HE grew up in working-class South Boston in a home with nine people to one bathroom, but a glittering career has seen David McCourt amass an estimated fortune of $1 billion.
The Irish Times described him as “the most successful Irish American tech businessman you’ve never heard of”, and his company Enet has been chosen to finally roll out the national broadband plan.
Now the Boston entrepreneur, who has a house in Newmarket-on-Fergus where he spends much of his time, has written a book explaining what he feels people need to do to succeed in a fast-changing world.
McCourt has obviously enjoyed a huge amount of success himself, giving him a certain amount of gravitas when it comes to the subject of his book, Total Rethink.
The 60-year-old says people need to make the most of all their abilities, and shouldn’t confine their expectations of themselves. “I’ve made a career, and a life, on being both left- and right-brained and others can too. What I’m trying to do in this book is give a roadmap to people who need to rethink their lives. For generations, if you thought outside the box you had a high probability of success.
“But today, you need to dig deep and find that duality that is deep inside all of us, which is half analytical, utilitarian business methods and procedures and half raw creativity.
“That’s what you need to be successful today, you can’t just rely on one half or the other. If you want to know what sells, what matters, what trends, you really have to dig deep for your creativity.
“If you want to make money, you have to be disciplined and detailed. In this day and age you need both. It’s served me well. In the old days when things were slower you could get along with one half or the other. Not any more, the train has left the station, it’s just a matter of whether you decide to jump on or not.”
As a young man, McCourt had a spell working for the legendary US politician Tip O’Neill, having got the job after he went to O’Neill’s office to complain about having his acceptance for training as a police officer pulled.
McCourt would later go into construction, but faced major difficulties in his first major job, when the client refused to pay.
While it was a huge setback at the time, it set him on a better pathway, just as communications were about to be revolutionised.
“When that happened I realised that I wanted to build a business with a recurring revenue stream, I wanted to get out of construction. I came up with the idea of building the first competitive phone company in America, and that company went on to become a hugely valuable company, because it was doing something that no one had ever done before, it was like a dog speaking.
“My desire was to figure out how to connect computers one to another, because more computers were talking to each other than people were talking to each other. So I built the first competitive phone company in America designed around moving data when the guys who owned the phone network were trying to retrofit their copper wires to push data through it. They came up with antiquated products like dial-up internet access when I was working on putting data through fibre.”
Modestly, he says he “lucked out” at the time, getting into the right industry at almost exactly the right time.
While the author has had stratospheric success in business, he says Total Rethink is not targeted at entrepreneurs.
“I would say that it’s as much or more for people who don’t really care about business. The way the world works, business people are like mice looking for a piece of cheese, they’ll find a way to make money.
“Other people, diplomats, healthcare professionals, nurses, doctors, policemen, teachers, these are the people that maybe don’t care as much about money but they need to have a revolutionary way of thinking about problem sets, so they can solve them.
“These are the people who really need a total rethink. These are the people who were ignored to some extent in helping them to think outside the box, because we think it is only for helping people to make money. Well there are lots of people who don’t really think that much about money but they want to make a difference in their lives, they want to make a difference in the world. This book will be helpful to them I hope.”
Don’t be afraid to try
McCourt feels that people are often afraid to really commit themselves to something and he says there is too much fear of failure, something that is less of a problem in America.
“One of the mistakes they’re making is that people are afraid to dig deep, people are afraid to lean forward, people are afraid of failing. I’m blessed and lucky that I grew up in America, a country that supports failure as long as it’s followed by success.
“You can fail as many times as you want in America, and everyone will continue to root you on, as long as you’re trying. When you do succeed after failure, America will support you. I’m blessed in that I got to grow up in that environment, where failure is not a stigma. I think the biggest thing that people are afraid to do is to try.”
He would really like to see his book help people challenge limiting beliefs they hold about themselves and their own abilities.
“The motivation is purely around seeing if we can get people to really dig deep, get people to develop multiple strengths, get people to not cop out by saying I’m a left-brained guy or a right-brained gal. Get people to dig deep and find that duality, because it’s in all of us. We’re all capable of being both analytical and creative.”
McCourt’s own ability to use different parts of his own mind is shown by the fact that he has produced documentaries, working with people like Michael Douglas and Meg Ryan. He also produced a series called Reading Rainbow, which helped teach children to read, which he won an Emmy for.
Around 20 years ago, he bought his house in Newmarket, and it is a place he often spends his weekends.
He takes around 100 flights a year and spends much of his time in cities such as London and New York, so the tranquillity of rural life in the west of Ireland – as well as Newmarket’s proximity to a major airport – are big draws for him and it was here that he wrote most of Total Rethink.
“I wrote almost every word in Clare. I wrote it on weekends, rainy and cold weekends when I wasn’t outside. I would say every word was written in Clare or on an aeroplane.”
Division in America
While McCourt praises America’s tolerance of failed enterprise, he is still critical of many other aspects of the country, and he is far from impressed with Trump.
“I’m saddened by the divisiveness in society in general, but America is leading that divisiveness. I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s helpful, I don’t support it. I’m not part of it, I’m not happy about it.
“It’s not all Trump’s fault, he’s just contributed to it and fed off it. He didn’t create it, but he surely has fed off it. I wouldn’t be a fan of his style. Things he does rub me the wrong way. I have a pet peeve, people who know me well know I’ve had a pet peeve my whole life with name-calling. To see an adult do it is mind boggling, let alone a public figure, let alone the president of the United States, it’s mind-boggling.”
Certain aspects of American society, not least its approach to guns, seem very bizarre on this side of the Atlantic and McCourt has very strong views on the power of certain vested interests.
“People are afraid to take on the big issues, pharmaceuticals, the National Rifle Association, big organisations that have to be faced head on. Pharmaceutical companies are making billions and billions of dollars overcharging for medicine.
“There’s a ridiculous state of affairs with guns, there are real fundamental issues that people need to take head on. Politicians want to get re-elected so they’re afraid to take those issues on. Shame on them. Shame on them.”
While people here may be frustrated at how slow the roll-out of rural broadband has been, he says Ireland is actually doing better than most countries on earth.
“I don’t think people appreciate how ambitious the project is, from a technological standpoint. I don’t think people appreciate how much work goes into doing the national broadband. The bureaucrats, who have a job to do, have to make sure the Government gets value for money, and there’s a lot of work to do to make sure that’s the case.
“Ambitious projects like this take a long time. There’s going to be a reason why Ireland will be one of a handful of countries in the world where every man, woman and child has broadband.
“There’s going to be a reason for that and that will be because it took on an ambitious project. There’s a reason lots of other countries don’t have that. Because it is very difficult to do.”
Asked for a final tip that people might take away from Total Rethink, he advocates a specific type of visualisation.
“Visualise the world that you’d like to live in and the future you want for yourself and your family. Imagine yourself already being there, imagine yourself already being where you want to be and then look backwards and design a route to get there.
“Instead of standing in the present and designing a route to get to the future, put yourself in the future and design a route, think out how you got there. It’s much easier to design a route to get there when you’re standing there, than it is when you’re standing in the present.”