Irish America magazine's annual Business 100 luncheon at The Plaza on December 8th in Manhattan brought together national and international leaders from every sector of the business community. Consul General Niall Burgess, Northern Ireland Minister Gerry Kelly, New York City Speaker Christine Quinn, and many other luminaries from the Irish-American community gathered to celebrate the Business 100 honorees.
Of the celebration's many highlights were the words offered by Liam Casey, PCH International's founder and CEO, who served as Keynote Speaker at the luncheon, and US Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly, who was Guest of Honor. Both spoke about the new business opportunities created by technology and globalization in America, Ireland and throughout the world.
Kelly spoke about shining a light on the entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes Northern Ireland and how to take advantage of emerging economic opportunities.
"My son is two years old and I recognize that he is what they refer to as a digital native, and I plan on telling him that tonight. All of us are, if we’re lucky, digital immigrants. People for whom all of this technology wasn’t with us in the cradle, we’re learning to adopt it and to use it. But there is no doubt that the sheer pace and proliferation of technology has created a very different world for us all, one filled with greater opportunity than ever before. I was reading an article in the New York Times two days ago about the world’s first virtual symphony performance. You may have seen it. It took place at Stanford University with the performers using nothing more than iPhones strapped to their hands. The computer programs stored on the phones are so sophisticated that if you merely blow across the face of the screen of the phone, you can reproduce the actual concert sound, concert quality, for a wind instrument. You don’t even need to touch the screen, you just blow on it. It’s only a matter of time before we’re sitting in Carnegie Hall with nobody on the stage, all of the performers performing on their iPhones or similar instruments from various different locations around the world, the beach if they’re lucky, for the world’s first virtual performance. Maybe we won’t even have to bother turning up, just dial it in, if you pardon the pun. On a serious point, this is called in techno-speak “augmented reality,” where the “real” means the virtual. The best example of this that I like is that you’ll be able to soon—this is true, not a joke—I think I see John Ryan down there. For example, the Macrovision people in California, Silicon Valley, he’ll tell you this is not a joke cause he’s a hard lead industry and a pioneer in it for thirty years. Think about this: pretty soon you’ll be able to go into a clothing store and rather than have to try on the clothes, you can just stand there and a virtual kiosk will scan you and the clothes and put them on for you. Sounds good to me. Yesterday I read a story where the world’s first virtual newsroom was created in Taiwan. Again, this is true, this is not a joke. In this form of journalism, if the facts of a story are not known fully, then the newsroom recreates the story using certain assumptions as to what probably happened, turns it into a virtual news segment and posits it for the consumer to consider as if it had actually happened. And they’ve done this in the Tiger Woods story for the last five days [laughter]. Read it in the New York Times, folks, it’s the truth. I can see my friends in the PR industry heading for the exits even as I speak. Instead of, “My client has nothing to say,” it’ll be, “My client would have had nothing to say even if he was here which he wasn’t not withstanding the fact that you’re looking at something that indicates that he might have been but that’s because this isn’t real, if you know what I mean, you can quote me on that.”
"So all of this would be rather amusing if it wasn’t so serious. Looked at another way, all of it would be amusing if it wasn’t such an incredible opportunity, and that’s what I really want to talk to you about today. Times since 1985 when Irish America started out have certainly changed, there’s no surprise in that, but the pace of change of the last two or three years has eclipsed everything that happened in the previous twenty-two. I was in a meeting with George Mitchell in DC at the state department a fortnight ago and he was making a point; he pointed out that it took eighteen hundred years for the world’s population to exceed one billion people. We’re now projected to potentially add one billion people every thirteen years. And we’ll have ten billion people on the earth by the year twenty fifty. Why am I telling you this? Because I passionately believe that in this new reality that companies, individuals and countries who display the necessary dexterity, flexibility and foresight to anticipate how best to handle this new world order will be those who set aside the ordinary way of thinking, people like our honoree [Liam Casey] today, old ways of thinking about the world and apply completely new logic to pursue commercial opportunities. These opportunities are now happening faster and more globally than ever before because being big no longer makes any difference. It doesn’t really matter. Sometimes the opposite can be true. I believe that in the future—at least the foreseeable future—primary success will depend on developing characteristics that enable what I call distinct differentiation. The future for all but the largest democracies will be about the development of multiple microeconomies. The development of targeted economic micro-clusters and customized service solutions that give rise to the establishment of strong ecosystems capable of adapting to fast-moving often very hostile economic conditions in this new world order."
"The regions which embrace this kind of thinking, this kind of philosophy will have an even stronger advantage in the world that is changing faster than any of you or any of us can keep up with. If an economy is built on a cluster or micro-cluster it is difficult to pull the rug from underneath it. Not impossible, but very difficult. So lets talk about micro-clusters and micro-economies before you all sort of fall into your soup wondering what that means. Suspend your imagination for a moment and imagine you’re looking at a place that has two airports offering on a daily basis thirty direct connections to Europe, a hundred flights to Great Britain, and a direct flight every day to New York. It has a workforce that is highly educated, skilled, and English-speaking, a university system that churns out two thousand business graduates a year, a population that’s among the youngest in Europe, I think the lowest turnover rate in Europe, and over 700,000 people who can be actively employed at any one time. It’s got one of the best, if not the best, communications infrastructures in the world, has 65,000 small- to medium-size businesses, with twenty or less people in them, and has multiple established micro-clusters like the ones I referenced earlier, including information and communications technology, business services, financial services, aerospace engineering, and life sciences. That place, ladies and gentlemen, is Northern Ireland. That place, a place we all love and care about very dearly, is embarking on its own journey to find its place in this ever-changing world against a backdrop of sustained peace and reconciliation, and a peace dividend that continues to enhance its potential to do so. I am here to tell you, the reason I took this job, apart from a desire to serve the country and take the opportunity to make a difference in some small way if I could, is because I truly believe that this is a unique opportunity to shine a light on a place in the world that truly has, independent of politics and the past and the things we know about, because of the independent characteristics, if you can suspend your imagination and not think about everything else for a moment, because of those independent characteristics, it is one of the best places in the world that is best position to take advantage of that new complex operating environment that I mentioned earlier. Precisely because of its size, its young workforce, its superb infrastructure, its proximity to Europe, its low-cost operating environment, and its history of having thousands of small to medium-size enterprises, think clusters, it is ideally suited to the kinds of economic modules that I believe are going to drive innovation and organic growth in the world for the next, at least, decade in almost every sector.
"I’ve been in this role just three months. It’s seemed like the blink of an eye so far; it’s gone so fast. In that time I’ve been to Northern Ireland four times and I’m going again very soon. Every time I go back there I come back with yet more examples of the entrepreneurial spirit I referenced earlier."
"You may not know about it. My job is to change that and I intend to make sure that that happens. My job is to shine a light on the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and to tell as many people as possible that when they come to Northern Ireland, they’re going to find a strong economy. They’re not going to find people who are afraid or scared. They’re not going to find people who are looking back. It has the lowest unemployment rate in the British Isles, despite the economic downturn. It has the highest education scores in the entire third-level education spectrum in the British Isles. And as I said, it turns out two thousand graduates a year with the highest business degrees you can imagine.
"If you go there, and I want you to come with me any time—we’ll be going a lot—you’re going to find an economy focused on clustering and building ecosystems. Invest Northern Ireland’s core strategy is to target companies operating in four distinct areas: business services, connected health, financial services, emerging markets. In other words, to use Wayne Gretzky’s famous, often-abused line, which I’m going to abuse now, you’re going to find an economy that I believe has figured out not where the puck is, but where it is going. In the last three months since my appointment, I am pleased to tell you we have made significant progress in aiding this mission. Invest Northern Ireland has done a fantastic job and so has Mr. Kelly’s administration. Over seven hundred new jobs have been created as a result of the efforts that they have put in together since September the eleventh, when I was appointed. Nothing to do with me, it was all their work. This included the landmark investment from the New York Stock Exchange, creating over four hundred jobs alone in the region. Secretary Clinton herself made an official visit to Northern Ireland just three weeks after appointing me to this role. As I’ve said several times before, and I know she’s addressed this audience and given her friendship, her relationship, to so many people in this room and people who have worked with her people. I know John Fitzpatrick, and Niall [O’Dowd] and others, everybody in this room, knows that she’s a friend of Ireland, a friend of the Isle of Ireland, a friend of Northern Ireland, and there isn’t a week that doesn’t pass that she doesn’t ask, “What’s going on? Tell me now, tell me more. Anything I can do?” This woman is overwhelmingly committed to seeing this journey through.
"And we set up two working groups in Northern Ireland involving some people from Northern Ireland, about twenty people, and about fifteen people here in the U.S. who run large companies worth billions of dollars. They have no time. They have no time to even, you know, think about anything other than what they do and their families, yet I begged and implored them and burned up every favor I have and asked them to do this and they agreed and I’m pleased to say that several of them are being honored here today and are here, several of them: Jim Clerkin, Shaun Kelly, Tom Moran, Jim Quinn, these guys are the real deal! You all know that. They’re on conference calls with me, meetings with me, helping me to cajole, inspire, get people to listen to the story I’m telling you. They don’t have time, but they’re making time, and I’m eternally grateful to all of them for their effort. I congratulate you in particular here today.
"We’re also working on a long-term strategic plan, and I’m going to close [with that]. We have two aspects of that plan, One is what we call the momentum track, which is about getting people to pay attention very quickly to what we’re trying to do. Events like today are a big help in that. Second is the long-term track, where we intend to sow seeds that grow over a long period of time where we put centers of excellence, things like micro-finance—the future of the world is in micro-finance, ladies and gentlemen, the world’s economy, those that are developing in Asia and countries that are coming in, the new economies of the world, are going to form their businesses through micro-finance—because the large, capital systems wont be available to support them in what they’re trying to do. I think the last two years have made that even worse. So things like that, we’re looking at doing. There are mentoring programs with universities, virtual advisory boards as I mentioned earlier: we keep coming back to this concept of clusters and economic ecosystems that are focused on dots of progress. Those dots are really important. And so over the course of the next period of time, months or years, however long it takes to get this done, we’re going to get this done.
"So in summary, my message is simple: this is indeed a changing world, but one filled with incredible opportunity. I believe Northern Ireland is one of those locations ideally placed to take advantage of that opportunity. In the weeks and months ahead, working with many people in this room, I intend to do all in my power to ensure that every company or person in every state in America who is interested in part of that journey gets to experience what I’ve just told you about. Something special is happening here, the momentum is with this region; the goodwill is there for it in abundance, I look forward to working with all of you to help take it to the place where I think it is destined to go. Twenty-five years from now we may well look back on this time and say it all happened for a very good reason. Thank you for listening."
Liam Casey, who is seen as an expert in doing business with China, began his talk by telling the audience about his earlier career and how the China connection came about.
"I’m delighted to be here. It has been a journey. I was talking to Niall [O’Dowd] the other day—I spent the first ten years of my working life in the garment industry in Ireland, opened lots of stores. After about ten years I decided I wanted to travel, so I ended up going to California and lived out in Laguna in San Juan Capistrano, it’s a great part of the world. I had a friend who was working for a trading company. Eighty percent of their business was coming through hardware and twenty percent of their business was the garment business. I ended up getting a job working on the garment side of the business. I was coming in on a visa waiver, so every ninety days I’d have to go to Tijuana and get my passport stamped. I pretty much spent the rest of my time in the U.S. doing that. I decided, I’d better go back to Ireland and find something else to do. So I was in the office one day, with the guy who ran the electronics part of the business, Jimmy Chen. I said Jimmy, “Have you ever sold this product in Ireland?” And Jimmy looked at me and said, “Ireland? I’ve never heard of that company.” So I said, “Great, okay.” A couple of days later I was back in Ireland, and Ireland, thanks to America, was the European headquarters for so many of the multinationals. All the tech companies were there: Apple, Dell, Microsoft, AST at the time, EMC, all the great American companies were all in the European headquarters. So I knew there had to be an opportunity for some of the products to go to China. I ended up going to Taiwan, to a trade show, came back to Ireland, after about I think a year I got an order from somebody, and built the business from there. Again, people always ask me what PCH stands for, and I say, you know, PCH is Pacific Coast Highway. I named it after the road where I used to drive every day in California. And I think that’s one of the things about America: it is the land of dreams and opportunities. And that’s one of the things which I really—the attitude here was just fantastic. And every time I come here; I think this is my sixteenth trip here, to the U.S., this year. So I spend quite a bit of time here. A lot of them are very short visits, maybe two days or whatever, but it never fails to amaze me, the optimism here. Traveling around the world, when you do short visits around the world, you pick up a sense of a pulse from a city and a country and what’s happening around the world. As Declan Kelly said earlier, the opportunities around the world at the moment are phenomenal. The opportunities that we are seeing in our industry are just amazing. Our business this year is up thirty percent on last year. Again, when you look, we see huge change. … Christine Amanpour interviewed from CNN interviewed [former] British prime minister [Tony Blair] and he said that globalization is new, and we’re all struggling with how to manage it and how to work with it. He quoted some famous painter who at the age of ninety had just finished his five hundredth painting or something, and he put down his brush and said, you know, I’m just getting good at this. And it’s so true. Globalization—countries, companies, organizations have really struggled with it."
"So many of the Chinese companies we work with now are looking at, how can they manage global business in a better way? So that’s where I see opportunities arise. People have asked me about opportunities for U.S. companies and European companies and right next to our office in Shenzhen, about four years ago, this fantastic shopping mall opened. And it has all of the top brands, like Fifth Avenue, all of the top fashion brands. I went in there about a month after it opened. The two busiest stores in the mall: one was the Disney Store, and the other was the Coca-Cola store. And I don’t think that any other country has the power to build brands and to create value from brands than America. People are really drawn to American brands, and that is a huge opportunity. And that is something that, when we see it around the world—the majority of our clients are big-brand companies, and they’re based, most of them, from Silicon Valley. We work with companies that are passionate about their brands, they’re passionate about design, and they’re passionate about consumer experience. And that’s where companies, in this new technology, in the new globalization, that’s where companies can really win. It’s about focusing on those details, about being the best at what you can do. And, again, working with the U.S. companies we work with, we see huge opportunities for those companies."
"People often ask me, has your Irishness helped, over the years, in going through the PCH story so far? And it has, it’s been a huge, huge help. What I’ve seen in Ireland, and you see it as you travel, when you meet Irish people abroad—one of the great Irish values is compassion, and this is something that has helped us to travel a lot. We see it a lot, and when you go to different parts of the world and you meet somebody Irish, it’s that you listen to people and you talk to people, and you care, and people like that. It is one of the great Irish values."
"The most important thing as you travel around the world is respect. When you go to a foreign country, you’ve got to show the respect. You’ve got to try to understand the culture and work with them. The Obama visit was I think one of the best visits. The reaction from the people in China was very positive."
"China is going at a very fast pace … in 1984, the population of Shenzhen was 80,000 people. 2004, it was 8 million people. Today, it’s somewhere around 12 million people. If you ever attend a function or event and there’s an economist standing up there telling you about China, don’t believe a word of it. Because no one can understand China, China is so big. Just to get an idea of the numbers, China has 660 big cities, 200 cities with a population of a million people … and it is growing, it’s growing at a fast pace; there are great opportunities for companies there. Great opportunities for U.S. companies to go in there and sell your products."
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