THE new president of Network Cork has a love of adventure and is looking forward to taking the 200 members of the female business group on an exciting journey of discovery with her over the next year.
Marguerite O’Sullivan has been on two Everest expeditions, making it to summits at 7000 and 6400m, has spent time volunteering in Calcutta’s slums, where she returns every other year, and has visited all seven continents, including the Antarctic.
Originally from Lombardstown near Mallow, and living in Rochestown, there are many sides to this accomplished woman, who is a Senior Innovation Engineering Manager in DePuy Synthes Johnson & Johnson, Ringaskiddy, where she’s worked for 17 years.
Her focus is to provide the systems, tools and processes to deliver customers life-changing products i.e. artificial knees, hips and shoulders.
“Our motto is to keep people moving,” she explains.
But as well as that leadership role, she’s a passionate believer in diversity and inclusion and is a huge promoter of STEM in females.
She says that comes from working in an industry as “an only woman for many years and having a really rewarding exciting career and waiting the same for other women”.
She’s shown real personal drive to promote STEM among females, not alone within her company but also in her industry.
She set up a STEM academy in J&J to co-teach children STEM subjects in fifth class, has been a driver a Women in the STEM programme for University of Limerick to keep students in STEM courses in the third level, as well as being part of a ‘returnship’ program to bring talent back into workplace.
In her spare time (we’re impressed she has some) she enjoys horse riding, hockey, tennis, skiing, and sailing and mountain climbing.
She has six siblings (four brothers and two sisters) and grew up on a farm surrounded by horses, and credits her parents for giving her an education, opportunities, constant support, encouragement, a strong work ethic, resilience and bravery.
That bravery, in 2016, saw her get to 6400m on Everest as part of a group of eight.
“The bigger and more dangerous trip was in 2018 when we reached 7000m and there were three of us with 12 Sherpas in our group. It took 23 days to climb up and six days to come down,” remembers Marguerite describing conditions as “extremely dangerous”.
“We were walking/sleeping on snow and ice for six days, climbing crag faces, feeling the attitude every step. Every 100m was a struggle after 6000m and it was so difficult to get your breath to sleep and to keep eating. We spent three nights waiting in a tent to summit due to extreme weather conditions, not able to go outside, listening to the wind banging against the side of the tent. This was the hardest time of the climb: waiting and knowing the summit was going to be a 12-hour day starting in the dark, connected to ropes walking along narrow ridges.”
But her positive motto of ‘always look up, never down’ saw her through.
She is also a director of a charity ‘Human Wave’ in India.
“I took a year out of work from JNJ in 2006 and went to work in Calcutta in the slums, became a director and friend of the charity and returned yearly for many years and I continue to sponsor 20 children every year with education/clothing/medical needs,” said Marguerite.
Suffice to say, there’s an interesting 12 months ahead in Network Cork, where Marguerite wants to encourage personal growth and reflection among members.
“I want to focus on women being the true leaders that they are and becoming the author of their own destiny. We have amazing members and I want to bring a focus on individual traits of women in leadership to equip, enable and empower them to be their best selves in what they do every day. And I want to make sure we do this in an enjoyable safe way.”
She has been a member of Network Cork for five years: “Little did I know at the beginning how much I would get out of it. I worked in a corporate environment for 15 years in Ringaskiddy and I didn’t know what went on in Cork from a business perspective.
This gave me a total new lens to see local industry, community and the business world. It opened a whole new world. I got to know local businesswomen who were doing fantastic work. I got to co-create with amazing ladies, and I have discovered my passion and purpose,” she said.
Marguerite was asked previously to go for President, but it was when her partner Garvan (from Mallow) was considering summiting Everest.
“So I decided I would pick Network Cork instead for 2020! I approached it like I was preparing to do another expedition, but this time focused on what value and leadership I could bring to Network Cork and maintain the incredible organisation that has been built by past presidents like Gillian and Karen and Ciara, Joan and Helen.”
Ultimately, she feels that changes aren’t happening fast enough for women in business.
“In my own field in STEM and corporate leadership in 1990, the percentage of females entering into Transport/Logistics/Supply Chain was 38%, fast forward to 2019, it’s 39%. The percentage of women in supply chain roles has not moved on in almost 30 years.
“Women in many businesses are not getting an equal opportunity but we have to push forward and be the change agents because if we don’t, who will?
“Our male colleagues are slowly coming on board, understanding the privileged position they have been in for years. This is the first step — awareness and understanding of the need for change, then adoption and institutionalising the change.
“It is a journey and men need to come on this journey with less resistance than is currently there.”
That thought is in line with her desire to drive diversity and inclusion, both at work and in society at large.
“It’s about all of us supporting the change to bring equality and making organisations better places to work for both genders, ensuring there is equal take-up of parental leave, flexible work practices, promotion opportunities, funding opportunities for entrepreneurs.
“I led a diversity and inclusion programme at work and research shows us that diverse teams are more creative, effective and higher performing. It is the same across all work teams and society, we need to break down stereotypes and bias and change the picture.”
Marguerite insists that Network Cork is for anyone who “wants to join a group of inspiring, empowering positive females”.
“You don’t need to be an extrovert to network. It is a supportive environment and you will get a return of investment. You just need to invest in yourself. We will summit together.”
Gillian Hennessy reflects on her year at the helm of Network Cork.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my year as President of Network Ireland Cork Branch. It challenged me in ways I didn’t expect and taught me so much. Some things I’ve learned are:
Communication is key
“It’s so important to make time to talk to people and understand what their needs are. And it’s vital not to presume knowledge, for example, Network Cork meets on the first Wednesday of the month but that message was lost in recent years because everyone assumed everyone knew. So this year, we made sure to emphasise this so members can mark the dates in their diaries well in advance.
Sometimes less is more
“I packed a lot of speakers into my year — 40 in total — and sometimes that was overwhelming, both from a promotional point of view and a learning one. But saying that, I like to think that I packed a lot of learning into my year too and that there was something for everyone from our very diverse membership.
A good team is everything
“I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a great bunch of women this year, both on my committee and in the wider membership.
“My committee really stepped up this year and did all they could to support, encourage and empower our members. And all other members have been so wonderfully supportive and challenging throughout the whole year.
“I want to wish Marguerite and her committee the very best for 2020. I look forward to seeing the new heights Network Cork will reach.”
For more about Network Cork see https://networkireland.ie/cork/