What did you study, when did you graduate and which campus?
I studied a part-time PG Diploma in Management (Operations) at Jordanstown while working for Bombardier Aerospace and I graduated in 1996. It was a competitive process within Bombardier, where employees identified as high potential could apply to participate in a third level qualification in order to progress through the business, so I was delighted to be given the opportunity. A number of years later, I went on to complete an MBA in International Business in partnership with the Irish Management Institute. This was also in the Jordanstown campus. I am grateful to Bombardier who were extremely supportive throughout both courses.
Can you give us an overview of what you currently do?
I have been with Bombardier now for 35 years. I started a month before my 17th birthday as part of their apprenticeship programme. This whet my appetite for the industry and my career in the Aviation industry unfolded from here. Having successfully completed my apprenticeship I became an Engineer, but it was through my studies at Ulster University that I moved from the aeronautical engineering side of the business into operations and then management. It was the academic and practical learning through the courses that opened my mind to these areas and ultimately allowed me to develop and succeed.
In 2005 I moved from Northern Ireland to Montreal and what was initially intended to be a three month stay turned into three years! From here I moved to Toronto, where I held a variety of positions in the operations side of the business for seven years. Next it was back to Montreal for a further seven years, as a Program Director role for a new aircraft presented itself.
For the last two years I have been General Manager of the Red Oak, Texas site near Dallas, which employs over 550 people producing an advanced Smooth Flex Wing for the high-end Global 7500 Business aircraft. These aircraft deliver optimum speed, range, luxury, short-field capabilities and an exceptionally smooth ride and they are extremely sought-after worldwide. Last year saw us complete our 100th wing which was a huge milestone for us.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Academically, it has to be achieving my MBA. It was a huge commitment with long hours and a lot of hard work. This was accomplished all while juggling my full-time job and a young family. A lot of my weekends were spent in the library, so to receive my final result was a really big achievement for both me and my family. My MBA was undertaken through UU in partnership with the Irish Management Institute where I was awarded the Sir Charles Harvey Award for receiving the highest marks in a master’s degree in Ireland. I was also named on the Dean’s Honours List which recognises students who consistently achieve high marks across their academic work, so this was a real honour.
My studies really opened my mind and have given me the confidence and courage to change careers from an engineer to the manager of a large overseas site.
From a career perspective, I was recently appointed to the Aerospace and Aviation Advisory Committee. This was a significant appointment that involves working with the Governor of Texas and will allow my colleagues and I to assist in the state’s economic development efforts to recruit and retain aerospace and aviation jobs and investments in Texas - something that is very important for my company, given its position as a major employer for the region. I am really proud to be contributing through working closely with both government and industry.
What has been your biggest challenge to date? How did you overcome it?
More than once, I wanted to give up on my studies. Between working a full-time job, having a young family at home and studying at the same time, it was incredibly challenging. However, through determination and perseverance I was successful and I’m very proud of my achievements.
I had to dig deep many times but I kept focused and envisaged the journey that could lie ahead as a result of completing my studies, and I also remembered the paths that I had already travelled and the challenges I’d experienced along the way, this gave me the encouragement and strength to keep going.
I’ve been very lucky to have a small but strong support network around me throughout my career, studies and life in general, including family, friends and colleagues. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing but the challenges and rewards make the journey worthwhile.
Give us a brief overview of your time at Ulster University- have you any special memories?
I remember arriving in the library at Jordanstown when I first started and feeling totally daunted by the library system. But then later, when I needed to spend a lot of my weekends in that same library, it almost became my haven and I got to know many of the staff there - they were such a great help.
And who can forget the famous Mall at Jordanstown- it was always a hive of activity!
My academic tutors were amazing, always there to offer ongoing support, tips and advice and on occasion, even took phone calls at night or when I needed it most. One particular tutor that stands out was Pat McCartan who has sadly passed away now.
I was incredibly lucky to have made two life-long friends during my time at Ulster, one still based in Belfast and the other in Scotland.
What are your top tips for students of UU, to get the most out of their time at university?
Perseverance is key. Get a good support network around you and remember to look back and celebrate what you’ve achieved while always remaining focused on the path ahead. You’ll make life-long friendships through your Uni days and these will be part of your natural network, your support and your cheerleaders as your career develops.
What are your plans for the future?
I have been with Bombardier for 35 years and my career path has been challenging but very rewarding. I brought the apprenticeship model from Bombardier in Belfast here to Texas and it has been a huge success. I feel it is important to develop our talent and also to give back; to support the younger generation and help them grow and thrive.
I’m involved locally with a number of key stakeholders including the Irish/Canadian Consulate and the Regional Chamber of Commerce and these are projects and relationships I want to continue to grow and build on.
So for now I’m really enjoying Texas, I plan to stay put for a while, and enjoy the ‘now’, living life.
Have a great career story or memory from your time at UU that you'd like to share? Why not get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org