Outside the normal routine of setting up and running his own business Monitronix, studying for BA and MBA degrees, and having a young family, Dave Graham (MBA 12) found the spare time in recent years to slot in writing two novels, the first of which – Incitement – won the ‘Get Your Book Published’ competition on RTÉ Radio 1’s The John Murray Show last summer and has since attracted the interest of an LA-based film producer.
About Dave Graham
Graham left school in 1986 and had a range of part-time jobs before completing a diploma in computing with Nixdorf in Bray. He transitioned into software development and was working in this area in the early 1990s when he left Ireland to initially spend a year in the UK, followed by longer stints in Sweden and Denmark. During his time away, and together with some partners, he set up a consultancy that placed people into on-site contract positions throughout Scandinavia.
He returned to Ireland in 2000 after nine years away. “Ireland had changed immensely in the time I was gone,” he says. “Everything was on the up when I came back. I did about a dozen interviews and got a dozen offers and I don’t think that’s reflective of any unique qualities I had. I think there were just more jobs than people to fill them.”
Initially he worked for Meteor for a year putting in the new operator’s billing system. “Around three or four months after they launched I found I missed contracting and decided it was time to move on so I went back to contracting for a few years.”
Then in 2002 he started a degree in management in the Irish Management Institute. “When I left school it was the furthest thing from my mind to be honest,” he says of his decision to return to study. “It was always something that I felt had been left undone. All my siblings had completed degrees. I’d done quite a lot of contract negotiation and account management when I was in Scandinavia and I realised that having a formal aspect to that experience, something to be able to quantify some of the things I’d done, would be useful. I was also eager to get into an environment where there would be more discussion and where you could have a bit of strategic thinking.”
Beginning of Monitronix
In 2005, as he was completing his studies, he set up Monitronix Europe, a distributor and design house for monitoring systems for telecommunications companies like Eircom and Talia. Outside Ireland, the company has customers in the UK, Sweden and Spain, as well as small clients in Costa Rica. “It would be the equivalent of Eircom in pretty much most of those countries,” says Graham. “We’re always being invited to tender and we’re always looking at other countries. At any point in time we’d be preparing for at least one tender.
“We work with a manufacturer in China. They develop the products. Any of our customers would have quite specific requirements and we have quite good technical experience in-house. So we would work quite closely with the manufacturer on the design and then field testing the equipment.”
The company now employs five people as well as working with a number of contractors to fulfil the maintenance for the remote locations it supports.
Graham returned to study in 2010 to do an MBA at the Smurfit Business School. “I enjoyed the BA, it was a great experience and I wanted to capture some of that again,” he says. “Also, the BA was really useful, but mostly operational. I wanted to do something that I felt would be a little bit more strategic. It sounds clichéd but I just liked the idea that there would be deeper discussion where it wouldn’t necessarily be a prescribed lecture, that you would be introduced to a topic and it would be up to the people to work together to get down to the nuts and bolts of something to draw different possible solutions.
“There were some great classes like strategy, leadership, some of the financial markets classes. There was a lot of discussion and I came away just really enjoying the process as much the objective.”
Graham says he’s always loved reading and thinks it’s a natural progression for any avid reader to at least consider writing a book. It’s an impulse he decided to act on in his spare time between finishing with Meteor and starting Monitronix.
“It didn’t really go anywhere but I enjoyed the process. I hadn’t had time for it in the last while because I’d been so busy. But I had a manuscript sitting on the PC and was driving to work one morning last May and heard them announcing a competition on The John Murray Show.” Run together with the RTÉ Guide and Kazoo Publishing, the competition’s prize was a publishing package.
“I had sent a previous draft off to agents a few years ago and hadn’t really had any traction. I’d rewritten it then because I realised I was telling the story from too many perspectives. Between the job and family and everything else I’d never got around to resubmitting it but it was near enough to a final draft.”
He entered the manuscript – a 330-page thriller – but didn’t think much more about it until he got a phone call saying that he had made a shortlist of five from more than 500 entries. In August he and the other finalists were invited to come onto the show and he was announced as the winner. “I was shocked that it won,” he says. “But it was a really nice thing to happen.”
Kazoo produced several hundred physical copies of the book and put it up online. “And I’ve had contact from a film producer in the last couple of months saying that he’d like to meet me when he’s in Ireland next time – he’s based in LA – just to talk about possibly taking an option on the book,” says Graham.
“The idea now would be to try to go the traditional route with it in another country if I got time. There are a couple of agents that are currently looking at it. If they were to take it, then combined with the interest from the film producer it might go somewhere.”
And he’s already written the second book. “It’s just a matter of polishing that to the degree that I’m happy with it. I had put the writing down for a while before I’d entered the competition because I’d been so busy. Like anything, when you go back you can see the things that need work.”
Despite his writing achievement, he says building up Monitronix and winning the business in different territories have been his biggest successes to date. “To even get on a vendor list for some of these companies can be quite an arduous process, so we’re happy that we’ve managed to do that,” he says.
His biggest lesson in business, he says, is to keep doing the basics as well as you can. “Keep a close eye on the fundamentals. Because even when you’re going through a tough period, if you keep a close eye on them it gives you a much better chance of getting through.”
Looking to the future, he’s hoping to expand the company’s operations into eastern Europe. “We have a presence in northern and southern Europe. We haven’t really managed to crack eastern Europe yet so that would be the next thing. Also, we’re getting on the back of the Costa Rican work we’re getting quite a few enquiries from that area of the world so it would be nice to do something around central America as well.”