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Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan: She's right on the money

Angela McGowan hit the headlines when she said NI politicians needed to be more honest about budget cuts, but then she is in the business of making this place a success

By John Mulgrew

When Angela McGowan took on her high-profile job at one of Northern Ireland's biggest banks, she did so as the world entered the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. The 44-year-old now holds one of the most prominent and public-facing financial roles in Northern Ireland, as chief economist for Danske Bank for the last six years.

Her working week with the bank rarely follows a set timetable - whether it's writing articles for tight deadlines, analysing economic data or addressing a room heaving with business leaders.

And it was also the first time the mother-of-two was thrust into the business media spotlight - dealing with Press requests and television interviews. It was something she had to adjust to through her new role.

She's also the only full-time economist working for the bank in Northern Ireland, and the first woman to take up such a high-level appointment in the banking sector here.

Married to a fellow economist, and with two teenage boys, she still makes sure family life is a big part of her day, despite what is evidently a demanding and high profile job.

A name predominately known among those in the business community, or with a keen eye on Northern Ireland's economic outlook, Mrs McGowan was thrust into the wider media spotlight after an appearance on BBC radio last year. A frank comment suggesting Northern Ireland's politicians were being "disingenuous" when telling the public that services would not be affected by budget cuts, led to a stinging response from the Finance Minister.

Simon Hamilton said the "irony of being lectured on honesty and a lack of a strategy by someone working in the banking sector will escape no one".

But her comments were broadly supported by fellow economists, and the Belfast woman took something of a water off a duck's back approach to it all.

Growing up on the Cavehill Road in north Belfast as the youngest of four girls, she was the only one in the family to choose economics as a career path. Her first foray into the world of economics started at A-level in the late 1980s - fuelled by the enthusiasm and ability of her teacher George McConnell at Belfast Royal Academy. She also studied politics and English.

She then took her new found love of what is sometimes given its unflattering moniker of the "dismal science", to Queen's University, Belfast, where she continued her studies.

Despite preconceptions about the high proportion of men working in the field of economics, there was a healthy balance of students from both sexes there. After graduation, she went to the University of Ulster for a Masters in business, before returning to Queen's for a research role.

After starting her working life in Belfast serving hearty fare and pints in the Eglantine Inn, Mrs McGowan's first economics job was as a researcher for a European Commission project at Queen's University - focused on the environment - which saw her travel the length and breadth of Ireland in a little Ford Fiesta.

First a temporary job, the role was then extended - and dealt with the impact of EU legislation on companies throughout Europe.

It was at that time that she met her future husband, fellow economist and Dublin man, Peter Dunne.

Marriage soon followed, with the pair tying the knot when Angela was 25 years old. She kept her maiden name of McGowan.

Her next career move was to the Northern Ireland Economic Council, where she later was bumped up to the role of senior economist after around three years in the job.

Her role included drafting responses to government policy documents, working across a range of areas in economics. It was her last job working in the public sector, before her move to Danske Bank in 2008. Moving to the private sector was one of the biggest changes in her career - with a more interesting role, offering a bigger picture from her perspective as an economist.

It was a challenging time, with the mother-of-two finding herself at the forefront of often delivering little else but bad news, as the world struggled with job losses and tough times for families.

But while her hectic and varied professional life at the front-face of banking takes up most of her day - with occasional homework thrown in for good measure - she spends most of her downtime with family at her home in Holywood.

That includes fitting in evening meals with her two teenage boys Dermot (15) and Rory (13) and the occasional game of poker. She also enjoys heading out on her bike and is a keen gardener, a pastime which she finds offers a retreat from the bustling world of macroeconomics.

Interestingly, she is also an enthusiastic artist and used to while away many hours painting, but her busy lifestyle now means there is little opportunity for such a relaxing hobby.

In her current role she helps promote an international banking group, with Danske Bank's Northern Ireland arm posting pre-tax profits of £45m in the first six months of last year.

Mrs McGowan's role also involves helping to entice a new generation of economists into a job often regarded as a dry and dull subject. But it's a job that's been somewhat sexed up since the financial meltdown - brought to the front pages of newspapers across the globe.

Her husband is also prominent in the field, working for the Central Bank of Ireland in his native city.

His work schedule often sees him travelling to European financial capitals such as Frankfurt.

Of course, as part of the weekly routine he also faces a shorter commute, back and forth to their home in Holywood. But it's something the couple work around to ensure their family life is always a priority.

While both mum and dad are working in the banking sector, Mrs McGowan's two sons - who attend Sullivan Upper School in their home town - are less enthused about following in the footsteps of their parents. Her youngest, Rory, has already his sights set on the intricate world of neurology.

Meanwhile Dermot, who is taking his GCSEs this year, is looking towards engineering as way of earning a crust.

Mrs McGowan also has a vested interested in getting young people trained and in to work, and sits on the Young Enterprise board.

It's something she feels strongly about, given the current economic climate, where many are finding it difficult to find a suitable career path.

It's perhaps one area which could have prompted her critique of the sometimes rose-tinted message those on the hill convey about the financial state of Northern Ireland. And she believes education and training are the only ways the economy can grow significantly here - ensuring the influx of global firms setting up shop in Northern Ireland can employ local talent.

Ideologically, she's a firm believer in a fair and balanced society, with those able to afford it paying their way - something she thinks is also the widely held view of most people here.

But there's also credit for Stormont's ministers and policy makers who have helped drag in and attract big business and jobs from outside these shores.

As for this year, Mrs McGowan believes, while there will be "challenges", Northern Ireland should see a boost in growth and increased confidence among consumers.

Extra interest...

Favourite book? The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Film? An old favourite would be Le Chateau de Ma Mere or more recently The Hunger Games

Television? Breaking Bad, The Big Bang Theory and The Middle

Artist? My brother-in-law Joe Dunne, who painted the official presidential portrait of Mary McAleese

Restaurant? Fontana in Holywood

Sweet or savoury? Savoury every time

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