Saturday 23 June 2018

A global focus in lovely Leitrim

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium sized businesses, and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Philip Martin, CEO of Cora Systems. Photo: James Connolly
Sean Gallagher with Philip Martin, CEO of Cora Systems. Photo: James Connolly
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

Cora Systems is a global software company set up in 1999 by Philip Martin and wife AnnMarie Burke. Headquartered in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, and with regional offices in London and Boston, the company employs 57 staff and has an annual turnover of €5.5m.

"We are one of the fastest-growing companies in the enterprise portfolio and project management (PPM) sector," explains Philip, the company's chief executive. "Our ProjectVision software is now helping some of the world's largest organisations and government agencies transform how they do business. Our software provides project managers in these organisations with immediate visibility on project portfolios, as well as giving them increased control, governance and insight to help them make better decisions. Our emphasis is on key points from programmes and projects to people, finance, milestones and change requests."

So successful and highly regarded is the company that today its bespoke software platform manages $15bn (€12bn) worth of projects every day, and supports hundreds of thousands of users across multiple locations in more than 50 countries around the globe. Today, 30pc of its business comes from Ireland, 30pc from the UK and the remaining 40pc from the US.

"In the area of life sciences, we work with names such as Teleflex, Allergan, Boston Scientific, Elanco and Nabriva. On one such project alone we helped one of our clients deliver $2.5m (€2m) in savings annually as part of their global cost improvement programme. In healthcare, we work with groups including the HSE, NHS and Tusla. Our public sector clients include a mix of government agencies and local authorities ranging from City of London to county councils, including Dublin, Fingal, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Waterford and Leitrim. Other clients include Honeywell, Intel, WSP, PwC and Analog Devices."

Philip grew up on a family farm outside Carrick-On-Shannon, something he believes instilled a strong worth ethic and a huge pride of place. "Everyone worked hard and free time was something you got if you were playing a GAA match on a Sunday," he laughs.

After school, he completed a diploma in electronics in the Sligo Institute of Technology before transferring to the University of Ulster, at Jordanstown, in Belfast, where he completed a degree in electronic systems as well as a diploma in business studies. The next few years were spent working for firms such as Alcatel, Tellabs and DSC computers. Married by then to AnneMarie, the pair decided to move back to Carrick-on-Shannon. With few job opportunities available at the time locally, they decided to set up their own company and Cora Systems was born.

"We started up the business out of a three-bedroom apartment which was set in my old school. Today we provide a world-class solution that competes with global multi-billion dollar companies who we more often than not win against on international projects," he says proudly.

"Creating employment locally is a great feeling. We have 45 people here in Carrick and much of their income is spent locally which has a hugely positive knock-on effect for other businesses in the area. That's really important to us."

Starting out, he faced many of the usual challenges. Raising start-up capital was more difficult then compared to now. Consultancy work for his previous employers helped bridge the gap until revenues kicked in. Support from family and friends was also important. The fact too that AnnMarie double jobbed, acting as the company's financial controller in the evenings as well as holding down a full-time job as a teacher, also helped. "Her salary was critical in the early days," says Philip. Now 18 years later, they are a global business with a different set of challenges - from raising growth funding to hiring the right talent while flying all over the world. During the intervening years Philip recalls a number of key events that helped shape the business.

"Turning down a guaranteed €450k of revenue in the early days because it was mostly service-focussed was certainly a tough call to make. Instead we drove on with the development of our ProjectVision software and today it's this that is our world-class product. It was a difficult decision but turned out to be the correct one.

In 2014 we formed an advisory board which helped provide valuable advice and direction and we also narrowed our target sectors which gave the company a clearer focus and direction. Partnering with PwC and other regional partners has also helped us deliver large-scale rollouts," he says.

Completing Enterprise Ireland's Innovation for Growth and Leadership for Growth programmes proved valuable, and helped him focus more on innovation and culture, both of which have become important to the company's success.

He then introduces me to the members of his team, including Pat Henry, his CTO, who has been with him from the start. From experienced project managers and trainers to business analysts, systems architects and developers, to those looking after sales, marketing and financial, everyone is friendly and upbeat yet sharply focused on the task in hand.

"Our people are top-of-their-game and there's a great buzz in the place. So much so that many of our new hires come by way of referrals from existing employees."

He sees huge growth potential in the US market, where he now spends an increasing amount of his time. "We have great foundations laid down, it's all about execution now. And we will be looking to raise between €2m and €4m later in the year to help accelerate that growth," he said.

An advocate for the regions, he believes other software firms could benefit from a similar move.

"Today's professionals are looking for more out of life than a long commute and sky-high rent, they're looking to escape the capital for a better work-life balance and a reduced cost of living. That can be found in places like Carrick-on-Shannon and I hope more companies embrace the potential that places like here have to offer," he adds.

corasystems.com

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