ENTREPRENEUR
PROFILE

Liam Church & Fionnuala Higgins

Escher Group Holdings plc

Business Purpose

Escher Group provides technology solutions that shape how postal services, government, businesses and citizens interact, collaborate and conduct business.

 

Personal Bio

Liam Church is the CEO of Escher Group and is responsible for successfully positioning the company as the global leader in digital point of service for postal organisations. Under Liam’s direction, Escher Group has revolutionised how technology is utilised to promote business growth and increase profitability.  Liam strategically elevated and expanded the company’s core competencies into interactive services, including cutting-edge near field communications solutions. His unique vision for the company is driving record sales and expanding Escher Group’s presence into multiple new markets across the globe.  Prior to his leadership at Escher, Mr. Church was Chief Executive Officer at a successful wealth management company and held numerous senior positions during his 22-year tenure with the postal service in Ireland.

Fionnuala Higgins is Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Escher Group. She is responsible for implementing an aggressive growth strategy that has transformed Escher as a small company into one with an extensive global presence.  Before joining Escher Group, Fionnuala was co-founder and Head of Technology at Anshe Ltd, a company that was acquired by Escher in 2000. A 25-year veteran in the postal industry, Fionnuala held multiple senior management positions at An Post and was Technology Director for Post Consult International.

 

Company Profile

Escher Group was founded in 1989 in Boston, was acquired through an MBO in 2007 and moved its headquarters to Ireland.  Escher Group is the world’s leading supplier of digital point of service software with offices in five countries and employing 145 personnel across the globe, growing the Irish employee base from 20 to 64 since 2007.  Escher is primarily an export business with some 98% of revenue generated outside of Ireland. Escher’s R&D department was setup in 2008 and now employs 8 people to promote Ireland and Escher’s products in the international arena through white papers, conferences as well as participate in several international research groups.

Esher has become the global leader of postal point of service solutions with customers in 35 countries, predominantly postal organisations. Escher competes with and wins against the likes of SAP, Oracle, Fujitsu, NCR and IBM. In 2012 Escher secured it’s biggest ever contract by winning the United States Postal Service tender with a value in excess of USD 50m.  Their software is used by over 300,000 postal workers every day to deliver service to millions of consumers.

Since 2007 Escher has moved from being just a product provider to being a provider of outsourced services including product as a prime contractor.  This means that Escher has positioned itself higher up the value chain creating the potential to generate additional revenues and new business. Escher Group Holdings plc trades on the London Stock Exchange, AIM.

 

Products:

Escher’s Riposte® family of products is a seamlessly-integrated platform, connecting businesses, government agencies and consumers for the provision of transaction and payment services.  Escher’s software delivers customer-facing functionality at outlets, mobile devices, kiosks and internet as well as providing back office, data centre and integration functionality.

Escher Group’s Retail Division provides point of sale software, serving both the postal and courier markets. Escher’s core technology, Riposte® with RiposteEssential™, together provide a retail management solution to organisations which are seeking to widen their service offering, expand customer reach, reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies. In particular, postal organisations have used Escher technologies to add profitable new services, including bill collection, payments, entitlement payments, licenses, retail sales and banking.

Escher has recently added a mobile wallet application based on Near Field Communication (NFC), a fast-growing standard that permits device-to-device communication, allowing for information collection, exchange payment processing, loyalty, rewards and smart postering.

Escher’s Interactive Communication Division delivers RiposteTrEx™; a secure messaging platform for connecting, communicating and transacting, allowing registered users, businesses and government departments to control engagement and privacy levels. It can be used by government, business and citizens and provides functionality to manage important assets such as locations, objects and noticeboards. RiposteTrEx software has recently been used by the government of Ireland to create a portal to communicate and interact with citizens www.constitution.ie as it considers amendments to the country’s constitution.

Escher’s customers are the national postal operators in 35 countries including:

Americas: U.S.A., Bermuda, Estafeta (Mexican logistics company)  Africa: Angola, Botswana, Cape Verde, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe Europe: Armenia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia Middle East: Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia Asia: Brunei, East Timor, Malaysia, Pakistan, Oceania: Australia, New Caledonia, Fiji.

 

– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –

What vision prompted you to start-up your business?

We had a deep knowledge and understanding of the point of service industry worldwide and a vision of how we believed our customers would develop over time to meet the changing national communication needs. We recognised that the exisiting company, Escher Group, would make an excellent vehicle to capitalise and develop the business in this area.

 

What were the best & worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

The best advice was to have a good corporate structure in place and to rely on professional experts for legal and financial matters.

 

How did you secure your first investment?

For the MBO we built the business case based on the potential of the business and applied to a number of lenders and business institutions.

 

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?

Our “back to the wall” moment came in November 2007, just two months after we had taken ownership of the company and we were preparing to sign a contract in Asia for a very considerable opportunity. Because of the financial crisis, the funding for the project disappeared and the opportunity went away. We compensated for this loss by increasing our services with existing customers.

 

What moment or deal would you identify as the “game changer” for the company?

Our listing on AIM in August 2011. We had worked to reorganise the business through 2007 and 2008 and to build during 2009 and 2010.  Our listing in 2011 was to replace debt with equity and it was recognised by the investing community that significant value had been created over the previous number of years.  The result of the IPO was to deliver us a strong balance sheet with which we could invest in R&D, bid for large opportunities and build out a global organisation.

 

What are the biggest challenges you face now?

We are a technology company supplying software to a rapidly changing market.  We must maintain our leading edge technology and we must monitor both our competitors and the emerging competitors of our customers.

 

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Winning the contract to supply the retail technology infrastructure for the biggest postal organisation in the world, the United States Postal Service, in 2012. Escher won this contract against competition from global companies such as SAP, IBM, Oracle, Fujitsu and NCR.

 

What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?

Have a balanced approach. Believe in yourself, be flexible and have an open mind to opportunities.  At the same time, question yourself, maintain focus on your key strengths and try not to be distracted by non-productive or non-core activities. Also start the company with the right corporate governance.

 

Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?

In business, we each have always wished to be associated with things that are new or involved change.  And we each operated within a large organisation for many years before we decided that we were ready to pursue an entrpreneurial path.

 

Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?

Being Irish is a commodity which, used wisely, is indeed an asset. Irish is the greatest asset when selling as we are seen as a partner, helping, rather than as a ‘big country’ looking down on the customer.  Also the fact that so many people in the world are of Irish descent is also valuable.  However, being international is very important when providing technology and business know-how.

 

When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?

We seek people who can add skills to our organisation. Skills include industry knowledge, specific technical, business or management skills. Differing cultural backgrounds and international experience as well as language lead to Escher being a truly international company.

Year: 2013
Category: International
Sector: Technology

Websitewww.eschergroup.com

Phone: +353 1 254 5400

Address: Escher Group (Irl) Limited, 111 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2

Twitter: @escher_group