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20 April 2014

Getting The optimum out of Ireland’s success

 - Sunday, 08 April 2007, 00:00 , by Noel Grima

Since the early 1990s, Ireland’s population has shot up by 20 per cent, mainly through the influx of non-Irish who now make up 10 per cent of the population.

Despite this influx, unemployment has been cut down from 16 per cent to 4.2 per cent and the number of people working has gone up from 1.1 million in the early 1990s to 2.1 million.

The total tax revenue has increased by 350 per cent, industrial production by 300 per cent and wages have doubled. Average unit productivity has increased by 230 per cent and the country registered economic growth of 7.8 per cent for several years before slowing down slightly over the past few years. There are also low interest rates and low inflation.

This is, in short, the Irish economic miracle. There has been an important strategic shift from the “screw driver plants” or assembly lines to high tech, R&D, pharmaceuticals, computer, biopharma, nanotech, health care and prepared consumer foods etc.

Aidan Harte from Irish company Optimum Results was in Malta recently to tell Maltese businessmen all about the Irish economic miracle and to help them draw inspiration from what triggered the growth.

Mr Harte and his company were brought to Malta by Misco, which, together with JP Advertising, won an MTA tender for an EU funded training programme for Maltese entrepreneurs in the tourism industry – restaurateurs, hotel owners, taxi drivers, karozzin owners an so on.

The programme has been so successful that MTA has now extended the Optimum contract.

Optimum Results was set up 12 years ago with its aim being to develop SMEs in management skills and strategic planning. Optimum has been here for some nine years, initially with IPSE, and it has also been training in the Baltic States and in the Czech Republic.

Mr Harte explained in an interview that many people who start businesses at first think that since they have the required skills, everything will be easy. However they discover later that having the required skills is in fact just a small part of running a business: they also have to get involved in negotiations with the banks, deal with customers and with employees. And since they would not normally have these management skills, their business tends to suffer.

At first, their usual reaction is to keep the skills they know so well in their hands. That makes them work all the harder, which normally leaves them no time to nurture clients and do the paperwork the banks require. Thus they find they are working harder but collecting mistakes.

This is where Optimum comes in. The first reaction on the part of the entrepreneurs would be resistance against anything remotely linked to business plans and advisers. But since this is a hands-on programme rather than an academic one, those who participate soon get to like the idea and the results they start getting almost immediately.

The programme provides them with a personal adviser who takes a look at the company and holds their hands for around six months. Together they draw up business plans and implement them.

In turn, they usually get their colleagues at work, normally their families, involved in the whole project. In this way, the SME, which started off mainly skill-based, makes the grade covering the other aspects that are all the more important for any business in this day and age.

The advisers do not take over the company, Mr Harte assured: they act mainly as facilitators, advising and coaching as well as training. They draw up business plans that work through this basically very practical approach and positive results are soon evident.

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