Wilde Geese: Wayne Leahy, Element Six, the UK
A scientist in his element working abroad
Wayne Leahy: “I was determined to travel after completing my doctorate”
Element Six is one of the world’s leading producers of industrial diamonds used in the drilling, mining, optics, electronics and precision machining industries.
The company is part of the De Beers Group, and operates worldwide with manufacturing facilities in China, Germany, Sweden, South Africa, the US, Britain and UK and Ireland, where it has a processing plant at Shannon, Co Clare.
Kilkenny-born Wayne Leahy joined Element Six in 2005 as a young engineer. A graduate of the University of Limerick with a PhD in materials science, over the last eight years, he has worked with the company in Ireland, Japan and Shanghai, and has recently been appointed applications engineering manager at the group’s newly opened global innovation centre in Britain.
“As a materials scientist the chance to work with diamond was a no-brainer and I enthusiastically joined Element Six in Shannon,” Leahy says. “As a PhD student I had secondments to universities in France and Austria and really enjoyed the different approaches to work and lifestyle. I was determined to travel after completing my doctorate and I got to travel quite a bit with Element Six but the urge to actually live somewhere different didn’t leave me. When the opportunity presented itself I jumped at it.”
Leahy’s chance came as a result of the company’s decision to take a more market-driven approach to technology and product development. Part of this initiative involved creating new technical manager positions in Frankfurt, New York and Tokyo.
“The choice was difficult as I’d spent a lot of time in Germany and liked the country and the people and had a little of the language. New York was also very appealing but I felt the chance to live and work in Japan was a rare and intriguing opportunity,” Leahy says.
He spent three years in Tokyo before hiring a local replacement and moving to the company’s new Shanghai office where he was responsible for building the technical team.
On the surface, Leahy says, doing business in Japan can be a perplexing and sometimes bewildering experience.
“From the almost ceremonial and certainly ritualistic presentation of mesihi (business cards) to the carefully arranged hierarchical seating plan for every meeting, it is certainly very different to what we’re used to. However, beneath that traditional rigid exterior lies a very productive, efficient and fun-loving people.
“Take the example of handing over your business card. For me this encapsulates a very interesting feature about Japanese business – they really take the time to get to know you. One of my first meetings was in Harima in the beautiful Kansai region where I met seven people one at a time. You offer your business card with both hands to each person while introducing yourself and accepting their card with both hands while still holding the rest of your business cards. This can get very tricky when you meet lots of people!