The public and private sectors are both clients of H-Training’s. We have worked with senior figures across An Garda Síochana, the Irish Prison Service, The ESB, the Department of Agriculture and a long list of local authorities. Additionally, we work with both big tech and a myriad of exciting start ups currently disrupting the Irish business landscape. However, an unfortunate animosity between these two sides has deepened in recent years, which makes for an interesting example of how snapshot dismissals can be so damaging.

The Private Sector: Fat Cat exploiters and Denis O’Briens?

The image of the exploitative entrepreneur is a relatively common one. Most often for people with little experience of the business world. The rise of Donald Trump the advent of zero hour contracts and the growing consolidation of wealth in the world all contribute to these stereotypes. Many argue that to get to the top you have to be vicious. Elon Musk’s lofty idealism doesn’t tolerate much dissent. Many people comment on how CEOs and senior leaders are dangerous and will bite if cornered. They are often single-minded in their determination that only seeks the bottom line. They are corrupt, malicious and uncaring. They are like Micheal O’Leary or Denis O’Brien. 

The Business Majority

However, this excludes perhaps the vast majority of leaders that many of us never hear from. The patient and steady leaders, who understand that the system is flawed, but also want to strive to improve it. Instead of commenting from the wings they are keenly active within the game, and many of them possess an amazing type of dynamism that is often lost on those who can’t see beyond the title or suit.

Take for example Ronan Dunne, an Irish accountant and CEO of Verizon Consumer Group, a firm with revenues of over $90 billion and 55, 000 staff, who was quoted in the Currency last year as saying :

“Capitalism has to change. But the idea that we can solve the world’s problems by excluding capital makes no sense”

He goes on to provide one of the most insightful and intelligent interviews you are ever likely to read. His assessments are deeply thought through and grounded in a real world wisdom. It is not the type of stuff that fits the exploitative model.

The Importance of Risk Takers

The importance of innovation and risk takers in our societies cannot be overstated. I have lost count lately of the number of tradesmen who have told me about how they scaled back their operation due to the difficulty in getting and managing men. It’s too much hassle many of them argue, and to be fair it is not hard to see why. Many people pursue less stress and time with their families, and this is obviously a commendable and value driven decision. But what of the employers? The visionaries, who even on a local level seek to build something, assume debt and take on people in the name of a bigger purpose. And who in the process of doing so create jobs and opportunity. Is there a more productive thing you can do in a society that create a job? Something that gives a family a livelihood and options along with a sense of dignity and purpose. How many of these entrepreneurs inspire others, who watch them operate and set up their own thing. This is about much more than money, it is a corollary effect of ambition. And furthermore, it is stressful and there are no guarantees. These people are often depicted, if they become millionaires, but the mid-level SMEs are often unknown, outside of the mainstream.

The World bank states that SMEs “represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. In Ireland SMEs account for 99.8% of total (active) enterprises and 65% of total employees. Therefore, SMEs are the main source of jobs in the Irish economy, according to a Seanad Public Consultation Committee Report published in 2019. What if many of the people who founded these business chose not to do so, how different would our economies be and how lacking in inspiration.

The Public Sector: A Cushy Number?

In a word: NO! We have worked with some very dynamic people in public sector settings. Often these people are deeply committed to their work and see it as a vocation. If you had witnessed the bone tiredness in the eyes of many our front-line workers in recent years, you would agree that the notion of the public sector being easy is patently ludicrous. We depend on these people in so many ways. And furthermore, it is such a broad collection of people and disciplines ranging across an Garda Síochana, the HSE to City architects and Engineers in local authorities, (many of whom emanate from the private sector) to Ordinance Survey Ireland to the Irish Navy, Revenue and a myriad of workers in between. The point is we are talking about a sector that employs over 300,000 people.

Underperformance is in all Sectors

But, the inefficiency people talk about is not a complete fallacy. There are people who have fallen under poor leadership in certain divisions or had their lights put out, who don’t work as hard. But these people are very present in the private sector too. Often people can be protected by the right relationship, no matter where they work. The PMDS system has been questioned regularly, as has accountability in the public sector. Many would argue that the unions provide too much protection. However, it must also be highlighted that the privileges of the public sector are available to anyone who wants them. You can fill out an application form if you think its so easy. You may even be surprised. This sense of sneering and looking down on an incredible hardworking group of people is not helpful. However, it is a very consistent practice. Is there not an argument in the value of supporting our public sector workers and affording them that safety net? Obviously this needs to be balanced with a sense of accountability, after all us taxpayers pay these wages (but don’t forget public sector workers are taxpayers too!).

The Complexity of Public Work

However, the real complexity of public work, which often goes unrecognised by those in the private sector is the great range of stakeholders involved in much of this work. For example, we have worked with many Senior Executive Engineers who had experience working on various projects such as Corks’ Dunkettle Interchange and Tramore Valley Park. With each of these initiatives a host of departments operate. The executive branches of both TII and Cork City Council do not want to stand over a repeat of the Children’s Hospital fiasco. Furthermore, you have contractors competing in a tendering system where lower cost supersedes quality. There are a host of vested interests, such as community organisations, environmental concerns and elected representatives. In the case of Tramore Valley park which was constructed on the site of a former dump, the EPA is kept a careful and steady eye on proceedings. These elements all greatly enhance the pressure on everyone involved and can make for fraught exchanges. And ultimately if something goes wrong, many people offer up dismissive soundbites about public servants. Many of the same people who have endured sleepless nights and great pressure to get all of the actors to collaborate constructively. And when they do succeed in producing outstanding results like the many Greenway projects that populate the country, they receive very little public praise, at best an award tucked away in the back pages of newspapers that very few naysayers read or take interest in.

Unfortunate Adversaries

What is unfortunate here is that the limits these sectors put on each other by at times operating as adversaries. These are often more cultural difference, but they hamper what we can achieve. The pandemic highlighted in very clear and uncertain terms the importance of the public sector. However, politics and public life can be a very fickle game, as 18-month-old-heroes are suddenly recast as arch villains. And we are not saying here that the government is by any means perfect. However, frustration often requires someone to blame, and the government certainly is responsible for the orderly running of the country despite the unprecedented and highly complex challenges it faces.

High Net Worth Heroes

But what of the return to a new sort of normality? Who will create the jobs and the exciting business’ and bring their considerable intellects and commitment to bare on the problems we face? The public sector and the political class can certainly lay the table here, but it will be entrepreneurs who will feed the family. Expansion and scalability are often seen as contrary to much of Ireland’s lifestyle values.. It does have to be recognised the leap people make as employers and the value inherent in this commitment. But, to say it again, those who work the 70 and 80 hour weeks, make an enormous commitment to our societies and create opportunity. One clients of H-Training’s recently commented on a call, how if he wanted to quit tomorrow, he most certainly had the means to do so, however he felt a commitment to the most junior people in his organisation, that prevented him from doing so. In H-Training’s eyes such leaders are heroes too. It inspires us to see how selfless much of this can be. But of course there are often personal and financial goals that drive these people forward too. And why should we denigrate those with dreams and a high net worth. There are not all Denis O’Brien. Many of them have endured risk after risk, for the purely belligerent conviction that they could make something happen.

We need to look at ourselves differently if we are to properly capitalise on the opportunity available from the dynamic and inspired actors on both sides of the public private debate!

If you’re looking for interview coaching or even further career coaching, career guidance, emotional intelligence testing get in touch with Ciarán and the H-Training team today. If you’re located at the other side of the recruiting desk, H-Training also offers comprehensive interview panel training, corporate group interview training and effective sales training programs.

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