International Women's Day 2021 blog series: Alison McGregor
Following on from International Women's Day, we are continuing to shine a light on Women in Banking throughout March.
The fourth of our Women in Banking blog series focuses on Alison McGregor, Portfolio Non Executive Director and Chair.
Alison shares her experiences and influences within banking and how they have shaped her career.
I didn’t plan to go into banking and certainly could not have foreseen a lifelong career and a wealth of opportunities. When I was almost 16 my father died, and I decided the best pathway for me was to leave school and start earning. I was naive and wouldn’t listen to the advice of my mum and teachers, I was grieving. It was the start of a journey of lifelong earning and learning. My challenge then was to continue my education.
I joined Bank of Scotland and was immediately encouraged to do my “banking exams”. Having not stayed on at school to do my Highers I needed to go to night classes for 2 years before doing my Institute of Bankers (now known as the Chartered Banker Institute) exams. By the age of 21 I was qualified, had built some very practical skills and had no debt. Looking back, I was an apprentice banker.
Over decades the financial services sector provided the opportunity to build my skills, experience and ultimately my career. After Bank of Scotland I worked at Barclays Bank, Clydesdale Bank and HSBC, where I was CEO for Scotland. During my time as CEO for HSBC I also sat on the Board of Scottish Enterprise and was Chair of the Confederation of British Industries for Scotland. These opportunities were afforded to me as a result of having a profile leadership role, and appropriate skills, within the financial services sector.
At the end of 2018 I decided 40 years working in banking was enough and decided to transition to a place where I could still earn and learn but not full time. The challenge I chose was to build a portfolio career in a range of interesting industries and whilst the obvious choice for me was banking, again I found the skills and experience I had, supported my ambition. I am currently a Non-Executive Director on the Board of Scottish Power Energy Networks, Chair of WHM Malcolm (logistics and construction), Non-Executive Director of Fidelity Specials Values PLC and a Non-Executive Director CBI. In addition, I am proud to be the Co-Chair of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board and Non-Executive Director, Beatson Cancer Charity.
During my time in banking, I can’t honestly say there were many female role models but I was very fortunate to have some authentic male role models who supported and inspired me. I did have an amazing and resilient role model in my mum. In my early leadership career at Barclays, I worked for a no nonsense, straight forward chap who gave me lots of opportunities to work outside of my comfort zone, whilst providing a safety net. At HSBC, the European CEO understood the value and opportunity sitting on external boards could create for me and the business and actively supported my request to pursue this.
I was once given a great piece of advice I recall in all sorts of situations and that is “when the horse is dead dismount”. Sometimes we can sit around too long waiting for an opportunity when you need to take action to create it.
I am often asked about what resources people should consider when looking to develop themselves. The financial services sector is advanced in providing support to those who want to develop but often the best and richest opportunities for development come from what you choose to do outside of work, be it charity, sport, fitness, volunteering etc. Choose your challenge carefully. Try and do something that will take you out of your comfort zone.
I am also asked about the importance of diversity and inclusion. Much is written and understood about the value to business, customers, individuals, and society in getting this right. On gender the onus is on business leaders to actively listen and on women to actively speak up, and if the horse is dead dismount.
Like many others at the start of the pandemic I wanted to help but really struggled to know how. My initial concern was the impact of the pandemic on lives but very quickly I became concerned about the long-term impact of the pandemic on employment. After time to reflect and choose my challenge, I chose to volunteer my time supporting two Managing Directors of SMEs manage their way through the pandemic, in the hope of helping them survive and ultimately save jobs. It has not been plain sailing. What I didn’t appreciate was the reverse mentoring that would take place and the opportunity for me to learn again. Every day really is a school day, so I would say take a chance on the less obvious challenge.