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In for the Long Haul: David McKnight, Applied Systems Europe

  • Written by the team at Applied Systems

    Applied Systems delves into the career of its Regional Director, David McKnight, to show the benefits of sticking with a job and a company you’re passionate about.

    In a competitive labour market like the one we have today, it’s unusual to see employees stick around for more than 20 years.

    A founder may stick around for the long haul, furious with passion to see his livelihood succeed, however, it is far less common to see a person begin in an entry-level position at a small company, rise through the ranks and eventually lead his home region of an international organisation. 

    Stories like these should be encouraging, not only to young professionals and entrepreneurs, but also to executives. Of course, it takes perseverance and a positive attitude to make your way up the corporate ladder; however, it also takes the trust and opportunity given by leaders. David McKnight, general manager of Applied Systems Ireland, is a prime example of an employee who believed in his organisation, worked for success, and is now leading an industry through digital transformation.

    Before diving into how David is enabling independent insurance brokers to transform their businesses through technology, let’s take a step back to how David began his career at Applied. David studied Mechanical Engineering at The Manchester Metropolitan University in the late 1990s. Like many young people, after graduating University he didn’t have a clear picture yet of his future. In his humbled words, “I did not excel in education. However, like a lot of things in life, an unexpected opportunity arose for me to study computer programming which resulted in me getting a job at Relay.” 

    When he started his first role as Technical Support Analyst, there were roughly 70 employees at Relay. The company was in its beginning stages, but was already making waves in the insurance industry. Relay was, and still is, technology that enabled independent insurance brokers to manage their business more efficiently and profitably. David worked in Technical Support, serving customers and sorting issues, then eventually moved to Application Development. “I missed the day-to-day engagement with customers, so the decision was quickly taken to move me into a sales role,” he said. “I loved selling what I truly believed was the best product in the market.” 

    David worked in various sales positions, working his way up the ladder, until becoming Business Development Director, a role he held for more than 15 years. He worked alongside the Managing Director at the time, both trusting each other’s decisions and growing the business to take the large majority of market share in Ireland. In 2016, Applied acquired Relay and two years later, David became General Manager of Ireland for Applied Systems Europe where he and his team have maintained a revenue growth of over 8% each year while investing heavily in new talent across Ireland. 

    So, what makes David successful? When asked what he thinks are important attributes to leading a successful technology company, he said, “You have to believe that what you’re selling is in your customers’ best interest.” 

    While this answer sounds simple, it is critical to taking a company to the next level. Acting in your customers’ best interest is key for longevity. Many of Applied’s customers have used the system for more than 10 years. Having started in a Support role, David understands the importance of a Support Technician who is well versed in many areas, including the products, the industry and common issues. Investments in Support are a high priority for Applied, which last year launched 24/7 support for Applied customers, enabling them to talk to an Applied support staff member anytime. 

    Support is just one piece of the puzzle of what makes Team Applied successful. When asked how he builds effective teams, David gave several pieces of advice. He stresses, “There must be complete trust across the whole team. As a leader, you have to be transparent and encourage all other leaders in the organisation to do the same. If there is open dialogue and clarity in your teams’ roles, the entire team can work effectively towards a common goal.” He added, “We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We need to listen more.”

    Team Applied has seen this commitment to communication, especially while working remotely due to the pandemic. Applied leaders across the organisation have worked to break down silos by sending weekly update videos and holding more frequent business update calls. Two-way communication has also been encouraged by adopting communication technologies such as Slack and Zoom. So, while all Applied employees continue to work from home, many would say (including this one!) that they are actually as informed or more in-the-know with company initiatives and goals than they were before the pandemic.

    For his last question, David was asked to provide advice for how to deliver growth strategies that result in success. “Make goals attainable. Set weekly, monthly, maybe even quarterly goals,” he said, “When you set annual goals, especially in operations, people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the process to get there.” He goes on, “Once you have set those goals, implement processes that are repeatable. The only way to scale is to minimise effort so you can handle more.” 

    In the five years that Relay has been a part of Applied, the team has shown significant strength in its teamwork and leadership. Many companies may see acquisition as the beginning of the end, but Applied Ireland has a different story. It continues to hold market share and champion the needs of its broker customers. While there are sure to be challenges ahead, David and the Applied Ireland team have the attitude, experience and perseverance to deliver the powerful technology that enables Ireland’s insurance brokers to protect what matters most in people’s lives. 

    This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download your FREE copy and sign up to receive future digital editions here.

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