Wild Geese: Alex Corcoran, Daimler Trucks, Stuttgart
Mayoman in the driving seat at one of Germany’s major companies
Alex Corcoran: “The quick- est way to gain acceptance in a non-English speaking coun- try is to speak the language.”
Stuttgart-based Alex Corcoran says that as a mechanical engineering student, he was fascinated more by turbines, transmissions and engines than by the newer micro- and nano- technologies. “Simply put, I wanted to work with machines and parts that I could see and feel and my long-held desire was to work in the automotive industry.”
“As an engineering undergraduate at UCD, I took part in a BMW summer internship in Munich. Over three months, I participated in various engineering projects that gave me my first insight into the discipline and rigour of German engineering.
“BMW had just taken over Rover and I saw at first hand how cultural differences between my German and English colleagues led to difficulties,” he says. “Language issues also played a large part in this. Important meetings would inevitably revert into German, leaving the non-German speakers wondering what was going on.
“The quickest way to gain acceptance in a non-English speaking country is to speak the language. If you become proficient, you will encounter a sense of appreciation in people you meet that immediately sets you apart,” Corcoran says.
As a young graduate, he quickly discovered that getting a job with a German automotive company was not going to be easy. “Most of the other applicants had higher qualifications than me so I decided to return to college to pursue a master’s at UCD. This turned out to be my stepping-stone into Daimler.”
During his postgraduate studies, Corcoran spent two years as part of a UCD-industry collaboration with Cork-based company, Sifco (now SR Technics), which was involved in the repair of turbine blades and vanes for large commercial airline engines.
“We were working on the development of a novel laser processing technique and the knowledge I gained was to prove crucial,” Corcoran says.
“At the time Daimler was also researching laser-processing applications for both its automotive and aerospace divisions. Through Prof Gerry Byrne in UCD, I secured a six- month trial with Daimler. This turned out to be my door into the organisation.”
Between 2001-2006, Corcoran worked in various roles in Daimler’s R&D division looking at the feasibility and impact of novel manufacturing processes for powertrain and body shop production.
“I learnt the values of German engineering quickly,” he says. “It is almost manic and requires obsessive attention to detail, precise understanding and endless patience to test and test again until it is perfect.”
At this time Daimler was in the midst of its merger with Chrysler and this presented further opportunities. “I became an obvious choice for collaborative research projects due to my English-German language capability. I also found that the easygoing Irish mentality was a natural bridge between the expansive gestures of Americans and the succinctness of the Germans.”
In 2007, Corcoran was offered the opportunity to join Daimler’s truck business.
“Daimler Trucks is perhaps the most international of the Daimler divisions, with 27 production locations spanning the globe and five global truck brands, including Mercedes Benz and Mitsubishi-Fuso.
“From 2007 to 2011 I was part of an in-house team responsible for implementing a new lean operating system into all functions of the organisation worldwide.”
Corcoran says one of the great advantages of working for a large multinational organisation is that it offers opportunities to travel and to work across a range of disciplines.
“My move to the Daimler Trucks strategy team was aided to a large extent by the strong global network I had developed, coupled with a detailed understanding of the various international operating units and their products,” he says. “In my current role, I develop and coordinate strategies that have an overarching relevance for our international truck businesses.
“All large multinational organisations are placing great emphasis on developing the Chinese and Indian markets. The success of these ventures, no matter what the discipline or industry sector, will be inherently linked to an ability to surmount the inevitable cultural problems that will arise.
“I believe Irish people have a natural diplomacy that gives us a unique advantage and that this will be of great benefit to anyone emigrating today.”
Corcoran played rugby for UCD and when he moved to Germany he set about forming a team. He also coaches youth sides to promote the sport. “I’ve always found that no matter the country, rugby clubs can be a great socialising ground for emigrants and a way of quickly establishing a broad circle of friends of both foreign and national origin.
“Tremendous opportunities exist for Irish graduates in Germany,” he adds. “At the moment there is a significant shortage of engineers and skilled technicians here.
“Due to Ireland’s EU membership (no visa requirement), our excellent education system and our native English language skills, Irish people are an attractive proposition for German companies.”