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The Serial Entrepreneur

Norman Crowley at the KPMG Private Enterprise Inspire Series.

Pictured at the latest KPMG Inspire Series event: Ryan McCarthy, KPMG Partner; Norman Crowley, Crowley Carbon; and Olivia Lynch, KPMG partner.

The challenge of climate change will be met by private sector innovation and inventiveness and not by government policy changes or other state interventions, according to serial entrepreneur and Crowley Carbon founder Norman Crowley.

Speaking at the latest KPMG Private Enterprise Inspire Series event, Crowley uses the contrasting market fortunes of smartphones and electric vehicles (EVs) as an example. “Why do you have a smartphone?” he asks. “Was it because of a government subsidy or a state policy intervention that said people should use them? No, it’s because a smartphone is a great piece of kit. Why don’t you drive an electric vehicle? It’s because the invention is not good enough yet. Corporations are very good at invention and innovation.

“Look at the pace of climate change. It’s not the fault of governments. It’s due to a massive failure of invention but that is changing. Next year there will be a new Kia EV on the market costing €27,000 and it will be 25 times cheaper to run than an equivalent petrol or diesel car. You will never buy a new petrol or diesel car again in those circumstances.”

The Inspire Series: an opportunity for entrepreneurs to get together to share war stories and to learn from each other.

Olivia Lynch, Partner, KPMG Private Enterprise

At the event, Crowley traced his career from training as a welder at the age of 15 while still at school, to founding his own engineering business which he sold for a six figure sum while in his early 20s, building Ireland’s second largest computer sales, distribution and internet services firm, establishing the Inspired Gaming Group, the world’s largest sever based gaming company, which he sold for $500 million in 2008, and creating The Cloud – Europe’s largest Wi-Fi operator.

Undoubtedly he could have retired at that point but was driven to move on to another venture. He had the idea for Crowley Carbon – an energy efficiency company dedicated to helping corporations lower their energy consumption, fully six months before selling Inspired Gaming. He recalls taking a two-week family holiday in Portugal following the sale and spending most of it on the phone setting up Crowley Carbon.

“My wife says I’m like a chain smoker when it comes to start-ups”, he says. “I’ve got two in my mouth and two burning in the ashtray all the time.”

Anton Savage interviews Norman Crowley at the latest KPMG Inspire Series event.

Anton Savage interviews Norman Crowley at the latest KPMG Inspire Series event.

The impetus behind the new venture was a desire to do something about climate change. “This is how our world is going to end if we don’t do something about it”, he says. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report says that between 200 million and 1 billion people will die between now and 2050 as a result of climate change. If you don’t believe that, you haven’t read the report. And if you have read the IPCC report and the other literature and still don’t believe it, you’re an idiot.

“I can sit in a boat and let it happen or I can make my 0.0001 per cent contribution to help. I knew another start-up was going to take up at least another 10 years of my life and I wanted it to have an impact. And I didn’t want my children to think it was just about the money. When we started up job one was to make money and job two was to cool the planet. We reversed that about a year ago and we’re making even more money.”

If you are not a purpose-led business you are going to have problems. You won’t get talent and customers coming to you...

Norman Crowley, CEO, Crowley Carbon


That profit and purpose combination is not unusual in today’s world, according to Crowley. “There is an interesting transition happening globally”, he says. “If you are not a purpose-led business you are going to have problems. You won’t get talent and customers coming to you if you are not purpose-driven. I talk to oil companies and they are not able to get talent now because they are pulling fossil fuels out of the ground.”

Issues such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes have long been important to corporates, entrepreneurs and firms such as KPMG in attracting talent. According to KPMG’s Olivia Lynch, “We see that in our own business and those of our clients. And it’s not enough just to say you have certain values, you have to live them as well.”

Achieving results the right way

And living those values sometimes means taking hard decisions. “We fired a supplier last year because they didn’t to behave honourably and ethically”, says Crowley. “They came back eight weeks later and apologised and said they would fix it. They did fix it and we were able to work with them again.”

This sort of interaction is a growing feature of the business landscape. “The dynamic is changing”, says Lynch. “It’s not just about giving tax or other business advice anymore. It’s about going on a journey with a client and helping them achieve the right results in the right way.”

This article first appeared in The Irish Times, and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

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