This month’s insights from our leaders around the world comes from Seán Keating, Chief Executive Officer at Vilicom. Seán has spent the last 20 years at Vilicom, firstly working in Operations and consulting. He now heads up the business as CEO, and is responsible for teams located in Reading, UK and Dublin, Ireland.
Before joining Vilicom, Seán held roles in telecoms businesses including Three UK, Lucent Technologies and Telefónica Ireland. He also volunteers with Dublin City University and annually at Engineers Week Ireland, to inspire and encourage young people to enter the world of engineering.
What’s the most important development happening in our industry and what does that mean for business?
Our industry is at a very exciting point in its development. We are going through incredible change. Fast, cheap data has absolutely transformed dozens and dozens of consumer markets such as travel, entertainment, music, food and finance. Just ask a taxi driver, someone working in McDonalds, a high street banker or a music producer. The same is now beginning to happen in industry.
We are being hit by a wave of technology and it is driving huge growth in demand for data connectivity. Coverage is expected everywhere. There are now companies that are worth hundreds of billions of dollars based on their data assets. Data enables exciting new business models, and also helps create long-term customer relationships.
If we look at the bigger picture, we see that we are in the midst of the biggest reallocation of capital in human history. Everything from energy production to mass transit, personal transportation, lighting, food production, building efficiency and more are being transformed. The amount of investment is staggering. It’s trillions, not billions. And all of these investments are being made with data and connectivity at their hearts.
Delivering increasing amounts of data in harder-to-reach places needs shared infrastructure. The fast growth of data volumes needs higher density. We are doing amazing things at BAI, and it is really exciting. Projects like the London Tube network, emergency communications, and streetscape small cells for denser networks. Pharmaceutical plants, hospitals, offshore wind connectivity and smart cities. Office developments, stadiums and arenas. I could go on! The list is very long and diverse. Much of this is supported by our VRAN cloud platform, too.
To succeed and thrive, modern businesses need to be smart. Connected people and connected devices are as smart as the internet. Businesses that don’t exploit this will struggle.
What inspires you most in the work that you do?
I am an engineer. I got into engineering because I believe it makes a real difference in society and people’s lives. Early in my career I helped roll out mobile coverage across many rural areas. The infrastructure we built back in the late 1990s now supports many remote workers. This is breathing new life into towns and villages that suffered many years of decline.
We recently completed a large project in a biologics plant in Dublin. There they make a groundbreaking cancer treatment. Our connectivity has a key role to play in the day-to-day operations, alongside many of the other systems in the plant. At the start of the project, the programme manager reminded us all of something very important. For every week that the start of production was delayed, eight more people would die of cancer. That certainly sharpened the mind, and you can absolutely bet that the project was finished on time.
There are many other examples of how our projects make a real difference. We help workers on offshore wind farms keep in touch with friends and family. We make children’s hospital visits more bearable as connectivity allows them to play and roam instead of being trapped in a waiting room. We enhance the safety of lone workers by connecting their monitoring systems. This all keeps everyone in Vilicom excited and inspired to build the best connectivity we can.
What is a technique you use to be more effective in your work?
There are three very important things I need to do to be effective. The first is to spend time with customers to understand what their needs are and how they are evolving. The second is to spend time with colleagues who are delivering services to the customer. They are best placed to see how things are going and opportunities for improvement. This is an important source of learning. The third is very basic, but essential. Practicing good time management using the usual priority lists and diary management. Together these three things help me focus on proactive work when there is so much going on day-to-day.
What’s one of the ongoing challenges you face at work and how do you manage it?
We always strive to recruit and retain the best talent. My colleagues in Vilicom have built some great professional development systems. This enables our award-winning graduate development programme. It has also given us the confidence to begin an apprenticeship programme, which started last year. However, we can always do more. Our people are the heart of the company. Without them we would have nothing, so we must always nurture our teams.
What is your advice for proactively managing your career?
It’s important to take on new challenges. To stretch yourself so that you can learn and grow. Bold moves make your job exciting and challenging and allow you to display your talents.
It is good to take some risks from time to time. But it is important to make sure that they are well managed and that you have executive sponsorship. It won’t work out every time but with the right attitude and preparation, you will win an awful lot more than you lose.
It is also valuable to develop your team. It doesn’t matter if you are the line manager or not. Leadership is a behaviour, not a position. Being able to work well with teams and promote good teamwork is a key skill in any career. You need to develop your successors. It is hard to get a promotion if there is no one to take up your existing role.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career and why?
I have been very lucky to work with some great managers, mentors and coaches over the last 25 years. I can thank my parents for my work ethic. At various stages along the way I have had people who taught me how to be a better engineer, how to manage customers and how to manage finances. It has been 25 years of continuous learning with a lot more to do.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
By some people’s definition, I am a gentleman. In that, I can play the bagpipes but choose not to!