Sean Hegarty, co-founder and head of operations at HCS, shares his life and business lessons.
In recent weeks we reported that Waterford business HCS will double the size of its workforce and business in the next three years, creating 30 new jobs and forecasting increased revenues of €9m.
HCS provides secure integrated IT, telecoms and productivity solutions to enable better business performance for Irish organisations.
“When it comes to problems or challenges, I keep emotions out of decision making”
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
I emigrated to the UK in the mid-1980s where I worked in the NHS and the Essex Police Service before studying Law at university with the idea of becoming a solicitor. When I graduated in 1993, the Irish economy was booming so it seemed like a good time to move back home where my two younger brothers were running the small family IT business whilst our parents took a sabbatical (in Lithuania, of all places). I initially got involved just to help out but once we started working together, we could see lots of ways to improve the business, lots of opportunities to grow the business and there were already a number of great clients, all of whom are still with us at HCS today.
Why are you doing what you are doing? What need are you meeting? What’s your USP?
HCS, from the very beginning, has always been about having the best interests of our customers at heart. Ever since the company was founded in 1994, our simple goal was to protect customers and their businesses. We try to empower people and their businesses with the best IT solutions to help them grow and we build security into everything we manage. And the other side of that coin is that we help protect our customers from failure as a result of having inadequate IT solutions. It’s part of who we are, we genuinely want our customers to have the best IT solutions to enable better business performance.
How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?
Back then, we didn’t have the money to buy the business outright from our parents, so our accountant devised a pension scheme whereby they retired, and we paid them a pension. This suited all parties as it allowed what was a ‘going concern’ to continue in business, with us as the new owners, keen to grow the company. The business grew rapidly but was set back by the noughties dot.com bubble. We then grew back stronger but were set back once again by the 2008/9 global financial crisis. Now we are growing again but this time it feels different; we have more depth to the business, more experience, and are better prepared with a growth roadmap.
We recently announced that we are investing €3.2m to double the size of our workforce and business revenues within the next three years. We have commenced our recruitment programme and will grow our team to 60 during this time. Following the investment, HCS is forecasting increased annual revenues of €9m by 2025. Furthermore, this investment has enabled us to open a third location in Cork.
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
I’ve always seen myself as a facilitator to staff and as someone who always has sight of the bigger picture. When it comes to problems or challenges, I keep emotions out of decision making. I ensure that our clients, our employees and our business are foremost in every decision. I keep in clear focus our customer promise that security will be at the heart of everything we do.
“The most critical area in business today is your team. How to hire people, how to keep them, how to develop them and how to manage them. How we perform in this crucial area is today’s big issue and a huge factor in whether we will succeed or fail in our growth plans”
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
I get inspiration from all kinds of places. It comes from my colleagues, especially fellow Directors, Neil Phelan and Dan Hegarty. From my Dad, Oliver Hegarty, who started the business in the early nineties, and although retired now still inspires me. Getting a business started is perhaps the most important and most difficult thing.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
“Under promise and over deliver.”
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
The book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell talks about geniuses and uses the example of Bill Gates. Bill was not a genius. He was in the right place at the right time with unique access to a supercomputer where he learned to code at a young age and was ‘Johnny on the spot’ when an opportunity came in for someone to write a programme. From there, he did the deal for the Windows programme with IBM and the rest is history.
The reality is that things don’t happen overnight and every successful person or company had many uncontrollable factors which contributed to their success. The takeaway lesson is that you don’t need to be a genius, you need to focus on the small incremental improvements which can be made across all areas of the business, and if we do that, HCS will be ‘Johnny on the spot’ for the next big opportunity.
“The pandemic lockdowns affected our business because they affected all of our customers’ businesses. Fortunately, after a few weeks, we were able to resume many aspects of our work on-site because our work was critical to keeping our customers operating and enabling them to work remotely”
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
Things like finance, cashflow and customer service are critically important, however, there are incredible software and tools available to help with these areas of our business. The most critical area in business today is your team. How to hire people, how to keep them, how to develop them and how to manage them. How we perform in this crucial area is today’s big issue and a huge factor in whether we will succeed or fail in our growth plans.
How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?
The pandemic lockdowns affected our business because they affected all of our customers’ businesses. Fortunately, after a few weeks, we were able to resume many aspects of our work on-site because our work was critical to keeping our customers operating and enabling them to work remotely. Our IT Service Desk was extremely busy through the pandemic. We were setting up clients to work from home and managing all the associated IT security matters. Some customers from the hospitality sector were badly hit by the lockdown and we had to make allowances for these, but overall, we have come out stronger with sales back where they were prior to the pandemic.
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
With growth plans in mind, over the last 3 years HCS has upgraded all of its main systems to modern Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms. Our customer IT service management system HALOPSA is a best-in-class cloud-based software. We also use BrightHR, a cloud platform for managing staff, and Microsoft Business Central, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform for small to medium businesses which enables customer relationship management, quoting, invoicing, accounting, stock and many other critical business functions.
Without these important upgrades, growing the business would not be possible. Of course, implementing these new systems takes time and effort and not all companies are in a position to do this. Yes, there are some government supports out there, but it is still a huge effort to undertake because of the complexity involved.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s all about the future and HCS is ready and excited for growth!
Who inspires you in business today?
Michael O’Leary and Elon Musk are inspirational characters, as is Warren Buffett with his down-to-earth, practical outlook on business. I’m also inspired by our competitors and companies in our industry that are innovating and finding new, better ways to create value for customers.
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
I always say… “we are a meritocracy at HCS, you will go up the ladder in terms of leadership, earnings and value if you take full advantage of the opportunities that are coming your way.” We have an individual plan for each employee which supports their professional learning goals and we check in on progress regularly.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
I’m a huge fan of Audible.com, I’ve always got a number of audio books on the go, from business books to history books and autobiographies. I’ve just listened to a Robert Greene book, “The 48 Laws of Power” and I’m off to see rock star academic Jordan B. Peterson in September at the 3Arena, who wrote the best seller “12 Rules for Life”. I love a good business autobiography, and I’m on the lookout for an audible version of “Born of this Land: My Life Story” by Chung Ju-Yung, the founder of Hyundai. I’ve heard it’s a remarkable story.
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
Microsoft and Office365 are where it all happens; what more do you need!
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
I use LinkedIn and Twitter for business, Instagram for personal use only and occasionally I download TikTok to see what all the fuss is about but then I delete it soon afterwards.
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
Technology and information technology is continuing down the AI road, so we had better try to keep up and continue to come up with new ways of staying relevant. We are always adding new products and we continue to stay one step ahead in order to enable growth and innovation for both ourselves and our customers.
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
Start putting tools in your toolbox – be it skills, experiences, travel, qualifications, sports, drama, public speaking – as soon as you can. Become expert at something in your 20s. Make it something that you are passionate about. Don’t procrastinate, just get started now!