THIS week’s High Flyer is David Whelan, founder and managing director of Clarity Telecom. He is also a director at Irish-headquartered Water Wipes
What was your first job?
My first taste of working life was a summer internship in the Guinness computer lab which led to my first actual job as brand manager for Guinness in Dublin. Following that, I went on to launch the UK’s first baby wipe product in the 1980s and then to found Clements Coffee which had six shops across Northern Ireland when I sold the business.
What qualifications do you have?
I hold a business degree from Trinity College Dublin. It was during this time my passion for marketing became clear. At that time marketing was emerging as the new glamorous function that all businesses wanted to place focus on. Similar to how software is viewed now.
How would you describe yourself to someone who has never met you?
An entrepreneur with a willingness to just go for it. I very much believe in not waiting for the perfect opportunity in business, but making it happen. You can adapt and modify what you do as you go along, but in my experience waiting for that perfect chance doesn’t pay off as much as just doing it.
Who do you look up to in business?
Tony Ryan has inspired me throughout my career. He founded Guinness Peat Aviation – an aircraft leasing company – in 1975 and worked there until the business ran out of cash. Despite the company’s failure, its phenomenal early success provided Ryan with the funds to start Ryanair which went on to become one of the most successful airlines in the world.
How do you get the most out of people who work for you?
By giving them space to do what they know they are there to do, but I encourage the team to discuss issues that arise, rather than trying to figure everything out on their own. If people are clear about what is expected of them, these are the people that will deliver the most for an organisation.
If you could change one thing about doing business in Northern Ireland, what would it be?
Encourage people to be less defensive and risk adverse. I think we could get a lot more done if people would be more expansive and just go for it. Think of the positive rather than what could go wrong, otherwise nothing will get done.
What website or app could you not do without?
News apps, I like to keep informed of news across the world, locally and of course within technology and communications. Apps and podcasts give me a good overview of real time news which helps paint the bigger picture.
What was the last book you read?
Capital by Thomas Piketty. It focuses on wealth and income inequality in Europe and the United States since the 18th century.
What car do you drive?
I love fresh air and being outdoors, so I love driving a convertible. Even here in Northern Ireland, I have the roof down most of the time.
Tell us something interesting about yourself.
I just finished being a carer for a severly disabled friend (one of eight), ocean sailing on a tall ship. There was a profound sense of the strength of character from people who have been through real trauma. It’s not the success that moulds you. It was a real celebration of what is possible trying to sail with such a diverse crew.
What’s your greatest passion outside work and family?
Gardening. Having lived in cities for 15 years in my early career, I didn’t notice spring or summer for a very long time. It completely passes you by when you’re surrounded by skyscrapers.
Then when I moved out of the city and took in the beautiful surroundings, particularly in Ireland and Northern Ireland, it made me appreciate nature much more. A weekly visit to Rowallane gardens would cure a lot of ills.