Ciara Kenny

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Wild Geese: ‘Come to London and the world is your oyster’

London is brimming with opportunities even in the recession, says entrepreneur Mary Heaney

Mary Heaney: 'There are a lot more opportunities in London.'

Fri, Jul 26, 2013, 00:30

   

Caelainn Barr

London may not seem like the most exotic destination for Irish emigrants but as a bustling global city brimming with opportunities it’s easy to see why it’s one of the top choices for a growing number of Irish abroad.Entrepreneur and journalist Mary Heaney has lived in London for the past 25 years and during that time moved from a career in law to journalism to running her own publishing company.

Newry, Co Down, native Heaney came to London after studying law at Queen’s University in Belfast and later in New York, but seeking a change in direction decided to study journalism at City University.“When I came back to Belfast it was very gloomy as the Troubles were bad and there weren’t many jobs. So I thought I’d like to do another course and came to London for one year and that was 25 years ago,” she said.Legal publishing“I started off working for the Lawyer magazine as a journalist and I became the editor. That was quite an innovative period for legal publishing, as law firms had never been written about before in Europe. They had never been challenged about their fees and their raison d’être.

“The Lawyer magazine was very successful and I was editor for three years but I always had this sense that I wanted to have my own business. So my business partner and I set up a company called Global Professional Media and another weekly magazine called Legal Week.”

Having sold that business, Mary is now director of legal publishing company Futurelex whose titles include online magazine the Global Legal Post. The firm hosts the Luxury Law Summit event with International Herald Tribune.

In the online sphere, Mary also set up takeleagladvice.com, the first search and comparison website in the UK which helps match lawyers to clients and Procure Law, which allows companies to post tenders and find cheaper legal fees online.

Opportunities

Heaney said she had noticed some differences between the business culture in the UK and Ireland.

“In fairness, at the time I was coming from the North where there weren’t lots of opportunities whereas you come to London and the world is your oyster – you can go anywhere, be anything.”

“One observation I will make is if you’re female it’s much easier to get ahead in London than it is in Ireland. I think Ireland can be quite chauvinistic,” she added.

“Also because Ireland is a very small place it’s inevitable people in the know are the ones who do the business, so it’s probably more difficult to start up fresh.”

Heaney said the city was still full of opportunities for Irish emigrants.

“If you’re coming for a new career and you can get on a good course, that’s a very nice stepping stone to meet people and really get the lay of the land

“The other great thing about London is there are lots of people that can help. If you’re coming from Ireland, you’re coming to a very friendly city because there are so many Irish people in London, so you have a ready-made network.

“Never be afraid to ask as you can approach anyone and ask if they can help and you never know where that leads to. Make as many connections as possible and try to find a reason to connect with people. There are limitless opportunities in London, even in the downturn.”

‘Give something back’

However, Heaney said one of the most important focuses for her was giving something back to Ireland.

“Always try and give something back. I work with a charity called Cooperation Ireland, which is one of the world’s top peace charities and does fantastic projects in the North. I also chair the Beckett Festival, which we started last year and I think the G8 followed us to Fermanagh! When you’re over here you have access to people who can help with those kinds of things and that’s quite useful.

“We also helped set up Business for Ireland a couple of years ago as a pop-up brainstorming event and we brought together some of Ireland’s top executives to look for solutions for Ireland’s economic woes.

“There are a lot more opportunities in London, though for a small country Ireland punches well above its weight. Ireland may have challenges ahead but I believe it’s a great place to do business and people look at the Irish globally and wonder how they do what they do.”

Wild Geese is a weekly interview in the Business supplement with Irish business leaders abroad. This article appears in the newspaper today, and in the Business section of the website here.

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