Abtran CEO, Pat Ryan looks back on 21 Years in Business
2018 marks Abtran’s 21 years in business so over the next few months, we’ll be sharing interviews from just some of the people behind the scenes here at Abtran – people who are passionate and push boundaries to make our story of success possible.
When was the first time you realised you wanted to start your own business?
I’ve always wanted to own my own business. The first time I said this out loud was at a college interview when I was eighteen. After working for other companies for a number of years, my Dad set up his own Marine Engine service business and I think this had a big influence on me. The first opportunity to set up my own business came about in 1998.
Were there any big influencers in your life?
In the 1960’s, my parents left Ireland to go to South Africa. They ended up staying for six years. We moved back to West Cork and lived in Gougane Barra until I was six or seven before moving back to Cork City. So that idea that you can just get up and travel somewhere came from my parents and it must have influenced me because in 1992, I came straight out of college and moved to Japan where I lived and worked for the following four years before returning to Ireland to set up my own business.
How did Abtran begin?
In 1997, I met Michael and Pat Fitzgerald. They had their own Contact Centre business called ‘Adapt’, employing six to seven people. I had set up my own outsourcing business since returning from Japan, which focused on mailing and fulfillment services. Three years later, we merged our two businesses. The group consisted of myself, Gerard, Michael and Pat Fitzgerald. We wanted to be totally open and transparent and we came up with ‘Absolute Transparency’ and then shortened it to Abtran. That was back in 1999.
What was your vision for growth?
Back then, our vision was to help US companies come into Ireland easily and sell their product. We had a number of clients from the US so we had a sales person in California. In 2001, the dot.com industry began to lose momentum. We decided to change our focus to work on the Irish Government sector and were fortunate to win the contract for the ‘Euro Changeover.’ We also had lots of clients in the charity sectors and in the FMCG sector running helplines and shipping print material.
In 2004, we won our first major Utilities contract, which was a significant milestone. During that time, we continued to focus on other Government clients and by 2004 had grown to 200 staff. By this time, we had built up a track record for focusing on small, high potential growth organisations. Strategically, we wanted to move into managing the front to back office, end-to-end customer journey. We started by bringing in talent and experience in back office processing and claims in Financial Services and significantly increased our investment in technology and automation. This included the set-up of Abtran’s Learning and Innovation Centre, supported by Enterprise Ireland.
From 2006 onwards, we began to be known as a company that was very good at delivering at a high pace for large ramp-ups. In the years that followed, we went on to win a number of large and highly complex long-term contracts. It’s interesting see that our initial selling point is still who we are 21 years later.
How did you plan for growth?
We always did a 3-5-year plan. You don’t always deliver the way you expect to. At the time, we were very open to taking on new business and I think that helped as we weren’t over dependent on any one sector.
Between 2009 -2013, we went on to win large public sector contracts and clients with high profile household names. Looking back, I think our strength was around being flexible and helping organisations to transform their business as they were growing as well as through more difficult economic times. Today, we’re still about being a flexible, agile partner and helping clients to adapt and deliver great service through digital and new customer technologies.
As we’ve grown from a small to a large company, our biggest challenge was to take what is essentially a small business culture to scaling that quickly and effectively. That’s been a big learning for us in a positive way.
Any Stand out High Points along the way?
There have been many proud moments, for example, when we’ve won new contracts, because it’s really down to the people in the business who make this success possible. Looking back, I’ve been proud seeing a new client’s TV ad and knowing that the calls were being answered by colleagues in Abtran. We were very proud to get involved with the Red Cross Tsunami appeal where we were working for the Red Cross and we brought in volunteers from our clients as well to raise funds for that.
Looking back, I’ve never once felt that it was ok to relax. I’ve always been mindful that we were still quite a small player in a global market. As we’ve grown bigger, we’ve become more successful in competing with global outsourcers. We have a good grasp (across global Business Process Outsourcing and Business Process Management) of what the best and the biggest could look like. That doesn’t mean we want to be the same as other big players. We actually consider ourselves to be a lot deeper in terms of the knowledge and expertise of our people.
How has Abtran Changed?
Today, we have a proven track record in being reliable and delivering on requirements that are really important for our clients. We’ve established a reputation of being doers, not talkers and we deliver on what we promise using all the experience we have gained. We are people you can trust, the people that have done it before. We don’t compare ourselves to others; it’s about looking at ourselves and becoming better. We realise that every time we work on a large project, through a transformation or through a difficult time, that the amount of knowledge and experience gained across each person in the organisation isn’t easy to find anywhere else. It’s rare that you will find an organisation that has been involved in so many national projects with high-level public scrutiny, so working with a company with our experience is very hard to find.
Any Stand Out Memories?
I don’t necessarily dwell too much on the past but the special memories I have are always around seeing individuals in the organisation shine during key project moments. You know, where someone who worked hard and did a good job was recognised for it. There are people that have stepped up during difficult projects and gone out of their comfort zone to deliver and they will probably always talk to me about how that was key in their career, whether they are still with us or not.
What Motivates you?
I always like to see people excel and surpass their own expectations and realise, ‘I am actually able to do this; I just needed to get the opportunity.’ Another thing that really motivates me is seeing small things happening that I think are really key and will have a big impact on more than just what we do day to day.
Looking to the next 21 years
I believe that our business, our industry, our clients’ industries and the way we all work, won’t be very recognisable in 20 years’ time. I think technology in day-to-day life is going to be very different and our business will be determined around how we continue to embrace this technology whether it is in the form of Robotic Process Automation or the implementation of AI machine learning and data analytics.
I think the role of our industry which was traditionally about reducing cost will continue to be more about transforming, speeding up and taking the risk out of change and that the industry’s mission is to really educate people around that. It’s also about the industry looking to itself to understand how it needs to change and evolve for the next generation of customers.
Any Final Words?
I’d like take this opportunity to thank each and every member of the Abtran team, past and present for their contribution. What began in 1997 as a small company with a team of less than ten, today stands tall in a national and global marketplace.
Abtran’s success story could not have been achieved without the continued passion and support of our amazing people who continue to push boundaries through service excellence and innovation. We are also grateful to our clients who continue to trust in us to help them provide best in class services to their valued customers.