Emigrant entrepreneurs: the secrets of their success
Four Irish entrepreneurs attending the Global Irish Economic Forum in Dublin Castle today and tomorrow share their tips for success overseas
Hong Kong’s bustling business district. Photograph: Thinkstock
‘Go with an open mind, embrace the culture’
Paul Scales, managing director of Pacific Investments Ltd and chairman of the Irish-Thai Chamber of Commerce and a director of the Thai Board of Trade
Thirty years ago this week, I arrived in Hong Kong. I wasn’t looking to emigrate when I was offered a transfer, but the 1980s were quite tough in Ireland and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity to advance in a large organisation like Jones Lang Wootton, where I had been working.
In those days, when you emigrated it felt like you would never be back. Going to Asia was a big step, not having been there before. Entering the office for the first time and seeing 98 per cent of the staff were Chinese was quite a culture shock.
But it was also a huge opportunity. I spent seven years there and became a partner when I was 30. I moved to Bangkok in 1989 to open an office, which had become the largest property firm in the city by the time I left in 1996 to start my own business, Pacific Investments, developing real estate for international companies.
I feel passionate about remaining involved with Ireland. I run the Irish Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, was one of the founding partners of the Asia-Pacific Irish Business Forum, and am the first Irish person to hold a directorship on the Thai Board of Trade. Having access to Thai government officials is a great opportunity to showcase Irish business.
The younger Irish population here is growing, especially in areas like teaching. Some Irish-run SMEs are also employing young Irish. But Thailand is not the easiest place to come to work: there are permit restrictions in most industries outside education.
Asia has huge potential for young people, especially Singapore, which can act as a gateway to work in other Asian countries. The most important thing is to go with an open mind and embrace the culture, because the best part of living somewhere else is the life experience. I come back regularly, and almost feel like I live in Thailand and Ireland. That’s the benefit of modern aviation. It is very different to 30 years ago, when you felt you were going down a dark hole, never to return.
‘Don’t come to a place like this because you have no other options’
Avril Conroy, director of regional sales for Rosneft Russia and president of the Irish Club in Moscow
After 10 years working in management for Dunnes Stores and Heatons, I got an opportunity to go to Moscow in 1994, working with a company importing footwear into Russia. I worked with a lot of other Irish, which was great craic, but I wanted something different, so I quit to set up my own supermarket with Nesco on the outskirts of the city.
I’ve taken on numerous roles since then, mostly in the oil industry for TNK-BP, which was bought over by Rosneft – the largest oil company in the world – this year. I’ve been a general director of retail, a brand and marketing director and a HR director, and am now director for regional sales, overseeing 54 regions, 2,400 retail sites and 180 fuel terminals across Russia.