IT’S a sure sign of his entrepreneurial spirit that having sold one of his companies in 2008 for half a billion dollars, Norman Crowley took a short break of two weeks before he was back in the office coming up with his next business idea.
Speaking to The Southern Star, on a recent visit to his home town of Clonakilty, Norman (45), CEO of Carbon Crowley said he puts it down to the ‘Crowley spirit.’
‘I guess I have always been the classic entrepreneur and was always more interested in solving problems,’ said Norman.
‘By the time I was 15 years old my dad had taught me how to weld so by the time I was doing my Leaving exams in Clonakilty Community College I had other people working for me and I was working on stuff too. We always loved technology growing up and what happened over time is that it morphed from a welding business to a technology business. This was around the mid 90s and we started to build a software/ hardware business.’
Following a relocation to Dublin, the company was re-named Trinity Commerce and was employing almost 180 people in five different countries and became one of the first eCommerce service companies in the world.
‘We had got quite big and we were a bit of a poster child for the dot.com boom as we had grown from nothing and we didn’t have any investors and we were making money.
‘We then found ourselves the subject of a bidding war between Esat Digiphone and Eircom as both wanted to buy us. So we sold the majority stake, not the whole lot of the business, to Eircom in the end and so I retired at 28.’
Not surprisingly, retirement didn’t suit Norman and he openly admits he got bored after three months.
But it was a visit to a bookmakers that sowed the seed for his next business adventure.
‘We had seen these slot machines in the bookies and how much income they take in. I had questioned why they didn’t just a put a screen on it and download the games but was told no one had yet got it right. So we went off and gave it a go and the third machine we built took £700 a week which the client was very impressed with and then they ordered 4,000 of those for their shops across the country.’
That was the beginning of Inspired Gaming Group –fast forward three of four years and the company had revenues of m a year and it was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2006.
‘Then in 2008 an Icelandic Hedge Fund, called FL approached and wanted to buy the business from us for bn dollars. We agreed to sell it and then it took about nine months to put the deal together. But famously in December 2007 it just all fell through as the world economy was in a flux and more so in Iceland.’
This is where Norman’s business spirit kicked back in after such a monumental event.
‘I takes you a while to get over something like that but if you talk to any entrepreneur who has done anything good or has done a series of business they haven’t done that without having a lot of knocks.’
While the share price fell they started building the business back up but stress was beginning to takes it toll on Norman. In the end he told his partner he wanted out and they sold the business for about half a billion dollars to a private equity fund.
‘You get a bit sick of the same industry everyday and the whole thing of being an entrepreneur is all about re-inventing,’ added Norman who took just two weeks off in Portugal before his next project. With plenty of ideas floating around for what they’d do next, it was both Norman and his wife Anne’s belief that if they were going to sign up for something it would have to have an impact on the world and at the time they felt that climate change and global warming could be an area to look at.
‘The one we looked at was energy efficiency because what we discovered was that companies waste about half the energy they consume. So we set up Crowley Carbon and we started off doing some work with some supermarkets for Musgrave and then started to move into factories and expanded into the UK.’
With their software expertise the company is able to monitor every single piece of equipment in real time to see if there are any problems and they have moved into battery storage and solar and other technologies.
‘The green message was that you have to suffer to support climate change but the technology was making it a lot cooler to do these things. So we set up a foundation, Cool Planet, to get this message across,’ he said.
The foundation builds visitor centres around the world to educate and engage the public about these changes. Richard Branson opened the first Cool Planet last January next to their offices in Powerscourt, Wicklow.
‘The next one we plan to open in is Dubia, we’ve raised m to build a Cool Planet there. The plan is to have 10 Cool Planets open over the next five years.
With offices all over the world the company, Crowley Carbon currently employs 140 people with plans to increase that to 200 by the end of the year and Norman hasn’t ruled out setting up a base in Cork either.