High Flyers: Geek-at-heart Simon was once chased home by the Taliban

In the High Flyers spotlight this week is Simon Cole, chief executive of Belfast company Automated Intelligence, which marks its 10th year in business this month. To take part in the High Flyers Q&A, get in touch via

What was your first job?

Software engineer for Kainos Software, although I cleaned industrial boilers during summers when I was young.

What qualifications do you have?

HND in software engineering and a degree in software engineering with DIS, both from the University of Ulster in Coleraine

What do you attribute your success to?

I don’t see success as monetary wealth or position, I think success is better judged on character and positive impact on others. In terms of work I think being foolish/confident enough to quit my old job and start up Automated Intelligence 10 years ago without the faintest idea what I was getting into. I have a reasonably high-risk appetite so jumping at new opportunities and challenges has led me to where I am currently.

How would you describe yourself to someone who’d never met you?

Mostly harmless… hopefully kind and generous, fascinated by new technology, definitely a geek at heart.

Who do you look up to in business?

Too many to name! Frank Graham who started and ran Kainos was a great leader and inspiration. Bill Gates for his philanthropic endeavours. Jeff Bezos for the vision to build Amazon. And Steve Jobs for his design approach.

How do you get the best out of people who work for you?

I place a lot of trust in people and give them the freedom to decide what is best in their sphere of influence. I embrace mistakes as learning opportunities (I make plenty myself) and not something to fear.

If you could change one thing about doing business in Northern Ireland, what would it be?

We have world-class talent and skills; we need to have more confidence in our ability to take on the world and succeed. We also need to work collectively to make a bigger splash.

What website or app could you not do without?

I’m hooked on news sites, that’s my go-to when I pick up the phone. WhatsApp is high on the list as well.

What was the last book you read?

Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet.

What car do you drive?

Audi A6, quite an old one, but super comfortable to drive (starting to show my age). My biggest regrets with past cars was selling my pick-up, so much fun!

Tell us something interesting about yourself?

A long time ago I spent some time living in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. I was out after curfew one night while in Afghanistan and had to race the Taliban to get home before they caught me.

What’s your greatest passion outside work and family?

I have a strong faith in God and engagement with my local church, so I spend a lot of time helping out there.

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