. I also leverage Skype for Business to collaborate online in real time with my colleagues internationally.