Brian is an Entrepreneur who setup his own business from ideas he encountered as a PHD student in UCD. After completing a general Science degree in UCD, he chose to pursue a PHD within the Chemistry dept, with aspirations for a career in the Pharma Chemical sector. His company, Celtic Catalysts, currently employs 17 staff and provides the Pharmaceutical and Fine Chemical industries with pioneering chemistry for asymmetric synthesis.
Science Entrepreneur Brian Kelly
Ask me your
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
The first main decision was after my Leaving Cert and deciding (a) whether to go to college and (b) what to study there. I decided to study Science in UCD - I had considered doing Medicine or English because I was really unsure of what I "wanted to be when I grew up"
I thought that Science would give me a broad base from which I could specialise in the future without having to pigeon-hole myself at age 17. Once in College I really enjoyed studying chemistry and so I majored in this subject.
The next main decision was towards the end of the 4 years of my BSc degree and whether or not to look for a job, or to study another discipline (at this stage, whilst still vaguely interested in English and Medicine I had also become quite interested in Psychology) or whether to go on and do a PhD.
The course of action I ended up taking was informed in part by the fact that I was sick of doing exams. Another factor was that most career paths within the Pharma & Chemical industry in Ireland were helped by having a PhD.
Lastly (and possibly the biggest factor) was that I had really enjoyed doing one of my final year projects within one particular research group in the Chemistry Department - they were a really fun bunch of people! So ultimately my decision was to stay on after completing my degree and pursue a PhD within this group.
The next big milestone came in the middle of my doctoral work when I had an idea to start a company based on commercialising the outputs of the sort of research I was engaged in. However, I still had two years to go to complete the PhD, so the idea went on the back-burner for a while until such time as I could focus on getting a company off the ground - i.e. when the PhD was finished.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
My main influences were my parents who had always encouraged me to do something I was interested in - rather than doing something which I thought might lead to a job which was well paid.
They used to always tell me that there's no point in earning all the money in the world if you are unhappy in what you're doing. This STRONGLY influenced me, and to this day if I could give anyone a piece of career advice it would be to pursue a career in something that interests YOU - not to do something just because your parents wish it for you or because you "got the points for it"!
Another big influence later on in my career was my circle of friends. I had a number of close friends who started their own businesses (to varying degrees of success) but they were all incredibly supportive of my efforts to get the company going and to lend advice, encouragement and words of wisdom when I needed them most.
How did you go about getting your current job?
I started my own company, Celtic Catalysts
Describe a typical day?
My day in the office typically starts at about 08.30 and ends about 18.00 The activities of the day generally fall into one of 3 categories
(ii) Reporting and
(iii) Problem solving.
Typically the day involves lots of meetings - these can range from meetings with other members of the management team, to meeting with investors, existing and potential customers, lawyers, accountants and bank managers.
Generally speaking these meetings revolve around getting and providing updates on the progress of the Company compared against the objectives set out in the Company's business plan. Often times these meetings will inform the next iteration of the business plan itself and the strategies the Company must employ to achieve these objectives.
During busy periods I would often take work home in the evening and at weekends - but as I said earlier I am getting better at achieving a proper work/life balance.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
The role of the CEO is multi-faceted. I am tasked with providing leadership and a vision for the company and to establish sound principles of management to enable the company to fulfill this vision. This requires me to have familiarity with all aspects of the business and manage these functions and resolve any conflict which arises.
I am required to be the voice of the company to shareholders, press, customers and suppliers. I have to set targets for the company and ensure that these are met. I am required to plan and manage all strategic, regulatory and legal issues within the company.
Finally, I have to report regularly and clearly to the Board of Directors of the Company and appraise them of the Company's progress and plans.
What are the main challenges?
We are a small company and we need to be able to react quickly to survive in a challenging and competitive commercial environment. From a personal perspective this means constantly ensuring that all the team "are singing from the same hymn sheet" and that everyone is focused on fully realising the commercial opportunity which presents itself at the time.
This can be challenging particularly in a research based company where sometimes ruthless decisions have to made with respect to dropping certain lines of experimental investigation.
The coolest thing is working with such a fantastic, hard-working, enthusiastic, energetic and intelligent team. We are a small company, based in Ireland and we are performing truly world-class research which will have a significant positive impact on the bottom line of many of the major pharmaceutical companies who we list as our customers.
Another cool thing is the nature of the work we do constantly changes in that we are always working on new projects with new customers which keep us challenged and excited.
What's not so cool?
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
Having a scientific background has definitely helped me. I think it is always easy for a scientist to enter the commercial world than a commercial person to enter the scientific world.
Having this background enables me to get a good overview of the company and see where and how everything fits together. This really enables me to plan the company strategy in the most effective way possible.
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
I did the following subjects for my Leaving Cert: Irish, English, Maths, French, Physics, Chemistry, Accounting and Applied Maths.
When choosing my subjects in 5th year in School I deliberately ensured that I did at least one business and one science subject because this gave me more flexibility in my choice of courses. I would recommend this strategy - particularly for those who aren't sure what they wish to study in college.
What is your education to date?
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I think in order to get a company off the ground you need to have tenacity, ambition and patience. I have found that things always tend to take longer than you initially expect or would like. You also need to be willing to work hard (often without getting paid in the early stages). You need to be willing and able to learn and at the same time to realise that you can't do everything yourself. Therefore you also need to know when and how to look for help.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
My job does allow me have a lifestyle I am happy with, although being honest I sometimes struggle with getting the work/life balance right - but I am getting better!
Starting a company can be stressful and frustrating at times but equally at other times it can be exhilarating and rewarding. The stresses arise particularly in the early stages of the company's development when there is no money coming in and you are living from week to week and wondering whether or not you will have enough money to pay yourself and your staff.
Work is often brought home and can constantly be on your mind and there is very little sense of job security. At times you become "married to the job"! Needless to say, this can also be stressful and frustrating for your nearest and dearest.
On the flip-side the rewards come in the shape of satisfaction at seeing something which at one stage was just an idea, becoming a real, tangible and viable company. Also, from the perspective of having studied a scientific discipline I find it enriching to be constantly exposed to a whole range of new experiences and learning a new skillset in the commercial arena.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
- Career Development?
- Current Job?
- Education and Training?
- Personal Qualities?
- Advice for Others?