Saturday 24 March 2018

'No, I don't own a home right now – there's just too much for me to do...'

PCH International chief Liam Casey tells Tom Lyons that entrepreneurs from Ireland are a match for anyone

SMOOTHIES: Liam Casey pours the drinks at the Web Summit
SMOOTHIES: Liam Casey pours the drinks at the Web Summit

Tom Lyons

'LET'S walk," instructs Liam Casey, the chief executive of PCH International.

With that, the global supply chain giant headquartered in Cork walks into the crowd at Web Summit. Behind him his firm's flagship stand (complete with fresh fruit smoothies served from a faux petrol stump stand) fades into the crowd.

Wearing a dark navy shirt and white-rimmed shoes, Casey, who spends much of his time in his company's offices in Shenzhen, China, and in San Francisco, California, is excited to be back in Dublin.

"Three years ago when Web Summit started we were reeling from the downturn, but now we're getting through it," he says. "Just look at this place," he adds, gesturing around a technology firm packed RDS. "I've been to conferences all over the world, but this is the best."

Casey said people like Ray Nolan (who sold Web Reservations International for more than €200m and has invested in hot start-ups like Storyful and Skyscanner), as well as the Collison brothers (who co-founder Stripe, an online payments firm valued at $500m), proved that Irish entrepreneurs could match anyone.

"They are rated not as Irish companies but global companies," Casey said. "Geography is history with the web."

Casey said after he read Tony Ryan – Ireland's Aviator recently he was reminded of reading a newspaper article 30 years ago about the founder of aviation leasing firm GPA and Ryanair. Ryan had inspired him to think about volumes and margins when making business decisions: a fundamental of his business.

"Today people have access to blogs and can be inspired easier by what's happening in the world," Casey said.

He said that events like Web Summit also played a role in helping the next generation of business people to get going.

"Back in 2006 and 2007 a lot of people thought that property was what business was about. People think very differently about business now. Technology is cool," he said.

Casey said he had invested in setting up a hardware start-up accelerator in San Francisco called Highway1 to not only help new companies but also keep his firm PCH at the cutting edge of what was happening.

"Inexperience is an innovative force," Casey said – because it led to brand new ways of thinking. Highway1, he said, had so far attracted three European and eight American start-ups to its programme and he hinted it was about to get its first Irish entry.

Turning to his core business PCH, which offers services for multinationals like Apple at all stages of the consumer product development and supply chain, he said the company had no immediate plans to access more capital either from new investors or by floatation.

Existing support from backers from financial heavyweights like Northbrooks Investments (a subsidiary of a $133bn fund), Fung Capital and J Christopher Burch was enough for the moment.

"We're always looking at our options but have no plans," Casey said. "There is huge growth still in our business and there is still a lot of upside before we need the next round of investment."

PCH, Casey said, employed 5,000 people directly but that number would rise to 30,000 if contractors were included. "We're moving 10 million parts a days," Casey noted. "That equates to product worth $8bn to $10bn."

'Back in 2006 people thought property was what business was all about'

Casey is wary of revealing to much financial information. Turnover, he admits, after prodding, is likely to cross $1bn for the first time this year, representing growth of 20 per cent. "Don't make 'We'll do $1bn this year' the headline," Casey laughs.

It is hard not to warm to Casey, who is both engaging and extremely focused. A final question: is it true he still doesn't own a home?

"No, I don't," Casey replies. "There will be a time when maybe there aren't so many opportunities in the world and I will then. I'll be ready to slow down then but right now, there's too much to do."

Sunday Independent

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