Combining the ‘know-how and know-who’ in consulting
Wild geese Brendan McKearney, principal, Brendan McKearney Consulting
Brendan McKearney says growing up in a farming community prepared him for the Japanese mentality.
Having spent three decades in Germany working for other people, Brendan McKearney recently established his own consultancy service to advise Irish companies supplying high tech solutions to the German automotive and technology sectors.
McKearney left Frankfurt-based Fujitsu Semiconductor this year after 25 years, during which McKearney rose to the top of the organisation becoming its managing director in 2009 and its first European-born president and management board member in 2011.
Europeans often struggle with the Japanese way of doing things. McKearney thrived and says growing up in a farming community in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, prepared him well for the consensus culture.
“I came from a background with a history of farmers sharing equipment and helping each other out. In ways it was very similar to the co-operative Japanese approach,” he says.
“There is still a huge difference in business culture between Asia and Europe but I think being Irish helps,” he adds. “We’re generally good with people, willing to work hard and adaptable. I definitely wouldn’t say the Germans work harder but their focus is different and their most notable trait is that they’re very gracious losers at football . . . They emphasise being effective and efficient whereas Irish people like to improvise and just get things done with the tools in hand.”
Japanese companies often get criticised for not empowering overseas employees and subsidiaries. McKearney says Fujitsu was the opposite.
“We had over 400 people in Europe and fewer than 5 per cent were Japanese. The Fujitsu culture in Europe was very dynamic. We had a lot of autonomy, world-class design teams and revenues of several hundred million euro. During my time as president, we won first place twice in our category in the Great Place to Work awards.”
McKearney left Ireland in 1984 when the economy was on its knees and jobs for young graduates were rare as hen’s teeth. He had studied electrical engineering at DIT Kevin Street and ended up in Germany by chance. It could easily have been Britain or the United States as he had applied for jobs in both.
Language classes His first job was as a development engineer at EPI Messtechnik in Wiesbaden. He quickly recognised that fluency in German would be a major asset and took language classes at night followed by a degree in German.
He joined Fujitsu Semiconductor in 1989 as a technical author before moving into product marketing. He then spent the next 25 years developing the business in major European vertical markets.
Over time however, McKearney had a growing feeling that there was more to explore. The desire to make a move crystallised when Fujitsu decided to restructure its semiconductor operations. McKearney seized the moment and left the company to start his own business.
“I liked the idea of working with different companies with different challenges,” he says. “I have a wide network of contacts and I understand how the major players in these markets tick. To sum it up, I can provide a combination of ‘know-how and know-who’ to help client companies develop their business faster and with less risk.”
McKearney expects to work mainly with Irish companies offering high added-value products for fast-growing sectors such as connected car and the Internet of Things.
“I’m essentially doing two things – representing companies and being their eyes and ears on the ground and working on specific consultancy tasks,” he says. “One of the companies I represent, Taoglas Antenna Solutions, is a great example of an innovative Irish company with excellent chances to grow its M2M antenna business in the IOT/connected car space in Germany.
“The automotive players in particular want to stay ahead especially with Google, Apple and Tesla encroaching into their territory. They are open to partnerships and working relationships with companies that can help them stay ahead.”
The Germans have a reputation for being hard taskmasters but McKearney believes Irish companies have the capability to satisfy their requirements once they grasp how the Germans think.
“German business culture is characterised by a conservative, risk adverse and common sense approach with an eye on sustainability and the long term,” McKearney explains. “They’re dependable business partners when you gain their trust and they value long-term personal relationships.”
McKearney also says a good product or solution will only open the door in Germany. To win business, suppliers must also demonstrate quality, sustainability and a strong awareness of risk management.
“What an Irish supplier may not fully appreciate is the huge impact of a production stop at a car maker. It would rack up damages of several hundred million dollars every day, not to mention the knock-on effect on their supply chain. They go to great lengths to mitigate supplier risk and suppliers must be aware of this and have a robust business continuity plan in place,” he says.
Despite its current difficulties McKearney believes the automotive sector will continue to offer interesting jobs for engineers and scientists. He also expects huge opportunities to come from the development of the Internet of Things in major companies but even more so in the industrial ‘mittelstand’ (medium-sized companies).
“I would advise young Irish people interested in working in Germany to learn the language as soon as possible. Proficiency is essential to building informal relationships and in my experience, they are just as important as formal ones,” he says.
Previously published in The Irish Times.
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