Saturday 24 June 2017

Relocation, relocation, relocation...

Paul Coy tells Sean Gallagher how he and his colleagues in Irishrelo have become specialists in helping new multinational staff settle in Ireland

Sean Gallagher with Paul Coy at the Irishrelo offices in Kilcock, Co Kildare. Photo: Tony Gavin
Sean Gallagher with Paul Coy at the Irishrelo offices in Kilcock, Co Kildare. Photo: Tony Gavin
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

For decades now, IDA Ireland and organisations such as Connect Ireland have been pursuing a well-planned and effective strategy of attracting foreign direct investment to Ireland.

So successful have their efforts been that other countries have recently begun to adopt similar business models. The result of such a focus on attracting high-value investment has seen the country punch far above its weight, with many of the world's top brands choosing Ireland as the preferred location for their European HQ or global R&D activities.

Sectors where we perform exceedingly well include ICT, gaming, pharma, medtech, biotech and financial services. In coming to Ireland, these multinationals not only create jobs directly but also support the creation of thousands of additional jobs downstream through the indigenous Irish firms that supply products and services to them.

This week, I met up with Paul Coy, co-founder and joint CEO of Irishrelo, Ireland's leading global employee-relocation firm. Set up in 1994 and now located in Kilcock, Co Kildare, the company employs 120 staff and has an annual turnover of more than €8m.

"When foreign companies wish to bring in specialist staff or managers into Ireland, we sort out absolutely everything they need around moving and settling into the country," explains Paul. "We support around 3,000 families every year and while many of our clients are US and European firms, we also work with companies from all around the world.

"Staff often move here on assignment for a defined period of three to six months or for longer periods. For others, their transfer can end up becoming permanent."

Looking through the company's impressive list of clients, I see many recognisable names, such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, AirBnB, Intel, Kellogg's, Regeneron, Johnson & Johnson, Abbvie and Northern Trust.

Whether coming to Ireland to take up positions as CEOs and managers or to fill more technical and specialised roles, these clients have common and basic needs: accommodation, schools for children, utility connections, bank accounts and the shipment of personal and family belongings.

It's a service that requires considerable knowledge of how our system works, as well as a high degree of customer and relationship management.

"Our work falls largely into three key areas," explains Paul. "Firstly, through our visa and emigration services division, we help incoming employees secure work permits through the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. A complex administrative process, this can typically take anywhere between six and 12 months and involves dealing directly with the employee, as well as their company's HR department.

"Our second area involves our moving services. We have a dedicated fleet of 25 trucks located across Europe and these transport personal effects, clothes and household goods. And while much of our work centres around moving people from abroad into Ireland, we also help relocate people within and between other European countries, helping them move from Stockholm to Madrid or Paris to Zurich."

With a clear and definite focus on customer support, a member of Irishrelo's team will be on hand to collect each new arrival into the country by either plane or boat. They will also supply them with a food pack containing essential provisions for their first day in their new country, including such items as cereals, milk, bread, tea and coffee.

The company's third area of focus is its destination services division. Here, its home-finding team helps employees find rental properties that best suit their own and their family's requirements. This includes helping them check into the property, negotiate their lease and tenant agreements and includes making sure that break clauses have been provided for in the event that they need to either cut short or extend their stay for any reason.

Paul and his team also help source creches and schools for children, as well as obtaining student reports from their existing schools in order to ensure that they are placed in the correct corresponding classes. They also help employees get signed up for utilities such as telephone, broadband and TV, help them identify and arrange membership of local gyms or other sports clubs, set up bank accounts and even find local shops, restaurants and nearby ATM machines.

"We also show new arrivals how to do the trip from their new home to their new workplace location. We even make the trip with them on their first day. It's all about helping make their transition as smooth and as hassle-free as possible," explains Paul.

Paul Coy is a qualified chartered accountant. Having grown up in Athlone, Co Westmeath, he studied accounting in Athlone IT, supporting his time there by running the pool hall across the road from the college. His first full-time job was as an accountant with a relocation services company based in Dublin. After some time there, and in return for his efforts on their behalf, he was given an equity share in the business.

In 2002, he left the business and along with two colleagues - Patrick Oman and William Tighe - bought a company in the same sector called Irish Relocation Services. Set up originally in 1994 by Nora Mitra, it was essentially a one-person operation that focused almost exclusively on providing house-moving services.

"We saw it as a good base on which to build," says Paul. "With more and more multinational companies choosing Ireland as their preferred location base in Europe, we decided to position our business as the second port of call, after the IDA, in helping them locate here."

He and his colleagues rebranded the company to Irishrelo and got to work on increasing its size and range of services. There were, however, many challenges for the new business in its first few years. For example, the whole concept of professional relocation and moving services was a relatively new one and was not widely recognised at the time outside of the US.

"In trying to promote our own company, we also had to start many conversations with potential clients by first introducing the entire relocation services concept," explains Paul.

Gradually though, the idea began to take hold and more and more companies began turning to Irishrelo for assistance.

"Finding the right staff also proved challenging initially," admits Paul. "We needed staff that were diligent, could multi-task, with good attention to detail," explains Paul. "And because our business is all about relationship-building, we needed staff to be very customer-focused who would treat incoming foreign nationals as if they were members of their own family.

"Today, we are fortunate to have built up a brilliant team with a can-do attitude that is allied to the best local knowledge of service providers in every county in Ireland. And with the IDA now adopting an increasingly regional focus, this is becoming even more important."

Impressively too, Paul and his colleagues managed to fund the growth of the business through the company's own working capital. Today, they are in the strong and enviable position of not having any bank debt.

What has been the secret to Irishrelo's success?

"We always say YES to our clients. And that has led us to diversify into a wide range of new services that we hadn't initially offered because that's what our clients want. The result is that it has allowed us to develop a complete one-stop-shop solution," explains Paul. "Increasingly, we are finding that companies want to deal with just one service provider, rather than with a multiplicity of smaller ones who can only supply parts of the overall solution.

"We also have a strong management team, with a good mix and diversity of skills. Myself and Patrick, as joint CEOs, run the visa and emigration and destination services, while our fellow director, William, takes care of the moving services side of things".

With the pipeline for FDI clients remaining strong and the company's constantly expanding client base, Paul is confident for the future. He expects turnover to exceed €10m over the next three years. To achieve this, he is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to acquire or enter strategic partnerships with other local or international companies in the same or related sectors.

Moving house is always a stressful process. Moving to a different country is even more challenging. Yet for those involved in setting up companies here, it's a necessary part of the mix.

With the help and support of the Paul and his team, this process is made simpler and the transition smoother.

And for both the FDI employee locating here and for Irishrelo, it all makes good business sense.

For further information: www.irishrelo.com

Paul's advice for other businesses

1 Listen attentively  to your clients 

"Listening to clients lets you better understand their needs and improves the prospect of you successfully meeting their requirements. It also gives you insight into how to expand your existing portfolio of products or services by identifying new opportunities based on a customer's ever-changing needs."

2 Build a diverse management team "Ensure that your management team has the diversity of skills you require to successfully manage and grow your business. These include finance, IT, operations and customer service. Such a broad mix of skills helps create balance in your organisation and ensure that all important areas are covered."

3 Get out there and start selling

"Some businesses sit back and wait for the phone to ring, for business to present itself to them. But the reality for most businesses is that you have to go out there and make things happen for yourself. To be successful, you have to be proactive and go out and shake the tree of opportunity."

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