Far from holding her back, the arrival of Fiona Gallagher’s three children over the last five years has coincided with the biggest growth in her career trajectory. After 20 years in New York and London, she took up the role of Deutsche Bank’s chief country officer for Ireland last year and in recent months was also appointed global head of the bank’s securities services business.
About Fiona Gallagher
Tell us about your educational background and career progression
I had two phases in UCD, starting with law for my undergraduate degree, which was eight hours a week and great fun. Then I took a year out before going back to do a DBS. I got to do a Stage with the European Union and worked for Radio France in Paris.
I also ended up working for a venture capital company on an internship in New York and thought it was phenomenally exciting and decided I had to get back to study business to both complement my degree and give me the opportunity to access the international market in a way law wouldn’t have at the time.
The DBS was a much more intensive programme and exactly what I needed to finish off the UCD experience. I found all the group work very interesting and good preparation for working life.
After graduating, I got a role on the Merrill Lynch graduate training programme in New York. So, like many others, I left thinking I’d be there for two years. I started out in debt capital markets and that was incredibly interesting. I covered most of the medium and large corporate companies across the world, bringing them to the debt markets on many occasions for the first time.
I got to see a lot of the US and, because many clients we were issuing bonds for came from all over the world, I travelled everywhere – Australia, across Europe and into China and India. My parents were diplomats so it was a great way to build on what I’d done growing up.
After six years, I realised I’d been away for a long time. I was working with Barclays Capital at that stage and moved to London with them. I stayed there for about a year before moving to Deutsche Bank in 2004 and that’s where I’ve been since.
How have you progressed through Deutsche Bank?
I continued in capital markets for five or six years and then in 2010 moved to head up the relationship management function. That was a great learning experience and a natural progression. I love capital markets, but after 10 or 12 years you’ve pretty much done every type of deal.
About three years later I decided to move into the transaction bank to head a cross-products sales team. I’d started to think about moving home and knew there was a lot more transaction banking activity in Ireland than debt capital markets.
I had a very broad network within the bank at that stage, so even though I was moving divisions I knew a lot of people and was facilitated in the move. I then became managing director and was also doing extra projects – for example, I co-headed our women’s network, both to get greater experience but also to help other people up as well.
During this period I also met someone from Clare and it was one of the reasons we both thought about moving back to Ireland. This time last year I was returning from maternity leave after having my third daughter and decided it would be the right time to make the move.
At the time, Deutsche Bank in Ireland had grown from about 300 to about 800 people and they were looking for someone senior with a broad range of experience and very good connections in the hubs in New York, London and Frankfurt. So, after an intensive interview process – and my husband getting a role in Goodbodys Stockbrokers in Dublin – we came home last June.
Now I’ve got responsibility for everybody on site but also for a couple of the businesses. It’s about building relationships with key stakeholders and I also sit on some of our boards here which is a very new experience for me. I’ve learnt so much more than I could have imagined.
People have gone out of their way to help me settle in, both inside and outside the organisation. The whole idea of the green jersey and how focused people are on not just strengthening their own businesses on the ground but supporting other businesses has been amazing.
Tell us about your leadership style
Since taking up the Dublin role, I’ve spent a huge amount of time communicating and just trying to be clear about what our strategy is. One of the challenges you often find in a subsidiary is that people don’t feel connected to the mainland or the main hub. It’s helpful if you can be very clear and articulate what your strategy is and how we connect in with the broader organisation, and also make sure people understand the role their job plays in the broader organisation.
We have a very young site – 70% of our employees are under 30 – and people are very willing to be engaged and do the extra projects. One of the ways I’ve been lucky in my career is through always putting my hand up and being interested in doing something and helping out. And you can see that attitude here. My job as a leader is to try to harness that to ensure we use that energy to both progress the careers of the people who are here, but also to help the organisation here to strengthen and grow.
What motivates you?
My dad and mum were both very active. My dad, for example, was very involved in the Good Friday Agreement so I saw first-hand the impact people can have and the legacy they can leave. In my career, I would always want to leave an organisation in better shape than when I came in and to create that legacy.
I’m also motivated by the opportunity to keep learning. I’ve moved companies and roles and in capital markets, that’s quite unusual. Most people stay and do the same kind of thing because they’ve built up a connection with clients. But I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to keep learning. If I reach a point where I am the subject matter expert I eventually want to find out what else I can layer in.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I’ve been really fortunate to have three kids and still have a great career. I’m so proud of that balance. It’s not perfect – it is not just about Leaning In – a lot of organisation and support is needed, and babysitting! It’s definitely a fine balance but I’ve had the biggest trajectory growth in my career in the last five years and people have given me an enormous amount of support.
I made the decision when I went back from my first maternity leave that I didn’t just want to have a job, I wanted to have a career: if I was going to be leaving my kids every day, I wanted to get a lot out of it.
What lessons have you learnt along the way?
I was once offered a job that I didn’t really like the sound of and didn’t really think I’d be brilliant at, but I was terrified I wouldn’t get offered another one so I said yes. I spent the next two years trying to get myself back on track from that.
I’ve learnt it’s important to not be afraid of saying no. There’ll always be another opportunity and if doesn’t feel right you’re not going to be your best at it. It was a pretty tough lesson – there’s so much stress involved in doing a job that you know you aren’t really cut out to do.
Recently, I was offered another role within Deutsche Bank that wasn’t something I was really interested in and passionate about and I turned it down this time. There was such relief in coming to a decision and realising that people understood my rationale for declining.
Who or what has inspired or influenced you?
To be lucky enough to grow up with parents in the Irish diplomatic service was exceptional. We lived in Nigeria for a time, so I could see the work the Irish diplomats were doing through development aid and promoting the country. And I was incredibly lucky to be on the sidelines watching my dad and the Anglo-Irish division working alongside the politicians and towards the Good Friday Agreement.
Living in Nigeria for a couple of years as a kid was fantastic. My parents were also in the States and we got to go to some amazing places. That in itself was very motivating for me to try to create my own opportunities. So those formative years were very influential on me.
What tips and advice would you give?
I had one boss who, from when I was about 28, kept saying to me, just stay in, stay in. I didn’t know what he meant at the time but when I had my first and then my second daughter and work life balance became more challenging, that message stayed in the back of my head. It helped me negotiate some times when it was more challenging to be managing that balance. So I would always say, take your time, take a step back and really assess what you’re up to.
The other thing is to try to listen to people. Some of the best advice I’ve received has been unsolicited.
Another thing I think is universally true is to be interested and interesting. If there are extra projects going, do get involved if you can. The reality is if you network, you’ll bring opportunities to your role, it’ll make life more interesting and your job more sticky, so it should be viewed as something for your company as well as just for your own career. It’s really important to build your networks, internally and externally.
What are your plans for the future?
Because I’m just new in the door, I’m focused on ensuring we strengthen and grow what we do in Dublin and build connectivity across the Irish business sector. And since I’ve been home I’ve been rebuilding relationships, getting to know things and figuring out how I can be there enough to create a role model for my girls. It’s just about getting it all working well together and enjoying the next 10 or 20 years.
What are your interests outside work?
I’m a very middle aged runner! If you’re in Rathmines at six o’clock in the morning and you see a woman huffing and puffing that will be me. You can probably walk quicker than I’m running. I find running really helps me clear my head. And also, in work there’s a running club and that’s been a great way to connect with people. I also enjoy playing tennis.
And my husband’s from Ballyvaughan so I can often be found herding cattle down the lanes of rural Co Clare. Whenever you’re in nature you realise there’s a lot more than your own little world, and the kids love it.
How has your degree benefited your career?
It gave me great confidence and a very strong network, which I have leveraged here and abroad.
How important is your UCD alumni network to you?
Very important – I am often reaching into my network for advice and guidance.
What piece of technology can you not live without?
What is your pet hate?
Litter – I don’t understand it, especially on country lanes.
What is your favourite book?
Tender is the Night – F Scott Fitzgerald.
And who is your favourite musician?
What’s the last show you went to that you loved?
Hamilton in London – amazing.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
I get to cook rarely but when I do – barbequed leg of lamb with lots of salads.
What team do you support?
Leitrim – 50-year plan.
What is your favourite place in the world to visit and why?
Ballyvaughan, Co Clare.
Name three things on your bucket list
Improving my Irish, and visiting Argentina and Namibia.
What charities or causes are closest to your heart?
We have partnered with Simon for a long time, and this year we were lucky enough to support Special Olympics Ireland. I’m also involved with DCU Educational Trust and am a huge supporter of the work they do across the board.