Ireland needs Irish America’s help more than ever says top business leader
Denis O’Brien says urgent need to tap into the Diaspora to move Ireland forward
But his engagement in Ireland is critical. I mean, talk about having an ally. Think about all the countries in the world, there are two-hundred and something countries in the world, to have an ally like Bill Clinton. He’s a great advocate for Ireland and has such a great mind.
He was Google before they invented Google, and he still is Google.
O’D:Why was he so enamoured of your idea?
O’B: 95% of people are unbanked in Haiti, for example. In Papua New Guinea it’s probably even more. So now for the first time people can have money, save money, without having to put cash under a bed or hide it somewhere.
They have a pin code so nobody can access that cash and it’s totally secure.
O’D: Looking back, what was the moment when you said, “I’m going to go there, to the underdeveloped countries, the path not taken by so many others?
O’B: It wasn’t really that brilliant, because if you see a country today and only 10% of the people have a mobile phone, every other country in the world is at 70. 80% – some are at 100%. So, I mean, it’s going to go there, it’s going to go in that direction. It’s a matter of having the best combination of things in your proposition: a good network, good prices, and a good team and good marketing. So we just rolled out teams – mainly Irish people – who put this into effect in country after country. Now we have local managers, who we have trained up. So we probably have, worldwide, still about 200 senior Irish managers sprinkled all over out operations.
Burma is like – there are only 2 million people who have cell phones there and there are about 63 million people in the country. So the only 3 places left in the world where phones are needed, where somebody needs to bring a network to them, are North Korea, Cuba and Myanmar [laughs]. That’s it!
O’D: What’s next?
O’B: I think, the next thing is this: If you take all our mobile phone customers, they’re all eventually going to go on the internet, and many of them already have. We’ve built 4G networks in 15 of our countries, and everybody now is buying smart phones. So it’s a completely different revenue stream
And I’m sure in another few years there’ll be another major jump in an opportunity that will be attached to a cell phone.
O’D: Let me ask you about the Irish diaspora,. Do you think the potential is tapped in Ireland, or do you think people fully comprehend?
O’B: Well, do you know, I was so disappointed with the Institute of Directors when several Irish American business leaders offered to serve on Irish boards
Their chief executive came out and said ‘We do not need these people, you should be appointing people in Ireland who have expertise in Ireland to the boards, we don’t need people from the States.”
And I thought, that is just such a closed mentality. You know, Ireland is globalized now and there are so many talented people in the diaspora who have something to commit. You take a guy like Craig Barrett – you say Holy God, he is one of the iconic figures of the information age CEO of Intel and he’s the perfect guy to bring in your board.
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Don - You are absolutely correct.