Providing tech leadership role with flash-sale luxury retailer

Wild Geese: Adrian Trenaman, CTO Gilt Japan

Adrian Trenaman is CTO of Gilt Japan and has been living in Tokyo with his wife and four children for two years.

Joining the American luxury flash-sale retailer’s Dublin office when it opened in 2011 as technical lead, Trenaman returns to Dublin in January to take up a new role as VP of engineering leading the Gilt Tech Team in Dublin while continuing to consult with the Japanese team on tech strategy at the company.

Growing up in Clondalkin, west Dublin, Trenaman caught the tech bug at the age of 12 when he did a computer programming course in school. This informed his college choice and he went on to study a degree in Computer Science at Trinity College, going on to do a PhD in Maynooth.

During his time at Maynooth, Trenaman spent some time consulting with the European Commission, going on to work on several projects for the body, all of which meant extensive travel throughout Europe.


The travelling continued when he worked at Iona Technologies: "For 10 years I travelled throughout Europe, America and the Middle-East as a technical consultant and evangelist, and along the way got interested in open-source technologies and contributed to the Apache Software Foundation, " he says. "It was a consultancy position so I would fly out on a Monday. I never knew from one week to the other where I would be based."

Exciting role

Trenaman says that as a single person it was an exciting role which also afforded him the opportunity to live in Zurich for year.

“In that period I got engaged to my wife Ann-Marie and we were used to that lifestyle when we got married and had kids. As the children got older there was a strong desire to be at home with the family.”

Trenaman has three girls and a boy ranging in age from one to eight years and while he and his wife knew that the Japan stint was for a finite period there were still concerns.

“As parents of four children you are worried about your children settling into schools, whether the language will be a problem, whether you’ll set their education back by two years, where they’ll make their communion or how will they do in school with Irish on their return. Of course ultimately it has been a fantastic experience all round,” he says.

“When you are in Ireland you drop your kids to the school and pick them up and are friendly with people but perhaps don’t have huge connections but in Tokyo the school is your lifeline connection to your social network – the only people with the same culture and language and we found that we were far more involved than we would be at home,” says Trenaman.

Perhaps surprisingly, in a city of over 13 million people, the family live in a large house near one of the city’s centres – Shibuya. Trenaman says houses are built as fairly temporary structures compared to houses in Europe and the “idea of a 100-year old red brick house is a complete joke” to many Japanese people. “Our house is coming close to the end of its life so we were able to rent it at a reasonable rate,” he says.

Culture shock

The culture and language were a shock on arrival, as were the earthquakes.

“As an Irish person you are not used to the earthquakes which happen incredibly often. If one occurs when I am in work, my Japanese colleagues might look up and then just go back to work, whereas as a foreigner they can be quite unsettling,” he says.

Decorum and the high standard with which everyone does their jobs and co-operates as a society have surprised Trenaman – being able to leave your bike unlocked or your laptop on a café seat while you go to the counter or the fact taxi drivers open and close the doors for customers. "The fact that people bow all the time is quite unsettling too. Even in Starbucks people bow. In Japan you choose to be the very best at the job that you choose to do. The service throughout restaurants, bars and hotels is so high it's a real eye-opener."

The American culture of Gilt makes it somewhat unusual in Tokyo where the company has 125 employees. “The standards expected of me are high here as they would be anywhere. Gilt is an American culture company, that said, 80 per cent of the staff is Japanese so there is a great mix of Western-style, anything-goes openness, alongside the Japanese-style polite, quiet approach to doing things. I have learnt a lot working here.”

In terms of business etiquette he believes while the Japanese are most intolerant of etiquette slip-ups in each other, conversely, they are very accommodating to Gaijin or foreigners.

Trenaman will take up his new role in Gilt’s Dublin offices as VP of engineering for Gilt Ireland in January – a tech leadership role leading a larger team. “For tech companies based in Dublin and headquartered in the States, keeping that link to the stakeholders and keeping your work innovative, on the edge and exciting is where the challenge happens. I have a great team that I am moving back to and making sure that we are doing high quality, innovative work in Dublin is really important.”