Judges reveal what sets Ireland’s Best Managed Companies apart from the competition

An esteemed judging panel, led by IDA Ireland chair Frank Ryan, speak about this year’s winners of the Ireland’s Best Managed Companies Awards Programme

Ireland’s Best Managed Companies awards programme is in its 13th year. Picture: Jason Clarke

Now in its 13th year, Ireland’s Best Managed Companies Awards Programme has become one of the country’s foremost awards schemes recognising the very best indigenous businesses in the Republic and the North.

The flagship awards scheme run by Deloitte in association with Bank of Ireland is the only such awards programme in Ireland to consider business performance from every perspective. Central to this unique assessment process is an esteemed judging panel led by Frank Ryan, chairman of the board of IDA Ireland, which assesses applicants’ management capabilities and practices equally across all key business functions.

To find out more about this year’s 139 winners and the traits and characteristics that make a Best Managed Company, we asked Frank Ryan and four other members of the judging panel about their experience and insights.

Q: Strategy is one of the key areas examined by the Best Managed Companies judging panel. What impressed you about how this year’s winning companies developed their strategies and did this change as the pandemic hit?

Frank Ryan, chair of the judging panel and chairman of the board of IDA Ireland: “Over the last 18 months, the pace of development of new strategies by Best Managed Companies has been remarkable. Customer focus and the welfare of staff were the key priorities. The strategy development process comprised a much wider engagement with key stakeholders, particularly with the full management team and with staff members.

“There was also a greater openness by companies to seek inputs from advisory boards and external advisors to support the strategy development process. New business models were developed and implemented to support customers who were also addressing dramatic change in their served markets. New communications strategies were implemented using a variety of methods and technologies to support staff many of whom were working remotely. New strategies were developed to achieve climate action objectives. New management development programmes were undertaken to support the implementation of these new strategies.

“So much change in the external and internal environment. So much innovation; so impressive.”

Q: Financial discipline is an important factor in delivering business objectives; what were the strengths of the winning companies that you observed in this regard, particularly as companies dealt with the impact of reduced activity during the last year?

Nikki Canavan, senior director, corporate banking, Bank of Ireland: “My fellow judges and I place significant emphasis on management teams’ performance under pressure, how they identify opportunities even when it is not obvious they exist, and how they maintain financial discipline even when the odds are stacked against them. This year, the focus on financial discipline was higher than ever, and the resilience displayed by Irish business leaders since the onset of the pandemic has been truly remarkable.

“Best Managed Companies use KPIs to manage their business, which provide early indicators of changes in the performance of their businesses, enabling management to take action to mitigate emerging risk or financial strain. While a proven approach, traditional KPIs became somewhat redundant during the initial months of the pandemic as the focus of management teams pivoted to adapting in order to survive.”

Q: Culture and commitment, a key Best Managed pillar examined by the judging panel, took on heightened importance in the past year. How did winning companies look to maintain company culture and the commitment of their people as many pivoted to new ways of working and interacting?

Kate Malone, director of human resources, Irish Management Institute: “The winning companies this year maintained company culture and the commitment of their people by reimagining their cultures for new ways of working. These organisations developed creative ways of bringing their cultures to life, with many developing initiatives for employees to revisit their company values. Companies that empowered employees to demonstrate these values through their work practices were particularly striking. The building and strengthening of connections also stood out in the winning companies.

“Feelings of connection to the organisation and with others are essential when people are working remotely so that people feel a sense of purpose, and so that they do not feel as if they are working in a vacuum. Those companies that did this well were able to build connections by using a personal touch through various initiatives. The winning companies put a particular focus on wellbeing and went above and beyond in the support of their people, in what for many organisations was a time of significant change and uncertainty.

Q: Covid-19 presented challenges to indigenous Irish businesses in a rapid and unprecedented way. Overall, what impressed you about how companies responded to this challenge?

Feargal Mooney, chairman, Luzern Technologies: “The speed at which Best Managed Companies adapted to Covid-19 was really impressive. In most cases, the initial focus was on employee and customer wellbeing before quickly turning to business stability and funding requirements. Attentions then moved at pace to identifying and developing new business opportunities arising out of Covid.

“In addition to implementing the standard HSE guidelines around employee and customer protection, many companies introduced additional measures which were varied and specific to the needs of their individual businesses. For example, some companies offered additional paid leave to colleagues who had to quarantine or self-isolate while others offered customer-focused products and pricing with more favourable credit terms to clients who were experiencing short-term cash pressures.

“Many companies took things a step further, and turned the changed circumstances to their advantage, developed new routes to market – often online – and in some cases rapidly progressed new product innovations to serve new customers and new needs. Technology played a big part in product innovation. For example, Acacia Facilities Management developed IoT remote sensor monitoring of workspaces in relation to occupancy and cleaning requirements, while PEI introduced an online patient consultation app to reduce the need for in-person consultations.

Q: Companies over the last 18 months have had to adapt and embrace digital to a scale they may not have planned for. How have Best Managed Companies embraced this transformation and what impressed you about their approach to innovating and adapting across their businesses?

Colm O’Reilly, chief executive, the Business Post: “I was hugely impressed by how businesses on the Best Managed Companies programme rose to the challenge of digital transformation in the face of the pandemic. This is my second year of being a judge on the programme and it was particularly inspiring to see the level of change that existing programme participants made in their businesses.

“What was most striking was the pace of this change and the agility that companies demonstrated in pivoting aspects of their businesses. And not just to remain open and trade but to be competitive and exploit emerging opportunities both domestically and internationally.

“A good number of the companies on the programme are traditional businesses operating in mature industries, which had to really accelerate their digital plans and strategies, and it was amazing to see how successful they were in doing that. What really stood out as the common denominator among those companies that really succeed was a mindset of innovation and a commitment to embrace change.

“We sometimes think that innovation is about making a miraculous technology breakthrough, but that is so often not the case. I also think access to expert advisers from Deloitte and Bank of Ireland has played a key role in helping business owners, chief executives and chief financial officers to really assess what needed to be done.”