Emigrants need to travel with confidence
WILD GEESE: Shaun Kelly, vice-chairman of operations KPMG US:Once they decide to pursue their careers abroad, graduates can benefit by tapping into university alumni and Irish American networks
‘WE SHOULD have confidence that we are respected globally for what we bring to the table,” says Belfast native Shaun Kelly of Irish emigrants.
As vice-chairman of KPMG’s US operations and chief operating officer for the company’s business in the Americas, the skills this Lagansider has brought to the table have clearly impressed.
Kelly grew up in Belfast and describes the 1970s there as “an interesting time”.
“The school I went to was right in the middle of Andersonstown and the primary school I went to was right in the heart of west Belfast, so in the 1970s, we were right in the middle of a lot of things,” he says. “My father’s brother was killed in an accidental shooting by the army; that was part of growing up.”
He says coming south to UCD in 1977 was “the first opportunity really to get outside of Belfast and get a different perspective ... a hundred miles was a big difference between Dublin and Belfast in those days”.
With a B Comm under his belt, he joined KPMG predecessor Stokes Kennedy Crowley, where he went on to qualify as a chartered accountant.
When, in 1984, the chance came to do a stint at the company’s San Francisco office, he and his Derry-born wife took it, arriving just in time to see home team the 49ers win the Super Bowl.
He describes the city as a cultural melting pot, far removed from the Ireland he had left behind.
“The good thing about San Francisco is, because it is so diverse, everyone is used to folks coming in and knows how to help integrate them and make them feel at home.”
After six years working in KPMG’s audit practice and now with two daughters, the Kellys moved back to Belfast in 1990 to a changing city.
“What I noticed was the powerful impact of economic development and financial prosperity – I think when people have jobs and are doing well they are not as likely to get involved in other stuff,” says Kelly.
“I think the work the American Ireland Fund has done to push economic development really solidified the peace process.
“That struck me very much in the 1990s; you had a lot of European support and cross-Border work from an economic standpoint and I think that really helped bring a foundation for political stability.”
While in Belfast, Kelly also put his shoulder to that wheel, advising government on attracting investment to the region.