The failure of successive governments to support Irish companies in going global while offering every support to multinationals coming to these shores has been strongly criticised by the head of the Irish Stock Exchange.
In an impassioned address to a Network Cork lunch, Chief Executive of the stock exchange Deirdre Somers said that our tax system “disincentivises entrepreneurs from scaling their businesses”, and “makes trade sales [of Irish companies to multinationals] effectively inevitable”, she said.
Singing the praises of indigenous Irish companies, Ms Somers described them as “more completely embedded than any foreign multinational will ever be in this country, more completely loyal to this country, they bring a corporate ambition, a global sectoral relevance and leadership that will deliver the next generation of entrepreneurship.”
Warning that the next generation of Irish companies are unlikely to have family money to fund them, she said the State should provide support so entrepreneurs can take the risks necessary to expand globally.
“We need to allow them to derisk their lives, we need to allow them to take money off the table in a very tax-transparent but beneficial way, and we need to encourage them not to sell out [ to multinationals] because they want to ensure that their house and their family is secure,” said Ms Somers.
“We need to put the challenges and needs of those entrepreneurs to the very top of our agenda and we need to support them with funding, talent, resources and management capabilities, we need to provide education and supports, and we need to demystify this and we need to say, it’s okay to have the ambition to bring your company to the next level.
“Why is there no clear government ambition and vision for scaling Irish enterprise to a global level while at the same time we have a clear ambition around FDI [foreign direct investment] and they are doing an increasingly better job around supporting the establishment of fledgling industry?”
Ms Somers also questioned the country’s attitude to ambition and asked why we always need “external validation” from abroad rather than having confidence in our own entrepreneurs. She underlined that “scale matters” in business and that “we need to change our attitude to ambition as a nation if we want to think big and deliver big”.
“It would be wonderful if our political establishment were to have the vision for Ireland to be the best small country in the world to grow a business rather than establish a business,” said Ms Somers. “We have to keep our eye on the prize which is matching our start-up ambition with our scaling ambition otherwise we will never get the economic benefits as a country that such scale can accrue.”
She said we are not building a sustainable future for our youth if we don’t grow Irish business.
“Who is going to hold the sippy cup for this economy if all our youth emigrate [as] all the small companies are wrapped up and bought by international companies,” she said.
Ms Somers finished her speech by reminiscing about a discussion she had with a Stanford academic in which he described the Irish entrepreneurs doing Enterprise-Ireland backed MBA leadership courses as lacking in ambition.
“He said ‘it’s extraordinary — the Irish guys in the room generally have the best business, the best proposition, the best capabilities and the least ambition’,” she said.
“Scale matters. Ireland benefits hugely from large-scale industry both economically, through jobs, economic multiplier effect, but most importantly, through the leadership it brings to the next generation of entrepreneurs.”
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