Orna Ni Chionna spent 18 years at McKinsey’s London office, where she was the first women to be elected partner. Since leaving McKinsey she has served on many boards including Bupa, HMV and Royal Mail. She has been an advisor to Apax LLP and to EdenMcCallum LLP. She is currently on the boards of Burberry and Saga and is Chair of Founders Intelligence. She was Chair of the Soil Association for 6 years and is currently Deputy Chair of the National Trust.
1. Best piece of advice you’ve been given
If you’re ambitious, spend, spend, spend on help, on services, on whatever makes your life easier, so that more of your precious non-work time is quality time. Don’t be sucked into the superwoman myth.
2. Worst piece of advice you’ve been given
Keep your head down, things are changing and making waves might set us back.
3. What would you tell your younger self?
Time moves very fast – and accelerates with every passing year. Take stock every three years: are you truly happy about what you are trying to achieve and how you are going about it? If not, work out how to change it. Don’t drift on or ten years will have passed and options will have narrowed.
4. What excites you most about the future of your industry?
I’m currently involved in several industries through my boards and through my long involvement with management consulting firms, first McKinsey and then Eden McCallum. But my original degree is in Electronic Engineering so I do regard digital as my first base. And digital technology is the only industry that cuts across all other industries, and in ways that transform jobs, experiences, lives. That is hugely exciting and I remain hopeful that the bad aspects can be controlled while the good ones can be expanded.
5. Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
No one person – but all those courageous, clear-headed women who went before us, fighting for equality, often behind the scenes, in a wildly unequal world. The path I trod was only possible because of legislative changes that happened as a result of what those women fought for. And there is still a huge mountain to climb in so many other countries – even many European countries, re womens’ careers. And as for some Middle Easter and Asian countries…. . Yet even here in the UK, women still face a very uneven playing field in many professions and roles, in all sorts of more subtle ways. And that very subtlety makes it harder to identify silver bullets to level that playing field. I need to remember those who have made change happen and keep working on doing what little I can, by calling it out, whacking those bumps, for those who follow in turn.