Dragon’s Den Dragon and CEO of Claddagh Resources
It’s possible to improve your sales skills but some people will simply never have the hunger you need to be a successful go-getter.
‘Home’ is Atlanta, Georgia, and has been for 18 years. But I’m over to Ireland for business at least once a month.
I start my day at 4.30am. I do an hour in the gym and then I’m on the phone to the folks in Europe in my home office. At 7am, when I hear the kids getting up, I go downstairs.
I’m blessed as I have a wonderful family which is of utmost importance to me. We have five children. The youngest — 12, 14, 16 — are still at home, the older boys are at college. I met my wife in Sydney, she was backpacking there — she’s originally from Crumlin.
I grew up in Derry, one of nine kids, at the height of the troubles. I was on the Bloody Sunday march. There was rioting every day. All three brothers and four of my sisters still live in or nearby to Derry, but the violence I saw crystallised my determination to move away to go to college.
I wasn’t a great student. I got 11 bad O levels and scraped through with the lowest grade for university in Birmingham where I studied business administration, politics and economics.
My first major job was in sales for Xerox as a graduate trainee. I took an opportunity to go to Australia with the company. There was a real Irish wake when I left as in those days, when you went, you weren’t really expected to come back — certainly not for a long time. But I won a sales competition which had me back for a holiday nine months later. After that I returned at least once a year and my family also came to visit me.
I wasn’t very disciplined or industrious until I tasted success at Xerox. Then I realised hard work really does make a difference, so I was motivated to work harder than everyone else.
I’m impressed with how Derry has been transformed in the last 10 years. There’s a really exciting energy and a real buzz about it this year for UK City of Culture.
When I’m interviewing someone for a job I know in the first two to three minutes if it’s a definite no. A definite yes takes a little longer. Good sales people are naturally inquisitive, they understand how to develop empathy and how to ask questions.
My mum Patsy used to record Dragon’s Den for me and we’d watch it together on my next visit to Derry. That got me into watching Shark Tank, the US version. Then, someone who knew someone suggested I’d make a good dragon, and eventually it happened.
Investing on the show is very different to my normal investment process. Usually, I’d do a lot of due diligence before making a move. But on TV, its immediate. After you’ve made a bid you’re left there thinking — did I really just do this?
One of the challenges is that you must be very clear with them that you may have bought 40% of their company, but they have not bought 40% of you. You need to set expectations. We are there to help mentor and open up doors.
Happiness equals reality, minus expectations and I’m a huge believer that you create your own level of happiness.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had to face was the breakdown of my first marriage, to a wonderful woman, we were very young and it just didn’t work out. My father Leo died around the same time and it was a very dark period in my life. Having the support of family and close friends through tough times makes a huge difference.
My favourite tenets for living are the two I got from my father — you can’t cheat an honest man and, there’s no right way to do the wrong thing.
Dragon’s Den is on RTÉ 1 on Sunday’s at 9.30
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