INTERVIEW: ADRIAN KELLY
GENERAL COUNSEL AND
Amateur baseballer (and general counsel of Irish renewable energy company airsynergy)
Adrian Kelly tells GC about his experience co-founding a start-up during the GFC, and the
evolution of the company and his career.
G C I N T E R V I E W
JUNIOR RESEARCH ANALYST, THE LEGAL 500
GC: You have previous experience founding your own business, but was it an easy decision to get into the renewable energy market and co-found airsynergy?
Adrian Kelly (AK): When I was approached by our CEO Jim Smyth to help him set up the business I have to say the sector and technology was so compelling that it was an easy decision to make, and I have never looked back.
GC: Has the nature of your role changed much since you started?
AK: The airsynergy business started at a kitchen table at Jim’s house. Given this modest start, there was a great opportunity for me to play a crucial role and input advice spanning both commercial and legal. Today, the business has grown to employ more than 20 full-time staff and growing, which means that I still have the exciting role of continuing to advise the company on both legal and commercial aspects. It is this that makes the job so interesting and dynamic. Of course, my role has changed somewhat given we have now developed a leading in-house legal team to work alongside me and support me.
GC: Do you see the Irish market as one that’s particularly accessible for start-ups and new companies? How was your experience in setting up seven years ago?
AK: When airsynergy started back in 2008, it was probably one of the toughest economic environments of the past 50 years. There was no credit lending and investor appetite for risk was at an extremely low ebb. Things have improved dramatically since then and start-ups can now, in many instances, benefit from national and European grant aid. Certainly I feel that there has been a government push to encourage people to set up local enterprises. But while it is a changed landscape, there are still challenges and in Ireland it can be difficult to find suitable locations to grow a business in rural places. Luckily airsynergy (which is based in a rural town) attracted an excellent pool of skilled employees and it is that team, with its global expertise, that makes airsynergy what it is today.
GC: Could you take us through your typical day in the office at airsynergy?
AK: There are not many typical days at airsynergy, as the challenges are many and varied. It might be easier to give an idea of a typical week: I meet with the respective teams early in the week and report to the CEO to discuss the activities we have planned. The rest of the week is given over to executing those actions. In any given week, these can include the signing up of new partners, latest patent filings, working with our external PR advisers, managing our investor base, and ensuring we are getting best out of our team as a whole and that everyone is working together to the same objectives. To be honest, that’s no mean feat given the speed that Jim and our technical team come up with new ideas and inventions!
GC: What legal issues or challenges have you got coming up on the horizon over the next few months?
AK: For starters, new partner acquisition is something I am heavily involved in at the moment from a legal perspective, as the structuring of how we do business with partners is obviously key to our business model. My main objective is to make the process as streamlined as possible and ensure it is as easy as possible to acquire new partners and supply them with product via our outsourced manufacturers with a minimum amount of red tape. And, naturally, the recent modifications to Irish Company Law and how that impacts our group company structure is also something that we are giving special attention to.
GC: Do you prefer to keep work in-house, or is there a need to outsource and keep close relationships with law firms?
AK: Given the complexity of legal relations with third parties and potential partners, as well as a heavily regulated European regulatory regime embracing the Commercial Agents Directive, it is important to seek out quality external advice from law firms with specialist expertise to guide us through the process, and so avoid any potential pitfalls. So, while we try to maximise internal resources, it is vitally important to know when to lean on advisers with that expertise, for example in licensing IP and patent advice (a whole industry by itself) in terms of developing a global strategy, as well as assisting with commercial contracts in order to get specific deals across the line.
GC: What has been the highlight of your professional life so far?
AK: One of the highlights of my professional career comes from working in criminal law in private practice, helping those charged with serious offences. Without wishing to sound too dramatic, I feel that doing that work really helped people who needed help. Then, being appointed by the Law Society of Ireland as an external examiner was very rewarding. More recently, highlights have to include being instrumental in bringing airsynergy’s revolutionary energy generation products to market, which will bring power to places never before possible. And, of course, being cited as one of Ireland’s top in-house counsel.
GC: How would you describe Ireland as a place to do work and do business?
AK: Given that Ireland is relatively small, getting to meet the right people is quite easy and this creates many opportunities. Despite many setbacks, the Irish business world remains very dynamic and forward thinking, and is recognised globally for its innovation and human capital. So, as a place to work and do business, Ireland is very good and getting better, and offers a superb platform from which to export ideas to the world.
GC: What do you like to do away from work?
AK: I play baseball and manage a local team. Ireland has a pretty robust league comprising 13 teams and some 270 adult players. Last year I won an All-Ireland medal playing in the senior league with a Dublin-based team and, more recently, I have been involved with the national Irish squad as it prepared for an international tournament with the likes of Mexico, US and the Netherlands.
GC: If you weren’t practising law anymore, what would you be doing?
AK: That’s easy. I have also spent seven years lecturing part time in adult education, and discovered it’s a great way to help people achieve their goals in life. If I wasn’t practising law anymore, I would most likely be teaching, as I find it highly rewarding.