July/August 2001

  hot topics



Looking for Leprechauns 
by Catherine Howard

I just got back from a trip to Ireland, partially for a personal vacation and partially for a company-sponsored event. It was wonderful. But as I started to reflect on the experience, I was struck by certain similarities between Ireland and the glass industry.

First, there are the ruins. Ruins of all kinds litter the landscape: once grand castles, once imposing cathedrals, once strong fortresses now all silent witnesses to the past, softened with clinging greenery. It all sort of reminded me of what so many folks in the business longingly refer to as “the golden days” of the industry. As we romanticize about these periods, it is easy to forget that there were no HVAC systems, no refrigerators, no running water and no toilets. While life might have been good for a select few, there were many miserable servants bearing the brunt of the good life. So you could say things were out of balance, and when that happens, things tend to fall.

Then there were the contradictions: grand manors next to thatched- roof cottages. Of course, some of this was for the benefit of the tourist trade. But it did bring to mind the time of tortures and executions imposed on the tenant farmers by the landowners … sort of reminiscent of the early days of the networks.

Ireland is still very much an agricultural society with many small independent farmers. Sound familiar? And, as with any coagulation of strong individuals, there are bound to be vast differences in style. Some are very up to date on all the latest technologies and strategies while others are content to continue with the old ways. You still see carts drawn by ponies, even in Dublin, right next to the forklifts and elevators on produce row.

Getting from one place to another is another challenge, not unlike making a change from where you are now to where you need to be in the glass business. The roads are narrow and treacherous, plus you have to drive on the wrong side. The weather changes without warning from gloriously sunny to pouring rain mixed with pounding hail then back to sunny skies. It tests your nerves, your skills and your marriage (if you happen to be in this with your spouse). You must constantly remind yourself that you are maneuvering in alien territory. But it is all worth the trip. You are rewarded with stunning scenery along the way and great friendly pubs at the end of the road. Oh, and golf courses all over. (Glass guys would love the place.)

But the best part is the people. Even in the places where the first language is Irish Gaelic, they are open and friendly. You know they are talking about something you are very interested in, but you can’t really understand all they are saying (sort of like talking about pricing in the glass industry).

You can ask them a simple question and the next half-hour is theirs as they regal you with Irish wit and engaging stories. And they will be sure to invite you to enjoy some good crack with them. Yes, that’s right. Well, actually it’s spelled “craic” though it is pronounced “crack” and has nothing to do with the cocaine derivative. It is Irish for fun—usually including food, drink, talk, laughter and traditional Irish music. Now if that doesn’t remind you of the glass business, I don’t know what will.

Catherine Howard is vice president/general manager of National Auto Glass Specifications in San Diego.


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