Learning Hub

What I’ve Learned: An entrepreneurial CEO’s insights into success

John Mullins is a serial entrepreneur who has held CEO and senior management positions in the private sector.  He is currently CEO of Amarenco, a company which is focused on solar asset development, financing and ownership in Europe, was previously Chief Executive of Bord Gais and was previously with ESB, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and NTR plc. He spoke recently at the Deloitte Best Managed Companies event sponsored by IMI.

The most important management case studies are those that you are part of.  You can have all the theory in the world but it's the learning you apply on the job that brings it home. I now welcome the failures as much as the successes – your mistakes are valuable!


The most important question in hiring someone is – what have you done recently? – if I am going to employ somebody I want to know: what's their track record? What kind of competency do they bring to the table? You should only be hiring someone if you've got a recognised need and a recognised piece of talent that matches that need.

As your career moves on you are more reliant on a network than on the CV.  When I was putting the international team together in Amarenco I knew everyone.  I think most head-hunters these days are LinkedIn specialists in any case. I would also find business opportunities would come through the network.   It's become a great way to be able to present your own capability. 

Growth for Ireland is going to require the right investment in the right places.  I'm excited about the fact that Ireland is investing in infrastructure projects again – that we have a strategic fund for the right things – so we're seeing a revival for construction.  We're need to make sure that we manage the growth across the whole country so that we don’t leave areas behind.

What middle sized companies need to be better at than anybody else is management. Our small to middle-sized companies are going to be very important to Ireland as the major multinationals continue to outsource – that is the way the market was established in Germany.  I've been involved in both large and small organisations.  The ability of smaller organisations to succeed and go on to become potential exporters – is going to depend on their being well-managed.  It makes all the difference.

I wish more people understood the power of dashboards.  Some people focus on the subjective a bit too much – as a business manager you need to be asking yourself: what are the critical items that we need to measure the business against?   I'm an engineer – we tend to be very comfortable driving the business on the basis of parameter;  for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction! Once you understand what affects the bottom line and how you can control and track it – then you have a true understanding go your business.  It's important when you are delegating responsibility.  But I would also point out that smaller organisations need to realise this too – in fact the smaller the organisation the less time it is going to take to pull it together – for many small businesses two half day sessions for the team are all you need to get a shared understanding of what's important.   And this means things other than just the financials; you will have nothing to manage unless the processes are right!

Today's 20-somethings are willing to take a lot more risk at a younger age – they don't have heavy mortgages – they can afford to!  We should be encouraged by the fact that we have a youthful population with a natural gift for technology and entrepreneurship – look at what the Collisons did in Sillicon Valley!…. and it's not just the younger entrepreneurs I'm impressed with: I meet people every day who have built up excellent enterprises – reinvented themselves and started businesses from scratch. We need to support them at the right time… and with the right supports.

John Mullins spoke with Eva Maguire

Click here to read the full What I've Learned series.  


Did you enjoy reading this article?