Realex Payments is one of Europe’s top e-commerce payment providers. Managing director Gary Conroy talks about his own ascent to leading the business and into his approach to developing talent within the organisation.
Since taking over as Realex managing director from the company’s founder Colm Lyon a year ago, Gary Conroy has had time to develop a fresh perspective on what leadership means. “When I think about leadership, I don’t think about an individual or one person. You need a senior management team all aligned and pointing in the same direction. My job is to craft the vision and ensure that behaviours are consistent, but pretty much to get out of the way after that,” he says.
In today’s market, it’s not easy for organisations to find the right people who combine a desire to make a contribution with the capability and the talent to do it. Conroy believes the key is to empower those people when you have them, and quotes a line from Realex chairman Laurence Crowley: ‘let them do the job the way you wouldn’t’.
Adds Conroy: “You have to make sure everyone in the organisation is effectively running their own business. Some companies attract people with crazy perks but that’s short-term thinking. You have to find some meaningful connection for people.” Realex sees itself as a tech company first and a financial services company second, which means identifying people with a mix of domain expertise, technical excellence and leadership. Then, the business needs to ensure it provides learning and career development opportunities.
Continuity is important in fostering leadership, Conroy says. The advantage of developing and promoting leaders internally is that management already knows they can deliver, and that they have domain expertise. As for role models, Conroy can point to his own career path, having started on the front line at Realex as a relationship manager and subsequently working in many areas of the company. Now in the hot seat, he’s keen not to have a team fall into groupthink mode.
“One of the things that can happen – and is very important to actively try and avoid – is where everyone on a leadership team thinks the same way. What I really value on our team is diversity; we have leaders who think about things in different ways. Then the solutions you come up with tend to be much more powerful. You cultivate that diversity by having a culture where people aren’t afraid to challenge or to be challenged. My role is to try and ensure that everyone’s voices can be heard and to make sure the best collaborative ideas shine through.”
True leadership is needed in ambitious businesses with growth plans, so the next stage of engaging with potential leaders is to challenge them. “Often, when you develop leaders internally, it’s about getting people to make a step change in their thinking about leadership – from being an employee to being a manager, to a leader,” Conroy says.
Realex started a talent development framework and a programme called ‘leadership for scale’, which it runs in conjunction with the Irish Management Institute. Conroy had taken the IMI’s MSc in management practice in 2007-2009, and says he found that to be a “transformative experience” in its mix of theory and practice in building his own leadership capability.
When deciding to broaden this approach to a wider group, Realex chose to work with an external partner, the IMI. The programme took 12 individuals with big potential to progress in their career with Realex, broke them up into teams and gave them strategic challenges throughout the duration of the programme to solve real challenges in the business.
The results included ideas for market entry, as well as prototypes of mobile applications that Realex has since been able to use as it has worked on its product roadmap. “To me, the programme has really paid off because out of that group of 12, more than half have progressed and are in more senior positions,” says Conroy. Realex reviews its talent position quarterly and takes action based on key metrics. The key for any business, he adds, is to have a deliberate plan to develop leadership talent. “A lot of organisations let it drift. Talent development won’t happen without deliberate effort,” he says.
Gary Conroy is the Managing Director at Realex Payments. Formerly Chief Operating Officer and Director.
He joined the company as employee number 14 and grew functions from scratch to help scale the company to 170 employees and growing the business from 500 to 12,500 customers.
The IMI Tailored Solutions team have worked with Realex on creating and running a ‘Leadership for Scale’ programme to develop their next-gen leaders.
Gary is a graduate of the IMI MSc in Management Practice.