A woman in black business dress with cropped chestnut hair smiles at the camera.
Brianneé McGrath. Image: EY

‘To my surprise, a lot was happening in Ireland’

25 Jun 2019

Brianneé McGrath, an assurance manager with EY Financial Services, discusses coming to Ireland from her home of South Africa.

Within Ireland, everyone working in STEM and STEM-adjacent spaces is aware – and generally quite proud – of the vibrancy of the Irish tech scene. Ireland has attracted some of the largest tech companies in the world, yet the wider world may not be quite as aware of this scene as we may assume.

For Brianneé McGrath, the amount of high-profile firms that called Ireland their home was a surprise. She said: “I saw big tech names, a strong financial services sector and a lifestyle that resonated with me. All of this made my decision a lot easier and I decided to move my whole life to a new country.”

To hear more about McGrath’s experience uprooting from her home of South Africa to move to Ireland and work for EY, and how the tech scene here truly sealed the deal, check out our chat with her below.

Where are you from and what’s it like there?

I grew up in a small town in the north-west of South Africa. After my studies, I moved to Johannesburg (colloquially referred to as Jozi or Joburg). This is where I completed my training contract to qualify as a chartered accountant.

South Africa is a lovely country in terms of culture, landscape and wildlife. We have a melting pot of different cultures with one thing in common: our people are very friendly and jovial. You could walk into a place not knowing anyone and be guaranteed to walk out of there having made at least one friend. The people are very friendly and, given the array of different backgrounds and cultures within in the country, you can always be guaranteed a great story about a person’s background and where they come from.

Our landscape is very varied and moving from one part of the country to another, you can cross grass fields, bushveld, mountains, tropical areas and amazing beaches. All the different landscapes lend themselves to great wildlife being present both on land and in our oceans. Contrary to popular belief, we do not keep lions and elephants as pets.

How long have you been in Ireland?

I moved to Ireland in April of 2016, which means I’ve been here a little over three years now.

What prompted your decision to move here?

After my training contract, I felt that I was ready for a new and different challenge. I definitely wanted an international assignment. To be honest, Ireland never crossed my mind. I always looked at pictures of Ireland and though that it would be a great holiday destination, never thinking that I would end up working or living here.

A recruiter contacted me, representatives of EY in Ireland came over to South Africa, interview done, and the job was mine. Still, I wasn’t quite convinced. What followed was some intense researching. To my surprise, on the other side of the world, a lot was happening in Ireland. I saw big tech names, a strong financial services sector and a lifestyle that resonated with me. All of this made my decision a lot easier and I decided to move my whole life to a new country.

What’s your role in EY?

As an assurance manager in EY, my role is quite varied. The main responsibility for someone in my role would be the delivery of statutory audits for our clients. However, there is so much to the role. Some days we are teachers, some days we are learners, some days we are counsellors, some days we are event managers and on other days we are all just friends.

‘The biggest challenge I found when moving here was housing. I think anyone, not only expats, will tell you that it is really difficult to find suitable housing in Dublin’

How would you describe your working environment?

Our working environment is very dynamic. We are always looking at how we could make things better, easier, faster, and for ways to ultimately create and add value. This is true not only for delivery to our clients, but also for our own teams and work.

Our slogan of ‘building a better working world’ is put into practice on a daily basis. We are always asking ourselves, how can we simplify or improve things and add more value?

To accomplish this, we have a big focus on finding innovative solutions to our clients’ most pressing challenges but also to our own. We have developed great tools and technology in the last couple of years. These are assisting us in delivering exceptional client service and are also making our own lives easier on a day-to-day basis.

What do you like most about your job?

I would have to say the thing I like most about my job is the people. People have such a big impact on our daily lives and I can honestly say that I work with some of the best people in the business. Not only are they highly intelligent and competent, but they also really care. They care about their colleagues’ growth and wellbeing on a daily basis.

We also work with such a variety of people. The last time I checked we were over 22 different nationalities in the office. This brings great diversity to our workplace, which brings a wide range of views and possible solutions to all the challenges we face. I do believe that this is part of our success. We always have a variety of perspectives, which leads to great solutions.

Was it difficult to adjust to living and working in Ireland?

The biggest challenge I found when moving here was housing. I think anyone, not only expats, will tell you that it is really difficult to find suitable housing in Dublin specifically.

Another challenge would be surviving for the first couple of months without a support structure. I was used to being able to call my family at any time of the day or night if I had a problem, but moving over on your own means standing strong and building your own support structure. This was made easier by the Irish culture being very similar to that of South Africa. People are really friendly and treat everyone like family. That definitely makes for an easier transition.

What surprised you about moving to Ireland, if anything?

How outdoorsy it is, given the weather. People really enjoy the outdoors here and will go for hikes or play their preferred sports regardless of the rain.

How does your working life help to make you feel at home here?

I’ve made some of my best friends in Ireland at work. Some of them have since moved on but our friendships remain strong. We also have various networks at EY that you can join. From new parents to women in the workplace or groups for different nationalities, there really is great support offered at work to make you feel like you belong. People are very inclusive as well, which helps with feeling at home relatively quickly and easily.

What do you like most about your adopted home?

The freedom. Back in South Africa it is not really safe to walk in the streets. I find that I can really do so much here without being afraid for my safety, and that makes a huge difference to my daily life. I love being able to walk to work or go out for a pint after work and being able to get home safe.

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