Barry oversees the international operations of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce and is responsible for delivering the board’s strategic plans.
- What are your main priorities and goals in your role?
My role is to create opportunities for our customers, locally, nationally and internationally. Those opportunities range from business introductions to professional development, research, thought leadership, delegations, government relations and beyond. You name it, we’ve probably been asked to get involved in it!
- What are your biggest challenges?
It’s a nice problem to have, but as a growing organisation with over 16,000 customers in Australia alone, we have to tackle a rapidly increasing wish list with a resource pool that doesn’t always grow in line. There’s a misplaced perception that we are government funded, however contributions to our revenue by both the Irish and Australian governments collectively account for around 3% of our turnover. It’s up to us to generate that other 97% through our commercial activities to allow us to deliver the impact we continue to do across Australia and in Ireland.
- How do you keep your team/staff motivated?
We are lucky to have a model that involves quality people in our organisation who are among the best in their field. We have a core team who have been in place for a few years, which gives us that “corporate memory” and we bring in specialist resources to help us deliver various projects. That allows us all to keep learning and innovating, while working with people we like (thanks Eithne!), which is a strong proposition to stay involved.
- What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?
The old-style membership model is ageing in a modern world, so the choice facing many organisations is to adapt and meet the needs of the market or hang on in there and hope things return to the status quo. We made the decision several years ago to reimagine the Chamber and keep bringing new initiatives and voices into the conversation. It’s helped us to not only stay relevant but to lead the agenda in areas. Unfortunately, during that time, many of the more traditional expat clubs have struggled to find purpose as the market changed and, sadly, a number of them survive in name only or have disappeared altogether.
- Are you finding any skills gaps in the market?
Australia is going through an infrastructure boom at the minute and over $100bn of projects are committed in the next decade. With so much coming through at the same time, capacity in the delivery space is under pressure. Irish Engineers and Project Managers, to name but a couple, are highly prized in our market and we are working with several of the main actors to help support increased mobility of talent.
- How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?
Like much of what we do, our response was focused on delivering practical support and real outcomes. We put in place a number of initiatives including our mentoring program which matched recently arrived young migrants with an established businessperson in their market. Our program was high-touch, in-person and based in the cities where the need was greatest. It’s fantastic to see some of the “alumni” of that program now foster the success of recent arrivals themselves and feature among the finalists and winners in the Irish Australian Business Awards. Equally so, those who didn’t come to Australia by choice and are now back in a more prosperous Ireland have helped us drive the success of our Irish-based activities and some have even returned as part of inbound business delegations which is sustainable and real impact.
- How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?
There is no such thing as a good Brexit and ironically, we were hosting an InvestNI business delegation in June 2016 when the vote took place. To say the outcome wasn’t well received would be an understatement. While it will undoubtedly be a negative for Ireland on many levels, it has also created opportunity, particularly where Australian businesses who may have defaulted to London as a European HQ are examining other options. We recently published some detailed research and policy on Brexit which can be accessed via https://www.irishchamber.com.au/2018-December-white-paper
- How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?
We see success where we have impact. I recently saw one of our winners at the Irish Australian Business Awards secure a $2.5m investment from another business who attended the national final. That funding has allowed them to open a European office in Ireland and create jobs both in Australia and in Ireland. That’s impact, and creating those opportunities is what gets us out of bed in the morning. The big semi-social occasions like around St Patrick’s Day are all well and good, and of course we enjoy them, but it’s the real business impact that will be our legacy.
- What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?
That’s an easy one. My old Chairman when I lived in Edinburgh many years ago told me to never be afraid to hire people that are better than me and never be afraid to pay them more than I paid myself. I found it quite easy to uncover lots of people who are far better than me in their chosen fields, and thankfully some wanted to work with me. Together we achieved and continue to achieve some good things.
- What have been your highlights in business over the past year?
The continued growth of our customer base and reaching near gender balance among those customers is particularly satisfying – and a lifetime away from what we inherited. We launched the Emerald Leadership Program in Dublin, having grown it in Australia from a Sydney base. We’ve got new Chapters in SA and WA which are moving forward and have hired our first senior team member in Dublin, which brings new energy and opportunity to the group.
- What’s next for your company?
Our current President, Carl Walsh, a wise and experienced Clare man, has gone on the record to announce our growth into Asia to give Irish business an option of Australia as their gateway to Asia Pacific markets. We will be working on that over the coming months and will be interested to see how it develops.
- Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?
We want to continue to underpin the quality and impact of what we do and generate more resources, allowing us to help create even more opportunity for even more people.