10 Questions with Mark Owens, Director of Marketing, at Skylight

He’s been known to have rubbed shoulders with stars, to have mastered the art of dressmaking and to love chilling out over a pint with his dad.  And he is still searching the US for that perfect “Irish” chicken curry.

In the latest of our “Making It Personal” Q&A series, we find out a little more about Skylight’s Director of Marketing, Mark Owens.

What brought you as a young Irish man to Cleveland?

I was lucky to get the chance to go to John Carroll University through a business scholarship.  I could have chosen colleges in New Jersey, Florida, and Chicago but I plumped for Cleveland.  John Carroll appealed to me as it’s a smaller college and I was looking for something totally different.  Also, the JCU soccer team (which I went on to play for) was a big draw.  Believe it or not, I thought I was going to a place where there would be very few Irish!  Fast forward 15 years and I’m totally engulfed in all things Irish here in Cleveland.

My year in JCU was probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had.  It pushed me out of my comfort zone and opened my eyes to a new world of travel, food, culture, business, and networking. It was a very different world to the one I lived in Derry.

Having returned to Ireland to finish your degree what made you come back?

I had been working for a local Derry shirt factory, Desmonds, over the summers and they had put me through college with a view to me working there full-time when I finished my studies.  Northern Ireland’s textile industry was suffering blow after blow and Desmond’s was looking to downsize so when I finished college there was a mutual parting of the ways.

I then had my sights on getting back to Cleveland as I wanted to give it a shot.  I’d made so many great connections there – ironically, as I said, in the Irish community.  So when I was back here on a summer vacation, an opportunity came my way to work with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, on a sponsored visa, and I jumped at it.  Actually, it was a really easy decision as I love Cleveland.  Although it’s not a big city there are lots going on and everyone is so welcoming.  It’s a great sports town too and it’s accessible to so many other places like Niagara and Chicago. Another attraction was the cost of living which is good.

What do you miss about Ireland and have you any plans to live there again?

Mostly I miss my family who are all still in Derry.  I also miss the social aspect of having a pint with friends or my dad and the pub food. Life in Ireland is more laid back and casual.  Here in the States, things are more organized and you have to book ahead for everything.  This might sound a bit strange but I also really miss a takeaway or restaurant Irish Chicken Curry (which admittedly is quite different from a true Indian curry).  Although you can get curries here they don’t taste like they do in Derry!  The closest I’ve got to it was in a Gaelic park in Chicago – it was nearly perfect.

I’ve no plans to live in Ireland again but you never know.  I Facetime my family every weekend and we went to Derry in June.  I always keep an eye on property prices for a holiday home in Donegal (which is just over the border from Derry).  That’s a little dream of mine.

You’ve now been with Skylight for around three years, what’s your highlight of the year at the firm?

Without question, it’s the annual toy drive.   Last December, I went to the Christmas party organized by the Cleveland Police and brought my own kids along.  There were over 200 kids there and the look and happiness on their faces made a lasting impression on me.  For many of the kids there, that was the only toy they would be getting for Christmas.  It meant so much to them and to know we’ve helped is such an amazing feeling.

What do you like to do to relax?

I love being at home with the kids and my wife Maria.  We like to just hang out and do things like going to the cinema.  Soccer’s still a big thing in my life.   I play in the over 30s league here in Cleveland and I liked to watch it whenever I get the chance.  Since I was a wee ‘un (that’s what we call a child in Derry!) I’ve been a big supporter of Man United. Growing up in the 1980s in Northern every lad pretty much supported one of the two great English rival teams – Man U or Liverpool! My loyalty is as strong as ever!

Where does an Irish man like to grab a bite to eat in Ohio City?

Ohio City is a cool place and there are so many great restaurants.  My favorite is Town Hall for lunch or dinner.  I go there every week and nearly always choose Chicken and Bacon BBQ flatbread – it’s amazing!

What was your childhood ambition?

You’ll probably have already guessed by now that it was to play for Man United and go to the Bobby Charlton School of Soccer.  The same dream as so many little boys.

Any little-known fact about you?

Yes, I studied fashion design at University and made outfits for fashion shows in Belfast.  This included woman’s wear and I still have one of my dress creations to prove it!  I did have a flair for it.  I was good at designs but I have to admit that I didn’t fancy the sewing too much.  I had every fabric scissor and borrowed a sewing machine.  The guys I shared a house with would come in and find patterns of A-Line skirts all over the floor!  I came in for a lot of stick for that.

You’ve mentioned the quaint Irish expression “wee un” – any other examples of the Irish mother tongue to bamboozle us?

There’s so many but “what’s the craic?” is guaranteed to throw everyone off.  It basically means “What’s happening or what’s up?”  When I first went to JCU, one guy looked horrified when I asked this and he replied, “We don’t do that here.  It’s a drug-free school.”

Earlier this year you were the envy (to say the least!) of your mum and aunts back in Derry when you got to hang out with Liam Neeson – what was that like?

Really cool!  I went there on a mission to be pictured with him.  When he came out of the Green Room, I was there plumped first in line and got 15 minutes with him.  It’s kind of weird we just had a conversation like you would have with any Irish man you bump into in the States. We chatted about where I come from, who we know etc and it turns out we have a mutual friend who’s a boxer from  Derry.  He was a real gentleman and I enjoyed my few moments of fame!