Interview Series - Sarah McGarry

Jul 28, 2020

Sarah McGarry - Primark

Having qualified with PwC in 2000, I have gone on to have a varied career in a number of U.S. and European multinationals, with additional qualifications in tax and project management coming later. My career journey has included Audit, Financial Reporting, Tax, Project Management, Transformation and Controls roles. My current role is in Primark, where I set up and am heading up the Internal Controls function. In my free time, I love getting outdoors and recently took part, with my Primark colleagues, in the Walk 2 Million Steps for Livie challenge - a campaign to raise funds for a colleague’s daughter, who has a rare and serious genetic condition, and, without treatment, will unlikely survive past her 2nd birthday (you can donate or read more about the wider campaign at 

Tell us a little bit about your current company in three sentences or less

Primark is a major international retailer that offers the latest fashion, beauty and homeware at the best value in the high street.  It opened its first store in Dublin in 1969 under the name Penneys and today operates in over 370 stores across Europe and the U.S. Interestingly, Primark is the proud owner of a Guinness World Record, with its Birmingham High Street store being the largest fashion retail store in the world, with a record-breaking 160,100 sq. ft of retail space.

What is the toughest decision you have had to make in your career to date?

5 years after qualifying as a chartered accountant in audit practice and having moved into an industry role, I decided to go back and complete the Irish Tax Institute professional exams in my own time. Having completed those successfully, I pursued a career in tax and spent a number of years in tax roles in both practice and industry. After investing that time and effort and taking a change in career direction (along with a salary cut to get there), the toughest decision I had to make was acknowledging that I had taken a wrong turn and that a career in tax probably wasn’t for me, at that point in time. It was a really hard decision to make, especially after what I had invested in it, but, in the end, I realised that happiness is more important, it is ok to change direction and it was the right decision for me.

What is the best piece of career advice you have been given (or would give)?

This is a quote from Coco Chanel - "Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door". Time is the most valuable asset we have, and the best use of time is whatever makes you happy. 

If you could step into the shoes of any business person today, who would it be and why? 

I would love to step into the shoes or spend a day with Oprah Winfrey, a woman who has built herself up from nothing to becoming one of the most influential women in the world. She was born into extreme poverty to a single teenage mum, was abused during her childhood, became pregnant at 14 and subsequently lost her child. She worked while in high school and college and continued to work her way up through media and TV/film and, despite facing racial and gender discrimination, became a millionaire at the age of 32 and a billionaire at 49. There has even been a course in the University of Illinois focusing on her business acumen! She has donated millions of dollars to various charities and organisations and has a number of her own foundations. She has interviewed some of the most famous and some of the most controversial figures in the world. I think sitting down and talking to her for a day would be fascinating!

Tell us something people might not know about you

What I really wanted to be growing up (and would still love to be!) is a vet. Instead, I live out my passion for animals with my pets, partaking in equestrian activities and volunteering at animal charities.

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