Gaining Momentum: Pat Lucey, Aspira


In the latest in our series of briefings with influential Irish business leaders we feature Pat Lucey, CEO of Aspira, whose passion for planning and preparation knows no bounds.

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Pat Lucey is the co-founder and CEO of consulting and enterprise IT specialist Aspira, and can often be heard extolling the virtues of good project management. Why? Because he feels it’s something that can be of enormous benefit not just to larger organisations but to smaller ones, too. Alongside his busy day job, Pat is president of the Ireland chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI).

What’s the unique selling point of Aspira?

“The unique thing about us is the breadth of service that we offer. We’re a consulting and IT company, but we have our own team of software developers who can develop a brand-new product if you need it. We also have a managed IT services team that can install and support your IT infrastructure. And we deliver training – primarily in technical and project management areas. It’s quite an unusual mix of skills to have.”

Who is a typical customer?

“The two main types are multinationals and public bodies – and about 80% of the work is on IT projects. If a large company is bringing in new IT systems or changing its databases or migrating to the cloud, it is the kind of customer that we would engage with most often.”

What do you think are the main challenges facing businesses, especially start-ups, that want to scale up?

“The big challenge that I see is getting the balance right in terms of taking risk and managing that risk. When people are in start-up mode and accelerated-growth mode, they do need to have a positive attitude and a ‘can’t fail’ mindset, but you need a healthy dose of realism, too. Sometimes when I talk to entrepreneurs about the ways in which things can go wrong, you can see them just not wanting to listen.”

If resources are tight, how can a business square that circle?

“The single biggest problem for any organisation, regardless of size, is resource management, particularly when it comes to people – having the right people with the right skills and knowing if they’re available now for the work that needs to be done. In the world of project management, we do a thing called a matrix structure where you would have resources working on multiple projects at the same time and that can be much more efficient. Having good processes in place and good technology can really help.”

Recommended Reading: Gaining Momentum: Alison Banton, Brookes & Shoals Fragrances

What about in terms of finance?

“When it comes to money, certainly in the start-up phase, there are a lot of support systems out there that businesses can take advantage of, such as Enterprise Ireland. Also, you can do things like invoice discounting, which will help with cash flow when you’re taking on extra projects. I know when we grew we were focused very much on finding the customers and delivering the projects. We didn’t really think about whether we had enough cash flow to support that growth. Luckily, we were able to put invoice discounting in place, which meant we didn’t have to worry.”

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What attitude should entrepreneurs have towards financial support?

“People should get advice from knowledgeable people – and they should also understand that there are a wide variety of options in terms of financial support beyond the basic overdraft or loan. I found it useful to listen to as much advice as possible and then believe about half of it. Cast out a wide net and figure out what makes the most sense.”

“I think when people are in start-up mode and accelerated-growth mode, they do need to have a positive attitude and a ‘can’t fail’ mindset, but you need a healthy dose of realism, too” 

Pat Lucey, co-founder and CEO, Aspira

What should an entrepreneur’s approach to risk be?

“By definition entrepreneurs are risk-takers, but I would be a huge proponent of active risk management and would encourage people to consider: ‘Of the things that could go wrong, which are more likely to go wrong and what can I do to prevent that?’ For each risk, I’d identify something you can do to prevent it from happening, and also have a contingency plan so that if it does happen, you have a way to get out of it.”

How do you feel about networking?

“It’s absolutely crucial. We started off Aspira as a result of a multinational shutting down, and I would say our first 20 customers would have come from former colleagues.”

What’s the best business tip you’ve ever received?

“I grew up in a family business and my parents said to me back then that you should always treat your customers the way you would like to be treated as a customer. And that’s something I’ve always tried to do. For us, a happy customer is someone who wants to do business with us again and is happy to refer us to other companies. It’s someone who walks towards you rather than away from you!” 

What’s next for Aspira?

“At the moment we have offices in Cork and Dublin. Next month we plan to set up a team in Abu Dhabi. And next year we’re opening a new office in Amsterdam. So expansion and driving our global ambitions is the big driver for us right now.”

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As president of the Ireland chapter of the PMI, do you think small businesses overlook the importance of project management?

“They tend to think that it is just for the multinationals and that it doesn’t apply to them. But that’s not the case: if you have a short-term project with a tight deadline, that’s the kind of project that absolutely needs to be planned properly. You might think, ‘I have no time to plan.’ Well guess what, if you don’t plan you’re going to be in trouble.”

How else can good project management help?

“When we started out, we were a very small company. But by using the proper project management tools, templates and reports we were able to pitch and engage with Fortune 100 companies on an equal footing because we were using the right approach and we came across professionally.”

Finally, which project management tools would you recommend for smaller businesses?

“There’s a Cork-based company called that has an online platform for managing projects, which is very easy to use, and I’m a big fan of Microsoft’s Project Online.”

Written by Mike Peake

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