Just over a week ago, the business community paid its respects to Brian Conlon, founder of tech business First Derivatives, who passed away recently.
I had long admired First Derivatives from a distance; and when I had the privilege to meet Brian, I admired him as a person - clearly ambitious, driven and committed.
His former colleagues and team members speak incredibly highly of him, and First Derivative's clear success speaks volumes. But what is the scale of his mark on the Northern Ireland business community?
In short, Brian leaves an incredible legacy, and will rightly be held up as one of our greatest ever tech entrepreneurs and businesspeople. First Derivatives is just one of a very small number of listed companies in Northern Ireland, having floated in 2002, and now trades on both the AIM in London and on the Iseq in Dublin. It employs some 2,500 people, with significant recruitment ongoing, and is a truly international business with clients in investment banking, as well as having major names in manufacturing, retailing, gaming, telecoms, and the automotive industry as customers.
Brian was named EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 and led FD to become a £1 billion company by market capitalisation in 2018. Earlier this year, the business announced that profits had increased by almost 40 percent, and late last year it announced plans to create 1,000 new jobs. By all accounts, Brian was hands-on and the driver of the success of First Derivatives. His name will therefore go down alongside the likes of Sir Allen McClay and Fred Wilson as one of Northern Ireland's great entrepreneurs. And hopefully, part of his legacy will be to inspire others to follow in his footsteps.
Northern Ireland has a proud history of entrepreneurship and invention - right back to the likes of Harry Ferguson, who invented the modern tractor, and John Dunlop, whose pneumatic tyre is one of transport's greatest inventions. More modern success stories include the likes of Almac which marked 50 years in business last year and Norbrook which celebrates 50 years in business in 2019.
Today, Belfast-based Kainos continues to go from strength-to-strength, a credit to Brendan Mooney and his team. And then there are the growth stories of other indigenous businesses, like STATSports and Neueda. But we need more Brian Conlons, with the vision, ambition, and determination to create the world-class businesses that will drive our economy forward.
We have lost a truly great entrepreneur in Brian. But his passing has caused me to reflect on the entrepreneurial talent that we have now coming through in Northern Ireland. We have talked about some of the well-known names. But when I think about the various start-up and growth hubs in the city - the likes of Danske Bank's fintech hub and Ulster Bank's Entrepreneur Accelerator - and when I look around Belfast's Catalyst Inc, I see many reasons to be optimistic in the companies that are based there. In Catalyst, there are more than 200 firms and 3,000 engineers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and executives.
Many of these businesses are start-ups and emerging firms whose names are not well-known, but I have no doubt there could be John Dunlops, Harry Fergusons and maybe even Brian Conlons amongst them. I'm sure many of them will be inspired by stories of Brian's success.