Saturday Profile: Man programmed to bring about success

DESCRIBED as Airdrie's answer to Bill Gates, Raymond O'Hare, Microsoft's man in Scotland, faces a new challenge. Not content with making sure Microsoft becomes the No1 software brand north of the Border, he is now tasked with bringing the work of the Institute of Directors firmly into the public domain.

Now director of Microsoft Scotland, the frustrated rock musician fell into a career in computers while travelling around Dublin as a teenager. Despite spending the past 26 years working in the Scottish information technology scene, he believes fate lends a hand to one's career.

"I would love to be one of those people who had really planned and mapped out their career, but for me it has been more of being in the right place at the right time," he says. "Some things are meant to be and you have to take advantage of each situation as it comes up. As my failing as a rock musician made me realise, I had to start working for a living."

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Appointed chair of IoD Scotland last month, he says he still feels humbled that he was asked to do the job.

Known by colleagues to be unassuming and modest, O'Hare left school and joined Royal Bank of Scotland, before deciding to travel the world with his guitar.

Arriving in Dublin during the height of the Celtic Tiger boom, Glasgow-born O'Hare quickly learned that technology could be the key enabler for all types of businesses. A job with Nixdorf Siemens led to him embarking on accountancy exams at night school, but he gave up when the lure of learning on the job became too much to resist.

"I came to a company where no-one gives you a manual and you have to have the ability to figure it out for yourself and work out where you can make a difference.

"Technology is brilliant when it comes to making things happen and easier for people, but I don't get turned on by technology just for the sake of it. If it has a really good reason and application, I will be passionate about it. Given the job I've done in recent years working a lot with small and medium-sized businesses, it's inspiring to watch such enterprises in terms of ideas, creativity and sheer guts," says O'Hare.

Returning to Scotland in the mid-1990s, his first senior job involved running the sales division for Digital Equipment Corporation, with responsibility for the Bank of Scotland account generating some 50 million in revenues over just three years. Headhunted by Microsoft in 1997, the father of two is not afraid to put his head above the parapet.

He argues passionately that Scotland could do more to encourage digital growth and believes that many people don't realise how important IT can be to companies in all sectors. Despairing of a lack of focus, O'Hare argues that Scotland might be in danger of having no digital future because it has no digital leadership. His mantra exists because he believes that embracing technology properly can bring about significant improvements to productivity and profits in order to survive and grow to the next stage of a company's and a country's development.

He says: "There are amazing new technologies just around the corner and what worries me is that if we had them today, most of us could not use them because we do not have a technology infrastructure capable of doing the job.

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"Technology should be viewed in Scotland as the fifth infrastructure – right up there with road, rail, sea and airlines – as I believe that any money invested in IT would realise a far greater return. We need to think carefully about this and consider whether the country needs a joined-up digital strategy and the appointment of a national chief information officer."

His comments about digital leadership have been echoed across the political, public and private sector. Saying he is competitive but not ruthless, O'Hare is known to tell staff just to be the best. Viewed in the industry as a steady pair of hands, he recently signed a record lease for a new Edinburgh headquarters in the former General Post Office building on Waterloo Place.

Signing a record-breaking 15-year contract on two floors of the Waverley Gate development, the deal will see Microsoft pay 362,000 a year for the new building, which is just off Princes Street. Not one to be deterred by the coverage this attracted, he told developers this would be an important move for Microsoft in Scotland and provides exactly the type of high-quality office environment that customers, business partners and his staff deserve.

With his eye firmly on growth, he says it will be used to showcase the many ways in which Microsoft can have a positive impact on the Scottish economy and community.

He has a point, the Edinburgh office is the fastest-growing division in the UK. Founded in 1975, the current Microsoft office in George Street opened in 1994 and has grown from one person to a 70-strong team focused across the full spectrum of Scottish customers and business partners, government, corporates and the SME sector.

Gordon Frazer, managing director of Microsoft in the UK, says O'Hare has been instrumental in building Microsoft's business in Scotland. "He is as passionate about providing the very best service to our customers and partners as he is about football – which is just one of the ways he has helped realise the potential of so many of the people that work for and with him."

David Watt, executive director of the IoD in Scotland, says O'Hare was put forward to be the chair purely because of the respect he has within Scotland. Watt says the fact that he is a good speaker and is passionate about what he believes in also helps, but the main characteristic is his thoughtfulness.

Watt says: "He thinks about things before he speaks. Despite it being a tough environment for business, there is an optimism in Scotland and O'Hare realises this. He is a positive person and we believe Scotland has a tremendous opportunity to grow."

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Surprisingly honest, colleagues say O'Hare admits he is not a "terribly technical" person, which might sound a bit odd when describing the director of Microsoft. Friends say he tries to apply common sense and speak in the language that businesses will be able to relate to.

Part of his role at Microsoft is to make sure the company is placed in front of Scotland's business community and through his dealings with organisations such as the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and ICAS, O'Hare believes in his current role at the IOD they can all work together to realise Scotland's business potential.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, says she has worked with Microsoft and O'Hare in particular for the past four years.

"I have always found Raymond's approach to be one of consulting, a desire to understand the issues, a strong focus on what can be achieved by working in partnership and truly wanting to make a difference. His approach is refreshing, exciting and he demonstrates exceptional leadership qualities in everything he does."

30-Second CV

Born: February, 1959 in Glasgow.

Family: Married to Liz, with two children.

Education: St Patricks in Coatbridge

Career: RBS, Inland Revenue, Nixdorf Computer, ICL, Digital Equipment Corporation, Microsoft

Qualifications: Part-ACCA trained

Hobbies: Football (supports Celtic), cycling, golf, music