Business Banking Inquiry

Saturday 20 January 2018

Ethna Tinney's candour at banking inquiry shows why we need more women in business

Ethna Tinney arrives at Leinster House yesterday Photo: Tom Burke
Ethna Tinney arrives at Leinster House yesterday Photo: Tom Burke
Ailish O'Hora

Ailish O'Hora

If ever there was an advert for having more women in senior roles in business, we saw it at the Banking Inquiry yesterday.

It was as if common sense had descended on Leinster House - in the form of witness Ethna Tinney, the ex-independent director of building society EBS.

And not only was it refreshing, it was also very informative - for a change.

We learned more in just two hours about the goings-on of the banking system in the run-up to the collapse of the industry than we did from numerous earlier witnesses, mostly male.

I say this because Ms Tinney seemed to have left something outside the door of the inquiry that most of her male counterparts before her felt the need to drag in - ego.

Her performance was cool, calm and collected - as a musician and producer at Lyric FM that might be expected. And she didn't feel the need to get defensive or aggressive.

Hell, yes, she admitted, she ended up making judgments in her time on the credit committee of EBS - from 2005 to 2007 - that she wasn't qualified to do.

But neither did she feel the need to wax on about the fact that she was re-elected as a director of EBS in 2008 in what was one of the most spectacular comebacks in Irish business history at that time.

She said that she had spoken out against the EBS move into the subprime market and the proposed joint venture with Dutch giant Rabobank.

At the time of the EBS AGM in 2007 a lot of dirty linen was washed - and what emerged was a picture of a dysfunctional board.

A microcosm, perhaps, for what was happening in the banking sector and economy.

Her evidence yesterday gave an insight into how frantic and competitive the banking market had become and, therefore, may also have given us a better understanding of how it was possible for the wheels to come off it so spectacularly.

There was a lot of testosterone rolling around among the board at the time, especially in relation to Irish Nationwide, she added.

AIB was looking over its shoulder at Anglo and EBS at Nationwide, while she also admitted that lending for the property sector was competitive, not strategic.

Yesterday, Ms Tinney - who was first appointed to the board of EBS in 2000 - described a culture that most of us now know existed but few who went before her had the gumption to speak of. You could argue that she should have shouted stop more audibly at the time (and she did try), but that's missing the point.

The financial crisis has prompted some debate about gender and governance, and the need for more women executives at board level.

Ethna Tinney stands as testament to this, it seems.

Irish Independent

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