The Rules of the Game
By Jim Colgan, Contributor
February / March 2001
“The building trade is the worst trade in the World — you can quote me on that,” jokes Fran Rooney as he speaks of the new house he is trying to construct in County Dublin. And when the CEO and President of Baltimore Technologies is discussing world trade, it would be wise to listen.
“I’m hoping to be moved in sometime over the next couple of years,” he continues. “They promised me it’d be ready by this April, but I think two years would be doing good.”
If Rooney is irked by the delay, perhaps it’s because in the span of only a few years he has molded Baltimore Technologies into one of the largest companies to come out of Ireland.
Baltimore Technologies provides Internet security software to businesses and the government.
Rooney bought into the company in 1996 when it had only 6 employees. He now leads a staff of more than 1,100 with a operations spanning 30 countries across the globe and stock exchange listings in both the U.S. and London. The company is poised for further expansion now as the heightened use of electronic data creates a growing need for reliable and efficient security measures.
From the beginning, Rooney’s focus for the company was simple and clear: Expansion on a global scale. This he brought about by shrewd marketing and distribution of the company and its products on an international scale.
In New York to announce record third quarter earnings, Rooney explains, “Very clearly we saw that we had an opportunity to build a company that could seriously impact the global E-commerce environment. We saw security as being the key to the future of E-commerce. And our goal was to be a global company and a global leader.”
With globalization as his aim, Rooney sees no need to focus on just the one market. “The U.S. is obviously a huge market so it’ll be a key part of our focus. But we can’t ignore other emerging markets: Asia, certain parts of Europe, the Japanese market, the Chinese market, the Indian market. We feel there’s a lot of activity in those markets we really need to exploit.
“The second part of our growth is to respond to emerging technologies. The mobile market, TV commerce, smart cards, the palmtop devices. Not just the devices themselves, but the new media: Infra red, blue tooth and such.”
So with all that has happened within the last four years, what does Rooney consider his most notable achievement? “To be where we are – to be able to go from 6 to 1,100 employees in just four years and maintain a tremendous culture. We set high goals for the company and people are given the opportunity to respond, and to be able to maintain that has been important.
“Look at some of the single things that have happened. We’ve been very successful with our acquisitions strategy. We’ve completed five acquisitions this year almost seamlessly in terms of the momentum of the business while we integrated them. From just a year ago to now having 30 percent of revenues coming from the U.S. has been a great achievement as well,” he adds.
Having high quality staff on hand at all times is a prerequisite to any achievement, Rooney is quick to point out, “The capital market requirement is so professional now that you need to have a number of people available to respond to changes. The key to most businesses is support and followups. There was a stage in our own growth where I was the only person out there. You have to quickly get beyond that stage and get a support team.”
Rooney has shown leadership qualities his whole life. He initiated a local soccer team in his home town of Glasnevin at the age of 15 and went on to play, captain, and coach for Dublin’s Shamrock Rovers. He also spent several years working in the Civil Service and banking sectors, which, oddly enough, served as a valuable stepping-stone for his career as entrepreneur.
“To be honest when I started in the Civil Service, I found I had the capacity to do my job very quickly. I finished any work I had to do by eleven. And time on your hands in the Civil Service doesn’t mean you’re given extra work because somebody else might be losing their job or something,” he jokes.
Rooney used this extra time to become a qualified chartered accountant and studied computer science among a number of other degree courses. But along with the professional education, he also sees other rewards stemming from working for the Civil Service. “One of the things you get in the Civil Service is a very strong moral integrity. You do the right thing. You just can’t abide by not doing what’s correct for the Government or by the standards that are set. It’s the same thing in banking,” he says.
Rooney also credits his background in sports with assisting his career development.
“Sport is a great character builder. When you play any sport at a serious level you have to be disciplined as to how you lead your life. You don’t go out to night-clubs until two or three in the morning and expect to play the next day. The skills you acquire in sport are extremely relevant in business.”
Rooney also relies on his sports background when it comes to hiring staff for Baltimore. “I always feel that I have a strong sense of team, so when I look at an individual, I’m saying `will this individual be a team player?’ The last thing you need are mavericks fighting against the grain all the time. We look for people who have their own views, their own minds, who are still prepared to challenge everything we’re doing but still move with the team.”
He also considers personal fitness fundamental to his job. “I just wouldn’t have the energy to deal with the job otherwise,” he insists.
“Somebody said to me that this was the biggest success story out of Ireland in ten years,” he recalls. “Now if it’s ten years, it’s obviously forever because very little happened before then. If you come into our office, you’d see the best product award, best company award; we’ve an award for nearly every one of our products. They made me the businessman of the year this year in two different locations. In Japan, we’re winning best product and the same thing now in the States. So all these things are huge.” Lest he sound a little too self-congratulatory, Rooney is quick to point out that Baltimore’s ultimate target has still not been attained. “I think that [the Irish success story] actually hides what we’re trying to do, which is to be big in deep, global terms,” he declares. “It’s almost too myopic to say that we’re big in Ireland. Being big in the World is what we’re realistically getting to now.” ♦