WorkWild Geese

‘It’s important for young women to see senior women in positions of power’

Wild Geese: Martina Slowey, London

If your parents own a pub and a farm, you’ll probably learn a thing or two about business. That was the case for Longford native, Martina Slowey. “The pub only opened at 7pm so I’d help my Dad during the day,” says Slowey. At night it was cleaning tables and pulling pints.

“We didn’t have a cash register, so I was counting the money and doing lodgments, really old-school banking. I was good with numbers.”

Being “good with numbers” has helped Slowey in a 30-year career in banking. Based in London, she was appointed head of Europe, Middle East and Africa equities with Bank of America more than two years ago. She credits her parents for investing in her education. “I was a weekly boarder at the Convent of Mercy in Longford which really kind of set me up,” says Slowey. “My parents really wouldn’t have been able to afford that. They really made a big effort for my education.”

After a BComm in Galway she emigrated to London, though she did not realise she was emigrating at the time. “It was 1989 and there weren’t an awful lot of jobs in Ireland. I had some cousins in London and I decided to try it out. I was always thinking about going back home.”


Working in a Covent Garden bar by night and a leasing firm by day, someone suggested she apply for a graduate recruitment programme. She applied and was accepted to Morgan Stanley. “London wasn’t meant to be a permanent decision, but I got the job and just loved it.

I got really, really good at sleeping on planes; that’s definitely my superpower

“I was probably the only Irish person on the programme at the time. A lot of people came from very different backgrounds to me and seemed to be a lot more sophisticated than me, which would not have been difficult, but I made great friends.”

After three years she was headhunted by UBS, where she spent 14 years. “I loved learning and I grew to love the markets.”

She held the role of European head of prime brokerage during the financial crash, commuting to New York, week on, week off.

“I started commuting in 2008, right in the middle of the big financial crisis. It was definitely hectic. It was a lot of long hours and clearly there were a lot of people in crisis. The banking system was falling apart and everybody was wondering which bank is going to be next.”

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With two young sons in the mix, life was busy. “It was hard to leave the boys, but it was a great experience and it just widened my scope in terms of geographical and market knowledge,” says Slowey. “I got really, really good at sleeping on planes; that’s definitely my superpower.”

She describes this as a formative part of her career. “It did teach me resilience and crisis management, just making decisions quickly, whether they were always right or wrong, you just knew you had to make a decision.”

It shows you can have a family, you can be empathetic, you can be yourself and you can also have a great career

When one of her clients invited her to join him in setting up a hedge fund in 2010, the idea of something more entrepreneurial appealed.

“I wanted some insight into how a hedge fund is run, how to do portfolio management, and I also thought it would be interesting to work in a small firm where you could make decisions really quickly.”

The timing was off, however. “We just didn’t make money. We didn’t lose money, but it was a very tricky few years. There was a big credit crisis, and we decided to just return the capital to shareholders because we just didn’t feel like we could do it justice.”

Slowey joined Bank of America in 2013. Asked to take on the role of head of equities there in 2020, she admits to some reservations.

“I was very nervous to start with. It was probably a bit of the typical imposter syndrome where you just didn’t think you would be able to do it, but it’s just been a wonderful experience and I’ve learned so much.”

She thinks it is important to show it can be done too. “It’s important for young women to see senior women in positions of power. It shows you can have a family, you can be empathetic, you can be yourself and you can also have a great career,” she says.

With her sons now aged 15 and 19, she feels it’s helpful to tell her story with honesty. Do working mothers in particular give themselves a hard time?

“I definitely did when they were younger, but I’ve been very lucky that I’ve had the same nanny for 19 years who lived with me. I would definitely give her huge kudos for keeping our family stable while I was running around the world doing what I was doing,” says Slowey. “I’ve got a really close relationship with them and I also think there is an element of respect that they have for me. They are reading about interest rates and the markets and I can explain that to them.”

Equity markets have recently been caught in a macro struggle between inflation and interest rates, she says, quoting Bank of America global research. “Nearly two billion people were experiencing inflation of about 10 per cent last year while 1.3 billion people were suffering from inflation rates of more than 15 per cent. In 2022, there were 243 interest rate increases, that’s one rate rise every trading day.”

Back closer to home, the trip from Dublin Airport to Longford has halved in the time it takes since she emigrated.

Flexible working enabled her to work from Ireland from time to time, spending periods with her parents, who both died in recent years. She is grateful to them for her start in life, and to the sustenance of friendships in London too. This includes a 30-year friendship with executive producer and screenwriter Muirinn Lane Kelly, who died in November. “We met in London through an extended rabid crowd of Irish people. She was a lifelong friend.”

Trips home are frequent. “I’m hosting a dinner for Irish traders in Dublin and then I’m going to Longford. I’ve bought 300 sheep with my brother so I need to see how they have settled in. I’m super-excited about that.”

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt

Joanne Hunt, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about homes and property, lifestyle, and personal finance