Ellvena Graham: Chairman of ESB

Posted on Jun 9, 2017


Ellvena Graham: Chairman of ESB

Ellvena Graham’s career has taken her from changing oil and spark plugs as a teenager in the family business to head of Ulster Bank and now the first woman to be appointed Chairman of ESB. 

In this episode, Ellvena talks to Margaret E Ward about equality with her brothers in the family business during her teens and how women need to network and use mentors.

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As a manager at Bank of Scotland when the bank lost £24.3billion sterling in 2008, the biggest corporate loss in British banking history she says “I did develop resilience in spades during those days. It wasn’t an easy time. Being in management at that time, it was as much about showing leadership as it was in managing anything. It was being prepared to acknowledge that there were difficulties.”

Ellvena described how at the start of her banking career she “just took every opportunity that came my way.”  She also “never looked at myself as any different because I was a woman.”  She does think, however, that women are often more cautious and “sometimes all they need is that little nudge”.

She believes women should network more and find mentors to push them outside their comfort zone.

Ellvena would encourage women to take roles in the boardroom and leave the “sticky floor” where they are so busy gaining expertise “we don’t think that we are ever ready to move to the next job. We don’t think we are ever good enough.”

She says women should network more and finding a good mentors to push them outside their comfort zone is invaluable.

This a good time for women to seek positions on company boards, she stresses. “Most companies recognise the benefit of having gender diversity on their board.”

A good work-life balance is also important. Staying calm in a storm is as much about getting sleep, nutrition and exercise and then you are in a better shape to actually taken control and make proper decisions, she says.

Ballroom dancing, and the foxtrot in particular, are Ellvena’s personal solutions to the stresses of a top management career.  “I thoroughly enjoy it”, she says.

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