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Leaders in Business: Tom O’Connor, Version 1

The acquisition trail remains on the cards for what is one of Ireland’s fast-growing technology firms – a company which has doubled in size 10 times and has ambitions to do so again, writes John Mulgrew

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Tom O'Connor

Tom O'Connor

Tom O'Connor

Version 1 just marked a quarter of a century in business and it’s grown from a Dublin-based business with 30 staff in a less than glamorous office in Temple Bar, to a company with a 2,000 strong workforce, working with many of Northern Ireland’s largest public sector bodies.

It’s about creating something special – numbers are a by-product,” chief executive Tom O’Connor tells Ulster Business.

“We are now north of 2,000 employees, 500 of whom who are in Northern Ireland.”

Version 1 is a digital transformation business for large public and private sector employers. Its work here now includes the likes of the The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – processing farm payments for the whole of Northern Ireland – along with Land and Property Services.

It also does significant work with pharma giant Almac – something which started out as a much smaller project around a decade ago, before the firm became one of its biggest customers.

“We do a lot of work with Almac and help run its finance supply chain system,” he says.

“(Since forming) we have doubled in size 10 times and we have the ambition to do that again.”

Tom started with the firm 20 years ago as a consultant, before making his way up to the role of chief executive.

“When we first got involved in the NI market about 15 years ago, we had a serviced office with one employee,” he says. That grew considerably, he says, in part due to word of mouth. “We have grown our business footprint.”

Tom says the firm then took on Lorna McAdoo to drive and grow its business in Northern Ireland. That’s something it’s certainly done, announcing around 180 new jobs back in June last year.

“There was a tremendous drive to bring in good people at the Gasworks (Belfast office).”

Version 1’s latest move came with the takeover of Neueda. At the time, it said it would create one of the biggest tech businesses in Northern Ireland.

Neueda, which is based in Belfast, has around 344 staff working with customers in the public and private sector.

“It was a big fillip for us,” Tom says. “In terms of the logic of the organisations coming together, firstly, they are in fast growth in the digital transformation space and are very complementary – we knew them well and they are culturally a nice fit.”

He said Neueda had grown its capital markets business internationally, working with firms such as Citi and Goldman Sachs. “That adds another string to our bow,” he says.

Co Meath man Tom, whose background is in consultancy, says his success is “a lot of luck and the right place at the right time”.

“I fell on my feet,” he says. “The founder allowed people the opportunity to develop and thrive. I’m not an entrepreneur. I’ve never set up a business… I wanted to grow a business.”

Looking ahead, he says further acquisitions are still a possibility. “We have plans such as a 10-year strategy, as a broad brush.”

He said the firm’s success is down to its core values as an organisation. “Whatever the success, be it big or small, it has been driven by core values,” he said.

“… numbers are a by-product. Are we a great place to work? Do people feel empowered and feel trusted? Do we achieve customer success? Our bar is customer success.”

As far as leadership goes, Tom is a firm believer in strong delegated autonomy, and not micro-managing.

“(We have) up to 50 people who are effectively chief executives of their own businesses,” he said. “What works for us, are the core values. No one is going to get in trouble if they are living by the core values.”

Tom, who has called Dublin home for the last four years with his family, says Version 1 continues to “look for firms which match our core values”.

“It’s about achieving something which hasn’t been achieved by many firms in Ireland,” he said. “Almac is one of our customers, and it is one of our inspirational firms – looking at what it has achieved from Craigavon. We compete with some behemoths, I look at them as an example and ask ‘why can’t we take these firms on?’.” π


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