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Irishman a hot property in Manila

WILD GEESE: Joe Curran, general manager, Cushman & Wakefield, the Philippines: It was a wise move to leave a property boom at home to work in real estate abroad

Fri, Jan 11, 2013, 08:40

   

CIARA KENNY

WILD GEESE: Joe Curran, general manager, Cushman & Wakefield, the Philippines: It was a wise move to leave a property boom at home to work in real estate abroad

Joe Curran: 'I was introduced to high net worth individuals - people who owned airlines, real estate firms, and tobacco and drinks companies'

Joe Curran’s friends and family thought he was mad to take up an internship in real estate in the Philippines in 2005, when Ireland was booming and there was more money to be made in the industry here.

But Curran had just graduated from UCC with a degree in commerce, and wanted to travel before committing to a job or postgrad course. He applied to Aiesec, an international youth organisation that arranges internships for young people all over the world, hoping an opportunity would arise in marketing or management in an Asian city like Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo.

Most of the positions on offer that suited his qualifications were in India, which didn’t appeal, so when a six-month placement arose in Manila in the Philippines with CB Richard Ellis (CBRE), one of the world’s largest commercial real estate firms, he jumped at the chance.

“The Philippines certainly hadn’t been top of my list, but I was very pleasantly surprised when I arrived here,” says Curran.

“On my first weekend I was taken to Boracay Island, about an hour’s flight from Manila, which is like paradise. There were other Aiesec interns here from Brazil, Spain and the Czech Republic, and the Filipinos are very easy to get to know. The culture in Manila is very westernised and I settled very quickly.”

The internship was extended by six months, before Curran was taken on permanently as junior negotiator on the commercial leasing team. Real estate was a career he had never considered before but once he started, Curran found he had a “real love” for the work.

“It was very corporate but also very social. The job involves a lot of networking, so there’s a great mix of desk work and field work, which can range from visiting office buildings to attending chamber of commerce luncheons in five-star hotels.

“I learned a lot about all different types of businesses, and was introduced to high net worth individuals – people who owned airlines, real estate firms, and tobacco and drinks companies. I realised soon after I arrived that if I had been in Ireland or in any developed economy, I would never get close to people like that, but in the Philippines it was possible.”

Growth economy

The Philippines is becoming one of the world’s largest providers of business process outsourcing (BPO) in recent years, offering service support, sales and marketing, technical support and call centre services for multinationals attracted by the country’s low-cost, English-speaking workforce.

These workers all need office space, and agents like CBRE are benefiting hugely from the growth in BPO and expanding their operations in the Philippines.

Curran was promoted to manager after two years, before becoming an associate director in 2010. He attributes his success to building strong relationships with clients and working hard to deliver the results they expect of him, which has led to repeat business and referrals from small local business owners to Fortune 500 companies.

“A great thing about being Irish overseas is that we don’t really have conflict with anyone,” he says. “We seem to be able to assimilate quite well wherever we go. It’s also easy to establish relationships with the heads of companies here as they are also normally foreigners so you immediately strike a common bond.”

Time for change

After working for CBRE for almost seven years, Curran was ready for a change. He turned down a directorship with CBRE earlier this year and applied to do an MBA in Barcelona. He was just about to leave Manila when he was approached by a recruiter from Singapore, a former client, acting on behalf of Cushman Wakefield which was looking for someone to head up a new office in the Philippines.

“Because I had been working out here for so long, I was entrenched in the market, and had established a lot of valuable local relationships and contacts. It was a great opportunity, so I decided to stay.”

Curran took up the position in October and in just three months, 13 staff have been recruited and key clients secured. Curran hopes to expand the facilities management aspects of the business, and offer consultancy to clients looking to open hotels and resorts to service the tourism industry.

For young graduates who are facing bleak employment prospects in Ireland, Curran says they should be encouraged to look to the East, where he has been able to advance quickly in his own career.

“There are huge opportunities for people here in the Philippines,” he says. “The biggest problem for companies is finding quality employees. If you have qualifications or experience in finance, IT, marketing or management there will be good work for you here, and in places like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia too.”

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