Irish Business Leader

Mark Owens first came to the United States from Derry City in Northern Ireland in 1998 as a beneficiary of the Business Education Initiative program created by the Northern Irish government. At the time, Mark was in his junior year at Belfast Metropolitan College studying production management in the fashion/textile industry. He had never planned on leaving his home of Derry, never mind Ireland, but the opportunity arose, and he decided that he wanted an adventure. Several locations were open to him, but he decided to come to Cleveland to study business management at John Carroll University because, he said, he learned that water sports were plentiful in our vicinity and he had heard about our sports teams.

Upon arrival, he was greeted very warmly by his classmates and instructors at John Carroll. While there, he made a lot of new friends, loved his classes and, of course, was indeed an asset to the college’s soccer team, having played for years in Ireland.

After his year in Cleveland, he returned to Ireland and finished his degree. He faced dwindling economic opportunities there because the Irish textile industry was going into a slump after being a world leader in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Mark believes that the reason for this was that much of the work was being outsourced to other countries in order to save money. Plus, there was a frightening amount of political turmoil at the time in Ireland that steered potential investors away from it.

Mark could have accepted a job overseas, possibly in Morocco, but instead decided to explore returning to the United States and re-settle permanently in the Cleveland/Northeast Ohio region.

Thankfully, he obtained an offer from Enterprise Rent-A-Car that enabled him to return to the United States in 2001 as an H-1B visa holder. He was first assigned to Enterprise’s office in Parma Heights where he served as a trainee. Within a year or two he had worked his way up to Branch Manager and then to manage several other offices. Mark looks back on his six years at Enterprise with fondness and appreciation because he was able to acquire a lot of knowledge about running a business and the rendering of proper customer service. They gave him his first real opportunity in America, for which he is forever grateful.

In the course of this time period, he had met and ultimately married in 2004 a delightful young woman named Maria, a mental health therapist and the great granddaughter of Hungarian immigrants. Naturally, they wanted to start a family. Mark knew that needed a job with more conventional hours than Enterprise had to offer. His departure was an amicable one in which all parties shook hands and wished each other the best.

Thus, Mark went to work for State Farm Insurance as a field marketing specialist and he and Maria went on to have two beautiful children: Lillian (now 11) and Eamon (now 9). They now live in Rocky River where Mark, Maria, Lillian and Eamon are all very active in youth soccer.

On July 15th, 2011, Mark was proud to become a United States Citizen. He looks back on that day with a touch of humor because he was instructed to report to Cleveland’s federal courthouse wearing appropriate attire which, to him, meant wearing a business suit. Yet, as it turned out, he was the only new citizen dressed so fancifully – including the presiding judge.

Throughout 2012 and 2013, Mark acted as the chairperson for the North American Gaelic Games which took place in Cleveland Labor Day weekend of 2013. By all accounts, the Games were a terrific success not only for the athletes, volunteers, and Greater Cleveland Sports Commission but most of all for the spectators many of whom were visiting Cleveland for the first time and said that they would like to visit us again.

While planning for the games, Mark worked very closely with Mr. Dan Brennan and Mr. Paul Fox of Skylight Financial Group, the Gaelic Games’ Title Sponsor. Subsequently, they invited Mark to come to work for Skylight Financial Group and he decided to accept the offer. To be sure, Mark worked hard and excelled at his duties. In 2018, he became a Managing Director, a position that he holds to this day.

For a little more detail on his duties, we looked on the Skylight Financial Group website, which told us that Mark is “responsible for recruiting initiatives within the organization. He strives to raise awareness of the firm as a career destination for the next top performers in our industry. In promoting the abilities of the Skylight team in our various markets, including colleges and universities he helps identify new marketing opportunities where we can create and implement campaigns to develop these…”

To be sure, Mark and his family visit Derry at least once a year to visit his parents, two sisters, and a brother who all live in walking distance from each other. In terms of differences between Ireland and the United States, Mark believes that the lifestyle is more relaxed there; for instance, in the U.S. one is apt to schedule a time as well as a time period (one or two hours before the next engagement) to visit with family and friends whereas in Ireland one is apt to just drop in and stay for as long as he/she is welcome.

Economically, Mark is very pleased to report that conditions have rebounded since he left there, and Ireland is now a leading world player in the medical technology sector. In fact, he had statistics at his fingertips which demonstrated that, among other achievements, Ireland now produces 33% of the world’s contact lenses.

Most importantly, fully half of the 25-54-year-olds living in Ireland possess “3rd level educational qualities” meaning that they have attended college or a lucrative trade school.

It goes without saying, however, that Mark is troubled by the impact of recent bombings, particularly considering what he witnessed as a young man before he immigrated to the United States. He says that no one wants to return to turmoil of that previous time period.  He hopes that an agreement can be reached about Brexit that will prevent the return of a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Our colleagues, Mr. George Koussa and Justin Faulhaber, attended an event about this very subject a few months ago, featuring former Senator George Mitchell.

For the benefit of both Ireland in the United States, Mark helped to establish the Cleveland Irish Network which strives to strengthen “the economic, social and cultural ties between American and Irish businesses here and Ireland.”

Like many people who have immigrated to the United States, Mark still has a beautiful attachment to his native land which is hard to describe. “I am very glad to be here,” said Mark about the United States/Cleveland, “but my home will always be Derry.”