LIBS Founders Series: featuring Karl Duffy

Karl Duffy

Co-founder of LIBS, Karl chats to us about the LIBS start-up journey, a ready-made Irish community in London and forging life-long friendships.

When I finished my Master’s Degree in the Smurfit Business School it was late 2008, just in time for the global credit crisis to impact employment levels and hiring in Ireland in a profound way. I had never planned to leave Ireland, but the risk of not working for a prolonged period and losing momentum in my career was not palatable. So I moved to London in to 2009 to begin a placement on the BT Business Graduate programme. This turned out to be a great decision as my time in London is where I co-founded LIBS and was able to accelerate my career in a way that would have been much harder to do in Ireland.

I recall telling my parents that I would be back from working in London after a year or two max. Needless to say I came back after ten years into my current role — I head up the Enterprise and Public Sector business for Three Ireland — with a wife and baby no less.

A chance for a few beers with Willie Walsh

Thinking back to where the idea came from for LIBS…I can’t exactly recall the moment we had the idea, it was Darren Glynn’s I think, and then it all caught on like wildfire through a group of pals who were meeting up regularly at the time. One prevailing memory comes to mind: we all wanted to go for a few beers with Willie Walsh who seemed like great craic, so wondered if setting up LIBS would help us achieve that (which we subsequently did!).

I was the first vice-chair of LIBS then moved on to become Chair when Darren Glynn moved out of London. I was chair for I think five or six years before I moved back home to London and Laura O’Callaghan took over.

LIBS: an opportunity to try something new

The reason for setting up LIBS was relatively simple. What we said to people, was that LIBS would fill a gap in the professional circuit for Irish in London. It was a free-to-join, but exclusive network which would bring together Irish professionals, typically London City based, for very high calibre events with globally recognised speakers in some of the best venues the city has to offer.

Another big reason for setting up LIBS was just to have fun and enjoy London, we all got along terrifically as a group and with none of us at that stage having kids / being married etc we only had work and socialising to occupy our time. So as a group of ambitious and likeminded friends we saw LIBS as a outlet for combining work, socialising and trying something new and exciting at the same time.

Bringing exclusive and high-end events to Irish professionals in London

LIBS tended to better fit a younger demographic, highly ambitious, very comfortable engaging at events and socialising, etc…That said, we also knew LIBS wouldn’t last long term (as it has) if we didn’t keep our focus on delivering outstanding speakers and events, comfortable in the knowledge our membership numbers, sponsorship income and volunteers needed to run LIBS would look after itself if our core offering was maintained at a high standard.

Over the years we’ve had speakers like former President Mary Robinson, Enda Kenny, Simon Harris, multiple CEO’s, including Willie Walsh of course!

All of the Irish groups in London are excellent and wouldn’t be there if they weren’t serving a particular community or purpose. It’s more about figuring out which group best suits your requirements.

Gaining fundamental business skills

LIBS for me was more a source of improving the career ‘inputs’ rather than any explicit ‘outputs’, eg, I never secured a new job or new contract through LIBS but was able to use the LIBS platform to improve my professional skills which have paid dividend to me since, such as networking, professional speaking, understanding people’s motivations, bringing together a team and providing direction, scaling an organisation, etc. I’ll always credit LIBS with helping me develop these fundamental skills in a way a normal job wouldn’t have.

Forging life-long friendships

LIBS has been a real source of confidence for me, that I/we were able to spin something up out of thin air and see it work was very empowering, and from that I took the confidence of seeing that I’m capable and could repeat it as needed. I also made some of my best friends through not just the initial LIBS team but the various brilliant people who came and left through the years, and are still in the LIBS team now. On a personal level, the friendships and fun had along the way, would be for me the biggest personal success story from LIBS.

Reaching a ready-made Irish community in London

If you’ve just moved to London, you’re more than likely feeling a bit out on a limb. LIBS gives you a ready-made community that revolves around a few common interests like business, politics, career, socialising, and being Irish abroad! Normally we find people who have moved to London are already pre-wired as the types of people who are willing to put themselves out there and make things happen, so why not take that small extra step and go to a LIBS event or reach out and see if you can get involved with the team. If my experience is anything to go by it could end up enriching your time in London many times over.

If you’d like to contact Karl, you can connect with him on LinkedIn here.

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