‘You’ll have lots of hurdles and you have to get past them’

BE resilient — you gotta be in it for the long haul.

These are the words of Abtran founder and managing director, Michael Fitzgerald.

Abtran is a Cork-based outsourcing firm employing close to 400 people. But there was a time, not too long ago, when it had just five employees.

Mr Fitzgerald is a chartered accountant and although steering clear of the usual cliché of ‘I always wanted to be an entrepreneur’ — he does admit that he used to find it hard to concentrate when he was working for someone else.

“My brother Gerard and myself would have started off with a very small opportunity. I think there was five to six people employed in the beginning, and it was basically taking calls in the evenings. The emphasis was on customer service for clients, so that companies could take calls when they were closed.”

That was in 1997 and by the end of this year, Abtran expects to have 470 people employed.

“You’ve got to be up for the challenge. It’s the ability to take the problems that happen and turn them into opportunities. You’ll have lots of hurdles and you have to get past them,” said Mr Fitzgerald.

Abtran, which specialises in the provision of contact centre management, is expected to grow by 30% over the next 12 months.

Mr Fitzgerald said Abtran can use the experience it has gained over its 10 years in operation to grow at a time when the economy is contracting.

“What we do is very much about customer service. We work with companies in tandem and share the workload,” he said.

When starting a business Mr Fitzgerald stressed the need to focus. “We were at the early stages of an industry which was very young. One of the first things we did was we joined the primary industry body and from that we got a great understanding of where the industry was going.

“We started off with an idea thinking: are we going to do this or not? But we took the first step with an investment in technology that would give us a competitive advantage over anyone else,” he said.

“We also showed ambition in acquiring other companies and expanding. The next key thing was to get a very professional corporate premises which we did by moving to Bishopstown five years ago.”

For someone that has gone through the mill, Mr Fitzgerald said start-up companies must learn how to say no.

“You need to be really ruthless with the type of customers that you are going to engage with. At the start it’s a case of you’d do anything to get work but you have to be able to say no to business.”

However, he said: “Getting your first big contract is probably the biggest challenge.”

The range of processes that are typically outsourced to Abtran includes sales and customer service, administration processing, claims processing and financial management processing.

Abtran’s client list features the likes of the ESB, Vivas, Sky, Sustainable Energy Ireland, An Post, the Health Service Executive and the Financial Regulator.

Abtran also has long-standing partnerships with local and central government and manages key processes for the German, Italian and British governments.

Mr Fitzgerald is very confident about the future.

“You’ve got to focus on what you’re good at and you have to know your product inside out. Know your target market, if you’re spread too thin across many different areas, you’ll find it hard to be successful.”

And the best advice he has ever received — just go do it.


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