A DONEGAL man is working with Irish companies that are seeking to enter the market and grow their business in Asia.
Tiarnan McCaughan is Senior Market Advisor in Enterprise Ireland’s Singapore office. He looks after the software, financial services and fintech sectors, supporting clients moving into the Singaporean market and wider South-east Asia region.
Earlier this week he spoke to the Donegal News about growing up on a farm in Termon and college life to his job where he works with 500 companies who are actively selling in the Asia Pacific region and playing GAA with the Singapore Gaelic Lions.
“The GAA, represented by the Singapore Gaelic Lions, is a phenomenal resource and I have made many great friends through it. It’s something which no other country has and should be anyone’s first port of call if they find themselves in a new country. Typically we will play some games with incoming teams from neighbouring countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia or travel outwards. The main event is the Asia Gaelic Games, held once a year somewhere in region, with almost a thousand players,” he said.
It’s all far removed from the family farm, near Glenveagh National Park, which his father Willie works. His mother Anne, (nee Sheridan) from Kilmacrennan, works in Letterkenny University Hospital and he has two sisters Roisín and Áine.
“Returning home is never far from my mind, and I suspect it’s the same most of our friends and family who live abroad.
“For me, one of the positives to come out of the pandemic would be the acceptance of remote working. Good jobs no longer have to be tied to a big city like Dublin. People can have a real career in areas like finance or tech and also live in Termon or Malin or Fanad. You can start a business from anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection,” he said.
The former Coláiste Ailigh student went to Sydney in 2015 after he was accepted into the Enterprise Ireland International Graduate Programme in his final year of college. He stayed in Australia for two years before moving to Singapore in 2017.
“After primary school in Termon I went to Coláiste Ailigh in Letterkenny. It was a fantastic experience and I was lucky to have the support of some excellent teachers. At Leaving Cert level, I would have been really pushed on to achieve by certain teachers such as Mickey Gibbons who balanced Principal duties with teaching Physics and Chemistry, Síobhan Goppert in German and Sean MacCeallabhuí in Technical Graphics,” he recalled.
Jobs-wise, he worked a lot of construction jobs in summer and ended up on sites in Boston, Manchester and Sydney while, closer to home, he also worked for Denis Sheridan at DS Environmental Services in Kilmacrennan.
“It was my first experience with sales and seeing an entrepreneur working first-hand. It was pretty formative,” he said.
Tiarnan would recommend the Enterprise Ireland International Graduate Programme to any current university students interested in business.
“We take in about 15 people to a selection of our 40 overseas offices, and have an Ireland-based programme also. We are currently open for applications until the last day of October,” he said.
Tiarnan’s job helping companies plan their market entry, find their first customers, then scale operations in the Asian market.
“I try and act as a broker, building relationships at a senior level in local Asian businesses and making the introductions which Irish people might need to sell their products and services. It’s an enjoyable role as you try to create the initial conversations that lead to a big sale or breakthrough,” he explained.
There are a number of Donegal companies already active in this region, including E&I Engineering, Accubook (hotel software), Gartan Technologies (Fire & Rescue rostering), Nvolve Group (IT) and Lottie dolls (Toys).
“We probably have about 500 companies actively selling in the Asia Pacific region and quite a number looking to win their first deal. Ireland has produced plenty of world-beating companies and that will continue. I like to think more of them will soon be big names in Asia.
“Enterprise Ireland supported companies employ over 220,000 people, so it’s a real motivator to be working to support jobs across the country,” he said.
Asia is a growing marketplace. It’s very fast moving and many commentators would say that Europe and America now are followers in terms of technology.
“E-gaming is possibly the biggest sport, even drone racing is common! E-commerce is done at huge scale and speed, everything is mobile first,” he said.
“The region is incredibly exciting and diverse, presenting opportunities that can dramatically change a business’s fortunes. That said it is highly complex and shouldn’t be underestimated.
“One thing that is important to understand is that trust and relationships is paramount to getting any traction. This takes a long time to build up and requires face time. Companies absolutely will not do business with you unless they know you, like you and trust you.
“I’d also recommend trying to leverage the incredible diaspora of successful Irish people around the world – you should never hesitate to reach out to someone for advice.
“There are also some basic cultural things like don’t try to set up initial business meetings in an Irish pub, it is not the done thing, although I have seen a few try,” he said.
It will be two years this month since Tiarnan was last in Ireland. Singapore has had mandatory two week hotel quarantine since the outbreak.
“I can’t really complain as there are so many Irish in places like Australia and New Zealand that have had the same experience and no clear end in sight for them. It’s also a short shift compared to the experience of most Irish emigrants in decades past. You wouldn’t have blinked if someone didn’t come back from London for two years in the eighties or nineties!
“Thankfully times have changed and technology keeps me very connected to family back home. I’ve got lucky and have not missed any major family events, although I know many people who have not been so fortunate,” he said.
“Covid-wise the country was very impressively managed with only 70 deaths.
“The island was Covid-free for almost a year with mandatory 14 day hotel quarantine on arrival, but the transition to living with covid is proving difficult, as a lot of people are yet to accept it is not going away. And the government accepts that long-term the Island that is a meeting point of East and West, cannot be closed off from the world forever,” he said.