Wild Geese: In the business of communication in the Orient
Danny Corrigan runs a language school and a management training business in Thailand
Danny Corrigan trains clients in communications at an event in Bangkok
Danny Corrigan stopped off in Bangkok in 2004 to buy some camera gear. He was on a year-long trip around southeast Asia at the time. Thirteen years later, he’s happily married with a three-and-a-half year old daughter and a 180 degree panoramic view of the oriental city from his apartment window.
“We have a great life here, certainly one we couldn’t afford at home,” says Corrigan, who runs two communications companies. “We live in a bubble here. We go to the best restaurants and stay in five star hotels by the beach at weekends.
“But it’s not been without its ups and downs. I’ve been through two military coups, floods and various natural and personal disasters. It’s been pretty mad,” he says.
Corrigan was working various jobs in Dublin – from running restaurants to taking photos for PR agencies – before he decided on his globe-trotting holiday break.
“The Celtic Tiger was kicking off, but I felt I was stagnating, so I decided to travel across Europe, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Singapore, and finally Thailand. I had the most incredible year.”
After decompressing in Bangkok for longer than anticipated, he met a friend who suggested he go for a job in Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant.
“I had studied communications and had a background in business, so it was the perfect opportunity,” he says. Pfizer sponsored Corrigan’s visa, which would have otherwise cost thousands.
He spent six years working as a managerial communications consultant, taking in excellent training opportunities and gaining huge experience across southeast Asia.
When Lipitor, Pfizer’s top-selling drug, went off patent in 2010, Corrigan decided to take a generous package and buy into a communications consultancy.
“I was jaded from the corporate thing, but I wanted to continue working in communications for both Thai and English-speaking clients. So much can get lost in translation in Thailand. For example, being silent means being polite. So often, foreign clients wonder why people don’t give feedback in meetings and it’s because the most senior person has to speak before they do.”
He had also met his now wife at this stage and was planning to get married.
“We met in 2009 at a charity event in a hospital. Sookiuki, who is South Korean and currently vice-president of a major multinational insurance company, packed her bags and left a senior position in Seoul to come to live full time with me in Bangkok and start a life together.”
It was all going smoothly. Corrigan bought shares in a company called English Solutions, an English language and test prep training school, before eventually buying out one of the two partners. Having no experience in finance, he trusted his partner to fully manage the company accounts.
“It turned out to be the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. Within six months, all my money and company’s money was gone. He absconded back the the United States with everything – almost €200,000 – leaving just €70 in my account.”
As his world was falling apart, so was Bangkok. There was a slow tsunami happening, Corrigan recalls. The riverbeds were rising, water was flowing down the streets into houses and doorways, sandbags were everywhere. Business stopped.
“I needed some time to clear the head so I went to the gym. I had withdrawn my last €70 but, while I sat in the steam room, my locker was forced open and my wallet was robbed. So literally all my money was gone. Every last cent.
“I thought things couldn’t get any worse.” And, as it turns out, they didn’t. When he came home, his wife had two tickets to Ireland for Christmas waiting. “She told me I looked like I needed a drink. We landed in Dublin airport 30 hours later and I had the best Christmas of my life.”
Upon returning to Bangkok, he took full control of English Solutions and informed clients and businesses about what had happened.
“Thais are very compassionate and my clients gave me early contracts and really helped out.”
He made the company successful, and started another company called TDI– Talent Development International. Clients include multinationals like Pepsico, Chevron, Mizuho and HSBC and many others who needed to develop senior manager’s skills in communications and cross-cultural management.
Besides running two companies, Corrigan also organised the Gathering event in Bangkok in 2013, numerous Paddy’s Day events and worked as a director of the Irish Thai Chamber of Commerce from 2010 until 2016.
He also co-organises various corporate social responsibility events every year, including “Scream for a Samhain” at Halloween in a district known as Bangkok Slaughterhouse, one of the most underprivileged places in Thailand.
“We get 150 volunteers together and organise games, haunted house, face painting and food stations for over 400 kids. It’s fantastic and it takes them out of the horror they experience on a daily basis .”
Corrigan’s advice to anyone thinking of coming to Thailand is to inform themselves as much as they can about local customs.
“Thailand culture is very complex and you could unwittingly land yourself in hot water by accidentally offending someone. Interestingly, Thai people – like Irish people – love to have the craic – they call it “sanook” and it’s really important to them. That’s why everyone is always smiling and relaxed most of the time.”
This can be disconcerting, however, if you are a western manager driving a Thai team to reach an important deadline, he says.
“The whole country is built on hierarchy and respect, but it is a dichotomy because sometimes there seems to be so much disorder.”
“That said, it’s a great place with a wonderful Irish community and a fantastic new Irish embassy doing excellent work. Anyone thinking of moving here will be able to find a connection quickly.”