Posted on Thursday 19 December 2013 by Ulster Business

Interview Anita Sands

Anita Sands believes the diaspora and in particular the network of Irish expats and those with Irish lineage in North America is a powerful thing.

A recognised technology leader, public speaker and advocate for the advancement of women, Sands says almost every career move she has made has happened through her association with someone from the Irish diaspora.

It's a huge statement from someone who has such an impressive CV. Recently appointed to the board of directors of Symantec, the world's largest cyber security company, she was until recently Chief Operating Officer of UBS Wealth Management Americas. Her career in financial services previously saw her appointed the youngest ever senior vice president at the Royal Bank of Canada.

A native of Co Louth, Sands holds a Ph.D. in Atomic and Molecular Physics, a 1st Class Honours degree in Physics and Applied Mathematics from QUB and was a Fulbright Scholar at Carnegie Mellon University where she graduated with highest distinction with a Masters in Public Policy and Management.

"Whether I was living in Pittsburgh or living in Toronto or living here in New York, the Irish community is a family, a network of friends and acquaintances you can develop almost immediately," she says.

"In my case, every job I've gotten since I graduated from Carnegie Mellon has been the result of an Irish person or a member of the Irish diaspora, or an Irish American or Irish Canadian. For me the diaspora has been an incredibly powerful and influential force in my life and that's why I am committed to doing the same for some of the younger folks we're seeing coming to work here," she adds.

Sands believes that as part of a global economy Irish and Northern Irish companies need to seize the opportunities afforded by diaspora connections.

"The world is more international now. We're all going to be finding ourselves dealing with international businesses back at home or working abroad for companies. But the great thing about being Irish is that there are Irish people everywhere. When you are Irish you have this incredibly cultural identity that precedes you anywhere in the world. It is a very positive thing to have."

Praising the investment and progress that has been made in Belfast since she left 13 years ago, the New York based executive feels Northern Ireland is coming into its own. She also thinks the focus on sectors such as financial technology and advanced materials will pay dividends.

"I'm incredibly optimistic about the next few years. Particularly as someone in the tech sector, I think the next five years will be more exciting and disruptive than the last 25," she said.

"I have a strong belief that every industry is going to be underpinned by technology to a much greater extent than ever before. Northern Ireland has traditionally been strong in manufacturing and advanced manufacturing and the opportunities in that space are going to be massive."

As well as the Irish diaspora, Sands' other main interest is the advancement of women, an interest which goes back to her days studying in Belfast.

"When I was at Queen's University studying Physics I was definitely in the minority, both at the undergraduate level and particularly at graduate level. So from those days on I've just felt incredibly committed to the advancement of women and seeing a better representation of women in traditionally male fields. In my case it is Science, Maths and Technology," she explains.

"The issue is not the pipeline of women who are starting out it is somehow what happens to them later when numbers start to drop off. Although in my field, we just simply don't have enough girls taking an interest in computer science or maths," she adds.

"Overall I think companies and countries and the economy will be better off when we have all parts of the labour force participating and contributing to the economy to the best of their abilities."

Her main advice to young people, both men and women, at the start of their careers is to find a good mentor.

"There are people who have been through what you're going through who have forged a path ahead. Find them and build relationships with people who can help you and be open to learning. I did, and many of them were Irish people," she says.

"Also, asking for what you need is a really critical skill to develop early on. Thirdly, be authentic in every way possible. Truly knowing yourself is critical if you are going to be able to successfully lead and manage other people."

 

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