Wild Geese: Love ignites road to success
Meath engineer urges jobseekers not to be put off by limited knowledge of German
David O’Donnell: “There is a perception that people need to have German to apply for jobs here. This is not necessarily the case. Irish people are viewed in a very positive light and are considered nationality ‘neutral’ in a good way.”
Meath-born mechanical engineer David O’Donnell moved to Germany in 1998 “mainly for the adventure”. Within a week he had three job offers and opted for a position with the giant automotive group Continental. He is something of a bike and petrol enthusiast, who also flies light aircraft in his spare time, so Continental was right up his street.
One of his early roles with the company fell into the “dream-come-true” category when he was assigned to the development of the tyres used on Porsche sports cars.
Another attraction of moving to Germany was love. O’Donnell met his wife, Heidi, when they were both students at the University of Limerick. Heidi went home and O’Donnell stayed in Ireland, having landed a position with NEC Semiconductors in Co Meath. Two years later he packed his bags and followed her.
At the time, O’Donnell’s German skills amounted to ordering a pint and counting to 10. “If you join a multinational company where English is the common language, it’s not a big issue. Naturally, though, you want to integrate so you make the effort to learn the language. Within a year I had a reasonable command and I’m no linguist.
“There is a perception that people need to have German to apply for jobs here. This is not necessarily the case. Irish people are viewed in a very positive light and are considered nationality ‘neutral’ in a good way.”
O’Donnell joined Continental on a six-month training programme that allowed him to work on different projects across the organisation. He settled into the R&D department and worked in various research positions until 2001 when he moved into a customer-facing role with Ford.
“I think I was steered towards it because Irish people are seen as open and good communicators,” he says. “I also think we do well because we’re flexible, willing to integrate and good at thinking on our feet.”
In 2003, O’Donnell became project leader for Ford’s entire tyre requirements in the Europe, Middle East and Africa (Emea) region across all of its brands. In 2007, he was promoted to vice-president of key account management for Emea. This involved looking after all Continental’s customers in the region.
“I had the best of both worlds with this role. I was still in tune with what was going on technically as I was constantly interacting with the engineering team but I also had the excitement of commercial engagement with customers.”