A DONEGAL woman who has made a successful career in the corporate banking world wants to build a new technology platform in Ireland.
Grainne McNamara has over 25 years of experience in working with leading companies in financial services and helping them use technology to drive changes to their business.
Previously a managing director at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, McNamara (48) was Principal, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for three years before taking on her current role as Principal in the EY Consulting team. She has also been a partner at Capco consulting firm.
The eldest daughter of Anne Maher, Drimark, Donegal Town, Grainne has three brothers Don, Shane and Pascal. After finishing Abbey Vocational School she took a degree in European business studies and French at the University of Ulster in Coleraine and on graduating in 1994, got a job offer from Barclays’ Bank in London.
Joining Goldman Sachs three years later, she spent several years in Asia for the firm, opening up branches in Taipei and Sydney. In 2008, she moved to Morgan Stanley to help the bank transform itself in the wake of the financial crisis.
McNamara has two daughters Ciara (15) and Aoibhe (14), and a son James (11) and lives in Brooklyn, New York.
She recently spent three weeks at home in Donegal before returning to New York last week.
Speaking to the Donegal News, via zoom, from her Brooklyn home she said it was a ‘real tonic’ to get the opportunity to spend some time with her mum as well as catching up with a few old school friends.
“I really needed it after fifteen months here in New York which, for a time, was the epicentre of the pandemic.
“I always feel renewed after spending some time in Donegal. Even though I’ve been away for so long there’s a real sense of belonging. Coming home makes me feel new again. It’s a real tonic,” she said.
“I managed to connect with a few old school friends and we did a staycation in Letterkenny for a few nights. I always like to shop in McElhinney’s when I’m home. I always manage to find amazing pieces – as I did again this year – so mum and I also stayed overnight in Ballybofey.
“We visited Sliabh Liag and stopped off in Killybegs and called into the artisan food stalls. Donegal is beautiful and it’s always lovely to get home,” she said.
A big theme for Ms McNamara is that of giving back. She believes this is especially important when working in the financial sector. She is Board Chair of the New York Women’s Foundation (one of the largest funds in the world dedicated to women and girls).
Since the organisation’s founding, NYWF has invested more than $87 million across 400 organizations committed to economic, gender, and social justice.
She wants her children to be aware of her philanthropic work and to understand the wider world.
What would she say to someone at the start of their career?
“Dream big, work hard, take care of yourself and help others.
“Don’t be boxed in by preconceived notions about yourself. You have to push hard but when the answer is no it doesn’t mean you stop, you just have to try a different way.
“The pandemic has taught everybody that you really have to take care of your own mental health first and then to help others because, fundamentally, that’s what it is all about. It’s not about you. The more you understand that the more successful you are likely to be. You have to create an environment where people want to listen to you and work with you. That’s about putting yourself second and others first – even if you are the boss” she said.
“I was initially lured into banking for the wrong reasons – the money. I was following the dollar signs but I stayed on because it was a really compelling career. I’ve gone from working in the banks to being an advisor and creating technology for them to use. I’m now doing the work that I really wanted to do,” she added.
Ms McNamara is hoping to combine her passions for technology and innovation with her work in social justice and gender equality for women and girls.
“At present, I have three children in private school over here so I’m still a slave for the pay cheque. You could probably say that I have made it as far as the corporate ladder is concerned but I haven’t done what I need to do in the world and that’s the next step.
“I need to leverage all my experience and figure out a way to give it back and make a difference for women and girls in particular and people who may come from different economic backgrounds,” she said.
The first person in her family to go to college, Grainne believes that her place of birth helped her move up the corporate ladder.
“I struggled with a lot of things but I always believe that if you try to do the right things and try to be authentic then you can make a success out of things and that’s been largely true for me,” she said.
“I never thought that I would be able to work full-time in Ireland again but I’m now exploring if it can be done. I’ll be fortunate enough to retire from this career a little earlier than others and I want to build a technology platform which I could probably do out of Ireland.
“There’s tremendous talent in Ireland and assistance and support for female owned businesses. There’s also a possibility to raise private equity while there’s a number of big tech companies already there as well. It’s very possible that I’ll be able to split my time between Ireland and the US,” she said.
“Either way I hope to get back home for a few days around Christmas time. It’s good for the mind, body and spirit,” she added.