Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Local firm defies recession by making business leaders

Kate Marshall, MaST Ireland

Mast Ireland was established as a training organisation for business leaders nearly 30 years ago by Frank Storrs and today his son David is the managing partner.

Over the last three decades the Belfast-based organisation has continued to grow steadily, with an all-Ireland platform. It now employs eight permanent staff and works with another ten associates.

But the focus has significantly evolved in that time. Initially MaST Ireland (which stands for Management and Skills Training) was geared towards providing the personal skills needed by business leaders - including speed reading, speed writing and other practical skills. Now the training is broader, and much of it is aimed at enabling executives to be strategic and effective leaders.

Kate Marshall is a partner in the firm, heading-up its programme for leadership, managerial development and executive change. She said: "I was introduced to David about 10 years ago. They had just won a large contract with a bank here in Belfast."

Kate was initially engaged to assist with meeting the specific training needs of that bank and she stayed with the firm afterwards. "We realised that we worked well together," she said.

The leadership skills provided by MaST Ireland include business development, negotiation skills and what is termed 'consultative selling skills'.

This training supports businesses to recognise that contracts today are often won by using a more flexible approach than was applied in the past.

"It is about asking what the customer needs, not what we are selling," said Kate. "You have to spend time with the client, understand their needs and through that consultation you help clarify what their need is, then you offer them a bespoke service."

While that is the approach that MaST Ireland distills through its training, it is clear that it is also the approach it adopts in its own operations.

While the business trades internationally - it has had recent contracts for delivery in North America and Scotland - about 70% of its contracts are in the greater Dublin area and much of its other work is in Cork and Limerick.

Yet the company's relationships with clients have meant that it has withstood the calamitous state of the Irish economy.

"We took a dip," conceded Kate. "But we were fortunate that we partner with our clients. They said they were refining their lists of contractors, but because we have built very strong relationships they continued to trade with us.

"In the last year we have started to expand again. Corporate Ireland is back on track. They have taken hard decisions and they are getting their people ready and confident for the current climate."

With an approach to business that has been so successful, MaST Ireland intends to continue in the same way. "Everything we do is based on our core values," said Kate. "What is important is to change behaviour. The vision we have is not only for people to be leaders, but also to create leaders in their own organisations. If you build leaders, the opportunities you have are massive."

It is because of the strength of its relationships that MaST Ireland is well positioned for the future.

It was also the key to winning export contracts. "The North America contract was through a recommendation.

"With the Scottish contract, we have a client here who has an office in Scotland," said Kate. "Networking is so important for our business, or any business. You need to have an office and a reputation in an area where you move into. People are careful when they make choices about who they do business with. David and I are down in Dublin twice a week."

The approach of building and maintaining strong relationships with clients is one that MaST Ireland teaches and applies itself. It is clearly one that serves them very well and will continue to do so in the future.

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