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Monday, June 23, 2014

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Noel May, Serial Entreprenuer and CEO of AgilisBarcelona Footwear Our Coverage Sponsored by Stribling and Associates

Noel May

For over 30 years, Stribling and Associates has represented high-end residential real estate, specializing in the sale and rental of townhouses, condos, co-ops, and lofts throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, and around the globe. Stribling has more than 200 professional brokers who use their respected expertise to provide personalized service to buyers and sellers at all price levels. A separate division, Stribling Private Brokerage, discreetly markets properties over $5 million, and commands a significant market share in this rarified sector of residential real estate. Stribling is the exclusive New York City affiliate of Savills, a leading global real estate advisor with over 200 office in 48 countries. 

Whom You Know Congratulates their new President, Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan: 

Noel May is a serial Entrepreneur who over his career has demonstrated a exceptional ability to anticipate market trends.  
Due to his Father's death when he was 13, Noel at 16 joined the small family business of cable TV and CCTV installation in 1969. Over the next few years via home and on the job study, he taught himself how to design the electronic circuitry for cable TV head ends. This helped secure the development of the family company.

In 1974 aged 21, he decided to form his own company with 2 partners importing home electronics from the far east under his new company’s brand Teletone, distributing to retailers in the UK and Ireland. Noel was CEO of the company.  
This quickly became successful and brought about the requirement to computerize accounting and customer management. In 1975, Noel introduced computer systems into the company and also added computer imports and sales to the company’s portfolio. This aspect of the company’s business fascinated Noel and he decided to work on designing and developing the company’s own solutions.  
This led to him selling his share of Teletone to his two partners and committing all his resources to form a new company to design and develop computer technology.

In 1978, Noel founded Transtec Computers with a design team recruited from Trinity College Dublin Micro Electronics department. The first computers to be developed proved successful in the UK, Germany and Ireland and the business with the help of external Venture Capital funds developed quickly. In 1981, Transtec had secured a OEM contract to build its computer systems for a large USA company in the space and committed its team to expand in the USA.  However, in November 1981, IBM launched its PC and as Transtec’s technology was not compatible (MS DOS vs CPM operating systems) sales within months completely dried up and within a year the company went bust in late 1982. As Noel was personal guarantor for some of the company’s bank borrowings, he had to dispose of all of his assets including his family home to settle the debts.

Shortly after this sad result, he was offered a Managing Director position in a company that had been a Transtec, UK customer.  
Starting in 1983 as managing Director of one of the SK Computers group companies, he and his family moved to live in the UK. SK was successfully sold in 1987.  
That year, Noel founded ‘World Wide Technology’ a consultancy company taking fledgling USA high tech companies into Europe. WWT acted as the remote sales and marketing arm for the client companies, establishing distribution channels and training and supporting those distributors until the USA company was of a size to justify their own European offices. This proved a successful formula but Noel felt after several years that he wanted to develop his own high tech ideas and bring them to market.

Thereafter in 1991, he founded Raidtec Corporation with two USA-based partners. As CEO, Noel managed how Raidtec designed, manufactured and marketed high end network storage systems and software.  
Research and development and manufacturing were carried out in the USA and Ireland with sales offices also in the UK, Italy and Germany. Raidtec became over the years predominantly owned by Venture Capital investors and in 2003, the company was sold.

Having spent 25 years in the Electronics / Computing industry, Noel felt it was a good opportunity to consider a completely different field. His desire was to bring new products to market that would enhance the lives of people and give the user personal satisfaction. This goal after much searching brought him into the footwear industry by becoming the Distributor for MBT physiological footwear in Ireland, UK and Spain.

In 2003 Noel founded iAccess Corporation to import and distribute MBT physiological footwear. This proved very successful especially in Spain and Ireland.  
Sadly in 2012, MBT's corporate Swiss parent company went bankrupt.  However, Noel had already decided that what they had learned in the wellness footwear business over the previous ten years could well be applied to their own designed and manufactured footwear. Therefore, the AgilisBarcelona brand was born to capitalize on the growth and awareness of ‘health enhancing’ footwear. As a result of this intense development in 2013, the first Agilis products were brought to market in Spain, where they are manufactured. In 2014 Noel and his team oversaw the expansion of Agilis sales to the UK, Ireland, France and the USA.

Headquartered in Ireland, with offices in Spain, the UK and the USA, Noel directs with two of his sons the business growth and product development. Many more countries will be added to the company’s sales and distribution channels over the coming two to three years.  
Noel and the AgilisBarcelona team’s goal is to bring great feeling shoes that are good for you to the style conscious public.   We are absolutely thrilled to present Noel May as the latest Mover and Shaker in this exclusive interview.   Peachy Deegan interviewed Noel for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: How do you define serial entrepreneur? 
Noel May: 
A person who seeks opportunities to develop new businesses and has the confidence and courage to grasp them. Who has done this several times over years. Who intuitively ‘knows’ where things are likely to move to next.

What market trends have you predicted in the past that came to fruition, and what do you think were the catalysts leading up to your predictions?
The first ‘new’ trend spotted and capitalized on was LED watches and VHS video machines in the 70’s, my first company Teletone capitalized on those developments ahead of competition. Then Personal Computer trends, we were the first company in the UK and Ireland to manufacture monitors for Apple 1 and BBC micro computers.  
In Transtec Computers we anticipated the need for ‘networking’ many our PC’s together and developed and launched at the same time as Novell, network solutions for our computers in the 1980s. In 1990, I sketched out designs for fault tolerant disk drive array’s anticipating this requirement for very large and fast but highly secure fault tolerant storage of data, thus RAIDTEC was formed in 1991. In 2003, I anticipated that health related footwear would become important as a part of the baby boomers fight against physical wear and tear as we age.  
The catalyst to those predictions was an intense interest in reading and studying issues in the fields that were of interest to me at the time and seeking solutions to those issues.

What do you remember most about your father and how did he influence you - also, was he an entrepreneur? 
My Father was a strong disciplinarian, he taught me mainly two things that have greatly influenced me for good. First a love of reading as a means to assimilate knowledge and second to love truthfulness no matter what or where that leads. My father worked as a fish butcher for a local shop, he died of liver cancer at age 51, so there was no legacy of entrepreneurship.

What were the electronics and computer industries like in the 1970s in Ireland and did you anticipate what they'd be like in 2014 back then?
 In the 1970’s in Ireland there was no local infrastructure for any significant electronics or the IT industry. This made developing products in these fields more difficult then areas where there were technical hubs where companies could feed off and into each other (like California’s Silicon Valley). This forced us to seek expertise from around the world which turned out to be a good thing (other then the higher costs it imposed) as it made us measure ourselves against the best in the world.  
The Irish government planners also saw this issue clearly and so the Ireland Development Authority became very active in promoting Ireland as place for mainly US companies to set up their European operations. This has proved immensely successful and so today in 2014 there are several world class technical hubs that now have e-scale to feed each other. I hoped that this would develop but in truth I did not expect it to be so successful.

Do you miss these fields? 
Yes-for the excitement of very fast technological changes but no in that what we are doing now has more personal benefits in wellness for our customers.

What makes a good CEO and what skills and attributes do they have? 
First and foremost a leader that his staff trusts. A clear and decisive decision maker. A person not afraid to accept that he or she sometimes gets it wrong. A person who does not micro manage but fosters talent. A person who will not ignore intuition.

Have you taken the Briggs-Myers test and if so, are you an ENTJ
No never did that test but I suspect I would be in that direction.

What have you learned from business ventures that did not turn out the way you wanted them to? Never underestimate the competition (my lesson on what IBM did with the PC was a very costly one). Do not expect that people will always do the ‘right’ thing. Therefore get daily/weekly reports on the key issues and read and act on those reports. Do not rely on VC funders to do what is best for the company.

Our personal experience and our observation of those in the field professionally and those that shop tells us that footwear is one of the most joyful professions to be in. What do you find positive and exciting about footwear and out of everything in the world, why did you choose this discipline to transition into? 
This is a very good and interesting observation. We focus on the ‘wellness’ footwear sector and this more than most gets wonderful feed back from users of our products. I find this exciting and fulfilling. Satisfied customers who have been helped in some way to have more enjoyment in their everyday lives (e.g can stand longer without being fatigued, can walk without pain) is what is the most satisfying about our business. Being profitable does not hurt either though! After many years in the IT world I chose footwear accidentally. At the time (2003) I was seeking opportunities in the general health and wellness areas for my next venture and came across the most ugly footwear from the Swiss brand MBT who had many health benefit claims, which proved on investigation true. The MBT distribution for several countries was available, so I grabbed that as a challenge. By applying the successful business methods developed in my IT career to the footwear business proved very successful for many years.

Do you feel your footwear brand has greater advantages from a computer/technological/electronic standpoint because of your past experience and if so, how?
Well, we and our businesses are a summation of what we have learned over the years in life in general not just business. So yes, my current business has more advantages from the wisdom gleaned over the years in all other businesses and also the network of important contacts with colleagues who have become friends are now a greater advantage.

What should the world know about AgilisBarcelona? 
In AgilisBarcelona our products' ability to give joy and comfort when wearing them combined with clear physiological benefits and on trend style make us stand apart. We will listen to customers requirements and wishes and continue to develop ‘solutions’ to these needs and desires.

We are huge proponents of Ireland and of course Cork, because Peachy lived in Cork city for six months and was a student at UCC. What should everyone know about Cork and Ireland? 
Ireland and Cork are renowned for being Green and beautiful geographically. I believe firmly more important than that are the people; Irish people are great talkers (and writers), love fun and family. As a small island nation, we have always looked outward for achievement and know we have to work damn hard to be up with the best from around the world. This makes us exceptionally good business partners for world wide customers.

If you were putting together a list of places to go in Cork, what would top the list and why?
My favourites are Kinsale for food and a beautiful small town environment. Blarney for the ‘crack’. Garnish Island for its unique and exquisite beauty.

Other than you, what are the best Irish brands both established and new and what are their most competitive products?
Ireland stands out in world markets for food and drink which plays to the green strength. So Kerry Gold butter and dairy products, Guinness (of course), Jameson Whisky, Jefferson Smurfit for paper products, Ryanair for European flights. Besides those brands, the biggest exports from Ireland are Pharmaceuticals and IT which are dominated by international world brands. 

How do you define slick working team, how do you motivate people and how do you know whom to trust?
A slick team, who although have each specific expertise and responsibility act like generalists and so are eager to help each other when needed and especially they anticipate such need.  
You motivate people by mainly generating a understanding that you care for them, you as leader look out for their well being ahead of your own. Recognise and acknowledge their achievements for the business. You treat people fairly and even-handedly with rewards when appropriate.  
I always start on the basis that people are trustworthy (but don’t forget to get regular reports) over time that trust is either confirmed or not. I also talk about trust a lot when recruiting individuals so that they are keenly aware of the standards expected in this area.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
This may sound odd but in the Bible there is a scripture that says “whatever you are doing work at it whole souled as to God” that sentiment has overall guided my desire to always do the very best I can and to imbue that spirit into my teams.

What are you proudest of and why? 
My five children, each of them have turned out to be well-rounded as individuals, self-sufficient and very interesting people.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do? 
Take a company public.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession? 
I won a government Irish entrepreneur of the year award, which was very satisfying and a surprise as I specifically don’t participate in organizations that issue these awards. 

What one word best describes you and why? 
Tenacious. I always see things through to a conclusion.

What do you take your sense of identity from? 
My Faith.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan? 
Central Park, especially the area around ‘Strawberry Fields’ the John Lennon memorial.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? 
 MACY’s as it's got almost everything and I hate shopping!

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why? 
Jonathon Ives (Apple legendary designer), think what innovations his design sense could bring to footwear!

What is your favorite drink? 
Jameson Irish whiskey, of course.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party? 
Being at the wrong one!

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 
Patsy’s on West 56th 

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattanliterature? 
 J D Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, main character Holden Caulfield.

Who would you like to be for a day and why? 
 Barack Obama, to sign an order for a complete withdrawal from overseas military actions.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? 
The Rink at Rockefeller Centre. It makes so many people happy.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? 
Chasing and catching a taxi!

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? 
Walk the High Line Park

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why? 
Jesus Christ, to understand his teachings better.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? 
Visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, if only there was more time to spend there!

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
 Volunteer weekly to teach people the bible. Paid to have a school built in Kenya.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan? 
High Line Park underrated and Times Square overrated.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
 Cultured Peachy, since she's written on every exhibit the Metropolitan Museum of Art has done for more then five years, and Take a Trip to Ireland, no better way to unwind.

Have you tried The Peachy Deegan yet and if not, why not? 
It's on my to do list.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
 I have a wonderful wife, and am blessed with 5 children and 7 grandchildren.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?

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