Thurles Born Mark Fielding ISME Speaks At Chamber Dinner

Thurles Chamber’s annual Christmas Dinner was well attended on Thursday night last, by the majority of business leaders in the town together with staff.
One of this years Special Guest Speakers was Mr Mark Fielding CEO of Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association Ltd (ISME) the Independent Business Organisation.
Speaking to those in attendance Mr Fielding stated:

Madam President Anne Strappe, Honoured Guests, Chamber Members, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends, I stand before you this evening with mixed emotions.
As a Thurles man I am humbled and proud to be asked to speak at the 2009 Thurles Chamber of Commerce Annual Christmas Dinner.

Mr Mark Fielding CEO ISME

Mr Mark Fielding CEO ISME

I am proud, as the CEO of ISME. that I represent the hopes and aspirations, the successes and failures, the hard working community that account for almost 99% of all businesses in Ireland. I represent YOU, the owner/managers of SMALL and MEDIUM BUSINESS throughout this country. I am humble because I return to the place of my birth.

I was born in Suirside; the town that educated me, from Mother Dolores’ classroom in the Ursuline laundry in Suirside, where as a two and three year old I sat with my classmates from the itinerant community, through the primary schools of the Ursulines and Scoil Ailbe and the secondary school of the Christian Brothers. The altar boys, the boy scouts, the street leagues, Thurles Sarsfields, Thurles Rugby club. Where I served my time in JJ Fielding Ltd. as a messenger boy, store boy, van boy and dog walker. As a bar hop in Tom Brereton’s, as a helper in Jackie Griffins as a footer on Tom Ryan’s bog and as an articled clerk in Chambers Fewer and Halley.

Thurles is where I first experienced the sweet taste of success where I set up my very first business and where I first felt the gloom of business failure and where I learned my first business lessons; when you see an opportunity grab it; never flaunt your success and always secure your supply chain. It was Christmas time and I had been selling penny candles to my friends and classmates in Mother Dolores’ class (actually they were getting a bargain at 2 for a penny) and spending my profits in Mrs Condon’s shop on ice cream and bubble gum and sharing my largess with all the other children on the Square. However it was on my third visit to the suppliers that my world came crashing down in Enron proportions, when Christy Deegan, the sacristan collared me with a jumper full of candles on the steps of the Cathedral. Word had got out and my first venture ended, but not before the window of every tinkers caravan was aglow with holy Christmas candles. It was 1954 and I was 4 years old.

The Crazy People

That was my first venture as a business man or as an entrepreneur as we are called today; and it’s about entrepreneurs I would like to talk to you tonight. It’s about the “CRAZY PEOPLE” who take the option of starting and running their own business. Why? Because they think they can make a difference. Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits the rebels, the trouble makers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They are not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things; I even go so far as to say they push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, I see genius, I see an entrepreneur. Because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
I talk about people like Mikey Maher, whom I got to know in London many years ago. Mikey was well known for mixing his metaphors and sayings. I remember him saying to a guy that – “HE WAS A MINEFIELD OF INFORMATION”. On another occasion he said “IT’S LIKE THE BLIND TALKING TO THE BLIND” and in exasperation one time he said “THIS IS AN EXERCISE IN FERTILITY”.  He once told me not to worry as “HE HAD AN ACE UP HIS HOLE”.  Anyone meeting Mikey might think that he was crazy. One evening in a pub in London I introduced him to a pompous bank manager whom we met by chance, and thinking it might be a good opportunity for both to be introduced, did just that. Condescendingly the manager asked how many employees Mikey had. “AS OF LAST FRIDAY I HAD ELEVEN….NO …..TWELVE …HUNDRED AND TEN working.  Mikey is an entrepreneur who makes things happen.

Define  Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is a way of life. It’s a powerful force deep down inside, driving you to achieve your dreams, despite dubious odds and the doubts of others.
I’m sure many of you here today know what it’s like to have that desire, that drive and those dreams to make it on your own. Dreams that give us the strength that carries us through. Indeed, I’ve often thought that perhaps it is not we who carry the dream, but it is the dream that carries us. I love entrepreneurship. There is nothing like the excitement, glory, fun and sheer thrill of starting something from scratch and watching it grow into an enterprise of which you can be proud. That is why I say to young and not so young “If you have the opportunity to be an entrepreneur, grab it. Find passionate and driven people and lead them. Give them all the necessary resources, and then give them some oxygen to breathe”.

What characteristics make an Entrepreneur Special?

Passion is what entrepreneurs must have, first, and foremost. They must live and breathe for their business enterprise. They are zealots about their business models and evangelists for their products or services,they have to be. If they weren’t, the stress and financial pressures of running a fledgling business would completely wipe them out. The sheer magnitude of the odds that are stacked against entrepreneurs requires a special kind of irrational exuberance to overcome. Without passion, resources will never be enough and they will quickly dissipate into thin air. But your passion will always find a way, even when probabilities conspire against your dream. Entrepreneurs have unshakable confidence in and enthusiasm for their business ventures that contagiously spreads to their business team.

Laser focus is another hallmark of entrepreneurs. Many people are creative, but lack discipline. Entrepreneurs, however, have both qualities. An entrepreneur identifies a path towards a solution and follows that path, notwithstanding the frequent temptation to take side roads leading to seemingly newer, more exciting destinations. The entrepreneur knows that most of the journey down the chosen path is chequered with drudgery, yet continues down the path unswervingly, confident that there will be a reward at the end. The entrepreneur also knows that the side roads along the way may appear appealing at first glance, but will quickly become as chequered with drudgery as the originally chosen path and likely lead to a dead end. Focus is power. It creates a powerful perception of resolve in the minds of your customers, employees and competitors.

Courage is a defining trait of entrepreneurs. To understand the odds against success and still forge ahead, knowing many battles will be lost en route, requires a certain amount of fearlessness. Entrepreneurs are purposeful in their tactics and can think on their feet. Yet they regularly face daunting challenges whose failure to overcome will spell certain disaster for their business ventures. Their ability to face these challenges without fear enables entrepreneurs to succeed where others cannot.

Entrepreneurs also are leaders. Contrary to the popular belief that entrepreneurs are mavericks who prefer to be lone wolves, entrepreneurs are visionaries that can inspire and lead their colleagues. There are few things more compelling than people who are passionate about their work, have the discipline to achieve success, and are fearless in their outlook. An entrepreneur builds teams and instils confidence in others.

Of course, an entrepreneur always is thinking ahead, perpetually in motion towards well-defined goals. Diligent pursuit of progress is a hallmark. I speak of retailers, producers, manufacturers, services, trades, farmers, all who risk their own money, their own capital, sometimes their own homes to make a better life for themselves and their families and by extension their employees and in turn their families and by dint of their efforts and their risk make the towns, the villages and the countryside a better place to live.

Many people are surprised that a big personal cash payout seems to be glaringly missing from the aims and aspirations of an Entrepreneur, and while it is a motivator, it is not a primary motivating factor.

Business is many things, the least of which is a Balance Sheet. It is a fluid, ever changing, living thing, sometimes achieving great things, sometimes sinking to unbelievable depths. The soul of business is a chemistry of needs, desires, greed and gratification, mixed with selflessness, sacrifices and personal contributions, far beyond pure material rewards.

Which brings me to an area close to my heart and one which the trade union movement have latched on to recently, in the absence of any innovative thinking on the wage negotiations, which is the subject of rewards for work and effort and the sharing of Prosperity.

Our values of social compassion would be nothing more than rhetoric unless we offered a clear direction on how we would run a modern, globally-orientated market economy. Because there is no social dividend and no social progress in a failing economy. Social compassion is just empty talk without the prosperity that makes it possible for people to pay the bills.

For me and many others in the SME sector this was always much more than pragmatism. We in the sector always knew and recognised the vast contribution that business, and small and medium business in particular, makes to Ireland. We need to get that message out there more forcibly. We also must hammer home the message, not liked by our trade union brethren, to recognise that aspiration and ambition are natural human emotions and we must distinguish this from the perverted side effects of primitive capitalism, shown recently in all its grabbing greed by our bankers, where our so-called regulators mistook good manners for good banking practice and well tailored suits for business acumen.

So, we must be enthusiastic – not just pragmatic – about financial success. We must also tackle poverty in Ireland. But tackling poverty is about bringing those at the bottom closer to those in the middle. It is statistically possible to have a society where no child lives in a family whose income is below the poverty line, but where there are also people at the top who are very wealthy by dint of their efforts. In fact, not only is it statistically possible, it is desirable and it is positively a good thing. So rather than questioning whether high incomes are morally justified, we should celebrate the fact that people can be enormously and ethically successful in this country, rather than placing a cap on that success, we should be questioning why it is not available to more people. It would be a good thing for our country if there were more millionaires in Ireland, not fewer. Our overarching goal that no-one should get left behind must not become translated or diluted into a stultifying sense that no-one should be allowed to get too far ahead.
There are still many who say they are definitely in favour of equality of opportunity – but what they mean is the opportunity to advance only to a certain level. Get too successful, too rich, and you need to be held back for the good of society, this is just old-fashioned begrudgery perpetrated by the ‘immobile left’ who do not respect work.
I do not believe in handouts, in bringing everyone down to the level of mediocrity.
I do believe that we must move away from outdated trade union rhetoric to reason.
I do believe that everyone should receive according to their Merits or Handicap.
I do believe that our Government should always do more for those who try to improve their lot and less for those who do not want to do anything.

So I believe a key challenge for us over the coming years is to recognise that, far from strengthening the social justice advocated by our trades unions, a version that only gives you the opportunity to climb so far, and no further. Instead, we must enthusiastically advocate empowering people, we must also extend the ladders of opportunity downward to reach more and more people, encouraging them to climb without limits, free from any begrudging barrier holding them back – be It background, gender or outdated social attitudes. And let it be acknowledged that our wider society – could not flourish without individuals who are prepared to take risks, like the entrepreneurs, the business people here tonight, setting up and growing their business.

Trades Unions

Having mentioned Trades Unions, I would like briefly to turn to the issue of representation in the workplace, I believe that the vast majority of employees have no need for a Trade Union; they are educated in their rights and look after themselves. Going back to the days of the union, closed shop would be completely unacceptable. And yet ever since the first Programme for National Recovery in 1987 the ICTU has argued that in return for their participation in Partnership, Government should provide for STATUTORY UNION RECOGNITION. Let there be no mistake about it the main driver behind this is the dwindling numbers joining the Trade Union movement and the effort to stave off the inevitable demise of the TU movement. The recent Ryanair decision in the Supreme Court has clarified the situation that there need not be trade union involvement in an enterprise.  Because of this ruling, ICTU are back at Government looking for recognition again. We must continue to oppose statutory trade union recognition, as it undermines our attractiveness for Foreign Direct Investment( FDI ), both existing and future flows, it is totally unnecessary at small business levels and also for the very reason that our employees do not want it. In this area the Chambers of Commerce have a major role to play, both in changing attitudes on the ground but also in representing and lobbying at Government level.

Public Services

On public services, we must continually question whether our Public services are properly responsive to the needs of the individuals who pay for them through their taxes, rather than relying on an historic and somewhat erroneous belief, supported by the trade union movement, in the value of collective public services. So it is essential that in the years ahead we accelerate the introduction of challenging new systems that both properly reward success and also rectify failure. Central to this is the system of incentives. People and institutions respond to the right incentives. We need to move towards this in health with a comprehensive system of payment by results for most hospital based treatments. We also must experiment with value added rewards in education. It also means paying teachers what they’re worth.There’s no reason why an experienced, highly qualified, and effective teacher shouldn’t earn €100,000 annually at the peak of his or her career. Highly skilled teachers in such critical fields as math and science-as well as those willing to teach in the toughest urban schools-should be paid even more. There’s just one catch. In exchange for more money, teachers need to become more accountable for their performance-and school managements need to have greater ability to get rid of ineffective teachers.
The Irish economy is a balance between the public sector and the private sector. Each depends on the other and neither exists in isolation of the other. While different in certain respects, the Public Sector must face up to economic realities. The challenge for us in the wealth generating and therefore tax paying sector is to win the argument about value for money and incentives in public services. We must reward public services that help advance individual aspiration and ambition and we must hold to account those who do not. The trouble with Public Sector trade unions is that they continue to protect the Status Quo long after the quo has lost its status. The bottom line is that the Private Sector cannot be made beasts of burden for the cosseted Public Sector.

Have Government forgotten the SME sector?

Have Government forgotten the SME sector??? I have been known to express strong criticism of the hostile attitude of the Government towards small business. It is clear that when ISME says that the needs of small business is “way down the list” of Government priorities and the Government vehemently refute such criticism and point to its funding of indigenous business and range of support services.
The Government would argue that it does not favour FDI over local small business. It supports both, AND THAT IS TRUE, because when the Government says that it regards the needs of small business as “Central to Economic Development”, and we in ISME state the opposite, we are both right – because we are talking about different things.
When the Government talks about “small business”, it is referring to a comparatively small number of companies, probably no more than several hundred, which it regards as comprising the Irish enterprise sector and which receives substantially the most part of Government funding and support. These companies have a number of key characteristics:

•A high proportion of their output is sold in export markets and their export sales are growing.
•The companies are either medium sized, with a commitment to scale growth, or they have potential for high growth within a short time.
•They are start-ups that have emerged, in the main, through State agency support schemes
•They are mainly in current or emerging areas of technology.
•They invest in capability development and R and D.
•They are interested in growth through acquisition and in the right market circumstances, will go public.

The Government sees this group of Irish companies as giving the best value for support and investment and the best opportunity for Ireland to build a cadre of Irish-owned world class players in the future.
That makes sense. The problem is that is represents less than 1/2% of Irish small business – and the Government has little or no interest in the rest. It does not support the other 99%, nor is it active in creating a supportive environment for them. In fact it HAS CONVENIENTLY FORGOTTEN US.
From this, it would appear to follow that the Government does not accept, or does not attach importance to, the basic argument that the small business sector as a whole is an important component of the Irish economy and that small business constitute by far the biggest part of the Irish business, commercial, industrial and enterprise base. As a result, it appears to have little interest or incentive in improving the small business environment and rewarding enterprise risk. This is the mindset that must be changed and the Chambers and ISME, through our constant lobbying and pronouncements must change.

The Employment Subsidy Scheme

The Government’s current policies and the objectives of ISME are not mutually exclusive. What is needed is recognition that the Irish economy has three important components:
•The FDI sector.
•The high performance, high growth SME exporters.
•The small business sector as a whole.
The first two have Government support. The task is to persuade the Government that, in addition to these two, the economy rests on a much larger base of Irish enterprise firms who, together, contribute substantially to value added business, economic activity and growth, regional development, job creation, local purchasing and Exchequer revenues.

Our job, as Owners / Managers in SMEs, is to bring this message home to our politicians at every opportunity, through local POLITICAL branches, when they come to your doors canvassing and through your Chambers and the INDEPENDENT organisation ISME.
The emergence of a genuine culture of entrepreneurship in Ireland is crucial to our future economic well-being. We have to convince the POLITICIANS that we are moving well away from a culture and a society that viewed entrepreneurs with scepticism. Now it is time to view entrepreneurs as local heroes with the badge of courage for taking on the new challenges that come with starting and building a successful business. We are arriving at a point in time where the culture of entrepreneurship has taken firm root in Ireland. For the first time in our history, Ireland has within its grasp the prospect that we will be a nation of entrepreneurs rather than employees. This vision can only become a reality if our economic environment is supportive of investment and reward for risk, and our political environment is responsive to those needs. Put another way, we must insist that Government really subscribe to the terms of Article 45 of the Constitution, which commits the State to favouring private enterprise?
I am weary of the dead zone that politics has become. What’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics – the ease with which we are distracted by the petty trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working solution to tackle any big problem. What we’ve seen from government for close to two decades has been tinkering around the edges and a tolerance for mediocrity. There is a constant danger, in the cacophony of voices, that a politician loses his moral bearings and finds himself entirely steered by the winds of public opinion. If we fail to act, our competitive position in the world will decline. If we act boldly, then our economy will be less vulnerable to economic disruption, our trade balance will improve, the pace of Irish technological innovation will accelerate. Thurles people, Tipperary people, Irish people believe in work – not just as a means of supporting themselves but as a means of giving their lives purpose and direction, order and dignity. We Irish are willing to compete with the world. We are willing to work harder than the people of any other wealthy nation. We are willing to invest in our businesses. We the small and medium businesses, as President Barak Obama says, are the future. But we can only compete if our government makes the decisions and the investments that give us a fighting chance. What’s preventing us from shaping that future isn’t the absence of good ideas. It’s the absence of a national commitment to take the tough steps necessary to make Ireland more competitive.
In other words, we are willing to do what needs to be done. What’s missing is not money, but a national sense of urgency. It’s the begrudgers and naysayers who will always find a reason to say “WHY”. What I see in front of me here tonight is A GROUP OF ENTREPRENEURS – the start of a COALITION OF THE WILLING, while others say WHY?, YOU THE BUSINESS PEOPLE have said and will always say “WHY NOT”
Once again may I congratulate Thurles Chamber on its work in promoting and representing the commercial side of living and working in such a wonderful town.


Mr Fielding’s address was well received by the large numbers in attendance.


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