Wild Geese: From a Macroom farm to the top level at Intel in Oregon
Electrical engineer Ann Kelleher left Ireland for the US 10 years ago
Ann Kelleher: “If you do your current job really well then opportunity will come.”
Originally from Macroom in Co Cork, Ann Kelleher studied electrical engineering to PhD level at UCC before joining Intel as a process engineer in 1996. Since then she has risen through the ranks to become senior vice-president and general manager of the technology and manufacturing group.
Her responsibilities include corporate quality assurance, customer fulfilment and supply-chain management, while strategic planning for the company’s worldwide manufacturing operations is also part of her remit.
Kelleher left Ireland in 2008 to take up the role of plant manager at Intel’s Fab 12 facility in Arizona and subsequently worked with the company in various US locations before moving to Portland, Oregon, in 2015.
“I relocated to Arizona with my two cats, who both adjusted well and learned to love the air conditioning in Phoenix during summer time. Both have their European passports and are ready to travel at all times,” Kelleher says.
“What I really like about living in the US is the size and scope of the business opportunities available to all. I also enjoy the diversity of people and cultures.
“The biggest opportunity I have had working abroad is progression in my job. For example, I was involved in technology transfer and in getting factories up and running and I really enjoyed that.
“Intel develops and manufactures its products globally and it was important for me to learn about our global operations and to gain the broader perspective needed for my current role. This would have been more challenging to do had I remained in Ireland,” Kelleher adds.
“I’ve been within the technology and manufacturing group [which has about 30,000 employees] for 22 years but in different roles. We are offered a lot of training, so you can grow the skills to become a very effective manager and leader.”
Kelleher was one of just five women in her class of 55 at UCC. She ended up studying electrical engineering because it combined her love of maths and science, while the high points required for entry appealed to her competitive side.
“Did I really know what it was at that point in time? Absolutely not, but I was very interested in the core subjects,” she says. “ I had a maths teacher called Sr Carmel, who was probably in her mid-80s when she was teaching us, but she was really sharp and inspired a passion for maths in me.
“My dad was a farmer and had been farming since he was 13 or 14, but he was very good at maths and, when we got stuck on an algebra problem, he usually got called on.
“He believed we could do whatever we wanted as long as we went off and studied and were good at it. He didn’t see career opportunities as being male or female. He saw opportunities for people and was very much of the view that if you’re able and get the results then go forth and do it.
“I think one of the reasons young people are not choosing Stem subjects at college is because they don’t know people who have studied them and they don’t know what jobs are available if they do. People tend to make choices based on what they know.
“We need to get it out there that, with a science or engineering degree, you can work in a variety of different roles, you’re not pigeonholed when you finish college. Anyone with strong maths, science, computer or engineering background can have their choice of jobs in our sector as long as they focus and deliver results.”
Kelleher has moved 10 times since joining Intel but admits she has “finally unpacked” in Oregon.
“For the foreseeable future I’m here. I really like it and I’m happy. You’re guaranteed a summer with sunshine and dry weather and there are four seasons. I live in downtown Portland and it has arts, culture, good restaurants and is very easy to get around.
“I have lived in some other cities in the US where you have to drive everywhere you need to go. I like just being able to get out and walk.”
With long days at the office the norm, Kelleher doesn’t have a lot of time to herself, but she makes a point of getting to a pilates class once a week and, in her free time, enjoys travelling, reading, gardening and hiking.
“I still travel for work but a lot less than in my previous role. I go to Asia once or twice a year and to Europe about three times a year. I don’t regard trips to Ireland as travel because it’s going home.”
Asked about the toughest part of managing her current role, Kelleher says: “I am constantly challenged by time. Time in the sense that I like to get into detail. I like to understand and know what’s going on so one of the things I’m constantly balancing is what’s the appropriate amount of detail? It involves constant prioritisation and managing so I can be my most effective. It’s all too easy to get swallowed in the amount of work that needs to get done.”
With two decades under her belt at Intel does Kelleher have any advice for those who would follow in her footsteps?
“If you do your current job really well then opportunity will come,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to take risks: often the job with the greatest risk can bring the greatest rewards.”