Wild Geese: ‘I’ve no desire to go anywhere else at any stage ever’
Dubliner Barry Slowey settled in North Carolina via way of Paris, Vienna and Limerick
Barry Slowey: “I’m a people person, and I think what people look for is a company whose values meet your own values.”
When Barry Slowey joined Cook Medical, he was the second employee at its new European operation in Limerick. Now the man from Templeogue has been appointed president of the medtech firm’s Winston-Salem division in North Carolina.
The well-travelled Slowey’s journey into overseas business began when he studied international business in Dundalk, Co Louth. For him, it was a rewarding course on many fronts – not least because that is where he first met his future wife, Anne.
“I sat next to my wife in college in Dundalk – the first day,” he recalls. “We were friends for about three or four years before we ever went out with each other.”
An Erasmus programme gave Slowey his first taste of business outside Ireland when he spent a year in the French port town of Le Havre.
“The programme worked because they brainwashed me,” he says. “It was probably one of the best years of my life. It did completely change my perspective on what I wanted to do.”
Slowey returned to France soon after to work in Paris for Moulinex as part of a split-year business programme. The first six months were spent in Thurles, Co Tipperary.
“I moved from Thurles to Paris, so that was quite a culture shock. Although I learned an awful lot, it was probably the loneliest six months I’ve ever spent in my life because it’s a big city and the department I had to work in was small. I thought it would be easier to integrate than it was. One of the things I focused on a lot at the time was my language.”
A subsequent internship with technology giant Philips brought Slowey to Vienna, giving him the opportunity to learn another language. It progressed into a position in its international marketing team – studying German by night and Philips’s work ethic by day.
“My manager was north German and, at the weekly meeting, he had an egg timer so each person had three minutes to speak. He would flip over the egg timer, and when the three minutes was over he would move on. What I learned from it was discipline and organisation. When people ask me what my motto would be, I’d say work hard and play hard. It probably comes from that time.”
Looking to move back home, Slowey applied for a job with Cook Medical, a privately held company based in Bloomington, Indiana, which specialises in minimally invasive technologies for vascular and nonvascular surgery.
Slowey had never heard of Cook when he applied and had no real desire to move to Limerick. Still, when the call came several months later, he and Anne found themselves relocating. He became the second employee of its local operation.
“Cook was building this new European headquarters in Limerick,” he says, “and, when I started there, there was just literally an old bungalow where we were based out of. There was a big green field and Bill [Doherty, managing director told me there was going to be a factory there.
“They built that factory and now I think there’s about 850 people employed there. It’s thriving; it’s really grown.”
In 2002 Slowey again moved his family, now with two young sons, to North Carolina to head up the global sales organisation for Cook Medical’s endoscopy division.
His recent appointment as president of the Winston-Salem facility coincided with his 20th anniversary with Cook. He says he has no intention of moving on.
“I’ve no desire to go anywhere else at any stage ever. That probably sounds weird. I’m a people person, and I think what people look for is a company whose values meet your own values – if you can come to a workplace where you can be yourself.
Need meets opportunity
“I’m extremely excited by the role,” he adds, “ in particular just the space we’re in. It’s exciting, but there is a lot of responsibility because, if you look at the US, we are heading towards 20 per cent of GDP being spent on healthcare. There are a lot of healthcare issues going on. So I think, on the one hand, there’s a lot of need and on the other, there’s huge opportunity.”
Slowey admits there are a few things he misses in Ireland, such as sarcasm – apparently it’s lost on the locals in North Carolina. He also cites the nonscripted banter and genuineness of random strangers you meet in shops, restaurants and pubs back home.
While family and friends are also missed, regular catch-ups take place at home and abroad. Overall, it looks like Slowey & family are settled in to American life for the long haul.
“We purposely sent our kids to public school,” he says. “Here, the town I live in is 40 per cent African American. For historical reasons, there’s a lot of segregation and we didn’t want to be segregated. We wanted our kids to grow up in normal public schools here and see what normal life is like, and we’ve had really good experiences.
“Sometimes some of the attitudes feel like Ireland 20 or 30 years ago. But, at the same time, Americans are generally nice.”