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‘My mum used to tell my banking clients I was in the bath’

In June 2011, Business Editor Margaret Canning interviewed the late Brian Conlon in Monte Carlo, where he represented Ireland in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year competition. Here is an extract from that interview


The late Brian Conlon, who founded First Derivatives in 1996

The late Brian Conlon, who founded First Derivatives in 1996

The late Brian Conlon, who founded First Derivatives in 1996

As he puts it himself, a winding road led to one-time star of the GAA pitch Brian Conlon setting up First Derivatives.

Now a publicly quoted company on course to employing 1,000 people, the road wound into the millionaires' paradise of Monte Carlo last month, where Mr Conlon represented Ireland in the Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year competition.

Unlike many, Mr Conlon admitted he doesn't see himself living out his retirement "like a lizard" under the hot Riviera sun.

Still, he seemed comfortable in his skin as he bounded up the stage of the Salle des Etoiles to collect his country award to the strains of U2's Where The Streets Have No Name.

On the terrace of the hotel where Ernst & Young located its finalists, Mr Conlon came out in favour of cutting corporation tax in Northern Ireland. "Obviously I think it [a tax cut] would be fantastic for Northern Ireland.

"Constitutionally from the UK I don't know how it would work, as you might start getting the north east of England or Cornwall looking for a concession as well and, obviously, Scotland. But from a purely selfish point of view it would be fantastic if it came down from nearly 30% to 12.5%."

Mr Conlon said he never wanted to build his HQ anywhere but Newry, not the Republic: "Well, we actually bought a company last year out of administration called Cognotec so we have a presence for a tax perspective in the Republic, so that's where we do a lot of research and development and have a very talented workforce."

Research and development has focused on software, which yields a higher profit margin than the consulting services which account for the second arm of the business.

"We take large volumes of data and process it very quickly and make decisions on it. The technical term is complex event processing (CEP) but the financial markets are so big and we have so much knowledge there that it will probably be another few years before we bring that knowledge out to other markets."

There could soon be a deal with a Scandinavian windfarm.

"If the blades go too fast there's a thing called harmonic resolution which means the blades could implode," Mr Conlon said.

"Traditional software cannot keep up to take readings and capture data for a normal database, but ours can.

"They [the Scandinavians] are tough people to deal with but hopefully we'll get something over the line soon."

Mr Conlon set up the firm in Newry in 1996 after working for financial software and NASDAQ-quoted company SunGard.

"There wasn't a developed financial services industry in 1996 and there was no IFSC (International Financial Services Centre) in Dublin, so I set it up myself.

"There are a lot of apocryphal stories out there, but I did start it up in my mother's house and there were some complications when she answered the phone to clients.

"She did tell a client I was in the bath when she called, but something has been lost in translation. It wasn't a Dutch client, as the story would have it, but actually a German client."

Although Brian left glamorous Monte Carlo without the coveted World Entrepreneur of the Year award - that went to Olivia Lum of Singapore for her success with water purification company Hyflux - the First Derivatives word continues to spread around the world.

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