Neil Harte, our man in Mongolia

Sue Doherty

Reporter:

Sue Doherty

even though he’s only 24 years old, management consultant Neil Harte’s life has already brought him on some amazing journeys – especially now, when he’s working in Mongolia.

even though he’s only 24 years old, management consultant Neil Harte’s life has already brought him on some amazing journeys – especially now, when he’s working in Mongolia.

Neil is from Kiltoy, Letterkenny, the third in a family of four. His father is Paddy Harte, formerly of the IFI and his mother Libby is a lecturer in French and Business at LYIT. His older brother is a barrister in London, while 27 year old Alys works for the BBC Panorama and 17-year-old Ellen is in 5th year at Loreto, Letterkenny.

He was educated at Woodland NS and St Eunan’s, where he played football, performed in some of the school musicals and discovered that he wanted a career in business.

“I was interested in business from an early age and by the time the Leaving Cert came along I was pretty sure I wanted to study business of some kind at college. Before I decided which route to take, I undertook work experience at Highland Radio, worked during the summers, both in France and America, and also did an internship with DCC. Although I gained valuable experience in each of these roles, it confirmed for me that my choice of studies was correct and that I should pursue a career in the world of commerce.

He went on to study at NUI Galway, where he completed a BComm.

“It was during my final year in Galway when the financial crisis hit the headlines.

“I majored in Economics and we were studying the crisis as it unfolded. In fact, a lot of our exam questions were about it. In some ways, our class was quite fortunate, as we got a very good understanding of the crisis and that was pretty useful . In times of economic crisis, businesses like to take a fresh look at how they operate and that’s where management consultants can really be of help.”

Then it was on to Glasgow, for a Masters in International Management. “By the time I started my Masters, I had developed quite a clear idea of what exactly I wanted to do. Management consulting gives you a lot of opportunities to try out different industries and work in different sectors. I like that variety.”

In 2010, armed with this knowledge and some pretty hefty qualifications, Neil headed off to the City of London to make his mark.

“My first role was in financial services, where the banks were being restructured after the government bail-out which happened in the UK before it happened here.

“I absolutely love London, it’s brilliant. It’s such a big city with such a huge variety of things to do, you’d never get bored. And there are so many more opportunities in London than at home. Also, I’ve made some wonderful friends from all over world. Living here really broadens your horizons.

“I live in London with my brother Patrick, and I had been over quite often to spend time with him before I actually moved over. Being familiar with a place before you move makes the adjustment a lot easier. There was no culture shock at all.

“When I was in financial services, I was analysing the way the businesses operated and recommending how they could improve their processes. “That’s great but a little abstract for me. I wanted to move to an area of management consultancy that was more people focused and that’s where I am now. Although I cover a broad range of areas, my focus is on the roles that people have in organisations, rather than the processes. I think it’s what my personality is best suited to and I really enjoy it.

“My first project in this area was a training and development initiative for a company involved in natural resources. The training I developed was rolled out globally, so it was quite challenging but very, very rewarding. I hadn’t done anything like it before. It was especially interesting because the team I worked on was split between the US, India and the UK, which made for an interesting dynamic, as everyone has different approaches.

“Before Christmas, the project I was wroking on was coming to an end. I came across an opportunity to work for a mining company in Mongolia. “We’re helping a company that’s operating a mine set up their training department, specifically health and safety. I’ve been back and forth since January. When I’m out there 50 per cent of my time is in the Gobi desert, where the mine is and the rest of the time is in Ulaanbaatar, the capital.

“The first thing that struck me when boarding the plane in Seoul to go to Mongolia was the number of people making the same trip. Having previously only referred to Mongolia when describing somewhere incomprehensibly far away, I was surprised to see a large Korean Air jet packed to the rafters (or in this case over head luggage compartments) with ex-pats and Mongolian nationals alike. I didn’t think that quite this many people would be making the same trip as we were. We were not so special after all!

“After navigating through the mayhem that was Chinggis Kahn International, I got my first taste of the weather. Ulaanbaatar (has recently been crowned the coldest capital city in the world and on this occasion it was –25C. It’s hard to compare this cold to anything I’ve experienced back home but what did come to mind was when a few weeks previous, I was sitting in the Putney end of Craven Cottage, where the Thames whips up a Baltic breeze upon the away fans, and I was thinking ‘I can’t believe I am willingly sitting in this cold to watch a football match’. Here’s to learning from your mistakes.

“Workers from all over the world have come to work on this mine and this makes for very interesting stories from very interesting people. The first surprise I had was the man from Co. Longford who asked me whether I was from Northern Ireland and what ‘the hell’ I was doing here. This was only to be outdone by the Mongolian man I met at dinner who spoke English with an Irish accent and proceeded to make us laugh continuously for half an hour by explaining his love for everything Irish but mostly Guinness. ‘Jesus, that’s lovely stuff’, he kept telling us.

“One of the big highlights so far Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian lunar New Year, at the end of February. Everyone gathered at 7am on 25m high platforms, with stunning views across the desert. As the sun breached the horizon, the Mongolian people began to wave their arms, throwing sweets and mare’s milk in the air in celebration. They also shared some form of snuff with one another.

“Then, in the canteen, there was a big feast of mutton dumplings and drinking camel’s milk soup. There were mounds of dried curd and cured goat meat, with the head then carefully perched on top. There was also lots of traditional singing, music and dancing and a play. Later that evening, a family invited us to their home to share in their celebrations.

“It’s been a fascinating experience so far. You’re struck by the gulf between rich and poor here but what strike you even more is the friendliness of the people and the warmth of their welcome.”