Hong Kong, Brussels and London all evoke special memories for Philip Gilliland but it’s his hometown of Derry that’s his pride and passion.
Philip is well known throughout Derry as a solicitor for Caldwell and Robinson in Artillery Street and has a longstanding association with the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.
The last few years have seen Philip carry out his duties as the chamber’s Vice-President but next week he will take over as President from fellow Derry man Padraig Canavan.
“It’s a fantastic honour for me and I am looking forward to carrying out my responsibilities. It’ll be hard work but I want to re-pay the good men and woman who have put their faith in me,” said Philip.
The youngest of five children, Philip was born in Mrs. Lynch’s nursing home (where Strand Road police station is today) on the Strand Derry in 1967. His father, David was, and still is a solicitor and his late mother, Pat, was a piano teacher.
“My mum was from Dublin and died 12 years ago but my father, a Derry man, is still practicing law. He’s now 80 years-old but is retiring this year after spending the last 55 years working as a solicitor,” said Philip.
“My eldest sister Anne is a professor at University College Los Angeles; my sister Gail is a piano teacher in Dublin; my next sister Amanda is a doctor in England and my brother John is a farmer and renewable energy expert in Derry.
“I come from a big family and memories of my childhood are of people always being about the house and there was always music to be heard too.”
The Gilliland family home was on the Culmore Road and Philip attended Foyle College Preparatory School before moving on to Coleraine Academical Institution.
“I attended Coleraine Academical Institution as a boarder and it was character building,” said Philip.
On completion of his studies in Coleraine, Philip secured a place studying History at Edinburgh University and also spent a year studying in University of Pennsylvania where he was awarded the ‘Dean’s List’ accolade for academic achievement.
“When I was in Edinburgh I won a scholarship to go and study at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. That was an amazing year and it was one of the best academic experiences of my life.
“The reason I enjoyed it so much was because the Americans tell young people they can do anything if they believe in themselves. I think everyone from this society and this culture needs to hear that. because we are not good enough at telling our young people that if they work hard, believe in themselves that they can conquer the world.”
As his time in Philadelphia came to an end Philip started to apply for jobs in London and after a few applications he received word that the world’s biggest law firm, Clifford Chance, wanted to sponsor him through years of law school.
“I worked for Clifford Chance for just under three years in London and Brussels as corporate commercial lawyer.
“Brussels was an amazing city to work in because you can walk everywhere, the food is just fantastic, the beer is pretty good and the people you working with are from every country in Europe - it’s a very cosmopolitan environment; albeit when I walked into the Clifford Chance office in Brussels there was Ann Logue, wife of Hugh Logue from Feeny who I already knew - it was one of the great Irish coincidences.
“After a while I decided that that kind of law was immensely soul destroying and I thought to myself that God had put me on this planet for something a lot more worthwhile. So I left London, left the law and came back home and started working for Desmond’s & Sons.
“Please don’t get me wrong, working in the law in London really benefited me because it proved to me I could mix it at the best level and I was glad to get it out of my system.”
Philip worked for Desmond’s in various different management roles. His final position within the company was running their kids wear division which he helped to develop. The kidswear division was so successful under Philip’s management that Desmond’s sold it to high street giants, Marks and Spencer in 2002.
“After Desmond’s sold the division I became the kids wear sourcing manager for Marks and Spencer and we set-up the procurement project in Claudy called the Zip Project. It lasted four years until Marks and Spencer relocated it to London.”
Philip left Marks and Spencer to go and work for Sainsbury’s in China as their General Manager for Asia.
“I helped to set-up Sainsbury’s procurement division in China on an interim basis for just under a year. I had an apartment in Hong Kong and from my living room I had an outstanding view of Hong Kong harbour.
“China was a place I visited for two months in 1988 with one of my sisters. We did two months of one star tourism in the year before Tiananmen Square happened. It was a real life changing experience and it was very challenging in the sense that there was no provision for tourists in China at that time. It was just outstanding.
“Business has taken me back to China ever since. It’s a fascinating place. When I was in Hong Kong I would have visited mainland China every week to travel around all of the different factories.
“I find doing business in China very rewarding because good business is principally based on honour and relationships. The quality of the person is almost more important than what is written down in the contract and for that reason I think it gives Irish people an advantage over big corporate America, Britain and Western Europe. Irish business tends to be done person to person which in a way is very similar to how business is done in China.”
Seven years ago Philip decided to leave all of the globetrotting behind him and came back home, took up law again and went to work for the family business - Caldwell and Robinson.
“At that stage Caldwell and Robinson was around 97 years-old and had been in Castle Street for all of that length of time and had been run by my father since 1970.
“It felt good getting back into the law again because this time I was working with people. All of the law that I worked on up until then was all about corporations. Now, all of my clients are owner-entrepreneurs but they are people and I like working with people.
“Ours is a people business and it’s about diagnosing their requirements and working closely with them - I haven’t looked back.”
Philip first joined the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce in the mid 1990s but left when he went work for Sainsbury’s in China. He returned to the chamber when he came back home to Derry to work for Caldwell and Robinson and since that time he has held the positions of Junior Vice-President, Vice-President and next week he’ll become President.
“It feels like the longest gestation in history but it’s brilliant,” he joked.
“Chamber is a business so the President’s job is to deliver an element of leadership but the policy of chamber is determined by the board. There are fabulous men and women on the board at the minute and each of them are great ambassadors for Derry and for their own businesses and my job is to represent their consensus as well as to be an advocate for chamber policy.”
Philip is a self-confessed culture enthusiast and Director of Digital Derry Ventures Ltd and is a member of the Corporate Leadership Team for the City of Culture.
“As a firm we sponsor the centre for contemporary arts which just opened last weekend.
“I have a casual interest and I have an interest in Mason’s Bar with a friend of mine. I am also a supporter of Link Academy in Castle Street.
“I think with next year’s City of Culture celebrations and the tens of thousands of visitors who will come to our city will offer great opportunities. I would hope that the people who come here leave Derry with a lasting memory of the personality of the place and the personality of the city’s people. I think that our biggest intangible asset is the personality of the city and if we can harness that vibe and sell it to the outside world then it has the potential to transform the city. 2013 is going to be a great cheer and I think the people here will see a step change in how Derry is perceived.”
Philip is married to fellow solicitor, Karen O’Leary and they have three children together.