Business Irish

Monday 22 October 2018

Why I had to sell the most succesful business I ever created

In his new book Gerry Murphy reveals how he built a €100m company and then sold it

CHURCHTOWN BOY: We need to encourage and inspire entrepreneurs, says Gerry Murphy
CHURCHTOWN BOY: We need to encourage and inspire entrepreneurs, says Gerry Murphy
The Accidental Entrepreneur by Gerry Murphy

Gerry Murphy

I had to sell the most successful business I ever created - a business that went from zero to €100m turnover in three years.

The reality was that GreatGas was too successful and I just didn't have the financial resources to grow it. In fact, I barely had enough finance to get to a point where I was able to sell the business. Do I regret having to sell it?

Am I angry at not having been able to raise the working capital to allow me and the other shareholders to hold on to the business?

No, I am not. Buying and selling is the fundamental nature of business and the sale of GreatGas came at a time when many other businesses were heading into a financial tsunami as the Celtic Tiger collapsed.

Do I regret that the sale of the business eventually resulted in jobs moving from Churchtown, in North Cork, to Portlaoise?

Yes, of course I am sorry for the loyal staff who could not relocate but thankfully they are a talented group who have all found alternative employment.

So why am I making a fuss about a business I no longer have anything to do with? Why have I written The Accidental Entrepreneur to tell the story?

Because I hope my book is not one of those self-congratulatory stories of a zero-to-hero start up; that it is seen for what it is - a book about growing up in a small community in North Cork, watching its population decline and dereliction take over and deciding to do something about it. I also hope it could be an inspiration to others who may have a business dream but are afraid to do something about it.

As a country we need to continue to encourage entrepreneurs as they are the main wealth creators in our economy. It is often said that entrepreneurs are born, not made.

Certainly some people have entrepreneurship in the genes - perhaps having grown up in a family business - but from what I have observed this group is in the minority. Much more common are people who reach a point in their career path where it becomes logical for them to give up paid employment and branch out on their own.

In recent years, giving up that paid employment has often been someone else's choice, not theirs. Then there is a third group of entrepreneurs, who, like me, stumble into business by accident.

What marks out 'accidental entrepreneurs' is that we never really plan to launch a business. We simply begin by pursuing an idea that grows into a business, different to anything we could have foreseen.

Accidental entrepreneurs challenge the idea that business leaders are focused on gain, growth and efficiency. Instead, we are likely to be concerned with achieving a non-business objective. Our primary goal is to solve a problem or meet some need.

In my case that problem was how to regenerate Churchtown, the village, in North Cork, where I grew up.

I had observed its decline from the 1960s but it was a story in the Sunday Tribune, in February 1997, about the interior of one of the two village pubs being shipped to Vienna that made me decide that I must act.

I was inspired by my great grandfather, William 'Boss' Murphy (1831-1911), who witnessed the Great Famine in Churchtown and went on to found Churchtown Creamery with other farmers in the parish in 1889. I wanted to make my mark as well.

I resigned from my secure job in a bank to devote as much time as possible to renewing Churchtown. Many would regard it as risky, even reckless, for a married man with a young family to leave a safe job. But I would say it was a bigger risk to have stayed on in a job that didn't fulfil me.

And so, I left the security of a large organisation and set about investing as much time as possible working on my community project.

Luckily, I had a nest egg, so the first thing I did was to buy the premises where Flannery's pub had been until 1997. I was able to restore and re-open the pub in 2002, calling it Boss Murphy's. I was becoming an entrepreneur by accident. It was not an easy process and many of my initial business ideas struggled or failed. I sold Boss Murphy's in 2004 and, thankfully, it continues to trade successfully in the village.

It was not until 2005 - when I established GreatGas Petroleum with just €3,749 seed capital - that the tide turned. GreatGas was turning over €100m within three years. From those early business ventures in the late 1990s through to my time establishing and growing GreatGas, I got a few insights that I feel are applicable to start-ups and expanding a business.

For instance, I don't place much importance on having a 'good idea': most business ideas are both simple and unoriginal. Success in business is about execution.

Execution is a skill that can be acquired - and, for this reason, I believe that anyone who wants to can become an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs are not a tiny group of especially talented people. Every village, parish, town, city, county and country has entrepreneurs.

Some are accidental like myself, while many have a clear goal or business idea from the outset. It is because of this prevalence of entrepreneurs that I have great optimism for the future of Ireland.

We have learned so much from our recent failures and that will stand to us in the future. However, as well as encouraging new fresh-faced entrepreneurs in a post-Tiger society, we also need to support those entrepreneurs who failed, and get them back on their feet. Only by working together will Ireland reach its true potential.

The Accidental Entrepreneur by Gerry Murphy (Orpen Press)

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