The economy needs help, no one disputes that. The disagreements start when looking at what kind and how much help is required. The choices are stark, the medicine will be difficult to swallow, but the Celtic Tiger will be back after a short period of recuperation if the government and businesses act quickly. So what is to be done?
The banks need to make money available for businesses. Growth can't be achieved without access to borrowing. It is vital that Ireland helps the top 500 to 600 companies in Ireland to grow by ensuring they have access to capital and by helping them to reach new export markets. The government mustn't scrimp on this; Enterprise Ireland and the IDA need the remit and funds to get out to the world and sell the merits of Irish business and Ireland as a business location. Every company looking for a base in Europe must be given every incentive to locate in Ireland. The plan is to create over 100,000 new jobs by 2014 and there has been some good work done on this. Already several high-profile companies such as Accenture and Citi have announced that they are expanding their activity in Ireland but more needs to be done if targets are going to be met.
There are some very smart people in the public sector, and the best ones know that the heart of the economy is SMEs. Enterprise Ireland has put a huge amount of effort in the last 18 months into helping SMEs grow their exports, which will be the saving of Ireland. This energy and effort is now accelerating around a drive for export sales through enabling executive education and coaching.
'Leadership 4 Growth' is Enterprise Ireland's leadership and strategy programme aimed at fundamentally changing the face of indigenous companies. Its aim is to develop and enhance the leadership ambition, mindset and capability of Irish CEOs and their senior management teams to lead innovative, scalable companies, capable of achieving sustained international growth. This is exactly the sort of programme that plays a vital role in expanding both the ambition and the capability of SME business in Ireland.
Senior executives in SMEs have to play their part by expanding their personal ambition and horizons; they need to follow the example of Irish companies like Micon, which manufactured the drill bit that rescued the Chilean miners, or Bolgers, Ireland's largest exporter of fabricated sheet metal.
Bolgers is exactly the sort of SME business that needs to thrive if the Celtic Tiger is to recover. It was hit hard by recession in 2008-09 – it didn't lose a single client but business was down by 50%. As a consequence it was forced to cut staff from 92 to 60 and go onto a three-day week. Joint managing director Ian Bolger realised he needed to reverse this state of affairs fast.
Through Enterprise Ireland he contacted us at Futurecurve and we worked closely with it to transform the company's customer value proposition. We spoke to many of Bolgers' clients and got them to articulate the value that Bolgers delivered to them. According to Ian Bolger, "this piece of work was pivotal to the turnaround in our fortunes". Now Bolgers has a detailed understanding of what its clients value and prospective clients seek; what Ian Bolger calls "a roadmap for growth". The impact of this work has been dramatic – the growth curve is such that the company is back to full production and staff numbers have increased to 125. The focus has switched from survival to one of growth.
If another 500 SMEs can achieve and sustain commensurate results by taking a similar journey to Bolgers, then Ireland's troubles will be behind it.
Cindy Barnes founded Futurecurve following six years with Capgemini in various roles including business development director and marketing director. Currently Futurecurve is working with Enterprise Ireland in advising SMEs on how best to expand their businesses and increase their appeal in export markets; email: