COUNTRY COMMERCIAL MANAGER, AFRICA, TCD GRADUATE
After spending his first year on the programme in France, his second and third year saw him set off for a completely different challenge, the hustle and bustle of West Africa. After a year based in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cathal then moved to Cameroon and has since become the Country Commercial Manager for both Congos. Cathal studied Business and French in University College Dublin which gave him the right foundations to start the role in France, but in his own words “if you had of told me when I graduated that I’d be given the opportunity to work on developing the brand in Africa, I would have bitten your hand off!”
When did you decide that you wanted to take part in the Jameson Graduate Programme?
It was during the UCD Careers Fair in 2014, when I talked to a guy named Gordon Murphy who was on the programme and due to leave for Angola the following week. The idea of being able to go and work in Africa whilst also representing an iconic Irish brand and having the support and development opportunities of Jameson behind me was a perfect mix.
What market were/are you in?
France/ DR Congo/Cameroon/West Africa
Was there ever a language barrier while on the programme?
Yeah the first few months in France were quite tough as my spoken French was a bit rusty but all went well after a few months as I was able to get up to speed. In West Africa, 90% of my work is through French but picking up some of the local languages such as Lingala for the D.R. Congo helps you connect with a lot with clients and also helps you to get out of some tricky situations (especially with traffic police), as the locals get a great laugh out of a foreigner speaking it. Nazo yóka elóko mókó té. = I don’t understand that is great for when you eventually get lost in the conversation.
What was/is the most rewarding thing about the Jameson Graduate Programme?
The most rewarding aspect of the Jameson Graduate Programme for me is that I’ve been able to get the best of both worlds in terms of what I wanted in a graduate job. On one hand I have all the amazing training, development and support of working for a well-known company such as Jameson whilst also having the opportunity to go abroad to work in and explore three amazing countries and cultures before the age of 25. There are very few graduate roles that can offer the same amazing mix of development and adventure and add to this the fact that I’m promoting an Irish product and Ireland as a brand makes it even better as even though I’m away from home, I still feel very much connected to Ireland.
What was your most difficult obstacle to resolve while on the Jameson Graduate Programme?
West Africa throws up a huge number of obstacles on a daily basis but the up side to this is that once you adapt to the business environment here, you find that solutions to these obstacles can be found just as quickly. In terms of the single biggest challenge I’ve had on the programme it’s definitely launching the brand in Cameroon. Our competitors have been well established here for decades and we’re starting from scratch but this also provides a huge opportunity as we’re not weighed down by history. I can develop and position the brand in ways our rivals cannot and being the new whiskey on the block means customers are intrigued. It’s up to us to turn this initial interest into trial and eventually brand loyalty.
What weaknesses did you improve on?
In terms of improving on weaknesses, through living in French speaking countries I have been lucky enough to be able to take my level of French up from an average university level to fluent which was a big goal of mine when starting out. For the marketing/business side of things I think that working in Africa has hugely improved my levels of persistence, adaptability and stress tolerance versus when I left university. A lot of things we take for granted working in Europe such as a reliable internet connection or even electricity are not yet as reliable in West Africa and there are also huge cross-cultural differences to deal with in business such as time orientation and brand perception. For example last year in the D.R.C. the electricity went out for ten minutes during our biggest event of the year and the back-up generator at the venue stalled so we had 350 guests in a dark room. Luckily we were able to convince the band to try out some of their songs acoustically while the provided light with their phones. We scrambled to fix the problem and in the end it added to the experience on the night.
What skills learned from Jameson have been transferable to your current position?
How to be a global employee, adapting my working style to different situations and cultures in order to get the job done.
What is your favourite memory from your time on the programme?
Launching the brand in the city of Goma in the Eastern D.R. Congo. This area was a warzone as recently as 2012 but a period of peace since then has seen the economy here improve rapidly and because none of our competitors are present the potential for Jameson as the first mover in huge. Sine Metu meaning Without Fear is our company motto and this perfectly sums up what we are trying to achieve in West African markets. The region around the city is also some of the most spectacular in the world and I was lucky enough to have some downtime when I was there to visit Virunga National Park, where I saw Mountain Gorillas in the wild and slept in the crater of an active volcano.
Any tips for anyone applying or future brand ambassadors?
Learning languages and studying/working abroad during university are very solid investments for career development and are something you’ll never regret. On the practical aspects of applying for the programme the biggest tip I’d have is to get a start on your application video as early as possible as Christmas exams and the festive season will creep up fast and putting a video application that will showcase all your talents is something that may take a few days.