Category: Archive

Selling Ireland to Americans

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Harry Keaney

As Enterprise Ireland’s CEO for the Americas, 52-year-old John Corrigan has jurisdiction over a marketing and sales territory that extends from the northern territories of Canada to Cape Horn on the southern tip of Chile.

Enterprise Ireland, a relatively new entity, is a government body that promotes Irish trade and technology, and is headquartered at Ireland House, 345 Park Ave., Manhattan. It’s an amalgamation of two older government agencies, the former Irish Trade Board and Forbairt, which had the job of developing indigenous Irish industry. Enterprise Ireland also includes part of FÁS, an Irish government training agency.

"We now offer a totally integrated service to client companies," Corrigan said. "It’s the ultimate one-stop shop for anyone who wants to get involved in business, from start-up to technology transfer to promotion and development, marketing and advisory services."

Enterprise Ireland recently opened a trade and technology center in Campbell, Calif., and, according to Corrigan, plans are at an advanced stage to open a similar center in Boston.

Although he has spent his entire career in the slick business of selling and marketing, Corrigan himself instinctively espouses a simple and practical approach to his work.

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"Some marketing people try to make a science out of common sense," Corrigan said. "The reality is that most of our clients are practical people and we will lose their respect if we adopt a doctrinaire approach to marketing. They want real answers to real questions. Marketing is a commitment to sustained profitable growth through actively identifying and satisfying customer’s needs. And the operative word there is ‘actively.’ "

He added: "We are very fortunate in that there is a high acceptance of Ireland as a source of quality product. Last week, we had 750 U.S. buyers in Dublin for Showcase, the largest airlift of buyers ever into Ireland. When we go to high-tech regions of the country, there is an instant recognition of Ireland as a supply source. Senior managers are familiar with Ireland, they have been in Ireland and a lot of their companies have subsidiaries in Ireland."

When it comes to technology, Corrigan said, the success of Irish companies in the U.S. has nothing to do with sentiment. "Product, service, specification and price, nothing else matters," he said.

Corrigan, the second of five children, was born in Kildare and attended the Christian Brothers School in Drimnagh Castle. "I left school after I did my leaving certificate and was delighted to leave it," he said. "I never knew what I wanted to do but I always had an interest in the whole area of marketing and selling. When I started working in Ireland, there wasn’t an understanding of marketing, it was selling. Marketing evolved out of our contact with America. Then the pendulum swung the other way and people were divorcing marketing and selling. In my view, good marketing is a prerequisite to good selling, because other than that it’s research."

Corrigan got a job with an American office automation company called Sperry Remington and, in time, graduated from the University of Ulster with a masters degree in philosophy. He also lectured in Wales for a period.

He went on to join the Irish Goods Council, of which he eventually became chief executive.

"The great thing about that job is that it was like school, I got to know all the manufacturers and producers," he said.

He has a keen interest in the environment, having written a book entitled "Green Consumerism in Ireland" as well as having traveled throughout Asia on behalf of the European Union lecturing on the potential of "waste" as new material.

About seven years ago, the Irish Goods Council and the Irish Export Board merged to form the Irish Trade Board, of which Corrigan became assistant chief executive. Two years ago, he was sent to New York on a five-year contract as the trade board’s CEO for the Americas.

"Our remit is simple," Corrigan said. "We have to double our clients’ sales during the next 10 years. In 1997, we sold £867 million worth of product. We know everything we do, we have to evaluate it against this figure."

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