In the fast-paced world of relocation, where meticulous planning meets the unpredictable nature of change, Steve Jordan embarked on a quest to uncover the essence of one of the industry’s wild men—Kieran O’Hara from Palmers Relocations. Some may call it bravery, while others might label it as sheer folly, but for Steve, it was a captivating journey of exploration.

Embark on this insightful expedition with us as Steve Jordan engages with Kieran O’Hara, unravelling the stories, passions, and motivations that shape one of the key figures at Palmers Relocations. Get ready to discover the man beyond the persona and gain a profound understanding of what truly makes Kieran O’Hara tick in the dynamic world of the moving industry. So, here we go.

I have interviewed Kieran O’Hara from Palmers Relocations in Australia. Some might say I am brave. Or is it foolish? But for me, interviewing anyone is a voyage of discovery. Many of us know the people, or we think we do. It’s my job to get a little under the skin, do some gentle digging, unearth perhaps a side of a person’s character that they keep hidden for the most part. Find the person beyond the persona.

And for Kieran that persona is larger than life. He’s young, pony-tailed, charismatic, enthusiastic, optimistic, successful and has a reputation of being something of a hell-raiser. If there’s a group at a conference out on the razzle until the sun comes up it’s a reasonable bet that Kieran is involved. But there must be more. Is it just a front? Is the real Kieran O’Hara a quiet, introspective introvert who gently takes a back seat to his brash cousin every time a name badge goes around his neck? I was intrigued to find out.

His upbringing was unconventional. His parents emigrated to Australia in late 1986 where they raised eight children. Kieran was number seven. His dad was Shay O’Hara, he’d been the lead singer with an Irish show band called Royal Blues. He also had a successful solo career, travelling widely, including Australia, having hit singles and selling out in Las Vagas. It was a lifestyle that continued after the family’s emigration. “He used to hang around with Elvis and dated Dolly Parton,” said Kieran. Kieran has a poster at home declaring ‘Shay O’Hara sold out, Tom Jones tickets available’. “He was away a lot and mum got pregnant every time he came home.” Shay died in 2009. “Having a legacy where your children can still hear your voice is special.” You can listen to Shay with Royal Blues here.

Kieran didn’t know what he wanted to do when he left school, but he had a friend whose father worked for a local moving company. He encouraged him to take a job there. “I was on the road during the day and did my university studies in the evening,” said Kieran. He was studying business. He admitted that being with a bunch of lads all day led him into some bad habits. “One day I was asked to do an office move in the evening, but I said I couldn’t because I had my university work. The following day I was called up to HR. I assumed I was in trouble. But they offered me a job in the office.”

He chose not to accept. Not because he didn’t want office work. “The salary was half what I was earning on the road.”

Then the company offered him a job with a commission. That suited his personality much better. He was soon breaking targets and earning good money. “I did no admin during the day, just selling,” he said. “I’d do the paperwork in the evening.” But then, of course, the commission structure was changed and Kieran joined Crown, first in records management and then in business development. He was here when his father died in 2009. That changed everything.

He left the industry to join the family business with his brother who, according to Kieran is “A lad if there ever was one”. The company sold electrical parts for ovens. It was a lucrative business and Kieran was able to inject his creative abilities into it to make it more so. But it wasn’t for him. Aged 27 he returned to the moving industry for a short stint with Kents in Sydney.

It was around this time that he met Greg Palmer, a Kiwi who had expanded his antiques business in Christchurch and now had a moving and self-storage company in Melbourne and Adelaide. Kieran joined Palmers in 2013 as a sales manager. “I was able to earn money very fast for them. Revenue went through the roof. I think we doubled every year for five or six years.” Kieran now owns the business with Greg and Greg’s son, James.

During that time Kieran was able to introduce Palmers’ Relocations to the world of international moving. He remembers going to London for the BAR conference in the early days. “I thought if I could get this one market correct then the rest would follow. I’d never been to an international moving conference and I didn’t know one person there. Nobody had heard of Palmers, most companies were domestic movers and everyone seemed to be in their own cliques. I was like a fish out of water. I was shunned by everybody, and it was really hard. It was probably my inexperience as well. I think BAR is a lot better now.”

Despite that shaky start, the business has been a success. I wondered what was his secret of selling. Is it just hard work or is there a technique? “Everyone across the industry is looking at automation,” he said. “It’s important, but it’s only important for the people who don’t know how to sell. There’s nothing better than just picking up the phone and talking to somebody. Old school techniques.”

Palmers Relocations has corporate accounts but until recently had not worked with RMCs. Kieran doesn’t sound convinced about the RMC working model, but he acknowledges that there are some benefits. “They are as competitive as hell and the payment terms are terrible,” he said. “But it is an area where the work comes to you, and you don’t have any marketing costs. If you get your costings right, you can do OK.” He does acknowledge though that Australia is a big country and there are not too many professional international moving companies, so perhaps the industry has more leverage there than in other countries.

As far as payments are concerned, he says he has a “huge moral compass”. “I won’t tolerate companies not paying. There’s no point in doing business if you are not going to get paid.” He said that no matter how much business an account was giving him, he would turn it down if the payment terms were not right. “For some companies, it’s the thing that’s keeping you alive that’s killing you.” He has the same attitude to those who work for him. “I pay all my suppliers on time. I don’t want them having to worry about feeding their families.”

Kieran is also not a fan of contra payments. He’s been caught before. “People don’t realise the danger. Companies can both owe each other $400,000 but if one goes under, the other still has the debt. It’s happened to me. I got burned and it won’t happen again.”

Has the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle his father lived rubbed off on Kieran? “That’s the reason I am the way I am. It’s genetic,” he said. His siblings are the same. “It was a rough and ready upbringing; we’ve all got balls of steel. We would all give up everything for something we believed in. I will roll the dice on anything. I would not be scared. I’ve come from nothing, and I’m prepared to go back to it.”

That said, life changes. Kieran now has a five-year-old daughter. He is devoted to her. He has learned how to stop work. He knows what’s really important. I asked Kieran more about his personal life, but that was a step too far. Despite his uncompromising style, there are some things that even Kieran O’Hara wants to keep to himself.

He also knows that he has a responsibility to the people who work with him. “Big time. That’s a massive one.” But he’s also worldly enough to know that people can sometimes let you down. “Sometimes you get burned by the people that work with you, but you just have to move on. You can’t let it make you bitter. The next person will not be the same.”

I wondered too about Kieran’s management style. Is he quiet and methodical in the office? He thinks not. He knows he has charisma and knows that he must be careful how he applies it. “It can be easy to control people but sometimes you have to step back and let somebody else be the superstar,” he explained. “You can’t always put yourself out there or you’ll get shot down. You’ve just got to use your influence in the right way. For example, if I see a newcomer at a conference I will always try to help them. Some people try to make themselves bigger by being mean. That’s not my style. Better to be nice to people.” Maybe it was his experience at BAR that made him that way.

Despite this caring attitude, Kieran doesn’t think he’s a very good manager. “I’m very good at making money but I’m a very poor manager. Other managers are far calmer than me. They’re not directly involved in the sale as I would be. Management is all about getting the best out of other people and I’m not great at it. I get the best out of me. I don’t always have the time my employees need, being so busy myself, it’s something I need to improve on.”

So, what’s my conclusion? Who is the real Kieran O’Hara? Well, everyone is complex. Everyone is a mix of characters. Everyone has their business façade and their private face. Kieran has too. Despite having a strong opinion on everything, and the ability to influence others in his way of thinking, there are things he keeps private. Of course, he does. But, the truth is, the Kieran O’Hara you see at conferences, the fast-living, try-anything, one-of-the-lads, super-confident, extrovert, is the real Kieran O’Hara. That’s the way he is. His dad was the same and so are all his brothers and sisters. What you see, is what you get.

“Whatever happens, people can rely on me for one thing,” said Kieran. “I always speak the brutal truth.”

Interview by Steve Jordan: https://tinyurl.com/SteveJordann