President: Marguerite Sayers

President Marguerite Sayers

President-Marguerite-Sayers-(1).jpg

BE CEng FIEI Chartered Engineer

Marguerite Sayers was appointed as ESB’s Executive Director for Customer Solutions in 2018. Prior to that, she held the position of Managing Director, ESB Networks DAC for over three years. She is a graduate of University College Cork (1991) and holds a BE in Electrical/Electronic Engineering.   She has worked in various managerial positions and locations throughout Ireland with ESB since graduating, including senior roles in HR, Customer Services and Asset Management and she also managed ESB’s Generation portfolio for a period of time.  

In her current Customer Solutions role, she leads the energy retail company Electric Ireland, and is also responsible for ESB’s Telecoms, E-Cars, and Smart Energy Services businesses, which deliver low-carbon products and services to customers in Ireland and the UK.  Marguerite is a Fellow of Engineers Ireland and has been a member of Engineers Ireland’s Council and Executive Board for the past seven years. She is also a member of the Development Board of the National Paediatric Hospital.

M Sayers, Inaugural Speech as President of Engineers Ireland, 2019-2020 session

30 May 2019, AGM of Engineers Ireland:

Director General, Fellow Members of Engineers Ireland, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Thank you all for being here in such numbers at the AGM this evening and also good evening to those of you online. 

 

Before I go any further, I want to sincerely thank Peter for his wonderful year as President.  It is unfortunate to associate the name Machiavelli with somebody as genuine as Peter, but the best summary I can give for Peter’s work during the past year is a quote from that gentleman which is that ‘It is not titles that honour men, but men that honour titles’.  And Peter certainly honoured the title of President for the past year with his commitment to the role, and in particular, his work in recognising volunteers and in engaging with Local Authorities.  Peter’s dedication and sincere love of Engineers Ireland and the engineering profession was palpable during his many engagements in the past year and I would like to sincerely thank him for all that he has done on our behalf.

 

I would also like to warmly welcome Professor Orla Feely as incoming Vice President and knowing Orla a little, I have no doubt that she will be a wonderful addition to the officer group and to Engineers Ireland.  As a result of Orla’s appointment, we have another little bit of history for the institution because for the next two years at least, there will be gender balance on the Officer Group - which is a first.    Paddy Power might be interested in taking bets on whether poor Maurice Buckley will be outnumbered by this time next year - which would be a real first! 

 

I have attended a number of Engineers Ireland AGMs over the years and have heard – without exception - the incoming President speaking about what an honour it is to be selected as President of such a historic, 180-year old organisation of the size and stature or Engineers Ireland, which now has more than 26,000 members.   And it certainly is an honour of which I am very aware.

 

Because of that honour, In the lead-up to an evening like this evening, you do a bit of reflecting or thinking how you got here - I have certainly done that more than once over the past few months.  And – when you do – you see some coincidences and parallels and I might just mention three of those.

 

Firstly, I do not come from a long line of engineers in my immediate family, where agriculture, science, veterinary and teaching were very much more the norm.   For a very long time, I actually had a notion of becoming a primary school teacher – my mother was a teacher, as was my grandmother.  But – you had to sing at the interview for primary school teaching, and I was not going to inflict that experience either on myself or the interviewing panel, so I had to find an alternative.

 

Like a lot of you in the audience, I had always keen on maths and science (encouraged by my dad) but I had never considered engineering as a career. I actually had no clue as to what an engineer did - beyond some idea about building roads and bridges.  Way back in 1986, Engineers Ireland ran a Women’s Year in Engineering.   This involved recently qualified female engineers meeting fifth and sixth year honours maths students to encourage them to consider a career in engineering. I went along to one of these evenings and as one of the engineers explained her job, it made total sense to me and there and then I decided to study engineering. Little did I think on that evening in a school in Tralee 32 years ago, when I first seriously considered engineering - that I would one day have the distinction of becoming President of Engineers Ireland.  So – I’ve come full circle: coming in to the profession directly as a result of the work done by the Institution, and hopefully now helping to continue that work over the next year, promoting engineering with schools and colleges.  As an aside, for all of you volunteers in the audience – just in case you think that your many hours in schools talking to students about engineering does not have an impact – it does.  In some cases anyway. 

 

Now – a second parallel.  My mother is a Cork woman, and her maiden name is Cummins, so – I was quite intrigued when I discovered a couple of months back that back in 1927, the very first female elected to be a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland (as it was called back then) was a lady called Iris Cummins from Cork.  Iris entered UCC in 1912 to study Civil engineering, as I did 75 years later in 1987, though on the Electrical / Electronic side of the house. So maybe there is a little more engineering ancestry in there than I originally thought. 

 

And the final parallel - this year is an important year for Engineers Ireland in that it marks 50 years since the introduction of the professional title of Chartered Engineer in 1969.  That year (and therefore this one) are also quite significant for me – so I have quite a bit of an anniversary of my own coming up!

 

My CV is quite simple.  Since I graduated in 1991, I have spent my whole career in ESB – another national institution that has a long and distinguished history, of which everybody working in the company is very proud. I have often said that I joined ESB and that I forgot to leave, but that is actually a testament to the organisation and the career diversity that it provides. At 92 years old, ESB is one of the oldest companies in the country, and yet, only half as old as Engineers Ireland. ESB has given me fantastic opportunities over the past 27 years working on network planning, construction and operation, managing emergencies like weather events, working in HR, Asset Management, in generation, and currently, in energy retail, E-Cars, Smart Energy and Telecommunications.  It is a fantastic company, which expects high standards, but also delivers a huge amount for the country and provides a lot support to employees.  I am going to test that support over the next year – I think I will probably be looking for a lot of leeway, so I’m getting in early with the appreciation!

 

In relation to the year ahead, there are a number of areas on which I would like to focus -

 

(1)        Enhancing the image and understanding of Engineering as a profession

I already referred to my lack of knowledge when I was in the senior cycle in Secondary School as to what an engineer did.  There has been fabulous work done by the STEPS team and volunteers in engaging with many schools since and on the positive front, the number of students engaging in STEM subjects for leaving cert has gone up by 18% over the past few years.  However, based on research done by Richard Manton here in the Institution for the Engineering 2019 publication, over 50% of people in general and over 60% of women would not feel comfortable in describing what an engineer does. 

 

This is not surprising, given the widespread use of the term to cover many roles.  I know this is not a new issue, but it is a real problem that it is really hurting the profession – particularly in attracting females to study engineering as their frame of reference is even more limited.  We need to continue to work to eliminate the confusion felt by the public – who will neither rate the profession nor encourage sons, daughters, nieces, nephews or grandchildren to pursue a career that they do not understand or – even worse – if they understand it to be something that it is not.  So, I would like to undertake some work over the next year to promote the concept of a career as a Professional Engineer, particularly engaging with Career Guidance Counsellors given their influence on career choice.  Related to this is also progressing the outcome on the recent Review of Regulation of the Profession following the great work done by the working groups.

 

(2)        A second theme is staying relevant.  For an institution that is over 180 years old, tradition is extremely important.  However, progressing with the times is also important.  And - looking back over history - the Institution has changed many times in the past to adapt to new and emerging needs.  We have made great strides over the last number of years with the use of social media, the total revamp of the website, new ways of communicating and engaging.  So – I would like to explore (including engaging with sister organisations in other countries, 3rd Level Institutions, Students and our Corporate Partners) if there are other changes or modernisations that we need or could put in place without losing the soul of the institution.  I believe this is important to ensure that we stay relevant to new graduates and that they feel attracted by and welcomed into the profession and indeed, to Engineers Ireland.   

 

(3)        Thirdly, ensuring that the Institution continues to provide a recognised expert voice and opinion on important topics such as Climate Change and Engineering Standards, and to ensure that the public and key decision makers are informed by the profession rather than less informed sources.  

 

On a personal note, there are a lot of people who have supported me in my education and career to date.  I would like to thank my parents who are here this evening – who did support me in wanting to become an electrical engineer, even though I’m not sure they knew exactly what it was either!  (I think they were also responsible for buying a lot of Lego at a young age – which helped!). In ESB, if I started naming people I would be here all night – and really want to thank my friends and colleagues who are here this evening and were also instrumental who voted me on to Council a few years back. I do take the opportunity to mention a number of mentors however - Denis O’Leary who was my very first ESB boss when I was a summer student, John Kirby (but had a long engagement here with Engineers Ireland) as did Mick Loughnane (who we sadly lost in the past couple of months), the very energetic Jerry O’Sullivan (DCE) who has always been extremely supportive, past CE Padraig McManus and our current Chief Executive Pat O’Doherty who seems to have 48 hours in every day because he seems to never be too busy to talk and takes a huge interest in our development.  Also, I want to thank my colleagues on the EDT, and the SMTs I have worked on in Networks, in Generation and now in Customer Solutions, as well as many other colleagues and friends, for your support over the past few years and I am sure I will rely on your patience even more so in the next year.

 

In relation to Engineers Ireland, you could not get more professional people than DG Caroline Spillane and all of her directors and the staff here in Clyde Road who have been incredibly welcoming and helpful to me. It is only when you attend various committees and events that you realise the huge effort and dedication of all of the staff here in Clyde Road, and the extent to which they put in significant time outside of normal office hours.  

 

I also need to acknowledge that the main reason that I am here in Clyde Road this evening is because of Caroline’s predecessor John Power. John rang me about eight years ago with an innocent invitation to be possibly be co-opted on to council for six months or so to fill a vacancy. I’m here since. I suspect that the thinking at the time was that I might help on both the age profile and diversity of the council make-up and I am happy to say that I can still help with one of those factors! But thanks to John for that initial call and for all of his support and advice since then or a certainly would not be here in this capacity this evening.

 

In the last eight years, I have seen fantastically committed Presidents (Regina Moran, Bill Grimson, most recently - Dermot Byrne, Kieran Feighan and of course Peter – who is now sitting over there all relaxed) and they all represented Engineers Ireland in a most magnificent way. I especially want to mention Kieran this evening as this is his last official engagement as an Officer and Past President. It was obvious to everybody that Kieran put huge thought into his year as President, and made many changes and improvements. So – I sincerely want to thank Kieran for that wonderful commitment, for being so capable and pragmatic. Thanks also to Kieran’s family for the VP medal that Orla is now wearing which was a lovely and useful gift to the Institution, and I would like to wish Kieran and Aisling all the very best of the future.  

 

So – I am somewhat daunted given the track record of those past presidents but I am really looking forward to the coming year working with our VPs Maurice Buckley and Orla Feely, and indeed will rely greatly on Peter for his advice and help as a seasoned now Past President. I will do my best to visit as many events and locations as possible and to hopefully continue the great work completed by my predecessors.  It seems a blink of an eye since Peter warned Maurice and me in this auditorium last year that time passes very quickly.  He wasn’t wrong!  But he also keeps reminding me that that’s all the more reason for us to embrace the roles and opportunities that we have.  So – I will do my best to do that. 

 

Finally - thank you again to everybody for coming along this evening and for the privilege of being President of the Institution for the next 12 months.  Your support this evening means an awful lot to me and I’m sure that I will rely on it during the next year.    Equally, if there is anything I can do for any of your over the coming year, please let me know.

 

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

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