UCD awards honorary degree to former Siemens chairman

21 Oct 2011

(Left to right) Gerald Byrne, professor of mechanical engineering in UCD's School of Electrical, Electronic and Mechanical Engineering; Brian Sweeney, FIEI; and Paul Lynam, chief executive officer, Siemens Ireland, at the conferring ceremony

Former Siemens and Science Foundation Ireland chairman Brian Sweeney has been awarded an honorary Degree of Doctor of Science by UCD.

Gerald Byrne, college principal (engineering and architecture) and dean of engineering at UCD, gave the citation: “Brian Sweeney is an extraordinary Irish engineer, businessman and industrialist – an engineer who has shaped the future of industry, business and educational research in Ireland.”

Originally from Co Waterford, the seed of Sweeney’s lifelong interest in engineering was possibly derived from his maternal grandfather who through a teacher became PA to Henry Ford the First.

Furthermore, Brian was totally fascinated throughout his early teens by the skills of a family of blacksmiths, fitters and mechanics called Rea who lived in Cappoquin.

He holds a bachelors degree in mechanical and electrical engineering (B.E. Mech. and Elec.) from UCD. He also holds a first class honours MBA from UCD and was subsequently awarded ‘Alumus of the Year’ in 1996.

He served on the board of the Smurfit School of Business for many years and for six years was a member of the board of Trinity College Dublin. He was awarded an MAI (Hon) from Trinity College Dublin and also holds a fellowship from the Irish Academy of Engineers, and Engineers Ireland. He also served as president of the Institution of Engineers in Ireland.

After he graduated from UCD in 1956, he left Ireland to complete a graduate engineering training schedule with Siemens in Germany.

Throughout his early career, he derived huge benefit from the tutelage of the then-managing director of Siemens Ireland, Erwin Enders. He was later employed as site engineer for several power stations being built by Siemens in Ireland.

In the mid-’70s, he was appointed managing director, holding the post for 40 years when he became chairman of the company, a position which he held until the beginning of 2009.

In his citation, Byrne spoke of Sweeney’s dedication to innovation in his industry and how he placed great emphasis on the development of new jobs for young professionals in Ireland.

“He worked relentlessly to build Siemens into one of Ireland’s premier companies. He constantly innovated and brought in new business and, very importantly, as we realise today, more than ever, new jobs to Ireland.

Sweeney has served as a member of the Council and Executive of IBEC and acted as joint chairman of the IBEC/CBI North South Business Cooperation Initiative. He was also chairman of the Energy Committee of IBEC.

He was a member of the Council of National Economic and Social Council (NESC), and a member of the National Council for Educational Awards (NCEA).

Technology Foresight Study

In 1999, while he chaired the Irish Technology Foresight Study, Sweeney presented this report in person before the full Cabinet of the Government asking for, and ultimately obtaining, agreement to research funding of €245m.

This report created the path for Ireland’s commitment to basic research in biotechnology and ICT, and led to the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), of which he was the first chairman.

Sweeney served as chairman of a number of young entrepreneurial companies that benefited from his broad experience and he still serves today on the boards of Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience and the Health Research Board.

He was the founding chairman of the Irish Health Services Accreditation Board. He was the founding chairman of the German Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

He was twice decorated by the President of Germany – The Cross of Merit First Class and The Great Officers Cross with Ribbon – for his work in encouraging bilateral business and external relations.

Sweeney has been married to his wife since 1958. He has three children. His hobbies include horse riding and sailing, and he is a part-time farmer.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years