Posted on Wednesday 16 January 2013 by Ulster Business


The island of Ireland needs more entrepreneurs to act as role models to the next generation if it is to successfully grow an export economy.

That was the view of former Irish Presidential candidate and entrepreneur Sean Gallagher, speaking to Ulster Business at an event staged by MLN to launch its upcoming Management Month.

"To get more export companies we need more start-up companies, so we have to encourage entrepreneurship right from school," he said.

"The first thing we need to do is make entrepreneurship more attractive by giving young people role models. By making business something that is not seen as being contaminated and negative or purely profit driven, but where people are creating jobs and providing services."

Well known for his stint on the RTE version of Dragon's Den, Gallagher was co-founder and CEO of Ireland's largest home technology company, Smarthomes. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur he was assistant CEO with the County Enterprise Boards, specialising in running training programmes for those setting up new businesses. He is also a former board member of IntertradeIreland.

Gallagher said he believes those who are running businesses in the current economic climate deserve to be applauded for the benefits the jobs they have created bring to society.

"I think entrepreneurs are heroes. Most entrepreneurs that I know make a living, they don't make a fortune. But they are doing what they love and what they are passionate about. We need more role models like them," he said.

Gallagher, who has an MBA from the University of Ulster, also thinks everyone coming through university should be taught business skills "whether they're studying engineering or dentistry". It is imperative too that those who find themselves out of work because of the recession must change their mindset to focus on the skills they have, not the role they previously did.

"We need to encourage a lot of people who have been made redundant or who are facing redundancy not to see themselves as an unemployed architect or an unemployed banker but as someone who is more than their job. They have to go back to basics to see how they can apply their skills somewhere else in the marketplace where there is demand," he said.

"I say to a lot of young people, don't think about the jobs that are out there at the moment. In ten years you will be working in jobs that don't even exist yet. When I was growing up there was no internet or mobile phones and whole industries have been built around those technologies," he added.

As a dragon on the Irish version of Dragon's Den, Gallagher notes, he is more often than not encouraged to invest by the drive and motivation shown by the people who are pitching, not just their business ideas.

He is tight-lipped when asked about a return to politics in future. But despite losing out to Michael D Higgins in the race to become Irish President, the entrepreneur has no regrets about running in the race.

Gallagher's campaign was built around the premise that he wanted to do for enterprise and job creation what Mary McAleese had done for the peace process, with education and employment his two priorities. People must be empowered to become leaders in their communities because solutions to the current economic malaise won't come from the top down, he said.

"Many of the young people I meet from long term disadvantaged backgrounds, their expectations are so low. They need skills to get employment and they need confidence," he said.

Both in business and society Gallagher says he has noticed a real shift towards what he terms value-based leadership, with successful organisations the ones who hire staff that buy into their vision.

"Leadership is about seeing the bigger picture and having a compelling vision of what you want to achieve and why you want to do it, then bringing people with you by engaging with them," he said.

"The starting point is self awareness but people often end up in leadership roles without a clear understanding of what they want to achieve and what is driving them. You've got to understand what you want to achieve by being a leader. Yes, it's nice to have the title and the glory but it can't be about your ego, it has to be about the organisation."


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