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Oonagh McArdle

My Story
Oonagh McArdle

BA (Hons) Geography & Sociology
MSc/PG Dip Environmental Engineering

Now: Lead Supply Chain Improvement & Sustainability Specialist at The Dow Chemical Company 

Where are you now?

I am the Lead Supply Chain Improvement & Sustainability Specialist at The Dow Chemical Company. I am responsible for leading improvement projects to support productivity improvements, operational reliability and improved customer service performance. I was involved in the development of the Supply Chain Sustainability Strategy for Dow and I have responsibility of leading the End-To-End Transparency objective of the strategy – this involves being the Global Focal Point for all customer and supplier requests with regards to third party supply chain sustainability platforms – customers for whom I have worked with to gain End-to-End Transparency in our value chain through assessments and audits include: Akzo Nobel; IKEA; L’Oreal; GSK; P&G and Johnson & Johnson to name but a few.

Additional to this I am also responsible for the Environmental and Energy Efficiency piece of the strategy, in which I have worked on a number of collaboration projects with some of our key strategic customers such as Unilever and P&G to identify monetary and CO2-eq savings through Payload Optimisation; Modal Shift Studies and Network Optimisation.  

As well as this I also support internal businesses and functions with regards to these optimisation studies, one project which I led in 2014 received a Global Dow WRAP Diamond Award for making significant cost savings of over $1 million in one year and a CO2-eq saving of 241.2 tonnes - Diamond Achievement is for projects that achieve Dow's ultimate goal - waste reduction at the source. It recognizes contributions at Dow that outshines all the rest.  This is performance that falls outside of an employee’s normal role, shows extraordinary personal initiative, and has tremendous, long-lasting impact on our customers’ or our own business results.  The impact is broadly felt across Dow and generates the highest levels of internal and external customer satisfaction.

As well as this I am also the EMEAI Sustainability Network Leader for Dow which involves organising webinars and site events across the EMEAI region and engaging employees for impact with regards to sustainability as well as working with my peers across the other regions for Global sustainability network programmes.

I am also the Strategy Design Focal Point for Dow’s Global Packaging Sustainability Council and a Dow Social Media Ambassador for #Dow2025.

Dow also has a key role to play with regards to knowledge transfer to students at QUB. As part of this, I myself am a guest lecturer on the MSc in International Business Course and I have also lectured to the QUB Engineering Leadership Programme students, lecturing on each occasion on the topic of ‘Supply Chain Sustainability’.

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How did you get there?

Whenever I finished my undergraduate degree, I went onto complete a postgraduate degree in Environmental Engineering at QUB. I selected this path after I carried out thorough research on job sites to see what type of opportunities existed and what I would need to have to go for these sort of positions.

Following this course, I went on to work for NIEA and then AFBI – both involved working within a team and this was important because whenever you are out on sites, you are responsible not just for yourself but also for your colleagues’ safety.

Following this I went on to work for PwC as a consultant in their Global Research Centre of Excellence, leveraging my research and communication skills for my undergrad course in geography and sociology (particularly the Research Methods modules in Sociology) then unexpectedly a sustainability job in Dow came up in 2011 and even though I wasn’t sure I would be suited to it, I went for it anyway because well I didn’t have anything to lose and there was no harm in trying. I did my research on the company and really worked hard to get the job and haven’t looked back since.

With regards to skills:  Communication skills are essential – the role that I have is a “virtual” role in that pretty much every person I have to communicate with is based in another country or even another continent. Therefore having great written and verbal communication skills is key as well as presentation skills – for example, 99% of all meetings I have are conducted via WebEx, as such I need to ensure that the language and any graphical aids I use within my presentations are clear, concise and get the message across because when you are working across a number of different time zones, you may only have one chance to have all necessary stakeholders on the call at the same time so making the most of the opportunity is important.

Organisational skills are also essential – I lead the majority of my own projects and so I need to be at the top of my game, therefore time-management is key, through having good time management skills it ensure I meet any deadlines, but as well as this, in my role as a Project Leader, I need to ensure I get the best out of my team, the way I do this is through encouraging them, building a rapport with them and really promoting the ethos of team work.

Through my time in the School of Geography, probably without realising it at the time, I gained a lot of transferrable skills such as working as a team through group projects; building my communication skills through written assignments but also enhancing my verbal communication skills through getting up and presenting projects to the rest of the class and taking part in tutorials, and of course, the completion of assignments by the deadline really helped with my organisational but more importantly, my time-management skills.

Back when I was in the School of Geography, the thought of presenting in front of my classmates was a daunting prospect, but trust me, the more you do it, the easier it gets, especially when you are presenting on a topic that you are passionate about. When I started at QUB in 2003 I would never have imagined that in November 2015 I would be the only female key note speaker at The National Sustainability Summit in Dublin in front of 3000+ delegates representing one of the biggest chemical companies in the world.

Making use of Careers, Employability and Skills

When I was at QUB from 2003, I didn’t utilise the career guidance expertise until my final year, I did however find career fairs useful to get an idea of what sort of companies are out there and really start to think about the path I wanted to take. I went from working in NIEA to AFBI to PwC and now to Dow and gaining experience in a range of industries was only possible through having such well-honed transferable skills.

I have attended Career Fairs with my company in the last few years at QUB and I really encourage students to engage with companies that are there and don’t automatically rule out a company based on its name or what you “think” the company does – even though I work for The Dow Chemical Company, we take a number of interns every year from a range of schools at QUB, from Business courses, to engineering, to maths to name but a few – in fact out of the 10 interns Dow has had over the last three years only one was actually a chemical engineer!

Advice for current Queen's students

Start thinking now while you are still in your course, what you want to do whenever you finish your undergraduate degree – do you want to go on to do a masters? If so, really do your research, find the course that best suits you, go onto job websites to see what jobs are out there that you could potentially go for once you completed your postgraduate studies but keep your options open! Understand that there are a world of possibilities out there, you just need to broaden your horizon – whenever I was studying Geography at QUB I forever had people assuming I was going to be a Geography Teacher, and there is nothing wrong with that but it wasn’t the route I wanted to take, there are so many more possible opportunities out there so don’t restrict yourself.

Network! Network! Network! – you are your own brand so market it as best you can – utilise social media outlets such as LinkedIn and follow companies that you are interested in and make INFORMED and ENGAGING connections. Don’t be afraid to send someone an email on LinkedIn to introduce yourself, it is a polite gesture to make but also a simple one that can help kick off a professional relationship and believe me, it will be appreciated by the recipient.  These sort of platforms are also being utilised a lot more by companies to a. advertise job openings and b. headhunt prospective candidates so keep this in mind.

Finally, to stay ahead of the pack and on top of your game, you also need to be willing to learn new things, expanding and building upon your skill set and keeping up to date with industry trends and issues, especially when you work in such an evolving area like sustainability this is important. As recent as earlier this year I completed the Business & Sustainability Programme Online Course with University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, so always be willing to develop your own portfolio of skills because it does pay off in the long-term. 

Interested in improving your employability

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