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Seizing every opportunity

Kayte O’Neill, Head of Markets for the Electricity System Operator, shares how she balances a successful career with being mum to three young children – and still found time to make her dream of studying at Harvard a reality.

Our family motto is ‘work hard, play hard’. Dad always said you can do anything, be anything. He drummed into us the importance of going after your potential, and that’s stuck with me.

As a mother of three children aged 12, 9 and 6, two of them daughters, it’s become even more important to me and I’m trying to instil in them the importance of doing something you love.

I joined National Grid on the graduate programme in 2002 and, thanks to the rotational programme, I got to experience challenging and exciting core placements across the company including a business development role in Rome and a role on the National Grid / Transco merger.

Over the years, I’ve spent time in Regulation, for the electricity transmission and gas distribution businesses; moved into account management working with gas shippers to understand their perspective on energy issues; then customer strategy roles to understand what we needed to do to as a business to become more customer focused, and work with the field force to make that step change.

I also spent three years as executive advisor to our CEO John Pettigrew, before moving to the US as Vice President of Strategy and Regulation. I returned to the UK in 2018 and joined the ESO as Head of Strategy and Regulation and have most recently moved within the ESO to take up a newly created ‘Head of Markets’ role.

You always wonder how you’ll carve out time to take on extra challenges, but go for it, commit to something and you’ll create the time and space to succeed.

As a child, my godmother introduced me to the seemingly impossible dream of Harvard Business School. So, finding myself just down the road when we moved to Boston as a family in 2016 was the perfect moment to go for it and gain the Harvard equivalent of an Executive MBA.

Strong practical support from my husband Steve allows me to do these jobs and he’s encouraged me to make the most of these once-in a-lifetime opportunities every step of the way.

A consistent theme throughout my time at National Grid has been a passion for developing and growing our people.

I’ve been on maternity leave three times and each time I’ve come back stronger and in better roles. And that really requires the support of the company. National Grid has been a great place to work. I’ve been given a huge amount of flexibility, and had support from sponsors who have helped me to see opportunities and embrace them.

Now I really try to pay that back. I’m a strong advocate of growing talented leaders and helping them navigate our industry, and I mentor several people – many of them young female leaders. We’ve come a long way on diversity in recent years; I see the challenge now as creating the right culture to retain talent. People rarely join a company looking for a lifetime career, so it’s more crucial now than ever that we are setting people up for growth.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that there are opportunities everywhere and you should seize them. You always wonder how you’ll carve out time to take on extra challenges, but go for it, commit to something, and you’ll create the time and space to succeed.