IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2022: Meet the winners
21st Apr 2022
From global go-getters to social changemakers, the winners of last night's IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year 2022 represent a diverse range of experiences and industries.
Shining a spotlight on the best and brightest women in business, the winners of the IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year 2022 were announced at a black-tie awards ceremony in The Clayton Hotel last night. Twelve prestigious trophies were handed out to women across a wide range of industries – including Fiona Dawson CBE, our Lifetime Achievement winner of the night.
Here’s what they had to say.
Overall Businesswoman of the Year
Eva Pau, commercial director, Asia Market
Eva Pau quite literally grew up in the Asia Market store on Dublin’s Drury Street, which is owned by her parents, Helen and Howard Pau, and which last year celebrated its 40th anniversary.
When she was a child, her mother worked on the shop floor as a cashier and in her formative years, the store became Eva’s playground. Exploring the boxes and cartons at her mother’s feet, she’d pop out every now and again to say hello to the customers.
Today, as Commercial Director, Eva has played a pivotal role in establishing the Asia Market brand, modernising the shopping experience for customers in the Drury Street store and expanding the business out to their second location in Ballymount, Dublin 12.
Embarking on a new fresh look for both retail stores in Drury Street and Ballymount, she reorganised the store layouts to make them more appealing and easier to navigate for customers. She also established an e-commerce platform that brings Asian groceries to a far wider market and now turns over €1m annually, and opened Duck, an authentic Hong Kong-style BBQ meats restaurant on Fade Street.
Asia Market is now Ireland’s largest Asian food importer, distributor and retailer, employing over 160 multinational employees.
Speaking on the evening, she said: “I really am in shock – there are so many amazing women who have been nominated in this category, and it really means so much to me. From day one, when my parents started from a really small store on Drury Street, I saw how hard-working and dedicated they are. Their work ethic has really inspired me to be like them and to carry on the business.”
Entrepreneur of the Year
Dr Lisa Creaven and Dr Vanessa Creaven, CEOs, directors and co-founders, Spotlight Oral Care
Sisters Lisa and Vanessa founded Spotlight Oral Care in 2016, with a mission to create clinically proven, earth-kind oral care products.
As dentists, they have a unique insight into the needs and concerns of their dental patients, which informs everything they do. As entrepreneurs, they understand the unique challenges of scaling internationally.
When Covid struck, the sisters were in the midst of a major expansion into the US market through 12,000 Ulta Beauty stores, 3,000 CVS stores and online on Target.com. The pandemic business climate presented an unprecedented challenge, but they rose to it with persistence and ingenuity.
In the last year alone, the brand has sold 2.2 units per minute globally.
Speaking on the night, Lisa said: “We always wanted Spotlight to be an international company. It’s probably over four years ago that we first started talking to US retailers.
“A very wise man once said to me: ‘The US is where Irish brands go to die.’ A lot of Irish brands have really suffered when they’ve expanded and I think that while expansion in a reasonable sense is important, it’s really important to have huge ambitions but also to keep the fundamentals of your business healthy so you can achieve long-term goals.
“It takes longer than you think to get anywhere in the US, so it’s about having realistic expectations and milestones as you go, so that you’re not putting your business at risk.”
Young Businesswoman of the Year (Under 35)
Aimee Connolly, founder and CEO, Sculpted by Aimee
A true self-starter, Aimee Connolly entered the workforce at the age of 16 when her single mum was badly hit by the recession. The Dublin-born make-up artist has worked continuously since then, carving out experience on department store make-up counters before starting her own eponymous brand.
Sculpted by Aimee was, and remains to be, 100pc self-funded and owned by Aimee. Starting with a €30k savings fund she accumulated through her college years, her brand is now available in over 350 stockists across the UK and Ireland.
Speaking on the night, she said: “This award hands-down has to go to my mom. She is amazing and she is such a hard worker. She is so dedicated. She took a career change in her forties and started her own company. She is literally a woman to be reckoned with and she will be so thrilled when I text her to tell her I’ve won…”
Management Professional of the Year
Debbie Byrne, managing director, An Post Retail
After joining An Post in 2018 as Managing Director An Post Retail, Debbie Byrne leads the strategy and transformation of Ireland’s largest retail network of 940 post offices, 800 PostPoint outlets, 970 direct staff and 3,200 contractors, serving 1.3 million customer visits weekly.
Making a big impact in a short amount of time, she has negotiated a historical union agreement, developed the growth and re-positioning strategy for the post office network and developed an ambitious Financial Services strategy with An Post Money, to win a new customer demographic.
Debbie pioneered mentoring for female leaders at An Post, greatly supporting the move towards a Zero Gender Pay Gap at An Post by 2021. She is also on a mission to accelerate An Post’s journey towards having a positive environmental and social impact over the next five years and beyond.
Speaking on the night, she said: “No leader out there gets to where they get to without an amazing team behind them. And I think the team I’ve built around me, and the award I’m receiving today, is genuinely down to a very skilled set of individuals who have come on the journey with me.”
Start-up of the Year
Denise Kenny Byrne, CEO and co-founder, The Head Plan
When Denise Kenny Byrne’s husband Ciaran was diagnosed with AML two days after their honeymoon in 2019, she leaned into wellness and became passionate about sharing personal development with others.
It was a harrowing few years but it also sparked the idea for The Head Plan, a guided wellness and personal development brand and community app.
As Denise says: “I created the brand that I always needed and wanted in my life.”
Since launching, The Head Plan retails online globally with customers in over 70 countries, and a retail presence in Ireland in Arnotts and Brown Thomas. Meanwhile, the app community is thriving with over 30,000 members who enjoy free content, daily affirmations and meditations.
Denise has since gone back to study and is now a qualified Life & Wellness Coach and Certified Meditation Teacher, the learnings of which she pours into the business offerings.
Speaking on the evening, she said: “I feel a mix of emotions – I’m elated, overwhelmed, I’m just in shock… Ciaran is here with me tonight and I feel he doesn’t get enough recognition within the business. Obviously, I’m the co-founder, but Ciaran is the other co-founder. And it was through Ciaran’s illness that we essentially found wellness and this business.”
Creative Businesswoman of the Year
Roisin Keown, owner, The Brill Building
Roisin Keown is one of Ireland’s most awarded advertising creatives and one of the few females to have become a Head of Creative at a large agency. Cutting her teeth in DDFH&B as an unpaid intern in 2003, she was leading its creative department within 10 years.
She finished her time there in 2018 to relocate her young family from Dublin city to the West of Ireland. The following year, after a period freelancing, she took a leap of faith and, with no seed funding, started her own creative agency, The Brill Building.
She and her team gave Cork-based charity Breakthrough Cancer Research a national profile for the first time through an end-to-end rebrand that included creating ‘The Shop that Nearly Wasn’t’ – the world’s first shop 100% stocked and staffed by cancer survivors.
That work alone has been recognised nationally and internationally as best in class, winning multiple industry awards in every communications discipline from strategy and activation, to campaign, PR and production.
From a business started at a kitchen table in the West of Ireland in 2019, just six months before a global pandemic, to Ireland’s most awarded new creative agency in 24 months, Roisin has defied convention and the odds at every step.
Speaking on the evening, she said: “When I moved to East Clare I was really looking for a change of life and I wasn’t sure it would equate to a change of career. At the time, I wasn’t convinced you could work in an advertising agency from the West of Ireland, certainly there weren’t many examples. But, eventually, the clients found me…
“I was talking to someone tonight about autonomy. To be able to have autonomy over the work you do, and even the hours you work, and to be able to have that control in a creative business, I really love that.
“You get to see an idea out in the world exactly how you envisaged it, and you get to bring the whole team and the client with you.”
CEO of the Year
Julie Ennis, CEO of corporate services, Sodexo UK & Ireland
In her combined roles of CEO of Corporate Services for Sodexo UK & Ireland and Country President for Sodexo Ireland, Julie Ennis leads a segment that employs circa 10,000 people overseeing c225 client contracts, with revenues of €484m annually.
Born in Dublin, she studied ballet from the age of three and when she left school at 17, she turned down an opportunity at Carlow IT to train as a professional dance teacher in the UK.
Upon qualifying, Julie returned to Ireland with the ambition of opening her own ballet and dance school. While teaching dance part-time, she joined Bank of Ireland in 1998 for what she thought would be a year at most. Instead, Julie stayed with Bank of Ireland for 20 years, studying at night and building up her qualifications, that now include an MBA from the Michael Smurfit Business School.
In 2019, Julie changed career paths, joining Sodexo as managing director of Sodexo’s corporate services segment in Ireland. Just over a year later, in early 2020, Julie was promoted to CEO of Corporate Services for Sodexo’s UK and Ireland region, becoming the first Irish woman to land this very senior role in Sodexo’s global organisation.
Speaking on the night, she said: “I’ve had many fantastic women mentors throughout my career. Sponsorship and mentorship has been critical for me, as it has been for many of the women here tonight.
“And it’s what I’d say to every single talented female out there – make sure you surround yourself with brilliant people that you can really learn from… You need to be able to put yourself forward, and I learned that the hard way throughout my career. Put your hand up, because very few times in your career will you be tapped on the shoulder.
“And look for the opportunities, because they do exist.”
Digital & Technology Businesswoman of the Year
Angela Bergin, senior vice president, Global Payments
As an executive leader in Global Payments, Angela Bergin’s role encompasses a wide range of responsibilities within technology, including strategy setting and business planning, managing a multi-million dollar budget and building high-performing teams from the ground up.
Born in Sligo, she started her career in Accenture Consulting, building experience in a mix of Fortune 500 organisations, before moving to industry leadership.
She is one of a handful of female SVPs in Europe across all teams, and the only one at VP level or higher in the European technology organisation. To address this, she is currently mentoring three people within the company, and has started a qualification in Life, Executive & Leadership Coaching to expand her ability to support others.
Her passion is to support women and those who are under-represented to meet their potential and increase their visibility.
Speaking on the evening, she said:
“I have two young kids that I’ve had in the last three years. For me, a big part of my success, and what I’m proud of, is being able to progress while having a young family. That’s possible now, which is brilliant.
I have a daughter, Aoibhinn, who is three, and I love her to see anything is possible. My own mam had to stop working with the Marriage Bar and I just love that each generation is progressing, and I love her to see that there are no limits.
So to my daughter Aoibhinn, whenever she is old enough to see this, this award is for her.”
Social Entrepreneur of the Year
Caoimhe de Barra, CEO, Trócaire
As the CEO of Trócaire, Caoimhe de Barra sets the strategic direction for the organisation, ensuring responsiveness and agility in a volatile global environment, with a particular focus on empowering women.
She first joined Trócaire in 1997, after completing an undergraduate degree in international marketing and a Masters degree in development studies. She worked in Trócaire until 2015, both in Ireland and in Southern Africa, before spending three years in Malawi as Country Director with Concern Worldwide. In 2018, Caoimhe returned to take up the role of CEO with Trócaire. She is the first female CEO of the organisation.
In 2021, in spite of the restrictions imposed under Covid, Caoimhe managed to grow public income (i.e. donations from the Irish public) to record levels. Public income in 2021 reached €30m, the highest ever for the organisation.
Caoimhe also had to deal with the challenge of responding to the crisis in Ukraine. As the war started, she was decisive in pivoting to support local partners on the ground in Ukraine and Poland, while continuing to ensure other humanitarian crises were not forgotten.
Speaking on the evening, she said: “I’m delighted that my sector is getting recognition in these most prestigious of awards because the last few years have been really challenging. And I feel in receiving this award, I’m receiving it on behalf of all the women in my organisation, and in the charity sector, who work so hard.
The nature of our work is that we’re always facing challenges and rising to those challenges. And the fact that we’re strong and resilient working together means we can meet many of those challenges…
“How do I cultivate resilience? I think you realise that the world is much bigger than you, and that you are making a contribution but that you cannot solve everything. So it’s about being satisfied with the things you are able to do and not overreaching, or so much that you cannot find your way back to yourself… understanding yourself, being authentic to who you are, and knowing who you can rely on for support.
And also being aware that no matter what you do, and how little it might seem, it is making a difference.”
Social Entrepreneur Start-up of the Year
Dr Suzanne McClean, psychologist and founder, Rosabel’s Rooms
Dr. Suzanne McClean founded child-loss project Rosabel’s Rooms in memory of her little girl Rosabel, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in April 2017, aged just 16 months. After losing her beloved little girl, she was determined to ensure a legacy of love for her child.
Founded in collaboration with the Irish Hospice Foundation, the project works with families who have lost a child from stillbirth or neonatal death, up to the age of 21 years – no matter what their cause of death.
Since its inception, Suzanne has been at the helm of many fundraising events and activities around the country. So far, over half a million euros have been raised to support families bereaved by child-loss in Ireland.
In addition to funds being raised, Suzanne has spoken at length about the impact of child-loss and how best to deal with it, within our families and our society.
Speaking on the evening, she said: “It’s Rosabel’s fifth anniversary tonight so this award is particularly special. Even to be nominated was really, really special, but to win this on Rosabel’s anniversary, for Rosabel, with Rosabel in mind, is just incredible.
“I’m incredibly proud of Rosabel’s Rooms and all that we’ve achieved along with the Irish Hospice Foundation… And hopefully, we will continue to support bereaved families around Ireland in Rosabel’s memory.”
Sustainability Champion of the Year
Iseult Ward, CEO, FoodCloud
Iseult Ward has always been passionate about food and could never understand why it was going to waste. It was in her third year as a Business and Economics student at Trinity that she became interested in the concept of social enterprise and developing a commercially viable business that put community and people first.
During this time she met co-founder Aoibheann O’Brien, who was a postgraduate student completing a master’s degree in Environmental Science. Aoibheann had been in London working and had seen community-led solutions around surplus food.
Through their initial research, they saw there was an opportunity to develop a very local solution to connect those with surplus with communities that could use it, and that technology could be a great way to do this effectively and scalably.
Since launching eight years ago, 58,905 tonnes of surplus food, the equivalent of 140 million meals, have been redistributed from the food industry to community groups through FoodCloud’s two solutions.
The social enterprise has grown to employ over 70 people and works with every retailer in Ireland, over 200 food businesses across the country and in partnership with multiple corporates and government departments.
Internationally, the FoodCloud technology is now also being used across multiple food banks, including Slovakia and Czech Republic.
Speaking on the evening, she said: “As a result of Covid and all the problems we’ve seen since, the issue of [food waste] has never been so tangible and extreme…. So it was really our time to step up and do our absolute best…
“During that period, we doubled the amount of food we were redistributing. The whole team really stepped up at a time that was so challenging, and we’re incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved.… There’s an incredible amount of people doing a lot of hard work behind the scenes.
“I think some of the best business advice I’ve received is to surround yourself with the right people, who give you good advice and also give you the right energy.”
Stay tuned for more highlights from the night…