Friday 15 December 2017

Job of work: Heraty's plan to make Ireland a better place for everyone in business

Childcare is a parenting issue not a women's issue according to new Ibec president Anne Heraty

Ibec president Anne Heraty. Photo: Kip Carroll
Ibec president Anne Heraty. Photo: Kip Carroll
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

After close to 30 years in the recruitment business, Anne Heraty says the change of pace in the jobs market has never been so fast.

"Every other month, we'll get a job in that's completely new, that you have to have it explained," says the chief executive of listed recruitment firm Cpl.

Technology is the driving force behind this change, which she says is reshaping how everyone does their jobs at a rapid pace.

Heraty muses that it is a far cry from the start of her career, when her first job in telesales selling photocopiers and faxes for Xerox was seen as cutting edge.

After some difficult times for the jobs market, this year is seeing growth in permanent job placements and increased hiring by Irish companies, both good signs of a recovering economy.

However, Heraty feels we have a lot to do to keep the economy growing, particularly in the wake of Brexit.

She will have plenty of opportunity to air her concerns in her new role as president of employers body Ibec.

Among the issues high on her agenda are infrastructure to support the workforce, measures to encourage entrepreneurship and personal tax rates,

"We're hearing more and more from people when they're looking to come back to Ireland, that the high rate of personal tax is an issue and it's an issue for people who are here as well," she says.

Another concern is the participation of women in the workforce and Ibec is about to publish a major report on the issue.

She says that it is a parenting agenda rather than a women's agenda. "While it's often the woman who takes that decision if the second income is lower to stay at home, I do think the guys are as keen and as focused on family first now."

Heraty, who is warm and incredibly down to earth in person, says she herself was supported by a great childminder and her husband, Paul Carroll, Cpl's business development director. She has a son in secondary school and a daughter in university.

She was aware that balancing parenting and work is challenging but was taken aback by some of the findings of the report,

"I was shocked at the dropout rate in the workforce in the 25 to 39 age group in comparison to the other OECD countries and even to the UK. It is so much higher in Ireland," she says.

"We can see it in the overall stats that while jobs have been created and there's great job growth and unemployment has come down, that the female participation rate is not back to where it was since the recession," she says.

"The second thing that I thought was really striking was the notion that the second income, was reduced overall by 92pc meaning that you're really working for 8pc of your income."

Ibec has several recommendations including the means testing of child benefit and the expansion of the early childcare scheme.

Heraty herself has worked through most of her life. She grew up in a small village in North Longford, the second youngest of a of six children."We were the local grocer, pub, undertaker and then my brother was the local doctor," she says.

"I was interested in business from an early age without even being aware of it. It's part of your DNA growing up."

She went to boarding school in Longford and then to UCD where she studied maths and economics.

She graduated in 1984, and after some years with Xerox, she signed up to a recruitment agency in search of a new position. Instead the agency asked her if she was interested in working in recruitment and she decided to give it a go.

"I found that I really liked the tech sector," she says. "I had an affinity with the tech people and a lot of the other recruiters weren't that interested."

She asked her boss if she could specialise in technology. He said no and she began to think seriously about going out on her own with the encouragement of her then boyfriend Carroll, who worked in KPMG at the time.

A husband of her friend, who was in the recruitment business, agreed to back her in 1989 and Computer Placement was founded, later to become Cpl.

It was an exciting time, although unemployment was running at 15pc.

"Loads of change was coming because a lot of assembly type companies were moving out of Ireland and the Irish software industry was starting to grow and then some multi-nationals like Microsoft had started to come in. Tech started to come into its own."

It was a slow start. "It was just me at a desk with a phone. By 1994, we had six people."

The company began to grow more rapidly from 1995 and the dotcom era was a boon for Cpl which floated in 1999.

However, the dotcom crash in 2001 was as bad for the company as the recent recession. One decision following on from that experience was to diversify the business into areas such as financial services and healthcare.

Heraty said that being publicly listed has 'worked well' for the business. She and Carroll continue to hold over 40pc of stock with Heraty saying that she continues to love the business.

One of the disadvantages of being a plc is the pressure from investors to deliver good results on a quarterly basis. When times get tough the market can be unforgiving.

Heraty said she has decided to focus on what is best for the business rather than the shareprice.

"I think you yourself have to have the strength of character to know that regardless of short term things, you're on the plan and you articulate that plan well."

"All I can do is deliver the plan and if others take a different view to that, well then so be it."

Some 30pc of the company's business is now in Europe and the UK. Cpl is about to expand into Germany and is also preparing to open an office in Boston.

Entering the US is a brave move and Heraty is talking a cautious approach.

"It will be small," she says. "We're just starting with a couple of people to start with and then see how we go.

"It's really our clients that are bringing us because they are saying to us look, you know, you're doing a good job for us here. Can you do the same for us abroad? So we have a ready-made client base." Other initiatives include the recent establishment of an executive search business, Ardlinn, to capture the top end of the market.

While Heraty has taken on the Ibec role, she limits her non-Cpl work to Ibec these days.

She has been slow to become involved in other companies since her non executive director position at Anglo Irish Bank.

Heraty said she found the fallout from Anglo very difficult.

"There was just no good side to it," she says.

"As a non-executive director you do your due diligence, everything appeared to be working really well," she says.

"The only thing I have now outside of Cpl is the presidency of Ibec," she adds. "I am much more cautious now."

While technology is fuelling Cpl, technology also brings threats. New entrants are trying to challenge traditional recruitment such as LinkedIn and Irish start-up Jobbio.

"We're all technology companies now," says Heraty. "It plays a big role in out company now. But fundamentally good recruitment is about having really good sourcing of people. And then your ability to assess people, to get them across the line for a client is really what's important.

"Clients are not just looking for people who are on the market, who have their CVs up on database.

"A lot of the time they are looking for the passive candidate, the person who hasn't even thought about moving jobs."

As far as Heraty is concerned, for all the advancements in technology, it all comes back to people. Many of the issues which are top of her agenda at Ibec relate to making Ireland a better place to work.

"The kind of things that I am very focused on are around making Ireland a good place to live and work," she says.

"What I see coming up all the time now are all these, what they call liveability issues.

"So, our high personal tax rates, kicking in at too low a salary level."

Her top concerns include education, job creation and entrepreneurship,

"Fundamentally it is businesses that create jobs," says Heraty.

"I feel business gets a bad rap. Whereas actually by and large business is a force for good and you have got to have innovative businesses, we have got to have an environment that makes it worthwhile for people to start a business.

"I would be very excited about the whole start-up community here in Ireland and the ability of companies now, indigenous Irish companies to scale as well," she says.

She believes that businesses are responding to concerns from investors and society at large.

"I think we are definitely moving into an era where we need much more transparency," she says.

Brexit and the implications for Ireland are a concern.

"I think we need a very decisive approach to Brexit," she says.

"There is lots of uncertainty out there. I think it's something we have to be really mindful about and watch it very carefully." With the Budget taking place on Tuesday she will be watching any improvement for entrepreneurs closely.

An improvement in the arrangements for capital gains tax (CGT) on the sales of businesses by entrepreneurs would be welcome. At present, the UK's lower CGT rates are far more appealing for start-ups. If you look at the entrepreneurs in the UK it's 10pc on the first £10million.

"They tweaked this in the budget last year but here in Ireland it's 20pc on your first million. They're our very near neighbour, that investment is very mobile, we have to play on a level playing field."

On the matter of women in the workforce, she believes that the current cost of childcare means that any suggestion of people not working due to choice does not hold water.

"I'm sure of course some women make the choice and that's fine and it's great to be in a position to make that choice.

"But when you look at the average wage rates and so on, that's a small percentage of people that are in a position to make that choice and I think if it's costing you an average of 92pc of the second income, it makes it very hard to understand how it's possible to work."

And she believes there is an awareness finally at Government level that something needs to be done to support parents who both want to work.

Heraty believes addressing the childcare issues and women's participation in Ireland workforce is long overdue.

"I think it's hard to be in 2016 still talking about these kind of issues," she says,

"I certainly hope for my daughter's generation that this won't be the conversation."

"I could have ended up in healthcare"

I'm currently reading . . .

A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara. It's a fabulous book about four college friends. I like business books, I love motivational books. I'm a very broad-church when it comes to reading."

I love to dine in . . .

"La Conca del Sogna" in Italy. I've gone there with the family for years. Apart from the fact it is a lovely restaurant, I think there is a lovely association there with time spent there when the kids were young."

The type of music I like . . .

"Paul (her husband) tells me that I'm very middle of the road. Paul has helped me form my taste in music, he plays guitar and all that."

If I hadn't worked in recruitment . . .

"I think I could have ended up in healthcare. I've always been interested in it and maybe could have been a doctor or a nurse. My eldest brother is a doctor so when I was younger that is something I would have liked."

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