REEL­ING THEM IN

Why Chic Mcsherry is hooked on Mex­ico

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TH­ESE are in­ter­est­ing times for ChicMcSherry. The se­rial IT en­tre­pre­neur from Glas­gow has re­cently seen the launch of the lat­est ver­sion of his com­pany’s Iport Busi­ness Plat­form and a spe­cial­ist book­ing busi­ness in Cabo San Lu­cas on Mex­ico’s Baja penin­sula. Plus there is the pub­li­ca­tion of his sec­ond novel and the re­lease this month of his band, La Paz’s, sec­ond al­bum. But more of that later.

McSherry’s ven­ture in Mex­ico came af­ter more than 25 years in the soft­ware busi­ness. Al­ready es­tab­lished in the US and Canada, Iport Soft­ware In­ter­na­tional has clients in the UK that in­clude West Coast Rail, NHS Health Scot­land, Spar and char­tered sur­vey­ors DM Hall.

The com­pany says that its Iport Busi­ness Plat­form en­ables busi­nesses in sec­tors that range from HR sys­tems and pur­chas­ing to cus­tomer ad­vice and on­line shop- ping to use the web in a more in­te­grated way to gen­er­ate traf­fic and sales.

It’s ob­vi­ously a lot more com­pli­cated than that but as McSherry says: “We han­dle the jar­gon and the com­put­erese. We spend a lot of time talk­ing to peo­ple, ask­ing them what is go­ing on in their busi­ness and how we can in­crease ef­fi­ciency – rather than talk­ing about ‘plat­forms’ and tech­nol­ogy.”

That ap­proach suc­ceeded when West Coast Rail se­lected Iport’s soft­ware to im­ple­ment an in­te­gra­tion pro­ject in­volv­ing sev­eral of its in­ter­nal sys­tems re­lat­ing to train time per­for­mance and en­gi­neer­ing data to im­prove its cus­tomer man­age­ment func­tions.

The com­pany is the lat­est in a se­ries of IT ven­tures pi­o­neered by McSherry, who left school at 17 and qual­i­fied as a met­al­lur­gist when Scot­land still had a steel in­dus­try. He has barely stood still since.

“I started in the IT busi­ness as a com­mis­sion-only sales­man of com­puter sys­tems, which in those days was mainly hard­ware.

“Be­ing fear­less and prob­a­bly naïve then, I thought that busi­ness peo­ple had plenty of time on their hands and that I would have money com­ing in while play­ing gui­tar in a rock band. How­ever, the band folded and the busi­ness flew.”

That busi­ness be­came Prosys, ini­tially sell­ing ac­count sys­tems and t hen ERP ( En­ter­prise Re­source Plan­ning), in­clud­ing in­ven­tory man­age­ment and man­u­fac­tur­ing. The advent of the in­ter-

‘WE ASK HOW WE CAN IM­PROVE BUSI­NESS RATHER THAN TALK ABOUT THE TECH­NOL­OGY’

net was the game changer though McSherry ad­mits he was ini­tially scep­ti­cal about the tech­nol­ogy and de­liv­ery be­cause of the ini­tial lack of in­fra­struc­ture.

“At that stage I was more ex­cited about what you could achieve in­ter­nally, though in­tranets, and we were run­ning those in our own busi­ness back in 1998.”

In com­mon with many new-tech com­pa­nies, it was dealt a blow by the dot.com crash of 2000-20001 but Prosys stayed afloat. It was, he says, al­ways funded or­gan­i­cally, from within, with no in­sti­tu­tional in­vestors to an­swer to.

“We were play­ing the longer game,” says McSherry.

“The longer game”, “in­ter­est­ing”, “fun” and “get­ting out of the com­fort zone” are re­cur­ring themes with McSherry, re­veal­ing a com­bi­na­tion of acu­men and fo­cus with an ab­so­lute de­ter­mi­na­tion to make busi­ness – and life – en­joy­able.

By the mid 2000s, it was ap­par- ent that the com­pany had evolved into three busi­nesses, all do­ing slightly dif­fer­ent things. “It seemed crys­tal clear to me that soft­ware was the more in­ter­est­ing route so we sold the as­sets of Prosys and kept the Iport part of the busi­ness – the busi­ness plat­form and in­ter­net soft­ware.”

In a for­tu­itous flash of pre­science that McSherry says was sparked by “noth­ing in par­tic­u­lar”, he put the ‘i’ in the com­pany moniker long be­fore the ar­rival of the iPod and iPad.

Amus­ingly, he re­calls, it was a move that once saw him booked to share a speak­ing plat­form with the mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of Ap­ple. And it was to the US that he was in­creas­ingly drawn, frus­trated by a grasp of the pos­si­bil­i­ties of IT there that was not yet mir­rored in Scot­land.

“I was read­ing Inc Mag­a­zine and other busi­ness and IT pub­li­ca­tions com­ing out of the US. They were speak­ing the same lan­guage as us

but when we went into meet­ings in Scot­land peo­ple weren’t – and the first stage of sales was to ed­u­cate them. So I thought I’d go to the US and see what hap­pened.”

With an ex­ist­ing client in the oil and gas in­dus­try whose main op­er­a­tion was in Hous­ton, Texas, McSherry ap­proached the over­seas trade and in­vest­ment agency Scot­tish Devel­op­men­tIn­ter­na­tional and the re­sult was a pos­i­tive one.

“They were bril­liant,” says McSherry. “They put us in touch with [sup­port net­work] Global Scots and helped us with of­fice space so we that could get to work im­me­di­ately. They got us the start we needed; some­where we could hang our hat.”

In a sin­gu­larly rare oc­cur­rence of bad tim­ing his first trip to the US was caught up in a national – and global – disas­ter. In­cred­i­bly, he ar­rived on Septem­ber 10, 2001. “My first meet­ing in Hous­ton was sched­uled for 9/11. That clearly wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen,” he re­calls wryly. Un­daunted, he re­turned af­ter a year. “This time it stuck. Busi­ness there went well and is still gen­er­at­ing de­cent rev­enues, de­spite the re­ces­sion. We’ve just ac­quired a ma­jor client in North Carolina that will start to open doors be­yond t he oi l and gas sec­tor.”

And so to Mex­ico. McSherry, a keen sports fish­er­man, was in pur­suit of mar­lin, preda­tory piscine tor­pe­does reach­ing 16 feet in length and ca­pa­ble of more than 60 mph – the heroic, sym­bolic, op­po­nent in Hem­ing­way’s The Old Man and the Sea. Though he had caught ev­ery other species the striped mar­lin still eluded him and Cabo San Lu­cas was the

of des­ti­na­tions. “I went there, asked for a book­ing and they brought out an old hard-backed diary with scrib­bles in it. So I said, ‘lis­ten, you’re tak­ing book­ings for 40 boats and this is your sys­tem?’ I thought we could do some­thing bet­ter for them and we pitched to the own­ers and de­vel­oped a book­ing engine which gave us a whole new mar­ket.” This in turn led to icabo.com, an in­ter­ac­tive tourist in­for­ma­tion re­source for the town. For the record, he also caught the striped mar­lin.

“We are go­ing in the di­rec­tion of com­bin­ing the best of Google, TripAd­vi­sor and Face­book with po­ten­tial in Puerto Val­larto and Can­cun. There are also pos­si­bil­i­ties in Ma­jorca – and there’s no rea­son it couldn’t work in Troon; the plat­form is the same, it’s fran­chis­able and it has the po­ten­tial to be a big one,” he says.

McSherry has had the con­fi­dence to in­vest $500,000 in the ven­ture – “that takes nerve and con­vic­tion dur­ing a re­ces­sion” – and is now un­der­pinned by fund­ing by Co­ralinn, the in­vest­ment ve­hi­cle of Cale­do­nian Al­loys co­founder Hugh Stew- art, which owns 50% com­pany.

Re­cently, af­ter re-es­tab­lish­ing con­tact with old rocker pal Doo­gie White, for­mer vo­cal­ist with Richie Bl a c kmore’s Rain­bow a nd cur­rently on a world tour with vet­eran hard rock out­fit the Scor­pi­ons, the pair put their band La P a z b a c k to­gether af­ter 20 years. As w e l l a s r e l e a s i n g their sec­ond al­bum this month, The

Dark and

of

the the Light, they also play gigs to ben­e­fit a chil­dren’s char­ity in, nat­u­rally, La Paz, Mex­ico. Plus McSherry’s sec­ond novel, Lone Star, which fea­tures a be­mused Texan parachuted into Glas­gow’s g a n g l a n d , h a s j u s t b e e n pub­lished.

He sounds gen­uinely taken aback – and de­lighted. “Here I am, aged nearly 55 and ready to re­lease my sec­ond rock al­bum.”

And with two sons, aged 18 and 20, he con­sid­ers it es­sen­tial to his pa­ter­nal duty to en­sure that they are “well and truly mor­ti­fied by what I do”.

Iport Soft­ware now has a team of four in Mex­ico and there is no doubt that the prod­uct there will be put through its paces. McSherry trav­els to check on progress at least four times a year.

“I of­ten talk about the im­por­tance of get­ting out of my com­fort zone; now I’m ac­tu­ally us­ing and re­ly­ing on my own prod­uct – and that’s the acid test.”

McSherry was lured to Mex­ico by the prospect of mar­lin

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