Bringing Ireland and Germany together in business and in life
WILD GEESE:Emigrant business leaders on opportunities abroad - Susan Walsh, Dean of Globe Business College, Munich
THERE ARE two clichéd reasons why an Irish woman would move to Bavaria, says Susan Walsh – a man and beer festivals – and she jokes that she ticks both boxes.
The self-deprecating Dubliner married a Bavarian and is dean of the Globe Business College, an independent private third-level institution based on Munich’s prestigious Maximiliansplatz.
“Germany is absolutely where Irish people should be right now,” says Walsh (42), her blonde curls bouncing with conviction. “We tend to overlook Germany but, in reality, the Germans and Irish are a fantastic combination because we so diametrically opposed in terms of our characteristics. But opposites attract.”
Born in Perrystown, Walsh attended St Patrick’s primary and secondary schools in Greenhills – “a great, great school” – before studying at the National College of Marketing and Design in Dublin.
She juggled a job at Bank of Ireland with marketing qualifications, then moved to the bank’s credit centre in Belfast. There she earned a master’s and later a PhD in marketing and management at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown.
A decade ago she had moved back to Dublin when the cliché – a tall Bavarian – walked into her life on a Friday evening “in Café en Seine, where all those love stories begin”, she laughs.
After marrying her Bavarian – sealing the deal at a mountain beer festival – the couple moved to Munich full time in 2003.
“I had no connection with the place, knew no one and would never have moved here. Before I would have thought: ‘Munich! Germans! God, no!’ But of all the cities where I could have ended up, I fit in here.”
Once settled, she spotted a gap in the market for an educational institution offering German students an Irish slant on business.
She co-founded the Globe College in 2005. Today many of its students are drawn from families who run their own “Mittelstand” companies, the SME backbone of the German economy.
After two generations of success at home, the third generation – Walsh’s students – have to take the companies out into world markets. That’s where the Irish can be a huge help.
“To sell abroad, they need skills they cannot get in the German education system,” she says. “The German system tends to be process-oriented and largely based on the assimilation of facts.
“The Irish system is more focused on developing problem- solving abilities, communication skills and people competencies. When you bring those two systems together, the result is incredible.”
Globe’s courses – a business bachelor’s and post-gradraduate qualification – are offered exclusively in English and awarded by Griffith College and accredited by Hetac, the third- level accrediting body of the Irish Government.
Walsh is critical of the outgoing Government and ministers who, in her view, have let the vital relationship with Germany slip in recent years in favour of the easy, English-language familiarity of Britain and the United States.
“It’s not enough to go to the US any more,” she says. “The Government talks about the smart economy and produces comprehensive documents on the topic . . . but from my perspective, one of the the smartest thing things we could be doing right now is spending money to ensure that every Irish student gets to Europe for a year, or even a semester, and develops the language capabilities that are of vital importance for us for the future.”
Warming to her theme, she suggests that Ireland can best use the downturn to answer the question: “What do we do best?”
From her perspective in Munich, the answer is clear: you’ll never beat the Irish at soft skills.
“What we have are brilliant people and a way of doing business that no one else in Europe has,” she says. “We have a knack of talking to people, bringing people together and getting things moving in business at a personal level.”
Success bred complacency in Ireland, but she thinks the younger generations are well able to get beyond their comfort zone and take on new challenges in Germany. Language skills are important but not essential in Germany, she says. Just as important is an openness to new experiences that doesn’t always come easy to us.
“We Irish tend to have a brilliant and at the same time a terrible personality combination – arrogance and insecurity,” she adds.
“In business, if you come over here just with the pure Irish mentality, you’re dead in the water. You have to meet people at least half way.
“Having said that, if the Germans take to you, they really take to you, they love the energy, passion and vitality of the Irish.”