Meet Denis O’Brien, Founder of Digicel

April 12, 2022
3 mins read
Denis O’Brien, Founder of Digicel
Denis O’Brien, Founder of Digicel

Denis O’Brien’s business education did not begin in college.

It started with his father, who sold horse products in Europe, the U.S., and Asia.

His mother instilled profound compassion for the developing world from a young age.

Denis was also able to travel on business trips as a child.

Today, O’Brien is an entrepreneur and has founded multiple telecommunications companies.

He also funds various philanthropic initiatives that support education, humanitarian efforts, and sustainability.

O’Brien is also the Chairman and founder of Digicel.

This telecommunications company serves 32 countries in the Caribbean, Central America, and Pacific.

O’Brien is also the founder and Chairman of Beacon Hospital, Dublin, Ireland.

O’Brien also founded Digicel Foundation, which gives back to the communities Digicel serves.

He is also co-founder of Front Line Defenders and serves as its Chairman.

He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Politics and History from the University College Dublin and an MBA from Boston College in America.

What is the story of Digicel?

In 2001, I was able to see an advertisement in Financial Times announcing the auction of two mobile phones licenses by the Jamaican Government.

I sold Esat Telecom Plc, a NASDAQ-listed cellular and business solution provider that we had built to be the number 2 telecommunications company here in Ireland, to British Telecom Plc.

Our team discovered a monopoly market in Jamaica for cellular services.

Customers were not treated well and paid high prices.

Our goal was to make communications more accessible in Jamaica and allow everyone to benefit from the cellular communication revolution.

Our goal was to reach 100,000 customers within our first year of operation in Jamaica.

We achieved that within our first 100 days. Digicel is now present in 32 countries throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and Pacific.

How do you stay productive?

I break down the day into smaller parts. From 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., I’m on the phone with Pacific operations, and then again at night.

It’s calls and videos until 8 or 9 p.m. when the Caribbean and Central America awake at 7:30 a.m.

​How do you bring ideas to life?​

You can create small teams to work on the idea.

Next, a group must be formed to execute the plan.

It could be one team or another team.

What’s your favorite trend?

Fintech and mobile money offers enormous opportunities.

The communications industry has become an even more significant opportunity, especially in digital, data entertainment, content, and data.

These are certain to be the next wave of growth.

​What habits make you productive?

I keep a record of all my conversations with our CEOs and my team so that I can ask questions when I meet them and make sure that they have achieved their goals.

All our market CEOs have weekly meetings.

What’s your advice for the Noob?

Do not stay in an industry that is dying.

Many talented people spend their time in an industry that is dying or going nowhere.

Find a business with high growth potential, and grab it.

Learn everything you can about it and then exploit it.

What is one thing we can all agree on?

Every country around the globe has seen Facebook have a devastating effect on society.

They will be even more destructive than the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930s when we reflect.

They have destroyed democracy and incited hatred between peoples.

They are publishers in every way, but they deny that.

They are now ready to play.

​What do you recommend as an entrepreneur?

Everybody needs to reinvent themselves almost every year!

Continue to question your business model and continue questioning whether or not you have the right people.

Also, continue asking if the business is moving in the right direction.

What’s your rich strategy?

We look at each country we invest in separately.

A consumer in Haiti may be different than one in Papua New Guinea.

Because every country is unique, we look at Digicel’s 32 markets and businesses individually.

How do you overcome Failure?

Although I’ve made mistakes in my investments, the result is worth it.

It is possible to make bad investments at first, but you can build up a portfolio of suitable investments over time.

Sometimes thoroughbreds can be born out of donkeys.

This is the nature of portfolio investing.

​Can you share a business idea?​

I won’t share my best business idea. !

What’s your recent best buy? ​

Amazon books are not something I would buy.

Amazon is a terrible employer with their zero-hour contracts.

I believe most of my books are at a Donnybrook bookstore in Dublin.

I will be spending more than $100 on reading for the next two months.

At the moment, I am reading a book on Boris Johnson by Tim Bower.

Another book I’m reading is about Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haiti’s founder, and Silent Invasion, China’s Influence on Australia by Clive Hamilton.

What are your favorite Softwares or Apps?

Bluejeans. While Zoom can be inconsistent, Bluejeans by Verizon seems like a great product.

It’s my favorite video conferencing service.

Which book would you recommend?

Roger McNamee has written a disturbing book called “Zucked; Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe.”

He was one of the first investors on Facebook.

He stated that “we were on a perilous path when he called it out.”

He asked Sheryl and Zuckerberg to change the Facebook business model, but they refused.

He lost two close friends because they weren’t willing to listen.

​What’s your favorite quote?​

“Keep going.”

TL;DR by Denis O’Brien

It all boils down to

  • constant innovation
  • Moving ahead
  • Looking ahead
  • Giving back

This approach is vital because you make a profit and help a country grow.


Enterprenuer is a social interview and story publishing platform for entrepreneurs, founders, businessmen, businesswomen, startups, and anyone who inspires people globally.

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