There are not many local executives running the Europe, Middle East & Africa division of a global company from Belfast. Cable & Wireless's Sean Mahon told Ulster Business how he has gone about the role from a base in Northern Ireland
From 2007 to the middle of last year Sean Mahon was Managing Director of Cable & Wireless Worldwide's Ireland business and general manager for Northern Ireland.
But in July 2010, after growing the regional business by more than 170% in three years, the company showed how highly it valued him by extending his remit to MD for Enterprise for Europe, Middle East & Africa.
Under Mahon's leadership, the division manages all of the company's enterprise customers across the region (excluding the UK) and all Irish voice resellers. It is no small role as the division manages communications infrastructures for some of the world's leading companies, including Ryanair, Tesco, and Zegna.
That Mahon is able to run this division from Belfast is all the more impressive, but he told Ulster Business that there is no reason why a business with international reach should not be based in Northern Ireland.
"Having the ability to manage global customers out of Northern Ireland can be done. We've proved that the model does work. You don't have to say to your customers when you are selling to them that you'll set up a base in their back yard. The way modern communications are today you don't have to. As long as you can give that customer the confidence, flexibility, price and service, it doesn't matter," he said.
Cable & Wireless is one of the world's leading communication providers, delivering a range of managed voice, data and IP-based services and applications to large corporates, multinational companies, governments, carrier customers and resellers across the world. Its global next-generation network stretches to more than 500,000km, including interests in 69 global cable systems, and provides connectivity to 153 countries.
"At a European level a lot of our competition would be from the big international carriers – Sprint, AT&T, Colt – those huge carriers of bandwidth," explained Mahon.
"Obviously we've got regional competition, the likes of BT, eircom and NTL. But because they are primarily focused on the consumer we don't really get into fights with them. There is commercial business where we compete with them but we also complement them and they complement us.
"In Northern Ireland and Ireland, we carry network traffic internally but also externally. If companies want to connect anywhere in the globe we can help them. Over all our businesses is that focus on next generation networks, cloud computing and secure networks."
Mahon himself has more than twenty years experience in senior management roles in the IT, communications and government sectors. Prior to joining Cable&Wireless he was Director of Major Projects for Steria, where he led the team that successfully tendered and implemented Records NI for the Northern Ireland Civil Service.
He also currently serves as a non-executive director on the board of NI Public Sector Enterprise Ltd, as a Non Executive Director of the Business Services Organisation, and as Vice Chairman of St Mary's Christian Brothers Grammar School in Belfast.
"I now only spend 25%-30% of my week in Northern Ireland. But I'll always come back here because I enjoy living here," he said.
The region Mahon looks after spans two continents and more than 50 countries and is made up of staff from various cultures, languages and professional backgrounds – including a lawyer based in Paris, head of service delivery in Milan, Finance Director in Dublin, and HR partner based in Munich.
However, despite the advantages of multilingual workforces in other locations, when it came to deciding where to base its international sales team Belfast came out on top.
"The decision I had a year and a half ago was where do we locate the global sales team. We looked at Munich, we looked at Milan and we looked at Dublin. There were pluses and minuses to all the locations but the big thing that made Belfast stand out was the flexibility of the people. They wanted to run that extra mile," he explained.
"For me it was about putting a commitment in Northern Ireland that we can do business globally from Northern Ireland. It was to give something back to this country and show we can do it. The good thing for me is that I haven't had to get any government money to make it happen; we made it happen ourselves."
Mahon's commitment to Northern Ireland is also evident in his delight at signing a deal with the Progressive Building Society for it to use the multi-service platform on its next generation network.
While Progressive is a lot smaller than some customers – C&W hosts the networks of five of the six major UK banks – for Mahon the deal was just as significant.
"It is the largest building society in Northern Ireland deciding to trust us with its network and that deal was very important to me. They are not an international player but they have put their heart and soul into Northern Ireland over the last number of years," he said.
"Progressive represents traditional values, credibility, integrity and trust. Those are the sort of values we have as a business too."
For the future he says C&W is focused on leading edge technologies, including cloud computing and the use of mobile data.
"Cloud computing will drive significant efficiencies in every IT department going forward," said Mahon.
"But to get cloud computing to work, you do need resilience. It is like online banking. You have all your accounts sitting there, but if you don't have the network it won't work. It is not just the security of the network but ensuring that network has the bandwidth to carry big hungry applications. Our Multi service platform can carry all the applications you need for cloud computing."