Kainos boss: 'We've grown to be successful by using Belfast as our base, so why would we want to change now?'
As Belfast software company Kainos joins the Stock Exchange, managing director Brendan Mooney talks to John Mulgrew about the firm and how his amazing IT career started with the humble BBC microcomputer
Brendan Mooney's first foray into the embryonic days of computing began when his father, Bernard, bought him a new BBC Micro model from a Co Antrim electrical shop in the early 1980s. But now, he is at the helm of the homegrown software business Kainos, which this month listed on the London Stock Exchange, valued at £161m.
The 48-year-old family man, who hails from just outside Dunloy, joined Belfast-based Kainos back in 1989, when it employed little more than a dozen members of staff.
It is now one of Northern Ireland's biggest success stories, boasting a workforce of almost 800 and with seven offices across the UK, Ireland and Poland.
Mr Mooney still remembers taking his first steps in the industry back when his father bought him his first computer.
"He travelled one day to Donaghy's in Kilrea to buy a BBC Model B computer - that started me off in the career," he said. "My dad would have encouraged me, and he put real money behind that. I would have been 15 and it cost £217 - it was a huge investment for him."
Mr Mooney's interest and experience was further bolstered during his time at Loreto College in Coleraine, where he started studying computer science.
"Mrs McDonnell (his teacher) was fabulous," he said. "I started studying O'level computer science, and then A'level. She gave me the gift of my career."
Mr Mooney studied for his degree at Ulster University's Jordanstown campus, where he also met Eileen, whom he would marry eight years later in 1993. The second oldest of six children, he began his life at Kainos in 1989 - then just a small Queen's University spin-off company with around two dozen staff.
"I joined as a trainee, and at that stage there were around 26 people," Mr Mooney said. "I was working on personnel systems for Marks & Spencer and software for BT."
Five years later, he was tasked with heading up a new office in Dublin. He worked in the Republic until 2000, when he returned to Northern Ireland and took over as the company's managing director. "At that time, there would have been around 160 staff," Mr Mooney said. It's been great."
The firm now employs 768 staff across seven offices, with 440 working at their base in Belfast.
This month, Kainos joined a select group of listed firms in Northern Ireland, alongside First Derivatives and UTV Media.
Earlier this year, the company announced it was adding 400 new jobs over the next five years. And there was serious interest in the posts, with the company receiving 10,000 applications for the first tranche of roles.
"We have some talented colleagues, which makes it much easier," Mr Mooney said. "We've gone for the Ireland market, but are adding to broaden the UK and European (markets) and a bit of US activity. They are all small steps - there's no transformational moment."
And Kainos is also enjoying its best ever trading period. In the year to March 31, the company celebrated its best financial results and a fifth consecutive year of growth, as revenues rose by 29% to £60.8m, up from £43m last year.
The software firm has a number of arms to its business, including building websites and software for big-name public sector clients.
"The company does three things," Mr Mooney said. "We do government websites, for example we are rolling out the new MOT system for England and Wales, which will be used in 22,000 garages.
"Secondly, we have our own product for the NHS. We allow hospitals to remove paper from the care process, which is great for patient outcomes and cost saving.
"And we work with high-growth US software firm Workday."
The Belfast-born and bred firm is settled here, with almost 60% of its workforce in Northern Ireland.
"We have grown to be a successful business by using Belfast as an important location," the managing director said. "Why would we want to change that?"
When he's not at his desk in front of his computer, or travelling, Mr Mooney spends his downtime with his chartered accountant wife and their three children, Ciaran (15), Katie (13) and Odhran (7).
"You have to be mindful of the work/life balance," he said. "I clearly enjoy my job, so it doesn't feel like work, but you have to be able to work hard, then come Saturday, turn the laptop off and enjoy the weekend."
That includes cycling with his son Ciaran, and playing basketball with his other youngsters in Lisburn.
On the issue of the company listing on the London Stock Exchange - something only a handful of Northern Ireland firms have done - he recommended that businesses should "give it serious consideration", with the caveat that some firms are different than others.
"I think every firm has to make the decision which works best for them," Mr Mooney said. "It's a busy process.
"Colleagues have had to work hard over the last four months. I've enjoyed it. You get great insight into the business by talking to people in the City who give you a different view."
Looking to the future, Mr Mooney noted that, following "five years of great performance and growth", he was hoping for the same now the company is listed.
"Yes, we are listed rather than a private firm, but what attracted people was the staff and the quality," he added. "A big part of my job is that we don't change those things as we continue to grow and get bigger."