This is me
I grew up in a lodge in the Phoenix Park, my father and grandfather were park rangers. I was one of six, fourth in line, and quick to learn the art of negotiation out of necessity. We had an idyllic upbringing with one of the world’s biggest inner city parks as a back garden. Like my siblings I went to a local inner city school in Stoneybatter, the girls to St Joseph’s Convent in Stanhope Street and the boys to the Christian Brothers in Brunswick Street. I arrived there just one week after my fourth birthday which meant i was unusually young, just 16, when I completed secondary education. Dublin Zoo was my second home and outside of school that’s where I spent all my time. If you asked the young Norah Casey what she wanted to be when she grew up I would probably have said to be a vet or to work in some capacity with animals (the genesis of a lifelong love of nature and conservation).
I would never have imagined that I could ever be a business woman, I had never met one so there were no role models to inspire me. As time went on I realised I had to choose a career – at the time options were limited, usually to the civil service or the bank. A dependable job for life was tremendously important in those precarious recessionary times. I went for the nursing. I didn’t give it much thought to be honest but my mum was a nurse, my aunt, uncle and various other relations, so it ran in the blood maybe! Immediately after school I worked for a period of time in the quarantine section of the Zoo helping to raise two baby low land gorillas. It was a wrench to leave but at 17 I needed to make my way in the world.
So my life’s adventure began when I took my first journey on an aeroplane from Dublin to Glasgow and began life as a student nurse at the Vale of Leven Hospital on the banks of Loch Lomand in Scotland. I qualified as a registered general nurse (RGN) and went on to do a one year certificate course in burns nursing and plastic surgery. After five years I realised that nursing wasn’t for me long-term. I loved nursing and remained working with nurses for a further period of time as a Student Adviser to the Royal College of Nursing in London. At 25 I knew I needed to change track and if there is another strong trait in the Casey DNA it is an aptitude for writing. So I started at the bottom again and went to study news journalism with the National Council for the Training of Journalists at Harlow College. I went on to do television studio production and direction at Ealing College and radio broadcasting with the BBC. In my late 20s, having served my time as reporter, news editor, editor and editorial director I began to rise up the managerial ranks and with the prospect of achieving that ultimate goal of CEO I realised I needed to learn new skills. I went to study strategic management at Ashridge Management College in England (and subsequently went back there to do advanced strategic management). I was a CEO at 29 and had started working on an MPhil at the University of Wales in the area of effective communication and retained learning (later transferring to a PhD – as yet unfinished).
My personal life changed for the better when met and married the BBC correspondent Richard Hannaford on New Year’s Eve in 1996. We had a son, Dara, in 1998. Overtime I ran successful magazine and newspaper companies in London and in 2001 I was at the helm of three media companies for the Smurfit Kappa Group, one in London and two in Dublin. At the time I was commuting weekly to Dublin and dividing my time between the two cities. While it was wonderful to be back working in my native Dublin Richard, myself and Dara wanted to be together as a family and we took a big decision to relocate back to Ireland. At the time I had spent more years away from Ireland than at home so the integration was a turning point in our lives. Richard continued working between the BBC and RTE and Dara settled into school in Dublin. In 2004 I did a management buyout of the two Dublin-based companies (the London one was sold to the Examiner Group).
And so Harmonia was born and my life as a business owner and investor began. Soon after the MBO, Richard left the BBC and his life as a broadcaster and joined me in the business as the Editorial Director. It was fantastic to work together and our complimentary skills made us a great business partnership (as well as a great personal one). Dragons Den came along and it was the perfect opportunity to expand into other areas of investment. After a wonderful seven years growing the magazine business, developing a strong digital portfolio and investing in many other businesses life took a different turn. After a short and aggressive bout of cancer in 2011, Richard died leaving me and Dara to pick up the pieces of our lives.
As time passed I realised that I needed a new chapter. I handed the reins of the business to my brother Ciaran, an experienced CEO, and I have returned to my first love – as a writer and broadcaster. I have the best of all possible worlds. As the Chairwoman of Harmonia I work on strategic planning and new projects for business growth using all of that earlier learning in strategy. I returned to travel writing, Richard and I toured the world as travel writers when we met first, and I love reconnecting with the excitement of great adventures to unknown places. Having regained my “media miles” with Newstalk, RTE and TV3 I have the confidence to plan and present radio and television programmes that build on my strengths as a passionate believer in enterprise and entrepreneurship. Having worked with many great charities I now focus my time and energy in areas where I can effect social change. I try to live the lessons I share – to live life to the full and achieve my potential. Which is why in my spare time I am as likely to be climbing mountains as dancing Bollywood for Strictly for Breast Cancer.
And I talk. A powerful medium when you connect with an audience who are receptive to inspiration and authenticity. My challenge as a speaker is to find that spark or trigger that catapults people young and old into the fast lane of life – whether they are students starting out in a career, or budding business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs in the corporate world or those who are embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
This is me and my life…so far.