Wednesday 26 June 2019

In Person: Cora boss finding the right solutions - Brexit or not

Philip Martin CEO, Cora Systems

Philip Martin Founder and CEO of Cora Systems
Philip Martin Founder and CEO of Cora Systems
Ellie Donnelly

Ellie Donnelly

CORA Systems has every reason to be worried about Brexit. Located in Carrick-on-Shannon, and counting the UK's National Health Service (NHS) among its impressive list of clients, the project-management solutions provider believes innovation is the best antidote against a bad Brexit.

Founder and CEO Philip Martin says the return of a hard border "would be the worst thing that ever happened" from a business point-of-view, but he is holding fast to the belief, perhaps the hope, that it may not happen.

"I said at the start that I don't think Brexit will ever happen," he says.

"I know people think I'm mad still saying it, but I continue to have a feeling in the background that Brexit will not happen."

Cora stands on the front line of Brexit, located around 40 miles from the Border, and Martin advises others contemplating Brexit to innovate to mitigate its worst effects.

"The more you innovate the better your product is going to be in that market, and the more likely you are going to sell regardless of tariffs - if that was ever to come in," he says.

Martin, who founded the company in 1999, has proven that big business is possible in a small town. Or, as he puts it, "nothing has to be based in Dublin".

Today Cora Systems employs around 60 staff in Ireland, with plans to add a further 15-20 people as the business grows. In addition, a smaller number of staff are based in offices in the United States and the UK.

Cora Systems boasts the likes of the Health Service Executive, Boston Scientific, Honeywell, and Allergan on its client books. "We work with organisations that are running 40,000-50,000 projects and we have organisations that are running a couple of hundred projects a year," he says.

Today the group is seeing more and more interest in its products in the UK and the US as well as in Ireland.

As the company grows in strength, Martin says there is a huge amount of maturity around the products it offers.

"We have seen a lot of large pharmaceutics and a lot of large government customers are actually buying the product now in much larger volumes to manage their whole enterprise.

"That has a knock-on effect for the company because we are adding jobs to grow that, and it is great for the region, because it is not a region that gets too many high-tech jobs," Martin says.

Despite the international footprint that Cora has, for Martin - whose background is in telecoms - establishing the company in his native Carrick-on Shannon as opposed to bigger urban areas such as Dublin or Galway, was a no-brainer. "My wife and I are both from Carrick-on-Shannon and we both have a huge sense of place. "All I ever wanted to do is grow it here, and especially in the last three to four years that is really what has been happening."

He is enthusiastic when we discuss the potential benefits that a smaller location can offer businesses and employees.

"This morning I was dropping my kids off to school; my son is nine and he is in a class size of four or five. My daughter has something similar. The level of attention and care they are given in school is fantastic. For anyone with a family coming back [to a smaller area] that is probably on top of your list," Martin says.

"If you take Carrick-on-Shannon itself, property prices are low. I used to own a house in Dublin, I sold that house - half the proceeds of which went to setting up Cora. The house we sold is now actually up for sale again, and it is three times the price we sold it for - that's less than 20 years ago.

"Here, you are in a small town that literally has everything you have in Dublin; restaurants, pubs, activity parks, it has everything in the region that you would have in a big city, but yet you are in a town of 4,500 people."

As the company expands, Martin says it is becoming easier to attract staff.

"We have put a lot of focus on our brand, and people are starting to realise that this is not just a small indigenous business anymore, this is a global company."

To date, the business has been funded almost entirely organically, however a number of investment offers have come in recently.

"We may look at it, but we are more focused on execution right now than fundraising," Martin says.

"If we did take on funding we could probably grow faster, but what we are doing has served us well in the past.

"The bottom line is you want to make profit at the end of the day, so you have to make sure and keep your eye on that as well. But to answer the question [the business] has all effectively been organically grown up to now."

There are benefits and downsides to being an entrepreneur.

Being your own boss is one such advantage, but sleepless nights over the future of the company is not something that can be delegated to a member of staff.

When asked by his wife recently if he would go back and work for somebody else ever again, Martin said his answer was "probably not".

"People always look at it in terms of it's a huge risk and responsibility, which it is. You are the person lying in bed at night worrying about something, maybe it is cash flow or closing a deal, or maybe it's an employee that you are worried about.

"Other people can go home, switch off and go into their hobby horse, whereas for you, no matter what happens, it is very hard to turn your brain off and you have to have an outlet for that.".

On the other hand, Martin declares that he loves what he does.

"My biggest enjoyment out of the whole job is I meet people all the time. I meet employees, potential employees, customers, competitors, and I enjoy that and I learn," he says.

"If you listen carefully enough, you will always learn something. Running a company, you have to constantly have what I would call good emotional intelligence.

"You have to listen to people and understand where they are coming from. If you can do that with both clients and employees that will probably make you a better leader as well."

As well as providing employment in Carrick-on-Shannon, Martin is also involved in helping other local businesses through his role on the Leitrim Enterprise Board.

"What I am trying to do is bring practical jobs to an area that's bereft of jobs. I would be involved in a couple of initiatives what would be trying to bring jobs back to the area," he says.

He adds that businesses in the region "are all in this together".

"The more companies that set up in an area like this, the easier it is for somebody to make a move down to the North West and set up over here. People will always put up obstacles, say you can't do it because maybe you don't have the broadband or the staff. Everyone has staffing problems, you just have to be innovative, if you are a creative company, if you have a really innovative brand and company, people will come and work for you, and we have put a lot of work into that piece."

As the company heads into its 10th year, it appears Martin has managed to find the right solution for Cora.

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