John Delves, CEO of Magnet+ shares his life and his business lessons.
John Delves became CEO of Magnet+ following the acquisition of the company by Speed Fibre Group, an Irish investment vehicle focused on telecoms infrastructure.
Delves spent over a decade at CEO level with Digicel in the Pacific and Caribbean, and implemented two successful greenfield launches in Vanuatu and Fiji.
“I’ve always loved a challenge; I operate best when breaking up a monopoly. My strength is overcoming obstacles, be it commercial, political or market based”
Magnet+operates one of Ireland’s largest connectivity networks and also provides connectivity for some of the world’s biggest technology companies, as well as telecommunications and data connectivity solutions to both commercial and residential markets.
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
My journey began in university where I really enjoyed studying a Bachelor of Arts in Business Studies at the University of Ulster. I then went on to join Hibernia Foods Limited in the UK where I worked for four years in total, almost three years as a Business Manager and one year as a Commercial Director when I was just 25 years old. Afterwards, I joined other Irish companies based in the UK such as Kerry Foods and Greencore. I never intended to leave until I landed a job at Digicel, another Irish company which was based in the Pacific and the Caribbean. I went on to spend the next 11 years there with Digicel before moving back to Dublin to begin my journey with Magnet+.
“I believe the Irish telecoms market has become bland and isn’t customer centric. I want to give Irish companies a credible alternative to what I see as our larger and bureaucratic competitors”
Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
I’ve always loved a challenge; I operate best when breaking up a monopoly. My strength is overcoming obstacles, be it commercial, political or market based. As Managing Director of Magnet+, I push myself every day to be the best I can possibly be. I would say my USP is that I am very open and honest and would consider myself a very fair person. These traits are extremely important to me and living by these values has enabled me to get to where I am today. I believe you have to earn people’s trust if you want them to believe in you and your business.
I believe the Irish telecoms market has become bland and isn’t customer centric. I want to give Irish companies a credible alternative to what I see as our larger and bureaucratic competitors. At Magnet+ we are focused on the customer, always available, agile and able to make decisions quickly that positively impact the customer.
“Operationally, I am very logical and realistic. I’m always looking for ways to improve areas of the business by providing constructive feedback and communicating effectively with the team at Magnet+”
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
I’ve always considered myself a grafter. I’m very hands on and I pride myself in being an approachable and honest person. This ensures my team can work closely with me and, ultimately, trust me. Operationally, I am very logical and realistic. I’m always looking for ways to improve areas of the business by providing constructive feedback and communicating effectively with the team at Magnet+. I also lead by example and constantly push myself to look at how I can improve and simplify processes as well as increasing workplace efficiency without sacrificing on the quality of our products or services.
“My late brother, Colm Delves, whom I was fortunate enough to work with in two companies has always been a huge inspiration. He taught me how to be a leader and to always stay true to what you believe in. I channel his advice every day”
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
My biggest inspiration has to be my family. My wife and four children have always supported me in every aspect of life. My late brother, Colm Delves, whom I was fortunate enough to work with in two companies has always been a huge inspiration. He taught me how to be a leader and to always stay true to what you believe in. I channel his advice every day.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
While I was in Digicel I learnt that you have to take ownership of any challenges, address them head on and always be completely upfront with your colleagues and your Board.
“I like to create what I call ‘positive friction’ in the business, which means challenging what we do but in a constructive way”
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
Surrounding yourself with people whom you can trust, as well as believing in yourself are really important, especially when you are facing a tough or challenging time. That’s when the strongest relationships are formed.
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
Starting or growing a business is never easy, but as I mentioned earlier, I love a challenge. For me, the most challenging aspect of growing the business is building the right team and making sure everyone is clear on where we are going, what role they play, being empowered and being able to challenge each other to do things better and smarter. I like to create what I call ‘positive friction’ in the business, which means challenging what we do but in a constructive way.
How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?
For us, being a telecommunications company, it didn’t really change our business too much. We were all working remotely at one point but we were able to make that transition smoothly. Technology ensured we could keep the business operating to the same high standard during those periods of lockdown and restricted movements. I loved how people embraced new collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams which enabled a completely new way of working.
I think we also learned that there is definitely a balance between the office and working remotely. As a business I believe we’ve found the right balance at Magnet+ and this is really helping us compete aggressively in the market and drive our growth.
“Life is constantly moving and changing and I think it is important to take time to reflect on how far you’ve come”
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
When I started my career, mobile penetration was less than 40% and 2G was used for connectivity technology. Digital transformation and mobile communications in particular has made the world much smaller and more accessible, with people all over the globe now able to connect instantly. As a result, this has opened the door for many entrepreneurs. I think some Irish businesses are very progressive and like every market, other segments will be slower to change. With cloud solutions now available to all businesses no matter what their size, every business needs to challenge themselves on how they can embrace new digital technologies that will help them become more efficient, more transparent and yield better insights and analytics that fuel better decision making.
“One of my biggest inspirations is Denis O’Brien who I worked alongside in Digicel”
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Over my career, I have travelled from Ireland to the UK, the Pacific, the Caribbean and back. If I had to change anything, I would go back and enjoy the journey even more. Life is constantly moving and changing and I think it is important to take time to reflect on how far you’ve come.
Who inspires you in business today?
One of my biggest inspirations is Denis O’Brien who I worked alongside in Digicel. A lot of inspiration and motivation also comes from my family. My dad left school at 15 and had his own business by the time he was 21. I also was lucky to work alongside my late brother who really influenced my business career.
“My biggest advice for new hires is to build your own brand and work towards nurturing and developing it. It’s important to create a brand that people will know you for”
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
My biggest advice for new hires is to build your own brand and work towards nurturing and developing it. It’s important to create a brand that people will know you for. I think the key to nurturing talent is to create a transparent culture where people want to help each other, create a supportive and customer centric culture that is genuine and not just a slogan! I also believe this should be supported by structured learning & development plans that are developed by each person with support from their manager.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
I like the following:
Confessions of the Pricing Man by Hermann Simon (not a page turner but some really great insights on the importance of pricing in business something which I feel is often neglected)
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
The Tipping Point and Outliers both by Malcom Gladwell
I also really like Atomic Habits by James Clear which can equally be applied to your business and personal life – I bought over 20 copies to share with colleagues in Magnet+.
My kids tell me I need to read more fun books!
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
For me, my mobile phone is essential to keep in touch with the team and stay on top of day-to-day activities. However, I am old fashioned when it comes to lists. I like to use a pen and paper to write my to-do list at the end of each day and this helps (sometimes!) me to switch off.
“Connectivity is the foundation for all technology in business and we strive to be the leader in providing the best connectivity possible”
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
I am a big fan of LinkedIn. I find it a great way to discover interesting content and articles which I like to share with my connections and colleagues. I also think it is a great tool to stay up to date with news and advancements in the telecommunications sector.
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
For Magnet+, our main focus is improving connectivity even more for businesses, while also helping SMEs to understand the criticality of connectivity. Connectivity is the foundation for all technology in business and we strive to be the leader in providing the best connectivity possible.
We recently conducted a survey which revealed 80% of Irish business have no back up system in place in case of a connectivity system failure. This led us to develop Magnet Duo which provides customers with two individual active internet links, both of which operate independently to ensure businesses will always have connectivity, no matter what happens. This service is first of its kind in Ireland guaranteeing internet connection at all times. I’m also a huge advocate for data and smart data such as AI because I really feel this will be the future of businesses.
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
My biggest advice for my 21-year-old self would be to trust yourself more and also to trust your gut more because it’s usually right. I would also tell myself that in your haste to succeed, be kind to yourself more and enjoy the overall journey.