Belfast Telegraph

Live and let dine as bond formed over fish soup and challenge of recent merger

Joris Minne invites Wylie, Jeff Wylie — general manager of international operations at Lagan Technologies and Daniel Craig lookalike — to the Boat House in Bangor

Jeff Wylie is an impossible man. A Cambridge graduate who looks like Daniel Craig’s stunt double, he is general manager of international operations at one of the most successful software companies in the UK and has a good eye for a suit. Wylie is also courteous, modest and humorous. None of us ordinary mortals stands a chance with guys like this, so I quickly assume the position of pupil to master and let him hold forth.

Of course, he’s not impossible at all. Colleagues at Lagan Technologies, recently acquired by US software giant Kana Group, think he’s great. He has an infectious boyish enthusiasm and a sense of curiosity which is as disarming as it is penetrating.

After Inst, he completed a degree in chemical engineering at Cambridge, then went to Ernst & Young in London, became an accountant and was back in Belfast some years later putting mergers and acquisitions and buy-outs together.

In 2008, he joined Lagan Technologies as chief financial officer and oversaw the Belfast company’s extraordinary growth in the UK, US and Canada, and the merger.

We have only been in the Boat House in Bangor for a few minutes and I’m discovering that the polymath has just embarked on a Masters course in executive leadership in Dublin. Surely you’ve proved by now that you don’t need another degree, I venture.

“Curiosity drives me, but I am fascinated by the application of knowledge,” he says, not a bit pompously, adding that education should be broad and enriching, but provide skills which can be applied to the job.

Wylie’s proximity to the Kana Group’s senior management and its expansion policy, which would see Belfast become the group’s European hub, might explain the desire to be an even better principal.

Yet this highly ambitious and competitive man remains charming and an entertaining lunch companion. His starter of duck-leg pate with pistachios and my crab-and-langoustine cocktail arrive, and he expresses delight. Sure enough, the Boat House is one of Northern Ireland’s best restaurants, and the cocktail is impressively fresh and packed with subtle, salty flavours.

Wylie is soon talking about work again, how he likes to accommodate staff needs, particularly when dealing with such huge time-zone differences. Lagan’s office is eight hours ahead of the Kana guys in California, and he wants to introduce some way of encouraging earlier starts for some and delaying others, so that the impact of this time difference can be reduced.

And the challenge doesn’t stop there. He faces a hell of a task apparently recruiting 109 new people to Lagan. It seems the battle for personnel of all levels — senior management, software engineers and designers, and general boffins — is one being fought out by many for few. He says other software groups and finance houses in Belfast are all competing with Lagan to recruit good people. This is an extraordinary circumstance, but not a new one for Lagan. Ten years ago, the same problem arose when Nortel and others were hoovering up recent graduates by the bus load.

We enjoy a main course of fish soup for him and seafood ‘Bouride a la Settoise’, which is mixed seafood braised in vegetables and white wine with a warm aioli, potato croquettes and steamed green beans, for me. Struck dumb by the sheer quality of the meal, we both nod silently in acknowledgement. “I’m coming back here,” he announces between mouthfuls.

Wylie is expecting to meet the auditors later that afternoon. I’m glad, in a way, that we have to part. Otherwise, we would have stayed far longer than was necessary.

The Boat House

2-course lunch x2: £43.00

Sparkling water x4: £8.00

Total: £51.00

Belfast Telegraph