A part time Longford teacher who left Ireland with just p20 in his back pocket is now the driving force behind a hugely successful international trading company which is taking China by storm.
Gerry Whitlow left his Newtowncashel home four years ago with the intention of seeing the world and making a name for himself overseas.
After saving up almost p18,000 to go on the trip of a lifetime across the likes of Thailand, Cambodia and South East Asia, the 37-year-old son of Michael and Marian Whitlow found himself staring at the prospect of a long trip home and little by way of job opportunities.
“When the money ran out I found myself back in Thailand waiting for my flight home,” he dispondently put it. “I was very depressed that my fantastic journey came to an end but I was also missing my family. I was sitting in a guesthouse in Bangkok passing time before my flight when I saw a poster on the wall. It read: ‘Are you a native English speaker, do you want to live in Thailand, make great money with free accomodation?’”
It was a question Gerry almost instantly knew the answer to. Suddenly buoyed by the possibility of extending his foreign adventure, the one time Ballmahon VEC student ripped up his plane ticket and within 24 hours was standing in front of a classroom of 10 Thai children teaching English.
“It’s not like at home, it’s all about your personality and the kids liking you,” he said earlier this week. “The parents pay big money to have a white native speaker to hang around with their children, it’s kind of a status thing too. They want their children to be comfortable around foreigners and to get used to different accents so the stress is not on educating them in complex grammar, more cultural integration.”
Six months into his burgeoning teaching career, the promise of a transfer to a rapidly growing Chinese market unexpectedly presented itself.
Upon weighing up the pros and cons of the move, the fully qualified computer programmer agreed, leaving a hectic professional as well as social life behind.
“I was saving no money in Thailand, I was down at the beach parties every weekend and blowing all my wages so I decided to finish the partying and make a go of it in China.”
Soon after his arrival, Gerry began surrounding himself with high flying businessmen and multi-millionaire factory owners.
“They were always asking ‘why are you not doing business when you live in the factory of the world,everything is on your doorstep?’ I told them I didn’t know anything about business or logistics so they offered to show me the ropes,” he candidly described.
A few modest sized deals later, the Dublin Institute of Technology graduate ventured into the rapidly emerging online industry by setting up his own website www.sourceinchina.eu.
Operating as a safety link for customers to purchase goods and services from China, Gerry’s brainchild, Shamrock International Trading Ltd, now has 1500 facebook ‘friends’ and over 10,000 website visits.
Such has been its success, one of Gerry’s closest friends, Ardagh man Brian Belton emigrated last year, becoming joint director in the process.
“Our main products at the moment are custom inflatables, car parts, ipad accessories and electronics,” he continued.
Trade agreements with leading Irish, UK and a French company in Shanghai are just some of the advances Gerry has made in recent months.
And like most ambitious entrepreneurs, finding time outside of work is a constant battle for the free talking businessman.
“I am still working in an International School so I spend the mornings there and then spend the evenings on Skype chatting to customers in Europe. Most days I work from 7am to midnight so it’s tough going,” he added.
You get the feeling nonethless that it’s one challenge this south Longford native is hell-bent on overcoming.