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Q&A with Jane Dawson-Howe: Country Leader, Ireland

Slalom General Manager Jane Dawson-Howe

Our Slalom Ireland leader talks about winter sea swimming, her love for Dublin, and a vision for long-term sustainability.

Jane, welcome to Slalom and welcome back to consulting! It’s been a while … what have you been up to?

Thank you, it’s great to be back! I’ve been at LinkedIn for the past six years, but prior to that I was in consulting for 24 years. I’d say those consultant skills – of curiosity, focus, and impact – have stayed with me throughout. Even in an internal role, I always see myself as a consultant.

Do you feel there are any strengths you’ve gained from working outside of consulting?

Modern leadership skills. Heading up a large team that makes considerable impact means you need to get very deep, very quickly, into culture. How do you paint a clear picture of a vision? How can you inspire people to come with you on that journey? How do you build momentum in a sustainable way? These are easy questions to ask, but not easy to answer or put into action. That experience has been transformative to my leadership style.

I personally thrive working in a culture with so much focus on people – clients, partners, and employees. So, it makes Slalom’s purpose-driven approach a natural fit for me.

I believe that every person shows up to work wanting to make a difference and have an impact – and every person has it within them to do great things. 

Have your views changed on culture in recent years?

I think culture has become even more important. I believe that every person shows up to work wanting to make a difference and have an impact – and every person has it within them to do great things. My job as a leader is to help each person reach their potential, and to do that we need to create environments in which people can thrive.

An environment isn’t just a physical thing – it includes emotional and spiritual support.  We have learned a lot in recent years about the importance of creating an inclusive environment where everyone can do their best work, and the behaviours of everyone on the team contribute to this.

A favourite model I use with my teams is the ‘energy audit.’ If you take a call with me at home, you’ll see it pinned to the wall behind me. It looks at all aspects of your life, how important they are to you, and how much time you’re spending on them.

When we’re busy with work, we can sometimes forget to get that balance. Are you spending enough time with your friends? Are you getting enough exercise, enough sleep? Balance is key, but everyone needs a prompt sometimes, and that’s where a wonderful community of colleagues can help you. Giving that all-important nudge to remember what’s most important.

Are you originally from Dublin?

I grew up in County Wicklow – which is only 25 miles south of Dublin and went to school and university in Dublin. 

Dublin is my home and has been for a long time. It’s where my close family all live too. It's quite a small city, you can easily walk across it, and there’s plenty to do from a social and cultural perspective. And although it’s very Irish, it is becoming increasingly cosmopolitan.  People are informal and friendly. We may not hustle as much as other major cities. We like to enjoy life. Striving for balance is in our DNA.

Did I mention it’s only 45 minutes to the mountains and minutes to the beach? It’s idyllic, especially in good weather. Contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t always rain here!

Do you swim at the beach?

Absolutely! All year round – but winter is only for the brave! During the pandemic, I started joining friends for a Friday morning swim. You can’t stay in long at that time of year, but it’s exhilarating and a wonderful way to start the beginning of a weekend.

Dublin has been called an innovation hub of the European Union (EU). Do you see it that way?

Joining the EU in 1977 has been transformative for Ireland’s society and economy. We have gone from having one of the lowest incomes per capita in the EU, to one of the highest. So that’s created a huge amount of opportunity for us. 

Dublin being an innovation hub? Well, there are a few reasons. It’s appealing to USA-based organisations looking to expand their footprint in the EU. We have time zone overlap and a shared language.

Corporate tax rates have also been favourable in helping organisations grow fast. Revenues from industries like tech and pharma have contributed considerably to overall societal development. 

Your role as Country Leader for Slalom Ireland is an exciting and large role. What are your expectations of yourself? Is there anything you’d like to have achieved five years from now?

To have a thriving business! Ireland is a small market on a global stage. But traditionally, Ireland punches above its weight in business, as in other areas. For me, a thriving business is one that is making meaningful impact for Irish organisations, our people, and the local community.

On a societal level, we need to continue to invest in our renewable energy and sustainable futures. We’re one of the windiest islands in Europe, and there are lots of small innovations and individuals trying to evolve. However, this could do with increased impetus if we really want to accelerate this transformation, and I’d love for Slalom to play a role in this.

Are you passionate about sustainability?

Yes, I live in an old house, and we’re gradually introducing new energy efficiencies such as LED bulbs and a heat pump. But it’s a big job, even on a personal level. You quickly see the investment needed.

I love the outdoors. I want my children and next generations to continue to enjoy the fresh air and the beauty of nature which we are so lucky to have on our doorstep.

Protecting our natural environment and decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels are also subjects commonly found in public conversation here. I’m excited to be a part of shaping our future – with clients, partners, and Slalomers.

Why Slalom?

Slalom’s relatively new to Europe now, but its best-kept-secret status won’t last for long.

I love how Slalom has taken a very modern approach to consulting. Cutting-edge engineering and fiercely human consulting are exactly what Irish-based organisations need today. Every Slalomer I’ve met is by default kind, empathetic, and friendly. This is a great match for Irish business culture.

It’s rare that any business transformation doesn’t have some technology touchpoints. When we help organisations with growth innovations, technology enablement is almost always there. So that combination with consulting is perfect for helping with future growth.

The opportunity to lead this business as it starts up in Ireland comes at a perfect time for me. It combines everything I love about business transformation, using technology in a smart way, and building a business. Slalom Ireland will have real impact for Irish-based organisations and our partners, and creates fantastic opportunities for our people.

Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

What sums up my approach to life is what Brené Brown would call ‘wholehearted living’. This is about living authentically and bringing your whole self into all situations: work, and life. It’s about being grateful, happy, and cultivating resilience.

I do consider myself the luckiest person in the world. I have my health, a wonderful family, and fulfilling work I really enjoy. I live in a beautiful spot and see the sunrise over the Irish Sea most mornings. Gratitude is a watchword for me.

I’m able to enjoy so much in life. I like to run; I’m inconsistent and rather slow, but I love getting out into the fresh air, and volunteering with my local Parkrun. I’m also training for a big cycling and fundraising event later this year.  

I’m a big fan of family traditions. One of my favourites is the annual trip I make with my Dad to Cheltenham Races in England. He is 90 now and has been going since he was 18. It’s quality time, just him and me. Time to be treasured.

Let’s solve together.