Orla Graham, HR Leader for June

Orla Graham, Chief People Officer, Principal Connections' HR Leader of the Month for June 2020

Q. THE CAREER & THE PERSON Describe your career journey and tell us about Orla Graham the person?

The Career
I started my career with Marks & Spencer in the U.K. as part of the graduate management development programme after doing a science degree in university. I worked in various locations in the U.K. before being asked to move to Dublin. I was involved with setting up the Grafton St. store which was a great experience. I moved from M&S to Coca-Cola in 2003. My role in Coca-Cola was setting up a shared services organisation to service EMEA. There was a lot of change management and working with 16 different nationalities on the management team. In 2003, I moved to Deloitte as Head of HR. I spent 16 years there overseeing a period of huge growth and change before moving to Davy as Chief People Officer about a year ago.

The Person
I would like to think that I'm recognised as a business leader with a strong drive for results balanced by a transparent, pragmatic and collaborative style, who can build trust, drive change, and lead teams with energy and vision. Professionally I have was the recipient of the prestigious HR Leader 2017 at the HR Leadership & Management Awards (2017) ceremony in recognition of my outstanding contribution to HR in Ireland. Outside of work, I'm married to Duncan and we have 3 teenagers. I'm also interested in travel, interiors, golf and skiing.

Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current company?

Established in 1926, the Davy Group is a trusted market leader in wealth management and capital markets, building rewarding relationships that last. Our vision is to be the financial services partner most trusted by our clients and most admired for our people. We are committed to delivering world-class outcomes for our clients – whether they are individuals, businesses or institutions. We are over 700 people, managing €14bn+ of our client assets, with offices in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast, London and Luxembourg.

We are one team, always growing, putting our clients first.

At Davy Group, it’s not just business, it’s personal.

Q. THE CHALLENGES What do you see as the most important challenges facing HR Leaders today?

With the arrival of COVID-19 the world of work has changed fundamentally. The biggest challenges facing HR leaders now are responding to the challenges and opportunities presented at this time. Every business has had to move almost overnight to working from home and in many cases re-imagining how work can be done. The crisis has created a level of transparency and trust in many workplaces. I think the culture of a company is tested when there is a crisis. Quite simply when people feel safe, supported and emotionally secure, they can do their jobs.

Resilience and empathy are probably the two most important traits for leaders at this stage while communication has never been more important. I believe the role of the line manager is crucial at this time. Line managers need to be adept at picking up signals from their people over Microsoft Teams or Zoom which is challenging. HR leaders are looking to managing the short term while looking at the long-term implications for the business while also playing the important role of being the custodian of the culture.

From a Davy perspective our business has moved from an office environment to the vast majority of people working from home. We have adapted and changed in so many ways across our business. We have doubled down on communicating with our people and our clients and have managed to work and produce results in a way that I never would have thought possible a few months ago. Our people have shown great adaptability and resilience and our business model has proved to be strong.

Q. THE ADVANCES What do you believe the biggest advances in human resources will be over the next five years?

Work will be different for obvious reasons. Work will be done differently in a more agile way. We will need to take the lessons from this period and not go backwards when this is eventually over. Technology will continue to play a big part in our lives and robots and artificial intelligence will replace some of the day to day tasks and activities. I think culture will continue to be a key differentiator for companies. Purposeful organisations whose values are lived on a day to day basis will retain and engage people and enable people to be their best selves.

Q. THE ADVICE What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

The best advice I have been given is to be myself and play to my strengths.

Q. THE MOTIVATION What keeps you motivated day to day?

Making positive change. I like to be able to make an impact on my team and the wider group of people I work with. I believe that the work we do in HR plays a pivotal role in creating the culture of an organisation. I particularly enjoy the breadth of the role and interacting with smart bright people on a day to day basis. I have also had a rule of thumb to try and add 2 new things to my C.V. every year and to continuously learn and develop. Moving to Davy over the past year has enabled me to learn about a new industry and I am enjoying the challenge.

Q. THE ACHIEVEMENT What has been your proudest career achievement to date?

There is not a career achievement that particularly stands out as thankfully there have been many successes which I'm proud of. It was nice to be the recipient of the HR leader award in 201; it was particularly nice to have people at the event who had worked with me over the years to celebrate the occasion in style.

Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?

I have been fortunate to work with many great people. When I joined Deloitte I was very impressed with the Managing Partner at the time. Pat Kenny was a man with incredible vision who enabled me to make changes that were far reaching, innovative and impactful for the organisation. Currently, I am working with a great leadership team in Davy who are, smart, ambitious and dynamic.

Q. THE STAYING CURRENT How do you stay up to date?

I stay up to date by reading and attending webinars to connect with people outside of Davy. I have a strong network of people that I touch base with regularly. I like to read business books when I get a chance. The last 2 books I read were 'Thrive' by Arianna Huffington and 'Getting Naked' by Patrick Lencioni.

Q. THE DOWNTIMETell us about your interests and how you relax?

I have 3 children and like to experience new cultures through their eyes. We have visited Sri Lanka, Australia and Croatia over the past 3 years and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I also play golf, go to the gym infrequently and enjoy reading.


Congratulations to Orla Graham being named the Principal Connections HR Leader of the Month for June 2020.


Established in 1926, the Davy Group is a trusted market leader in wealth management and capital markets, building rewarding relationships that last.


Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading retained executive search firm. We specialise in recruiting for Senior Management, Executive, Board, Interim and Specialist Leadership appointments across most major industries. Principal Connections is the Irish Office of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group, ranked among the top global retained executive search groups in the world.

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