Liam Casey: The Innovation Interview

Liam Casey, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of PCH International shares his thoughts and insights on innovation, technology and development and supply chain management.

PCH creates, develops and delivers the world’s best technology products for the world’s best brands. The company employs 5,000 people around the world. PCH reported revenues of US$710 million in 2011, and 2010 revenue of US$413 million. The company moves 10 million parts every day with an annual retail value of approximately $8 billion.

Liam identified the enormous potential and opportunities for growth in China in the mid-1990s, and he founded PCH in Cork, Ireland in 1996. Liam is widely recognized as a thought leader on international trade and business in China. His entrepreneurial flair and talent for spotting new opportunities has revolutionized international commerce and disrupted traditional supply chain models, contributing to the success of many of the world’s largest technology brands. Liam’s vision for PCH has dramatically shortened the time-to-market for the latest products on the market. He developed a unique end-to-end integrated supply chain solution, including product design through to a fulfillment business that offers customers the longest global reach with the leanest supply chain inventories.

Liam was awarded Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year – Ireland accolade in 2007, Business & Finance International Irish Business Person of the Year in 2009 and All-Ireland Marketing Champion in 2012. Liam was admitted as a fellow of the Hong Kong Institute of Directors in June 2011. He was appointed International Start-up Ambassador to China by Enterprise Ireland, an Irish Government agency, in March 2012. Liam was also appointed a member of the Advisory Group for the Global Irish Network by the Irish Government in April 2012. He is currently Patron of the Asia Pacific Ireland Business Forum.

How do you define innovation and what does it mean to you?

To me, innovation means disrupting existing industries, systems, or products, and making the experience simpler and better for the end user.

What industry needs to embrace innovation and take more risks?

Every industry should embrace innovation. In the world of product development, I believe the banking industry needs to develop better solutions for entrepreneurs, particularly early to mid-stage startups. Entrepreneur Magazine shared some statistics recently that showed banks fund less than 1.5% of startups. There has to be an opportunity here.

What is the best piece of advice that you have been given and received?

The best advice I have been given by another successful business person is to not be afraid to dive into the details of your business. The best advice I can give anyone is to travel and don’t be held back by traditional boundaries or perceptions – we have a saying in our business today that “geography is history”.

What is your greatest achievement and why?

Hiring the best team I could find to help me build the business. It might be a cliché that people are the most important part of any business, but in PCH’s case, we really have the best people.

Newspapers and Books: Digital or Physical?

Both! The future of the publishing world is definitely digital but I am in a plane a lot, so I still read print copies of newspapers and magazines during takeoff and landing.

How were you able to grow PCH International from a one-employee sourcing company in 1996 to the largest employer in the Futian free-trade zone in Shenzhen, China?

We have always focused on customer service, and from the very beginning of the company, our purpose was Developing Partnerships Delivering Peace of Mind. Keeping the customer in mind and staying true to this purpose has allowed us to deliver on our promises and keep our customers, employees and investors happy.

What have been your greatest challenges building and running a business in China?

The challenges of running a business in China are no different than anywhere else in the world. Hiring and retaining the best people is the most important part of any business wherever you are in the world. We have operated in China since 1996. In the West, when people think of doing business in China, the first thing that comes to mind is low-cost manufacturing. Back in 2003, we made a decision to invest in our own facilities in China. In doing so, we knew for sure that Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta region had a lot more to offer than just cheap labour. We saw it as an innovative, creative and entrepreneurial place to operate, and the best location to run a global supply chain company.

With PCH International’s understanding of the supply chain and manufacturing of great products, what large challenges are companies in the Accelerator currently trying to solve with new innovative products?

We have two programs for startups, an incubator program, Highway1 (for early stage startups) and PCH Accelerator (for later stage startups with more than $1 million in funding. All of our companies are carefully chosen for their ability to fill a niche or to disrupt certain industries. Some of our most innovative products such as Lively in the Accelerator program are helping to improve the lives of the elderly through innovative technology.

How will PCH International help Xiaomi scale on an international stage?

We don’t go into details about our specific clients. We can help Chinese mainland companies to develop their products and we have the systems in place to fulfill products directly to international markets in a very short time frame – as short as 40 hours to Europe from China.

What is the next great product growth category and how are you positioning PCH International to benefit from this growth?

I couldn’t possibly choose just one category! There are so many exciting opportunities. I am particularly interested to see what’s next in the wearable technology industry.