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On the Pitch Instead of in the Stand

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Expert analysis from Tom Lyons, CEO, The Currency. This article has been written exclusively for IoD Ireland members.

One of the leading business journalists in the country, Tom Lyons has teamed up with fellow scribe Ian Kehoe to launch the newest business and financial online platform, The Currency. Just a few months old, its ‘long form’ interviews and profiles with leading industry figures have been providing eye-catching insights few others are even attempting, helped in no small part by a team of established and experienced journalists and experts. Here, exclusive to IoD Ireland, Tom Lyons offers his personal take on the difference between being a spectator and being a player.

I have spent a career writing about business only to discover that it is quite another thing doing it. A year ago, myself and my friend Ian Kehoe found ourselves in an empty one-room office with a sketch pad trying to work out what was next for us. We’d both quit our jobs and realised we needed to start making a living, sooner rather than later. 

We had spent, between us, over 30 years working for other people in newspapers or broadcasters. Now we were on our own. Ian decided to be editor - a job he is brilliant at - leaving me with the task of trying to figure out what it takes to be the CEO! 

As a journalist I have written about the success or failure of hundreds of businesses. Within a short time of actually having to do it, I gained a much greater appreciation, and respect, for anyone who dares to found or run a business. All that summer of 2018, we sweated on our business plan. Concepts like cash flow, value-added-tax, customer loyalty, branding, all now became real for us. We were very lucky with our team. Francesca Comyn was prepared to leave a steady position in our former employer to risk joining us as legal editor. Economist Stephen Kinsella, who has great vision and writing ability, also took a chance on us. 

Thomas Hubert quit the Irish Farmers Journal, one of the most respected publications, in order to become our senior correspondent. Sean Keyes, a former managing director of MoneyWeek in London, had just come back to Dublin so we were fortunate to hire him. Cait Caden joined us straight out of journalism school. Edel Robinson, who is ex-AIB, started with us as a consultant but now runs the operations side of the business. 

As contributors, we managed to convince business leader Alison Cowzer, investor Pete Smyth, investment strategist John Looby, former editor Anne Harris, investigative journalist Sam Smyth, economist Constantin Gurdgiev and others to come on board. This team made us look bigger and braver than we actually felt!  

As we headed towards launching last September, we were amazed by the help we received from so many people in business. We learned a lot of valuable lessons from them along the way. One of the reasons I joined the Institute of Directors in Ireland is because the more business people I got to know the more I realised that there were still lots of gaps in my knowledge. 

Still, I have learned a few things from being on the pitch, versus in the stand...

Find a mentor. Listen to him or her. This doesn’t mean do everything they tell you. But learn to appreciate experience. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. 

Build your team. It is important to define your mission and ensure your team agree. Ours includes striving to produce only quality journalism and respecting both our readers and the people we write about.   

Know your business partner. I knew Ian since 2005 when we both junior reporters covering then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s trip to China. We were friends, but it is another thing running a business together. We share common values and that has really helped guide us when making decisions. 

Watch spending. When we were journalists, we saw spending budgets as the minimum target. This was because we felt we were in a battle for resources versus other divisions. Now we are working for ourselves, we look at the whole picture. We still seem to end up spending lots of money, but we think very hard about it. 

Appreciate kindness. At every turn, we received help from others in business. Things were done for us for free or at a steep discount that allowed us punch above our weight. We are grateful for all that help. Without it, we would not be in business.

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