Belfast Telegraph

The Big Interview: Harry McDaid learned a lot from his family in Derry and his sister 'learnt a lot after delivering me as an 11-year-old'

Harry McDaid
Harry McDaid
Harry McDaid with Catherine McClelland from Ortus Group, which benefited from UCIT funds
Trainees Nathan and Jordan with Nigel McKinney of Building Change Trust; Nigel Hampton, director of Step by Step, and Paula Reynolds, Belfast CEO of Charitable Society. The trust has worked with UCIT
Ryan McAleer

By Ryan McAleer

July 14, 1953 was an eventful day in the McDaid family's Primrose Street home in Londonderry's Waterside.

With no doctor or nurse on hand, it was 11-year-old Sadie who was given the task of bringing the family's eighth and final child Harry into the world.

"She always said that my birthday was the day she grew up," he says almost 66 years on.

In the intervening seven-odd decades Harry McDaid has lived the life of a successful banker, moving home nine times with his wife Marian, reaching the upper echelons of Bank of Ireland in London, before bringing an end to his 43-year career with the lender in 2013.

Now living in Belfast, Harry is chief executive of the Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT), a charity that provides loans exclusively to third sector organisations such as community groups, charities, sports clubs and social enterprises in Northern Ireland and increasingly in the Republic. His talent for lending and managing credit has helped UCIT thrive in the past six years.

But his thrift and work ethic can perhaps be traced back to his early days under the roof of his parents James and Theresa McDaid's home in Derry.

"My father was a hard-working labouring man. My mother sewed, baked her own bread and she made shirts, like many thousands of women did in Derry, in the local factory.

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"Somehow or other she stretched a very thin budget so we never ran short.

"If I was looking for a masterclass in resilience, that was the place to be in that house of 10 people, in Primrose Street in the Waterside," he recalls.

"When we were old enough to become an economic unit in our family, we were expected to be one and contribute to the family budget."

Harry's early work life ranged from descaling salmon in Cochrane's yard in the Waterside at 13 to bar work at 15.

"It was just such a wonderful introduction to work and an opportunity to learn social skills.

"As a result of that and to this day, I admire young people who work through their education as I did."

His education at 'The College' (St Columb's) gave way at 17 to a job with Bank of Ireland.

"I think that provided me with exactly what I needed for my later life. It gave me enough O-levels to get a banking job.

"I also gained an interest in language, words, a smattering of Latin and one-liners that are still useful to this day."

Realising quickly that he had entered an institution he could progress in, the teenager began setting himself apart within the bank, and took full advantage of a two-year scholarship to study banking and finance at the London Business School and Irish Management Institute. "I was ambitious, but I wasn't sharp elbowed. I wanted out bring out the best in myself."

His first year in Bank of Ireland was also the year he met the Derry girl who would become his wife.

"I met Marian in The Embassy Ballroom. It was a ladies choice, it wasn't a case of me choosing her, it was quite the other way around. We got married when she was 20 and I was 21."

They had four children: James, Laura, Emma and Sean.

Harry described seven mini-careers during his Bank of Ireland tenure, taking him from branch management to district manager, to becoming the head of lending in Northern Ireland.

"As a family we've shifted about a bit. We've had nine houses, but that was the order of the day. If the bank said look Harry we've promoted you to assistant manager in Co Kilkenny, would you mind reporting for duty on Monday morning, you reported for duty on Monday morning."

Harry went on to become the bank's UK director of credit and finally, head of credit capability.

"I have the great joy and privilege to be able to say quite frankly and truthfully that I enjoyed every day of my banking career," he says.

"It was just such a wonderful experience between 1970 and 2013."

As director of credit in the UK, the Derry native was responsible for a loan portfolio of €20bn.

However, such seniority in the bank meant being in London four days a week.

For 13 years he headed to Belfast City Airport, making the weekly pilgrimage to central London via Heathrow, the Paddington Express, St Paul's and eventually Queen Street.

During those 13 years he lived midweek in an apartment that was literally a stone's throw from Tower Bridge.

He admits there wasn't much cooking done.

"I didn't use the oven in 13 years. I don't even know if it worked.

"But we had a lot of fun, worked really hard and we were very successful over those years with what we were doing."

Harry's second career began with UCIT in 2013.

While he's still managing capital and involved with lending, there's a marked difference.

"In 43 years of lending money at a fairly senior level, I never once asked what's the social impact of what we're doing here," he says.

"But now in this role, every time I ask that question. If I'm not convinced there's a worthy social impact, we won't make the loan."

UCIT emerged in 2001 against a backdrop of decreasing grant support from government. Since then it has loaned over £50m to third sector organisations north and south of the border.

It was initially backed by small business organisation Ledu, Stormont and the International Fund for Ireland.

In 2012 Invest NI appointed UCIT to manage a £5m NI Small Business Loan Fund. Through good money management, it lent out over £8m to more than 400 businesses from the initial £5m.

Last year it was awarded a £5.5m fund to work with, from which it expects to lend over £9m in support of 450 businesses and organisations.

"It's a business I feel very privileged to be leading," says Harry. "Although all of the hard work was done before I arrived. But over the last six years we have brought the business to a new level and there's much, much more to aim for."

Headquartered in Belfast's Linenhall Street for that past 12 years, UCIT now employs 16 people on both sides of the border. The chief executive says the organisation is working towards gaining its own property.

"We've invested very heavily in the Republic since I came into the business and we're growing very rapidly there."

South of the border, UCIT is financed by the Social Finance Foundation.

"Every loan we make, they put capital into our balance sheet. We make the loan, we collect the capital, the interest, and over time we repay, we restore the Social Finance's capital and we recycle it and recycle it. It's a very neat funding model we have."

The banking veteran said that lending to the small and medium business sector was traditionally not viewed as a priority for the major banks.

"It makes a big demand on capital, which makes it not madly attractive to the banks. It's also demanding in terms of human capital, in other words you have to put people in front of clients."

He says he believes UCIT has found a way to mitigate those issues, allowing it to build a solid portfolio of SME lending.

"We do it successfully and quietly, under the radar."

Despite the solid numbers being put up by UCIT, Harry says the prevailing uncertainty hanging over businesses by Brexit and lack of a functioning Executive has spilled over into the third sector of charities, social enterprises and community organisations.

"It's very hard frankly to see a great deal of upside economically at the moment and that spills over into the third sector. The third sector is facing great challenges in terms of sustaining the revenues and grants that they would have at one time taken for granted."

He said it has become increasingly difficult for community organisations to fundraise and suggested philanthropy may be needed to plug the gaps.

"These are tight times for the third sector. That's why collaboration is key to the survival of some of those in the sector, who are finding it more difficult that they would wish.

"But it will pass, as everything does pass.

"The crisis of 2007 to 2015, those were the darkest days, unprecedented days. Big banks requiring the intervention of Government. Ireland putting €64bn into the banking system. All of that was unbelievably economically depressing.

"And yet Ireland has become a winner out of that when other economies are slowing."

Approaching his 50th anniversary in the world of banking, Harry says fostering a culture of learning and self-improvement was a key component to success.

"Bringing the best out in the people around me, brought the best out in a business," he says.

"Another thing I've learned is that, with success comes sacrifice. Don't look to others to build your career. Recognise it's hard work, recognise that human, emotional and sometimes financial sacrifice is involved in building success.

"I don't think there's a single mantra that sums up a business career. But in terms of life, as distinct from one's career, I think one should always be beginning, doing new things - 'never start stopping and never stop starting'.

"I've always believe in the need to rejuvenate, to re-energise and reinvent one's self."

Harry says he takes particular inspiration from older entertainers and politicians, who find new ways to reinvent themselves.

"I'm not one for always imparting advice, but I would always encourage people to remain positive. You've got to be resilient and able to take the knocks, take frustration and quickly work back from it and move on."

Belfast Telegraph