Business insights from Sean Gallagher

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I was on a webinar yesterday organised by Business All Stars. The guest speaker was Sean Gallagher. Sean is well known in Irish business circles as a very successful entrepreneur. He ran for the presidency and also starred on Dragons Den. Don’t pick a fight with him. He has a black belt in karate and judo.

This webinar was both interesting and inspiring. The purpose of the blog is to talk about some of the points that Sean discusses. There is a self-serving purpose too. My notes are in a scrawl in my diary so when I need to refer to the main learnings, I will be able to read this!


Sean wasn’t good in secondary school as he couldn’t see the board that well. He had cataracts as a young child. He struggled to see the small writing on the board. College changed him in that he went from the bottom to the top of the class. There was no mention of what he studied. The upturn in grades led to an increase in confidence. He lived on the Cavan Monaghan border and he started working in a local bar and a farmer and builder’s providers. He said he got a super grounding in sales, selling to farmers and builders. He was very active in his local Foroige club. He was passionate about helping younger people and still is. He found it a huge help for his personal development and leadership skills. His confidence was growing, and life was good.

Car Crash

All was going well for him but that came to a sudden halt. In 1983 he was in a car crash. We didn’t hear of how serious this was but more about the after-effects. He was unemployed for the first time. He lost his confidence and entered into a period of uncertainty and introspection. Being unemployed had a particularly profound effect on him. His view was that with work you have a purpose and a routine. You have a reason to get up in the morning. You are part of a group trying to achieve something. You get paid for it and that allows you to provide for you and your family. It gives you confidence, a sense of achievement, and a sense of community. When unemployed all those things are gone. He became isolated and withdrawn from people.

Not to stay in the doldrums for too long he started to think about how he could get himself out of this rut. He walked the fields and roads where he lived and started to write down things. He was curious and wanted to find out how things worked. Get under the bonnet and see how all the cogs and wheels fit together to make the engine work. This led him to set up a business.


I have taken a massive leap forward and skipped a huge chunk of Sean’s life. He skipped over this and we can find out more by reading his book. Secrets to Success: Inspiring Stories from Leading Entrepreneurs. His business installed technology in homes. They started with 50 houses in a year and they had skyrocketed to 2500 homes by 2008. They were ready to launch all over the world. He mentioned that there was close to 100,000 homes built in Ireland around this time. After the crash this fell to 10,000 homes. How did he grow this business to such a level of success? Some of the learning for us was that

  • He worked with one of the best mentors he could find. Jack Canfield
  • He had a razor-sharp focus and a drive to get where he wanted to
  • He set ambitious goals, and this helped him achieve his business strategy

The financial crises hit hard. Builders went bust and he wasn’t paid and never would get paid for a lot of work. The number of house completions dropped like a stone. He had to reframe his business.

David Bobbett

I’ll be honest I never heard of David. I had heard of the surname but that was a rather unsavoury case in the States a long time ago where a guy was minus a body part. Sean met David on a bus in the States and they got talking. David was an accountant, who led a successful management buyout of H&K international. The business was a kitchen supplier. After a week of taking over the business they lost 85% of their business. McDonald’s, their biggest client, told them they wouldn’t be opening any more restaurants. They shut the Irish manufacturing plant and suffered the pain in the early stages. They had to refocus the business. The shifted from a manufacturing model to providing a total kitchen solution. This was a design, manufacture, and fitting service. They focused on their initial client base and how they could provide what the customer wants. They stagnated for a while, got back into growth, and haven’t looked back since. They have 13 operations around the world. They employ 1,700 people and another 300 subcontractors. For more information on this business and Dave Read here

Why was this interesting? For me, what happened to Sean and Dave is a case of history repeating. Those businesses that survive and thrive are those that are willing to change. Like the financial crises in 2008, the Covid-19 crises is such an uncertain time for so many. Good businesses had to close. Of those businesses, some owners will be feeling sorry for themselves and do nothing. Others will be looking to change and adapt their business. We can see this already. Businesses have gone on-line, they are doing click and collect, and takeaway. They are on social media doing videos on their products, getting onto the Late Late Show. They are adapting, changing, getting out of their comfort zones, brainstorming. Sean had a quote “what got you to here will not get you to there.” There were 3 key points that he shared with us to help those get out of the current crises

  1. Have a strategy and best if you and your team come up with the strategy “People support best what they help create”
  2. Don’t use all your reserves – if you have reserves don’t deplete them all. You will need funds to grow when you come out the other side and you may not be able to borrow. This may involve making difficult decisions to cut costs.
  3. Stay positive – not a false positivity but a realistic one. This will give you the energy to drive the business in a difficult period. Your body needs good food to function well. Like this your mind needs to be subject to positive things to keep it positive. One example he shared was switching off the news and getting that once a day rather than throughout the day.


Elaine, the host of the webinar, asked Sean what mistakes he made during his business life. Among these were

  • Not delegating enough. His view was that the best leaders delegate and don’t get involved in the day to day running of the business. He mentioned that you should be “working on your business and not in your business”
  • Getting paid on time. Don’t act as the bank of your customer. If you have done a good job then you need to get paid on time every time. Your money is sitting in somebody else’s account.
  • Done is better than perfect.

He elaborated on what the key traits of the leadership of a larger company which were

  1. Define the vision
  2. Find the right team
  3. Don’t run out of money

What would you tell a class of leaving certs in 60 seconds?

I loved this question and his concise answer.

  1. Be yourself – don’t try and be someone else
  2. Believe in yourself – have confidence – you are your biggest critic so go easy on yourself
  3. Find a mentor/coach/friend who you look up to and trust. They believe in you, want you to do well, but will be honest too
  4. Consume positive things. Your mind needs this. He mentioned a book called The Nibble Theory
  5. Risk. Take some. He used the analogy of a ship that is safe in the harbour but a ship wasn’t built to sit in the harbour


What I loved about the webinar was the pure honesty of Sean. He wasn’t there trying to sell anything. He was trying to help. His knowledge and help are coming from experience. He had many challenges and business upheavals and his focus and drive got him through. He is passionate about business-people and young people. He admitted that entrepreneurship could be a very lonely place at times. That’s why he couldn’t recommend enough to get a business coach or mentor. He advised to observe the mistakes of others and that it’s “the second mouse that gets to eat the cheese”.

Thanks to Elaine Business All Stars for putting this event on and a massive thank you to Sean. I hope he won’t get his lawyers onto me for any errors in the above!

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