Sunday Times feature on Xcentuate

by Alan Skehill

Sunday Times feature on Xcentuate

by Alan Skehill

by Alan Skehill

Operations are “the forgotten child of business”, said Bowe, whose clients today come from the financial services, pharmaceuticals and business process outsourcing sectors.

As a youngster, boxing gave Dubliner Ray Bowe confidence. “Where I went to school it was either bully or be bullied — there didn’t seem to be much in between. There was always someone who wanted to have a go.”
He loved the fitness element and the discipline, but above all appreciated the camaraderie at his club, St Saviour’s on Dorset Street.
On one occasion, a medal for Bowe arrived at the club but the official entrusted with delivery lost it. “He and his buddies spent the night scouring the streets with torches until it was found. There was no way they weren’t going to get it to me,” Bowe said.
He had lost his father at a young age and his mother was not keen to see him injured — “she always hated me boxing, she refused to come to a fight” — but it was the making of his teenage self.
Its lasting legacy was not his skills as a pugilist — he won at county and national level — but that the sport gave him “a great sense of trouble”, said Bowe. “It also made me fast, so I was very good at running away.”
A Fas course kick-started his career. The main appeal of a nine-month programme called Selling Financial Services was the fact that “we got paid for it”. Participants had to find their own work placements at the end, however, which during the recessionary times of 1987 was easier said than done.
Bowe had to sell himself to a number of businesses on the basis that “this won’t cost you anything” before finally landing a temporary placement in the filing room at Lifetime, Bank of Ireland’s life assurance business.
His trajectory got a boost from a chance meeting in the lift with a more senior staff member, Evelyn Bourke, now a director at Bank of Ireland and chief executive of Bupa, Britain’s largest health insurer.
“She asked me who I was and what I did. So I told her I’m Ray Bowe and I’m trying to reorganise the filing room. She said, ‘Show me,’ so I did — and within a week I was doing customer-facing work,” said Bowe, to whom Bourke is still a hero.
He went on to become IT manager at Lifetime, then director of customer services and operations at New Ireland Assurance, also part of Bank of Ireland, before becoming the bank’s head of vendor management. In all he spent 28 years with the group before leaving, in 2017, to set up Xcentuate.
A redundancy package helped but the loss of his monthly pay cheque did not faze him. “I’m not a worrier, I’m a risk assessor. I had also known from when I was in my twenties I would do it, because you’ve only one life.”
Bowe had spent a number of years as a director of New Ireland preparing it for sale, work which included overhauling its operations. The back office solution he deployed, from British outfit ActiveOps, had helped boost productivity significantly.
Having implemented the solution as a customer, he knew it worked. He also knew the company had no representation in Ireland. Together with former bank colleagues Dan Carroll and Alan Skehill, Bowe set up Xcentuate in 2017 to sell its products here.
“We had all been customers of the solution and had got a 22% productivity uplift from it,” he said.
Operations are “the forgotten child of business”, said Bowe, whose clients today come from the financial services, pharmaceuticals and business process outsourcing sectors.
Improving workflow enables organisations to plan better, optimising staff by swapping people to different roles depending on demand. In traditionally staid sectors, such as financial services, that has not always been how things are done. But here too confidence is key.
“In financial services companies, pretty much everybody has a third level degree, so this idea of people not being able to do two or three extra things isn’t correct — in fact, people are all up for it,” he said.
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