Studying languages ‘put me in the room’ in business in Latin America

Wild Geese: Nicholas O’Connor, Santiago, Chile

Santiago-based Nicholas O'Connor advises those looking to go abroad to further their careers to "look beyond the well-worn paths".

Far from home in Dundalk, Nicholas O’Connor has been living in Chile for close to a decade. Currently working for Bloomberg’s Latin American arm (Bloomberg Línea) as vice-president of revenue and strategy, he says he has benefited from a particularly Irish sense of confidence throughout his career.

“You tend to bump into Irish people in different companies in [Latin America] in senior roles. I think it is first off the quality of our baseline primary and secondary education... the other thing is that confidence and willingness we have to put ourselves out there a bit more,” he said.

“I don’t know if it’s a specifically Irish thing or if it’s a white male privilege thing, but we are awfully confident. Saying I can do that, even if maybe you’re not 100 per cent sure but you’re quite sure that you’ll be able to do it. Especially in Chile, that can be a difference maker,” he added.

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O’Connor joined Bloomberg Línea when it first launched in Latin America in 2021 as the sole driver of its commercial end, presenting the brand and opening up new markets in the region. Now leading his own team of staff as commercial vice-president, he says it was languages that have been opening doors since he moved to Chile nine years ago.


“Language has been the main catalyst of why I’ve done so well in my career. I never studied business, I never studied marketing, I never studied finance or law, nothing. But now I’m a vice-president at a Bloomberg brand. Where did that come from? From studying languages. It puts you in the room,” he said.

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After completing a bachelor of arts in modern languages in UCD, studying Spanish, French and Italian, and completing an Erasmus year in Chile, O’Connor was drawn back to the Latin American country to complete a master’s in international studies, and got his foot in the door at AméricaEconomía Media Group.

“The magazine itself, AméricaEconomía, was the first pan-regional business publication in Spanish in Latin America – think of an Economist for Latin America. It was kind of a translator job, but also a marketing assistant role. At that stage, it was around 2015/16, magazines were really just getting into their digital transformation – and I came in at the right time,” he said.

I’m in the lucky position that I’ve been able to get a lot of knowledge about how each market in Latin America works

“I was young and I was able to start doing a bit of everything, from translating to working on the advertising materials to looking at Google Analytics, because it was all stuff that I find easy to do. I did a lot of that and then, I don’t know exactly how it came about, but I started helping the salespeople sell digital stuff, and I just started getting put in charge of more and more,” he added.

Over six years, O’Connor progressed to second-in-command as chief revenue officer at the publication and, in 2020, was named a rising star in global media by both the International News Media Association (INMA) and the Fédération Internationale de la Presse Périodique (FIPP).

His current role selling advertising with Bloomberg Línea allows him to travel the length and breadth of Latin America working with top international brands, O’Connor says.

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“I’m in the lucky position that I’ve been able to get a lot of knowledge about how each market in Latin America works, so I get to work with major multinational brands on pan-regional marketing initiatives, working on creative campaigns that might touch various different markets,” he said.

“Every conversation is different as well. With media sales, you’re walking into a meeting and you don’t know exactly what you’re going to be selling. If you’re selling cars, you’re going to be selling cars, but in media you’re selling your brand and what you can do with that brand,” he added.

Outside work, O’Connor says life in the Chilean capital, Santiago, has the best of both the cosmopolitan and natural worlds.

There’s so much opportunity out there, there are so many nice places to experience and live, whether it be South America or Asia

“Chile is a fantastic country. You have a very modern city in Santiago which each year is getting more and more cosmopolitan. It’s great for cycling, there’s so many nice hills around the city, great for running, there’s lots of parks, and lovely tennis courts. My weekends usually involve one of those three activities,” he said.

“Then you’ve got so much adventure tourism. In the south, you’ve got Patagonia; they’ve got some amazing national parks. In the north, you’ve got deserts, the Atacama; there’s so much to see there, and on the coasts there’s an awful lot of beaches because it’s a very long country,” he added.

O’Connor said his advice for those looking to venture abroad for their careers would be to look beyond the well-worn paths and “look at other destinations that aren’t Vancouver or Perth”.

“There’s so much opportunity out there, there are so many nice places to experience and live, whether it be South America or Asia. Don’t not look at a place just because you don’t speak the language: that’s not necessarily a big issue. These things can be fixed and it opens a lot of doors,” he said.

Ellen O'Regan

Ellen O’Regan

Ellen O’Regan is a former Irish Times journalist.