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CEO Spotlight: Chris Horn, IONA Technologies
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Angel Mehta: Tell me about the challenges involved with managing a company that has its origins in Ireland; what role does it play in the culture of the company, and how are the management approaches you’d take different than from what they’d be if you were leading a typical Silicon Valley-based company?

Chris Horn: It’s fun. The Irish have a keen sense of humour, whilst still being professional and ethical. Also: we have a tiny domestic market, and therefore pretty much absolutely everything we do is for export. If I were leading a typical Silicon Valley-based company, I might have to inject more humour and social energy, and foster a global rather than local perspective.

Angel Mehta: Every company has key transitional periods that it is forced to endure to stay alive – particularly if it stays in business for more than 5 years. What have been some of the key transitional periods for IONA over the last decade (and what were the driving factors causing those transitional periods)?

Chris Horn: Stepping down from being the Chief Architect of our initial product, and focusing full time on the CEO role was one transitional period: I don’t think my colleagues believed I was going to do it, but it needed to happen if the company was going to be managed appropriately through its rapid growth.

Taking the company public in 1997 as the fourth largest IPO in the history of NASDAQ at that time was another. It resulted in somewhat less open internal communication structure because of legal concerns over materiality and premature disclosure. Nevertheless it was important to take the company public so as to become an even more credible supplier to large US-based enterprise corporate customers. Stepping down as CEO in May 2000, and then returning again as CEO in May 2003 were further transitions for the company.

Angel Mehta: What have been the most challenging aspects of your career as CEO and co-founder of a global software company?

Chris Horn: Heavens, so many. Managing accelerated growth whilst staying profitable. Downsizing and rebuilding the company whilst preserving our cash. Traveling very extensively on a global basis, while keeping close to my wife and four wonderful offspring back in Dublin. Keeping an even mental state. Building a management team, managing a management team, evolving a management team, building trust in a management team. Working with my Board, and growing and evolving it too.

Angel Mehta: What has been the most difficult / emotionally draining moment of your career as an ‘entrepreneur’?

Chris Horn: Two such moments. First, the IPO. It’s one thing to be one of a gazillion companies on route 101 or the Mass Pike popping a NASDAQ IPO – the national media don’t very often take much notice. Doing it instead from Ireland in 1997 led to extraordinary national media coverage in Ireland, causing challenges for myself and family. Second, the decision to return as CEO in May of 2003.

Angel Mehta: What advice would you have for operating executives that are being tempted by the idea of starting their own company? What thought process should they take themselves through?

Chris Horn: Have a business partner to share with you the emotional highs and lows. But don’t make him/her your social or life partner – the stress of business is overly disruptive.

Dr. Christopher J. Horn is Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of IONA Technologies (established 1991) Dublin, Ireland. Chris was the initial developer of Orbix® and held the joint offices of IONA's President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board from IONA's inception until May 2000. He served as the Chairman of the Board of IONA from May 2000 to May 2003. Feedback on this interview can be sent to: tara.humphreys@iona.com

Angel Mehta is Managing Director at Sterling-Hoffman, a retained executive search firm focused on VP Sales, VP Marketing, and CEO searches for enterprise software companies. He can be reached for feedback at: amehta@sterlinghoffman.net


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