Gary Orr, chief commercial officer and global head of ESG at XDS Brand, shares his life and business lessons.
XDS brand, an integrated part of Tech Mahindra’s Experience Design Services (XDS) division, last year revealed plans to create 40 new jobs in Dublin with plans to hire internationally as part of its global expansion.
A branding, packaging and implementation agency powered by Perigord, XDS Brand will work with Irish and international clients across a range of industries including FMCG, retail and life sciences.
“It’s human nature for us to fight or flight if we don’t: Feel Safe, Feel Valued, Feel we belong, Feel in Control. These four elements if embedded into your people will create colleagues/employees that will go to metaphorical war for you and vice versa”
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
Some could call it fate! I missed my first choice of Computer Science by five points in the Leaving Cert – purely out of stubbornness I then decided to not accept my second choice, which led me ultimately down a path I have since stayed on. I took a job opportunity that led me down the path of agency life, and while this is not the path I had imagined for myself at 18, I am incredibly grateful that this is where I have been led.
Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
It is XDS Brand’s goal to ensure that its solutions position its clients at the forefront of the customers’ minds when they are making critical buying and adaptation decisions of which our customers can struggle with. Unlike many other competitors we work at the creative and technological cutting edge of design thinking.
How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?
As a global agency with studios in Ireland, the US, and India we have lofty aspirations over the coming years. Some of these aspirations include: expanding our reach; offering more services that are driven by technology and a customer need; leading with the latest technology; developing a strong reputation; continuing to foster a diverse and inclusive workplace; and creating positive social and environmental impact. Overall, our agency’s aspirations will be focused on our continued growth, innovation, and making a positive impact in the world through design and actions.
“I think the continued desire to learn and persevere is key in marking the difference between success and failure”
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
At XDS we are constantly integrating new technologies for connected experiences in relation to sustainability and packaging, like the use of Augmented Reality (AR), in a way that others in our space aren’t doing. We also develop our own tools, for example CLEAR, our new tool helps companies embed sustainability design into the heart of the packaging development process and deploy data-driven packaging choices at scale.
This intuitive tool makes robust environmental data accessible, supporting you in making smarter, more resilient design decisions and empowering them to develop sustainable packaging solutions.
With this SaaS tool (Software as a Service), businesses can easily measure the environmental footprint of different packaging and turn robust environmental metrics into actionable insights to drive sustainable packaging innovation and change.
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
My parents for sure, As I grew up they taught us what was possible and showed us that hard work and determination was 90% of what was needed. I come from a very humble background. We didn’t have much but they instilled characteristics in me, work hard, always do your best, always finish, always be polite and respectful. My Dad showed us what hard work looked like he had two jobs to support my twin brother, my sister and I. I watched the barriers he could go through for his family. My Mum taught me about understanding people and how to get the most from these relationships. Together I think they did a good job. Now for me to pass these characteristics to my daughter. Nothing more inspiring than family.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
A former boss told me that: It’s human nature for us to fight or flight if we don’t: Feel Safe, Feel Valued, Feel we belong, Feel in Control. These 4 elements if embedded into your people will create colleagues/employees that will go to metaphorical war for you and vice versa.
“I have learned that in any situation there are degrees to which it may harm your business, but in any case the key is to keep calm and aware of the situation as best you can to make informed decisions”
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
While it can sound cliché, luck and timing do really play their part! Every business, and businessperson, is different and we all face a unique set of challenges on our journeys – unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you choose to look at it) failures and setbacks are inevitable. What sets you apart is how you chose to learn from these.
I think the continued desire to learn and persevere is key in marking the difference between success and failure. The inability to change, adapt and grow can be fatal for businesses, and people. The need to be thinking ahead, innovating and remaining driven is what will bring around eventual success – that, and having a great team with you.
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
While I did not start the business I am now with, back in 2008 I started my own business Link Design with my lifelong friend Tom Fitzpatrick. We expanded from his kitchen table to a 20-person organisation with a multiple 7-figure annual revenue. We sold to a major global player in 2013, and the experience was one of the highlights of my career.
That being said, the experience was not without challenges of course. I don’t think I was fully prepared and understood what would happen next and how quickly and clinically ‘our baby’ was consolidated into the group and stripped of all its traits and personalites that gave it, its point of difference.
How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?
I treat all adversity the same and much better than I used to from a business perspective. I have learned that in any situation there are degrees to which it may harm your business, but in any case the key is to keep calm and aware of the situation as best you can to make informed decisions.
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
At XDS, we incorporate Customer Experience (CX) design, visual communication experiences as well as assets for digital marketing and social media. This itself is enabled by technology, and so we are very aware of the power of digital tools in our business.
“It may be a cliché but the key in starting a new business or starting as a new hire in an existing business is to be a sponge – ask as many questions as you can!”
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
With the benefits of wisdom and hindsight, I would probably do a lot of things differently! Hindsight is 20/20, and my path has been a true learning curve. But importantly, on a simplistic level, I should have enjoyed and marked wins along the way.
Who inspires you in business today?
I have a number of people that inspire me; it’s too hard to choose. I’m inspired by a new client launching their first product, I’m inspired watching my twin brother excel to career heights and how our sibling competitiveness drives us on. I’m inspired by an underdog!
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
It may be a cliché but the key in starting a new business or starting as a new hire in an existing business is to be a sponge – ask as many questions as you can! In this respect we encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone in order to be exposed to different scenarios which hopefully gives a better understanding and well rounded perspective of the business.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
I’m not the best reader in the world, I do prefer podcasts or videos, like Master Class etc. However ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen R. Covey I would very much recommend.
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
Nothing more exciting than the standard tools.
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
None, I don’t like how they have morphed over the last ten years. I feel they bring forward all the bad traits in people and showcase very little good or positivity.
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
There is a lot of talk at the moment specifically around the advent and widespread use of AI and AI tools and things seem to be heading quickly in that direction – although maybe not exactly at the pace as it may seem. Depending on the area you work in whether it be design, finance, recruitment etc. these tools require different amounts of vetting to be fully implemented and done so carefully for the sake of your own business. At XDS brands we see value in onboarding this technology in time …
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
Good question, don’t be 40 when you’re 20 … be less serious and enjoy life and all the people you are lucky to have around you. As one day you may wake and you are no longer lucky enough to have them with you on the journey. And celebrate the wins when they come!