The Global Irishman: Liam Casey’s borderless world
It dawned on me that many reporters have been looking at Casey through a narrow lens. The media often refer to him as “Mr. China,” either for “unlocking China’s secrets” or bringing the world’s work to its factories. But Casey’s stage is international and his very success as an immigrant from Ireland flows from working across all the boundaries and distances that have seemed so important for so long.
A more fitting alias for Liam Casey is “The Global Irishman.”
Ireland’s second act
In today’s world, such cross-border fluency is in demand wherever experts converge to ponder the future. Shortly before I met with Casey, he spoke at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, and the month before that, at the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh in Dublin. The Irish government convened the Farmleigh conference in September to explore ways to renew the Irish economy.
In the lead-up to the big recession, Ireland was simply on the wrong track, Casey told me. Our concern was all about “investment properties and holiday homes and all that . . . If you look at the history of Ireland, we’re not a landlord nation. I think the focus was wrong and now we have an opportunity to correct that.”
Casey agreed with many of the proposals that came out of Farmleigh, particularly ones which build on Ireland’s existing strengths, like culture and the arts. One panel recommended the country build a world-class center or university for the performing arts and Irish culture. Irish poets and musicians are indeed famous across the world. But considering the big downturn in more fundamental parts of the economy, I wondered how Ireland could translate things like art and culture into significant economic recovery.
I asked Casey whether countries like China and India may, in fact, be eclipsing the Celtic Tiger, moving into many of the value-added, service sector roles in which Ireland has long had an advantage.
Globalization brings huge challenges, he conceded, but “we’re writing the rules for globalization now.” Any nation “has great opportunity to create what’s next.”
Of course, Casey is optimistic by nature, a trait which has allowed him to spot potential and seize on it before others. But his prescriptions are well-grounded. The Irish should look beyond Europe, he reflected. “I see huge opportunity if we can take what we do in Ireland and take it globally.”
Indeed, this is what Casey has already done with PCH, a strategy which has helped the private firm grow 30% this year, over revenues of about $115 million last year, as it employs 800 people worldwide.
In a globalized world, he predicted, the solutions to what’s happening in Ireland “won’t come from the island, they’ll come from outside.” But they’ll require the initiative of Irish people. Whether the Celtic Tiger fades into history is “up to us,” Casey declared. It’s “our decision whether we let that happen or we don’t.”