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Q&A with Catherine McGuinness

6 June 2017

Catherine McGuinness is the chair of the City of London Corporation's Policy and Resources Committee.

Catherine McGuinness

You're talking to a friend of a friend at a party. How do you describe what you do?

I chair the committee responsible for policy, strategy and direction for the City of London Corporation, the ancient local authority for the ‘Square Mile’ which it champions the financial and professional services sector.

As part of my role, I regularly meet with government and financial representatives from across the UK and the EU. Building these relationships to strengthen our sector is a priority.  

What are you working on at the moment?

Brexit takes up an inordinate amount of time – both seeking a smooth exit and developing opportunities beyond. We are very focussed on ensuring the City continues to thrive over the next few decades. But I am also working on exciting plans for a ‘cultural hub’ in the City’s north western quarter, including a moved Museum of London and potential new concert hall; and on our work with the rest of London on, for example, education, skills and housing.

What was your first job?

Articles at Waterhouse & Co (now Fieldfisher), a great firm where I learnt the importance of rigour and of putting the client first.  

Career highlight?

From my civic rather than legal career – the first GCSE results of a school I helped set up, The City Academy, Hackney, where we achieved 82% 5 As to Cs with English and Maths for a cohort predicted to achieve 35% 5 GCSEs overall.

Taking the helm of an organisation like the City of London Corporation is, inevitably, also up there as a big achievement for me. I have been an elected member of the organisation for the last 20 years, and have seen the City evolve into the thriving place it is today. I am looking forward to seeing how I, along with colleagues, can improve it even further.  

Share some great advice you've been given.

The importance of making mistakes, provided you learn from them. Einstein, for example, said that the only sure way of avoiding mistakes was to have no new ideas.

What's in your desk drawers?

Too much!

Can you recommend a local lunch or coffee spot?

Guildhall yard on a Thursday lunchtime, where you can enjoy great street food in historic surroundings.

How do you relax?

Take advantage of the great range of events at the Barbican, from LSO to the latest films.

What's your pet hate?

Bad coffee.

Sum up working as a solicitor in one word.

Rewarding.

Favourite city apart from London?

Derry - Londonderry - a brave city in a beautiful setting which has done so much to forge a new story for itself.

What book is on your bedside table ?

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante - I’m ashamed to say, in translation.  

What needs to happen to get more women into leadership roles?

This is a difficult one and there are many initiatives. We should encourage junior women and promote effective role models. Firms need flexible working arrangements for all staff who want them. Having myself given up the partnership I had worked towards in order to move from a very supportive firm to a role in-house, though, I know there are no easy answers.

You have just been elected deputy vice president of the Law Society; what does that mean to you?

A unique opportunity at a historic time to make a contribution to meeting the biggest challenge we have faced in decades. My goal is a vibrant, thriving City contributing to the prosperity and well-being of the capital and the country.

If you hadn't become a solicitor, what would you have done?

Become a politician. Which in fact I have done, albeit as an independent non-party political one.