‘I told him to go and get me a 12-pack of Irish engineers’
Cypress Semiconductor chief TJ Rodgers welcomes our graduates but warns the Government to back off
Rodgers has been bringing Irish graduates to California since 1994 and set up a world-class design centre in Cork in 1998. He has about 50 Irish people working for him right now.
He said he would continue to hire Irish people to work in Ireland and the US as he looks for a new generation of world-class engineers and product developers.
“What I find about the Irish guys is they have a certain no-nonsense mentality,” he said. “I have a little bit of Irish in my background and my hometown in Wisconsin, it’s in the hinterland. I have a common, country-folk, business common sense about me and I recognise that right away and that’s what you get with a lot of the Irish guys.”
Rodgers’ love affair with Irish engineers began in 1994 when he hired a young graduate emigrant named Cathal Phelan.
He was rapidly promoted through the company and Rodgers said: “I asked him, ‘are there any more guys like you back in Ireland?’ And he said there are lots of them. So I told him to go and get me a 12-pack. He did that. He took a couple of trips, interviewed people and brought back a dozen Irish guys. Of that first dozen I probably still have seven or eight left and they were all important to us.”
One of those was Morgan Whately, a Dundalk man who Rodgers described as a “renegade” and a “contrarian” who is “unafraid to argue with the boss when he believes he’s right. He’s very self confident.”
Whately is now the design engineering director, heading up one of the company’s most important and financially lucrative divisions.
“One of the problems with the pedigree people,” Rodgers continued, “there is a little bit of an absent-minded professor mentality in that group of people. They may be smart but sometimes the practical thinking is lacking.
“The Irish guys we have, you can give them an ill-defined problem and they’ll come back and talk about how to make things work, not just solve a given problem. They are able to see the broader picture rather than just focusing on a very specific problem.”
The lure of Silicon Valley has drained many talented developers from Ireland and Taoiseach Enda Kenny has said he wants to create an environment that will keep the best and the brightest at home.
However, Rodgers warned against a Government-led strategy to recreate Silicon Valley in Ireland. A small-government advocate, Rodgers insisted the business community needs to be left alone to create the conditions that spawned the entrepreneurial spirit that has made California one of the world’s largest economies.