US-NI mentorship programme’s future leaders

Meadhbh Monahan speaks to two potential entrepreneurs about their experience of the US-NI mentorship programme.

Established by the former economic envoy to Northern Ireland Declan Kelly, the US-NI mentorship programme sees local graduates attend year long work placements with high profile American corporations. It aims to develop the future business leaders and entrepreneurs of Northern Ireland and the skills needed to grow the local economy.

Local graduate Ashley Maybin had a “fantastic year” as Dom Pérignon’s US brand team intern with LVMH-Möet Hennessy USA in New York.

In 2010, while completing her final year studying communications, advertising and marketing at the University of Ulster’s Jordanstown campus, she applied for the programme which was then in its first year.

Ashley’s biggest challenge was applying Dom Pérignon’s French strategy to an American market.

“Dom Pérignon has a special market of high net worth individuals which I dealt with,” Ashley tells agendaNi.

She also worked on company newsletters, advertised on social media and created marketing programmes. From participating in monthly report meetings and informing the company’s key stakeholders of its performance indicators, Ashley feels that she has picked up skills that are not taught as part of her course.

The lessons she learned from her internship are two-fold. “I learned about international business e.g. many US states have different liquor laws therefore you have to adapt the strategy to suit different states which is very complex.” Outside of work, she enjoyed “trying new things” such as food and wines, travelling to Washington, Boston and Vermont, and “living independently.”
What struck Ashley about the US corporate environment was “the speed at which they work”. She explains: “A very important decision could be made during one working day and they are very keen on getting things done.”

Importantly, “they are very appreciative of the work you do and publically thank you for that.”

She thinks that local business can learn from the Americans’ positivity and be more trusting of their staff “in order to get things done quicker.”

The Antrim graduate is currently working as Northern Ireland affairs executive for the General Medical Council on a
13-month contract which, in her view, she wouldn’t have secured had it not been for her experience of the programme.

Peter Edgar was “bitten by the American bug” when he took a year out from his geography degree in 2008 to take part in the Study USA programme, which involves studying business-related courses at a US church-affiliated university or college. He attended in Clarke University in Dubuque, Iowa, and found it to be “the dream scenario”.

On his return to Belfast, he took part in the Headstart entrepreneurship programme which encourages student teams to compete to develop business ideas. He was part of the group that won in the Dragons’ Den scenario with their advertising company called ‘Control, Alt, Delete’.

“It was a great introduction into what it takes to be an entrepreneur and the competitive element that’s involved in business.”

When he heard about the US-NI mentorship programme in his final year, he applied and was accepted to Almac Clinical Services in Philadelphia. Peter spent the year working as a business project co-ordinator for the company.

He arrived in January 2011 as Almac were moving into their new building in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The building is “really impressive” and the fact that Almac is situated alongside other world-leading pharmaceutical companies is “something to be proud of at home,” Peter contends.

His role involved transmitting information from his US colleagues and contacts to his Craigavon-based line manager. At 24, he didn’t expect to be chairing meetings with the Vice-President of the clinical services business unit, but was glad to gain the valuable experience.

Peter was also given responsibility for formulating a system for retrieving documents from the archives in the company’s storage facility. He was glad that he was given a job “that added value to the company.”

He too noticed the “very strong work ethic” of his American colleagues. “The US corporate culture is very exciting,” he comments.  The Annahilt native is currently applying for business development roles in Northern Ireland.

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