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Five things that made me

How Jackie got to where she is now

Five things that made me’ shares stories of senior leaders at Deloitte. This time, we spoke with Jackie Henry, our UK Managing Partner for People and Purpose and the Northern Ireland Office Senior Partner, as she shares the story of a remarkable career – and life.

Meet Jackie

The story of Deloitte in Belfast is Jackie’s story too – from growing up in the heart of the conflict to growing it into the thriving business hub it is now. Her story is a reminder to make the most of opportunities and care for the people around you. Over to Jackie.

1. Sliding doors

“When I was baby, I was adopted by a very hard-working family in Belfast. That was an incredible sliding doors moment, because that gave me such incredible chances in life. My parents invested so much in me, even when they didn’t have very much, and I wanted nothing more than to make them proud. I see it as my first lucky break in life.

The year I was adopted was 1969, and it was the start of the period known as the Troubles in Northern Ireland. My family lived in north Belfast, which was the epicentre of the conflict, and so it would become the backdrop to my entire childhood. My Dad was a police officer, so checking under the car for bombs every morning was part of our daily routine– one day one exploded at the front of the house – that was normal life.

I didn’t see that as a weird thing at the time. My sister and I had a happy childhood thanks to the wraparound of my parents, who made sure we had stability while crazy things were happening around us. I loved ballet and tap and really wanted to be a dancer. Every Saturday, Mum took me to dance studio in Belfast city centre, which was pretty dangerous looking back.

Education was really important in our house. My sister and I were the first in the family to go to university. I was pretty average at school, but when I did much better in my A levels than predicted, Dad took me to Queen’s University Belfast admissions clerk to see if I could change my degree choice. Law was full, so I went into accountancy. I had chronic imposter syndrome in my first year, thinking I’d have no chance of thriving, but ended up graduating first-class honours with an award to do a masters.”

“Being adopted by my parents was my first lucky break in life. I wanted nothing more than to make them proud.”

2. Belfast born and bred

“I joined Deloitte in 1989, the year the company arrived in Belfast. At first, I didn’t have a clear view of climbing a ladder. It was always about taking the opportunities before me, and Deloitte gave me lots of them – and still does.

Each role led me naturally to another. After enjoying my early years in audit, I moved into a junior analyst role in consulting thanks to the encouragement of a wonderful mentor. It was a key moment which opened up a completely different avenue in the business.

In consulting, I saw Belfast transform from a city of conflict into peace, and I’m immensely proud of the part I’ve played in growing the Belfast hub. We created the first ever graduate academy talent programme in Northern Ireland, and the degree-led higher-level Brightstart apprenticeship scheme and rolled that out across the UK firm.

Doing all that made me realise Deloitte was the place I was meant to be – and I wanted to make it so for our people too. Taking on the People & Purpose role for Consulting was quite a big step for me, but I felt supported by our senior leadership, and when the opportunity came to become our Managing Partner for People & Purpose for Deloitte UK, I was ready.

I still love being the Northern Ireland Office senior partner. It helps keep me grounded. It gives me the clarity to know what it’s like for our people and our business in a region, which is helpful in really understanding how to make the whole firm a better place to work.”

“I’ve thrived because of all the opportunities the firm has given me, and it’s the reason I’ve chosen to stay here all these years.”

3. Share vulnerabilities

“Looking back, I’m moved by all the people who’ve gone out of their way to support me throughout my career. The first time I tried to be partner, I didn’t make it. That was a big shock. It was hard. I’m resilient, I can pick myself up, but going into work the next day was tough. It took me a while to get the confidence up to go again.

I confided in one of our partners who really supported me after that first attempt. And without me asking, Richard Houston, our now CEO, flew into Belfast to give me a day of mentoring and support in my partner process. The next time around, I did make partner.

It wasn’t always easy being a female senior leader either, particularly after having my kids. They’re all older now, but all three pregnancies and very short maternity leaves were challenging for me. It was tough balancing everything, and while I had great support from my husband, Ronan, at times I didn’t feel entirely comfortable sharing everything I was going through in work.

But it’s these personal experiences that have really shaped my approach to supporting our people and shaping our culture. I want everyone working here to have a very different experience to some of those that I had. I want our people to feel it’s okay to share what’s going on for them and find a healthy balance, regardless of grade.”

“We all have life and caring responsibilities we have to flex in and out of. It’s life. It happens. It’s my job to make people feel safe in doing so.”

4. The art of listening

“What I love most about my job is making a difference for our people. And that starts with listening to what matters most to them – what’s working and what’s not working.

As a result, we’ve reviewed and fixed some of our policies to ensure they help our people thrive and reach their potential at the firm, from private medical insurance and enhanced parental pay from day 1 to our menopause policy and miscarriage leave. It’s also about building a culture that encourages people to feel safe and confident enough to accept this support – and realise that we really mean it.

I’m a big believer in keeping it real and really enjoy hearing from our people directly. I try to reply to all messages and invitations for a chat over a coffee to hear more about their experiences at the firm. A colleague recently came forward to tell me about how our company-funded private medical insurance had made the stressful experience of egg retrieval far easier and less anxiety ridden. It helped show me the real-life impact that these changes have made for people.

I know we still have things to do, and I don’t have all the answers. It’s why I really enjoy working with our diversity networks and getting involved in their initiatives – if you follow me on social media you know! It’s joyous to celebrate our people and the work they do is so important. I don’t always get the words right, but it’s about educating yourself rather than relying on them to do it for you.”

“There’s always more we can do, but I’m very proud of the policies I’ve been able to bring in and the supportive culture we have now."

5. Life comes first

“As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve become more and more comfortable to share who I am and my vulnerabilities. Some of that imposter syndrome has stayed with me from that first year of university, but I’ve learnt to go for things anyway. I don’t give up easily. I like to keep things moving and get things done.

I’ve also learnt to prioritise life. Recently, my middle child and my husband have been poorly – they’ve both been in and out of hospital. I’ve not hesitated to reorganise my diary or take some time off to be with them. And I make sure I make time for me too. I run – not very fast, not very far, but I run around the park. I walk Dougal, our shared family dog. And I spend time with my girlfriends who are always there for me.

I think I’ve made my parents proud. Just before Dad died, I had the letter from Buckingham Palace inviting me to accept an MBE for services to the Northern Ireland economy. That was a lovely moment to share with him – he loved that. Playing my part in seeing Belfast become a thriving peacetime economy has been a real joy. The story of what the people in the city have achieved, and the role the firm has played, is really special.

I still have lots to do. I have the best job. I can’t believe some of the incredible things that have happened to me so far. But I have lots of things to do here yet. So my final piece of advice is to take every opportunity. You don’t know where it’s going to lead, but it moves you forward. Just go for things!”

“My three children are my greatest achievement. I’m sure most parents will tell you that, but it’s a particularly strong feeling with them being my first ever blood relatives.”

Five things we learnt from Jackie

  1. Embrace your story. It’s uniquely yours.
  2. Take every opportunity to see where it leads you. It’ll move you forward.
  3. People respond best when you’re authentic and share your own vulnerabilities.
  4. Learn to listen. It’ll show you where you can make a difference.
  5. Prioritise life. Be grateful. Keep moving.

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