Niall Norton is a UCD BComm graduate. He has a very successful career in the telecommunications sector and is CEO of Openet (an Amdocs Company), a world leading Digital BSS company that provides data management solutions. When Niall is not working, he enjoys a little cycling, swimming, science fiction and not surprisingly taking old computers apart.
1. What is your fondest memory from your time as a UCD student?
There are a few really special memories – involvement with Commerce Day and the Commerce & Economics Society in particular, but my fondest memory has to be my first day – having come from a boarding school environment the college atmosphere was amazing. On that first day I very quickly met up with new friends as well as some school friends and we formed a very tight bond that persists to this day (although sadly only really now at reunion events!). On that first day, one of our lecturers declared that we were to dream big and be ambitious as we would be future leaders… and she was right. If you don’t try, you have no chance of winning. So being brave was the hallmark lesson from that day.
2. What was your UCD experience like – the social scene, classes, lecturers?
Busy! I really enjoyed both the academic and social aspects of college life at UCD. It was a valuable lesson – you get back proportionate to the investment you make in things. While I was not the brightest or most hard-working student, I found the UCD experience helped shape a lot of ideas and beliefs about work and business life that stood to me throughout my career. Curiosity is probably the best lesson I took away from UCD. It was during my BComm that I really learned what “Ad Astra” meant – and I think that is a personal journey for every student, but for me it was to overcome being shy, take risks even if you fear failure and realise that you need to constantly ask “why not?”. When I started college, I was a very fresh 17-year-old. I was a little bit wiser, and humbler, graduating at 20!
3. How has your degree benefited your career?
My degree has been the foundation to my career, I have no doubt about that. I can always look back in hindsight and see where I might have made different choices, where things could have been better but I think that is to lose sight of what is really valuable about college. There is an old expression that says fortune favours the prepared mind and this is what the BComm did for me.
4. What decisions have you made in your working life which were directly impacted by your time as a student?
Interesting question. As a student I learned the importance of being honest and reliable, being hard-working, being humble and how really important relationships with people are. I am not always outstanding at any of these things – but I try always to be, and probably the only real regret I have is if I fall short of the standards that I set for myself in these areas. So, while not being decisions per-se, my student life taught me the importance of being aware of these important characteristics and I consciously decided that I would try to always do my best in these areas.
5. What failures have you learnt from?
I have had lots of failures along the way. Happily, fewer failures than wins – but I have been involved in projects, businesses and relationships that just didn’t work out the way that I would have hoped. But failure isn’t a lesson in and of itself – the lesson comes from being honest with yourself as to why things failed. I don’t know if I really learned everything I could have from failure – but I do know I have tried to learn, that’s the hardest part.
6. What are your tips for success?
My father had a few great expressions – “measure twice and cut once” and “avoid cowboys and messers” – and these are really good pieces of advice in business. What I would add to that wisdom is that success, like contentment or any harmony, comes from within. My personal compass in life has been to push forward with energy and enthusiasm in whatever I do – whether it’s working in McDonald’s or selling software. The fact that ‘people deal with people they like’ is an ageless truism – and people like positive people they can trust and who give them energy. So if you can bring positive energy to whatever you do, then you won’t go wrong. You need luck, you need hard work, and you need to be clever and not foolhardy. That puts you in the best place for good things to happen.
7. How have you adapted to working remotely and not being able to travel for work, meet colleagues, since the global pandemic began?
Pretty well overall. I wish I could get more enthusiasm for regular exercising but on rainy days it’s hard – and my wardrobe is suffering from what seems like shrinking clothes! In the past 12 months, our business has operated remotely almost completely and that requires us to do things differently – from hiring, reviewing and planning and even delivering our software to customers. But we are very fortunate that technology facilitates this now better than at any time in history – and as Openet software is part of the technology solution, it is exciting.
8. Tell us about Openet and your role as CEO ?
Openet develops complex middleware software products for telecommunications companies. Many of our customers are cellular networks, but we also serve satellite, internet-fibre and cable customers too.
Prior to Openet being acquired by Amdocs in 2020, my role was to lead the management team in creating strategy and helping the team to manage their business units as well as possible. It also involved fundraising, selling, and customer, employee and shareholder relationship management. It was great fun on most days. But it had some challenging days too.
Post-acquisition, my job is a little less defined – I now lead a business unit inside a much larger parent company. This involves a fair bit of politics and requires a different form of influencing and internal selling.
9. What do you attribute to the global success of Openet?
Hard work. Never for a second believing it would not be a success. Being humble and introspective about what was working and what wasn’t working so well. And, passion for what we do – you have to be authentic in how you approach your business, or you will fail. You need missionaries, not mercenaries.
10. How do you handle stress and pressure?
There are definitely good and bad versions of stress. I lean into circumstances to get the former and try to avoid the latter. But in dealing with the bad stress, I find it extremely helpful to seek a broader perspective – so that I can rationalise the challenge and find a calm in how to deal with it. I believe you should be motivated by passion but rarely make decisions based on it alone. Family and very close friends in particular are a great source of levelling and perspective gathering; talking and sharing concerns can be very therapeutic.
11. What is the proudest moment of your career to date?
There are a few proud moments; the runaway success of Digifone, the successful IPO with O2, Openet being the software that enabled the first iPhone and then iPad services in the USA market for AT&T, and in 2011 when Openet won the E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Ireland. But funnily enough the proudest moment for me is actually much more mundane – as Finance Manager years ago, one of my staff got a degree that I had encouraged them to attempt and that was the moment that I am most proud of if I am being honest. I believe that a fulfilling career is one in which you do some good or provide good service to society and being able to make a positive impact is what really makes me proud.
12. What is life outside of work like for you – interests, hobbies, pastimes?
Quiet. I enjoy reading and occasionally try to write (but do so badly). I enjoy science fiction and trying to learn some aspects of physics although I really am not good at the maths. I do a little cycling and some swimming. I am a moderate skier, a reasonable shot with a shotgun and an average fisherman. I like taking old computers apart and messing around with trying to do some computer programming. I do enjoy a glass of red wine and enjoy meeting friends for dinner and things like that. And I try to help mentor entrepreneurs when I can.
13. And finally, are there any rules you live by?
if I am committed to something, I always try to do my best. That sometimes means not committing to things that people ask you to do which can be awkward – but when I get involved with something then I do my very best at it. Loyalty is really important to me, as is being sincere, reliable and dependable.
I try to do some good with the time I have rather than waste it or be negative; I think this is truly important if you want to avoid living with regrets – regret would be my form of hell.