Wild Geese: From Cork to a 20-year love affair with the Middle East

Cormac Sheedy has seen the phenomenal growth of Dubai first hand with Irish people at the centre of it

Cormac Sheedy first travelled to the Middle East in 1998. It was the start of a 20-year love affair with the region.

"I moved to Dubai in 2003, around the time that the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) was being launched. As a traveller through the Gulf since 1998, I suggested to my then employer Bank of Ireland Asset Management they consider a Dubai office.

"They were focusing on building a US business at the time so I left them, to open an office for Invesco Asset Management. In the new DIFC, we were licence number nine."

Over the past 15 years, Sheedy has run the Dubai office for both Fidelity International and Royal Bank of Canada. The DIFC now employs over 22,000 people and is ranked in the top 10 financial centres globally.


It's all a long way from Cork, where Sheedy attended Christian Brothers College on St Patrick's Hill (where his late father, Michael, was a teacher) before entering University College Cork in 1985 to study commerce.

The lure of a job in Bank of Ireland interrupted his studies in 1986 and six years later he was offered a position in London as the banking sector expanded.

Enormous potential

This role saw him spend some time in Jersey with the asset management division before he started looking to the Middle East.

“I think anyone passing through Dubai in 2002 would have seen the enormous potential and vast opportunity that the place offered,” he says.

Currently business development director for Jersey Finance Ltd, he has spent the past two years working on promoting Jersey as an international financial centre.

In view of the ongoing geo-political events in the Middle East, many of the large regional families look to Jersey as a home for structuring their international assets.

“We support them. The job is varied and most weeks I travel to places like Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon as well as Asia.”

Sheedy has witnessed the phenomenal growth of Dubai from a small city with fewer than one million people in 2004 to a population 3.2 million today.

“One of the fascinations of the region is the culture,” he says. “People take time to get to know you and trust you and only then will they consider a business relationship. I think Irish people adapt really well culturally, and we are genuinely interested to engage with Emeritis, about their families as well as sport.”

With his wife Mary, Sheedy has owned a house and a mortgage in Dubai since 2006, when expatriates were allowed to purchase.

“It has definitely settled us here. From a work perspective, all my contacts and knowledge is in the Middle East and into Asia.”

Sheedy is passionate about Munster and Irish rugby. Since 2004, he has travelled over 300,000 miles following both teams and was fortunate enough to see Heineken Cup wins in Cardiff and a first win over the All Blacks in Chicago in November 2016.

Although his sons have never lived in Cork, they consider themselves to be 100 per cent proud Irish and Munster men like their father. The elder, Harry, has started at Exeter University; 16-year-old son Ollie has his heart set on UCC.

In Dubai, the Irish have been successful, with long-term residents such as Gerald Lawless at Jumeirah Group and Colm McLoughlin at Duty Free. The new Irish Ambassador to the UAE, Aidan Cronin, estimates there are now 10,000 Irish people living in the United Arab Emirates.

Currently challenging

Sheedy is currently treasurer of the Irish Business Network in Dubai and not a week passes without receiving an enquiry from an Irish person seeking to move to the region.

“Many of them have a dream to live in the sun, supposedly tax free, but unfortunately it’s not that easy as the business environment is currently challenging. Many of them don’t know about living here.”

To live in the UAE requires a residency visa, and that is only offered by an employer. And many people arrive without having their professional qualification documents attested. It’s doable before travel, but very cumbersome if left to arrival.

“You need to be culturally aware to succeed here. We give a lot of our time advising on CVs and managing expectations. Preparation is certainly key when moving here.”

In financial services many of the large global institutions now have established a presence in Dubai. Sheedy believes that in areas such as fintech and regulation technology, opportunities will arise as institutions realise that they have to operate locally to international standards. Many will achieve this with the aid of cutting edge technology as opposed to just hiring more staff.

The Irish Business Network was set up in 2011 and is a vibrant entity with notable Irish speakers passing through Dubai who are invited to speak.

"Recently, Joe Schmidt spoke on leadership and his honesty and humility, really resonated with our members. In September, we held our annual half day seminar and Francis Brennan, shared his insights on travel and tourism, a hugely popular sector with the Irish in Dubai."