Wild Geese: For PwC accountant, the way is clear in Fog City
Brian Ó Cuív calls San Francisco the ‘incubator for new ideas and businesses’
Brian Ó Cuív: “The harder you work, the more opportunities come your way, and keeping an open mind is something I strongly believe in.”
Brian Ó Cuív got his first taste of working abroad when he moved to New York with PwC in 2006. He spent a year in the Big Apple before transferring to the company’s Silicon Valley office for another year. He returned home at the end of 2007.
But Ó Cuív had itchy feet. By 2010 he was back the US west coast – and he has no plans to leave again any time soon.
“I love the diversity, the openness and the willingness to embrace differences,” he says. “No one cares where you come from, what your background is, your ethnicity, or your accent. You are judged solely on your contribution and the value you can deliver.”
Ó Cuív studied law at UCD but quickly realised he didn’t want to be a lawyer. What swayed him in the direction of accountancy was a talk given to students by Carmel O’Connor, a tax partner with PwC.
“She made enough of an impression on me that I thought it worthwhile to apply,” he says. “After graduating, I did a postgraduate diploma in accounting at DCU before joining PwC in Dublin in 2001. I subsequently qualified as a chartered accountant and as a member of the Irish Taxation Institute.
“Somewhat ironically, more than 15 years after deciding that I didn’t want to be a lawyer, a huge part of my day now is advising my clients on the impact of US and foreign tax laws on their businesses.”
Ó Cuív lives in San Francisco, having moved there from San Jose in 2014.
“Historically, San Jose was the ‘capital’ of Silicon Valley and the early large tech companies were located in the south Bay Area,” he says. “Over the last number of years this has changed. Now the majority of venture capital investment is in San Francisco-based start-ups. I work primarily with venture-backed start-ups and public tech companies in the San Francisco area.”
“People work incredibly hard here,” Ó Cuív adds. “Long hours are standard across all industries, and there is an expectation that you will be available 24/7. There is no such thing as leaving the office without your laptop. I rarely take a day off without responding to an email or taking a call.
“I’ve also been struck by how well networked the local business community is. Everyone knows each other, and there is a willingness to share experiences notwithstanding that people may be competitors. It’s a cliche, but people really celebrate success here. Rather than having an attitude that there is a finite amount of success to go around, there is an attitude that success begets success.
“In the Bay Area, this has resulted in a huge influx of talent that fuels even more innovation. This has been one of the drivers of the continued evolution and success of the Bay Area as an incubator for new ideas and businesses.”
Asked what opportunities he has relished in the US, Ó Cuív says: “It is both challenging and fun to get the opportunity to work with pioneering companies that are in the vanguard of this disruptive movement. No two days are the same. You get the opportunity to fly high and dive deep, alternating between high-level meetings advising on key strategic initiatives and time getting stuck into the detail of implementation and execution.”
Ó Cuív has encouraging news for young engineering graduates in search of a job.
“There is huge demand for talent across all sectors,” he says, “but engineering talent in probably in the shortest supply, certainly with the companies I work with. Immigration reform has been a hot topic in the Bay Area for a number of years, given skills shortages in various sectors. It was also a major issue in the recent election. It will be interesting, to say the least, how the new administration seeks to address it.
“There was a palpable unease and nervousness after the election regardless of political affiliation,” he says. “Some of the rhetoric of the campaign ran contrary to the values of acceptance and tolerance we’ve taken for granted in recent times and that are so much a part of the fabric of this corner of the US.
“The Irish community in San Francisco is well established, and I would encourage anyone arriving over to tap into it. People are incredibly giving with their time and willing to share their network and connections.”
Open to opportunities
Ó Cuív loves living in the US and sees himself remaining there. But what if an irresistible opportunity presented itself?
“I’ve always been open to new opportunities and challenges, and I maintain the belief that while it is vitally important to have a medium-term plan, it is equally important not to be married to it,” he says. “The harder you work, the more opportunities come your way, and keeping an open mind is something I strongly believe in.
“There’s something incredibly exciting about change and the possibilities that come with it. I have always been happy to take calculated risks, and have never been one to dwell on ‘the road not taken’ once I’ve made a decision.”