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Home-grown international success stories

Irish companies’ success in Europe is built on strong cultural foundations at home

Irish companies are increasingly recognised as some of Europe’s best employers. That includes home-grown heroes such as Version 1, an Irish-founded, Irish-led provider of digital transformation and managed IT services. It employs 3,000 people and is on a growth path, with about 250 additional roles open.

According to Louise Lahiff, its director of strategy, planning and people, Version 1 is a true Irish success story. “Not many Irish companies have reached our scale,” she says.

Last year Version 1 achieved second place in Ireland’s Best Large Workplace list, a Great Place to Work (GPTW) initiative. This is a major achievement for a business whose success relies on attracting, recruiting and retaining top talent.

“Our clients are both private and public sector,” Lahiff says. “Over the last five years digital transformation has been a huge focus for many of them as businesses have had to adapt and change, especially during Covid.”


About half of Version 1′s team is based on the island of Ireland, with most of the rest in the UK. It employs 350 people in India and 120 in Spain. As a result of recent overseas acquisitions, it also has staff in countries such as Australia and Slovenia. Last year private equity firm Partners Group became a majority shareholder, a move that will support its next phase of growth.

“It gives us even more heft for international acquisitions, giving us access to more serious talent across the world,” says Lahiff.

Version 1 began its Great Place to Work Journey 12 years ago. “This is our fourth year in GPTW in [the] UK, our second year in GPTW India and our first year in GPTW Spain,” she says. Last year, as well as coming second in Ireland in its category, it came sixth in the UK and first in India.

“Version 1 has always had a huge focus on people. We do our own internal survey every three months but what the Great Place to Work survey provides us with is an external benchmark which is very important. It also allows us access to the network of other companies involved in Great Place to Work, and we drive one another on.”

Every year I want to be able to tell two or three great new stories about what we do, not for Great Place to Work but because it’s the right thing to do

For Lahiff, being a Great Place to Work means continuous improvement.

“Every year I want to be able to tell two or three great new stories about what we do, not for Great Place to Work but because it’s the right thing to do. GPTW gives us the impetus to always be focusing on our people, always looking ahead and innovating.”

Among the innovations, Version 1 has introduced is a shadow board, a group of 13 people aged under 30 who shadow the executive board’s decisions to ensure that what the company is doing fits with that generation, which makes up a large share of its workforce.

For example, it is designing a new employee share scheme and testing the plan with its shadow board to ensure the scheme is attractive to them, and that the right language is used to communicate it.

As an employer Version 1 provides great flexibility, including a remote-first policy. “What people want has changed,” says Lahiff. “If you want to attract the best talent you have to incentivise them, and flexibility does that.”

Last year the company hired 1,000 people. Having strong core values helps differentiate it in the talent market, she feels. Its core values include honesty and integrity, personal commitment, excellence, putting the customer first, and having drive but no ego.

Having “no ego” means it probably doesn’t “shout about” itself in the talent market as much as it should, Lahiff says. It’s also why Great Place to Work is so important to it.

“Great Place to Work has been great for employees at hiring stage. If a potential employee doesn’t know who we are they will go online and see GPTW and see it as a badge of approval. It makes a big difference.”

A talent for talent

Recruitment firm Cpl is another home-grown success story, providing talent solutions for a global customer base, ranging from start-ups and SMEs to multinationals across almost every sector, from pharmaceuticals to fund accounting.

From its headquarters in Dublin, Cpl has opened 50 office locations in 13 countries across Europe, as well as the UK, US and beyond. In 2021 it became a wholly owned subsidiary of Outsourcing Inc, a Tokyo-based, publicly listed company that employs more than 131,500 people worldwide.

Cpl placed 31 in Europe as a Great Place to Work in 2022. “Being recognised as a Great Place to Work in Europe acknowledges our commitment as a European employer to providing a work environment that champions diversity, equity and inclusion and enables our employees to bring their true selves to work,” says Lorna Conn, chief executive of Cpl.

“It also emphasises our commitment to providing career paths that motivate and inspire our people to reach their full potential.”

If we trust our leaders, management and one another, that’s when we achieve amazing things together

DEI is in the company’s DNA, she says. “We truly believe that being a great place to work promotes a culture where our people can thrive and in turn enables them to give high quality and impactful service to our clients.”

The company embarked on its Great Place to Work journey more than a decade ago. “The GPTW framework measures trust, and at Cpl we firmly believe there is a direct correlation between the GPTW trust score and our culture. If we trust our leaders, management and one another, that’s when we achieve amazing things together,” she says.

It’s a journey of continuous improvement.

“Every year we analyse the GPTW results to ensure that we identify our top people priorities. We engage our people in every step of the process and we promise to deliver real outcomes,” says Conn.

“Our main reason for taking part in GPTW is therefore to ensure that we keep building on the trust levels within our organisation by actively responding to our people’s feedback to grow and retain our talent, and to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive work environment for everybody.”

In 2022 Cpl placed fourth in Great Place to Work Ireland, amplifying its position as an employer of choice in the talent market.

“The GPTW brand and listing is well recognised and is an established barometer for the culture of an organisation,” says Conn. “In 2022, 60 per cent of all new hires indicated they joined Cpl because of our culture and GPTW affiliation.”

Building better

Construction consultancy Mitchell McDermott was set up by Paul Mitchell and Anthony McDermott in 2015. Today it employs 65 people — and counting. It was first certified as a Great Place to Work in 2021 and last year ranked first in Ireland’s Best Workplaces, in the small firm category.

Last September it attended the Best Workplaces Europe 2022 awards in Venice, where it was recognised as one of Europe’s best 150 companies to work for, placing 28th in the medium-sized businesses category.

The company has won a slew of business and construction industry awards since its inception but for Paul Mitchell, winning a best workplace award is its top accolade because “the culture of an organisation is everything”, he says.

Mitchell McDermott has a culture of helping, training and educating, he explains. “When Anthony and I were starting off and brought in our first trusted lieutenants — people that we knew and had worked with — we told them that Anthony and I are the nucleus but you guys are the next ring in the tree. It’s up to you to instil that culture to the next ring.” That practice continued ever outwards as the headcount grew.

Supporting and developing its team has been critical to the business’s commercial success. “If your people are happy, your clients will be happy. You build the people and the people build the business,” Mitchell says.

Above every other award we have won this is the one I value most because Great Place to Work is based on a confidential survey

Central to that is his view that the business’s 65-strong team should be viewed as volunteers and not staff. These are, he points out, highly skilled professionals who could get a job elsewhere “in the morning” but instead choose to stay with Mitchell McDermott.

McDermott signed up for Great Place to Work because he had experience of it while working in a different business and rates it as uniquely important.

“Above every other award we have won this is the one I value most because Great Place to Work is based on a confidential survey that enables the person to say what they want, knowing that no one else will see it. That allows you to get to the truth. Everyone in the organisation can take pride in it because it’s everybody’s award,” he says.

The company’s strong corporate social responsibility programme has raised more than €100,000 for Women’s Aid and Childline in three years. It also invests in education, hiring two lecturers to develop its graduate programmes and providing employees with hundreds of training modules in which they can upskill, in-house. It recently introduced three-month paid sabbaticals after seven years of service, to enable people switch off from work entirely. It also has 12 different employee interest groups within the organisation, focusing on areas such as diversity and inclusion.

As an independent, full-service and data-led construction consultancy that empowers ambitious companies to build better, attracting and retaining top talent is vital. There is a huge emphasis on flexibility and support for remote working. One of its most senior team members is based in Malaysia and Mitchell speaks with pride of the staff member who began working remotely from his home in Derry after the birth of his first baby.

“He told me the baby’s first word was Dada, and that it wouldn’t have happened if he wasn’t working from home.”

The Great Place to Work survey helps ensure that all those working at Mitchell McDermott continue to benefit from a thoughtful, and informed, employer, Mitchell says. “I think Great Place to Work is just such a great litmus test for your business. I’d advise everyone to do it.”

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell

Sandra O'Connell is a contributor to The Irish Times