Wild Geese: Séamus McDermott, Ford of Europe programme chief
Tyrone-born engineer oversees global small-car platform from German base
Séamus McDermott: “I believe the ability to get along well with people comes more naturally to Irish people and is an advantage in this industry.”
There is a brand-new Ford Fiesta on the market and the man responsible for getting it there is Tyrone-born Séamus McDermott. Sales of the Fiesta exceed 300,000 units a year in Europe, making it the region’s top-selling small car. McDermott’s job was to get the new model to market on time and on budget.
McDermott’s connections with Ford go back to when he left school and was sponsored through his studies in mechanical engineering by the company.
He spent his holidays and a gap year working across different departments at Ford before being appointed manufacturing engineer for the Galaxy people carrier in 2003.
From there he worked his way up the ladder to become programme manager for the company’s global small-car platform, then global head of small-car programme management and, as of September 1st this year, chief programme engineer for mid-sized models. Within Europe this means the Focus and the Kuga, but it is a global role and also includes the Escape and the Lincoln in the United States and the Escort in China.
“The blame, or I should say the credit, for why I left Ireland should go to my career advisers at the Christian Brothers grammar school in Omagh in Co Tyrone,” says McDermott, who has been based in Cologne since 2008. “Having decided I wanted to go into engineering, they opened my eyes to the possibility of sponsorship to fund my university degree at Queens.
“I received offers from a number of companies but I thought Ford looked the most exciting and challenging. I had my first placement with Ford at 19 years old and by the time I graduated I had had 24 months of invaluable work experience, decent pay which helped me through university and a permanent position at the end of it.”
McDermott’s first full-time job with Ford was in the UK and he moved there in 2003 with his then girlfriend, Karen. Since then the couple have married and relocated and have had two children. Karen McDermott is a teacher and was snapped up by a local primary school within a week of moving to Germany.
In his spare time, McDermott plays soccer for a team of Irish ex-pats and in winter the family likes to go snowboarding in the Alps.
“From a personal view, I love the fact that our children are growing up bilingual and have the opportunity to experience many different cultures. Not only is Cologne a very diverse and multicultural city but, as it is right on the border with France, Belgium and the Netherlands, you don’t have to drive very far to explore something new.
“On the professional side, Germany is the heart of the automotive industry in Europe,” McDermott says, “so for me it is the ideal location and a place of opportunity.
“My key responsibilities as supervisor on the global small cars programme included managing parts complexity across 10 vehicle assembly plants and four vehicle lines as well as the delivery of platform scale and synergy strategies and the execution of multiple prototype builds.
“Then, in the manager’s role, I had programme management lead for vehicles with a budget of around $1.6 billion. My new role is another step up and will involve responsibility for around 2.5 million units per annum from beginning to end.”
Irishness an advantage
McDermott’s job means he travels widely and works with people from many different cultures and nationalities. He believes being Irish helps.
“My roles to date have relied a lot on building and having strong networks and trusting relationships with people from all backgrounds and levels of seniority within the company. I believe the ability to get along well with people comes more naturally to Irish people and is an advantage in this industry,” he says.
“The workplace culture in Ford is quite American and very different to working for one of the German car manufacturers where the atmosphere is much more formal,” he adds. “We don’t wear ties, for example, and we don’t have the same hierarchy. We’re more relaxed about things and, if a door is open, you can go in and talk to someone more senior.”
These are both exciting and challenging times in the automotive industry, which is experiencing unprecedented change due to new technologies and emerging alternative personal mobility models. This change is creating big opportunities, McDermott says.
“There is a high demand for the next generation of innovative thinking and open-minded talent across the industry. My advice to young Irish people interested in the auto industry would be to do your research and make contact directly with the recruitment departments of the major automakers both in Germany and across Europe. Be proactive, be confident and, most of all, be yourself.”
From a career point of view McDermott says Ford pretty much offers him all he wants.
“Unfortunately, there are no major automotive companies in Ireland, so you have to leave if you want to be at the leading edge of the industry. There are many opportunities here to progress and in my new role I will be responsible for an exciting pipeline of new products. Looking toward the future, should the right opportunity arise with Ford at the right time, I would like to experience living and working in another region of the globe.”