IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2023: Meet the winners
Brave risk-takers, global go-getters and social changemakers, the winners of the 2023 IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards represent an inspiring and diverse range of experiences and industries.
The winners of the 2023 IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards were announced at a black-tie awards ceremony in The Clayton Hotel on Friday April 14. Thirteen prestigious trophies were handed out to women across a wide range of industries, including Mary Robinson, our Lifetime Achievement winner. It is a night that shines a spotlight on the best and brightest women in business. Here’s what they had to say…
OVERALL BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year
Louise Grubb, CEO, TriviumVet
An exceptional leader and contributor to innovation in global companion animal health, Lousie Grubb is a serial life science entrepreneur with a track record for success. She has built businesses locally, grown them in south-east Ireland, and then sold them globally From concept through to commercialisation Louise has a track record in delivering innovative, life science products and services, holding several publications and patents. She credits the time she spent behind the counter in her dad’s retail shop in Waterford as a formative business experience, learning how to deal with people, money and, most significantly, the importance of sales. She previously founded NutriScience, which develops, manufactures and markets novel veterinary nutraceuticals, a business that was acquired by Swedencare in 2009. She is founder and Chairperson of Q1 Scientific, a stability storage solutions provider for the life science industry. She co-founded TriviumVet in 2018, which specialises in the development of drugs and other medical devices to treat chronic diseases in companion animals. Being from Tramore, operating her businesses from the southeast is important to Louise and she often shares her gratitude at having been able to build such a strong team in Waterford. She leads her teams with compassion that is matched only by her passion.
Speaking on the night, Louise said: “I don’t really believe it, but it is! These awards are so wonderful to recognise people for their achievements and I think they encourage others to see what can be achieved. So, I’m a great supporter of them and so I’m absolutely delighted that I happen to be one of them now.”
Asked who has helped her get to where she is in business, Louise answered: “My family, It’s very difficult to work; to set up start-ups with all of the energy and the dedication that it takes. So, you really need them to be on board with you. They’re very supportive and always very proud.”
ENTREPRENEUR of the Year
Suzanne Jackson, Director and Founder, SanFran Cosmetics and Cohar Ltd
Suzanne Jackson is perhaps the biggest success story in the world of Irish beauty and fashion in the last decade and is one of Ireland’s most recognised entrepreneurs. What started as a niche business has grown into a multi-million euro turnover business, across multiple product and brand categories. She is the number one performer with Ireland’s largest-scale retailers and she is about to embark on international distribution for her brands.
Suzanne uses her social media as a direct line of communication with her buyers, responding to their needs and desires to guide product development in a highly saturated market place. She is a brave risk-taker, passionate, energetic and she leads the industry with many of her innovations and evolutions.
Speaking on the night, Suzanne said: “I would not be standing here tonight without an amazing team behind me at SOSU and Dripping Gold and the support of my husband. I am a firm believer to keep driving on and learning from failure, which we all know is so important to business. My mom taught me that it’s not about chasing money, it’s about chasing the dream. If you have a passion, carry on! Massive congratulations to everyone in the room; you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t doing something right. Let’s give everyone a round of applause.”
The runners-up were: Linda Stinson, CEO, Bellamianta and Iconic Bronze and Loretta Dignam, Founder and CEO, The Menopause Hub
CEO of the Year
Karen Clince, Founder and CEO, Tigers Childcare
As owner and CEO of Tigers Childcare, Karen plays an instrumental role in creating, planning and driving her company’s vision. The company, which was founded 20 years ago, has 18 centres across Dublin, Meath, Cork and Kildare and a team of 300 dedicated staff. Tigers Childcare was the first business in the sector to introduce staff pay scales and to promote and create space for childcare to be a more attractive, sustainable career option in an environment where it was, and is, under-valued by many. She has lobbied for improved pay for colleagues, resulting in a new pay agreement funded by the State last year. This saw wages rise by almost 75% in the sector. Through the business, Karen brings a holistic care and education approach to almost 2,100 children every year.
Speaking on the night, Karen said: “People in my industry generally don’t win awards so I was delighted to be on the list. Thank you to my daughter, who inspired me to found the business when I had her at 21 and then to my son who has impacted the way I teach. Every child just needs one person to believe in them to make an impact. I have an army of people who have that belief in them, especially during Covid. This award is for my colleagues at Tigers because they are the ones that do the work.”
The runners-up were: Sharon Murphy, CEO, Wilson Hartnell and Ogilvy Ireland Group and Mary Rodgers, CEO, PorterShed.
DIVERSITY & INCLUSION BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year
Amanda Adé, Creative Director, Black and Irish
Amanda Adé is a founder, creative director, digital content creator and activist from Kildare. As Creative Director of Black and Irish, an organisation that highlights and celebrates the identity of black and mixed-race Irish people, Amanda is central to the organisation’s aim to spread awareness around the world of the experiences, struggles, and successes from within the community. She hosts the ‘Box’d Out’ and ‘Black and Irish Podcast’ and works as an analytical chemist by day. Amanda’s voice is bold and inspirational and she uses it to highlight the importance of representation and push conversations about race and race relations.
Speaking on the night, Amanda said: “I am incredibly honoured, especially as a young Irish black woman that has faced her share of battles. Diversity and inclusion aren’t just buzzwords, they’re something that needs to be included in every aspect of our society. They are the foundations of our society, something that makes us stronger. We need to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued. As individuals, we can choose to be allies, we can choose to speak out for others and we cannot do this alone. We can choose to speak out. As the old Irish proverb says, Ní neart go cur le chéile – there is no strength without unity.”
The runners-up were: Jeanne McDonagh, CEO, Open Doors Initiative and Gwen Layden, Executive Director, Layden Group
START-UP of the Year
Fiona Parfrey, Lauren Duggan and Áine Kilkenny, Co-founders, Riley
A trio of friends who are reimagining female health and feminine hygiene, Fiona Parfrey, Lauren Duggan and Áine Kilkenny launched Riley from Schull in West Cork in 2021. The trio originally coined the idea after an evening of “tipsy googling” during which they found out that mainstream sanitary products typically contain toxins and up to 24 hormone-disrupting chemicals. Riley’s mission is to deliver not only cleaner period products to its customers, but more eco-friendly options. They use only 100% certified organic cotton in their tampons and pads to ensure they are better for our bodies and better for our planet. Riley’s consumer subscription service delivers its period products to your door and they have a corporate arm that supplies enterprises, universities, offices and hospitality groups with its products for staff, customers and students.
Speaking on the night, the founders said: So honoured to be among such a high calibre of businesses. (Aine not here)
The runners-up were: Dr Helena McMahon, Co-founder, Seabody, and Rachel Bothwell, Founder and CEO, GP Practice Ally
YOUNG BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year (UNDER 35)
Onagh Chira, CEO, Platinum Hair Extensions
With a presence that stretches across over 700 stockists worldwide, Onagh Chira has been leading her business, Platinum Hair Extensions, for 12 years and last year became its sole owner. Platinum began in a small studio on Dublin’s South Anne Street armed with a shoe-string budget and a team of three, catering solely to distribution. Onagh has brought Platinum from a one-product wonder to a thriving, ethically-driven hair extensions company, operating three state of the art salons, an award-winning aftercare range and a booming wholesale business.The goal is affordable luxury; keeping costs to a minimum without compensating on quality.
Speaking on the night, Onagh said: “My mantra has always been: ‘If you wanna go fast, go alone. If you wanna go far, go together’. It feels like such a dream to win this award. Our team has grown from a few to now 40 and I wish I could break this award into 40 tiny pieces to share with them all and my husband who has been so supportive over the years.”
The runners-up were: Gráinne Mullins, CEO, Grá Chocolates and Niamh Tallon, CEO, Her Sport
DIGITAL & TECHNOLOGY BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year
Zara Flynn, Managing Director, Accenture Song
As a Managing Director of Accenture Song, Zara is focused on leading multiple teams across her business, creating game-changing work and delivering huge impact to clients. She has been responsible for physical and financial growth of her digital agency and has a genuine passion for contributing to the wellness and career satisfaction of her team.
Speaking on the night, Zara said: “It’s so surreal to be standing up here. It’s weird to be up here on my own. In Accenture Song, we travel as a pack – its diversity of skills, mindset, people and talent that really makes the wheels spin. It’s always a creative idea manifested with technology and that’s where the magic happens, and that’s what we try to create.”
The runners-up were: Caroline Dunlea, CEO, Core Optimisation and Ashley McDonnell, Global Digital Media & E-Commerce Director at PUIG, Chairperson of the Board at Digital Business Ireland and Founder of Tech Powered Luxury
CREATIVE BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year
Nell Roddy, Co-founder, Break Out Pictures
After co-founding Break Out Pictures in 2019, Nell immediately hit the ground running with the ‘film and event cinema distribution company’. She brought her experience from working on box-office winners with Element Pictures to her own company and displays an impressive ability to balance the commercial and creative sides of the business with tremendous success. This year, Break Out Pictures has been on the radar of many film fans after their wonderful success of An Cailin Ciuin.
Speaking on the night, Nell said: “We believe in the importance of the power of film and media. Since I co-founded Break Out Pictures, I’ve been privileged to work with some of the most singular and visionary Irish people in film today. I feel incredibly grateful to work in such a dynamic industry.”
The runners-up were: Olivia Buckley, Founder & Managing Director, Olivia Buckley International and Ruth Maria Murphy, Director, Ruth Maria Ltd
SUSTAINABILITY CHAMPION of the Year
Ailbhe Gerrard, Founder, Field Exchange Ltd
In the year that Mary Robinson was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award, it seems especially apt that our Sustainability Champion is driven by her passion to tackle climate change.
Ailbhe is a certified organic farmer and the beekeeper behind Brookfield Farm. After working and living in Dublin and abroad for many years, she moved back to the farm which is set in the beautiful landscape of Lough Derg in Co Tipperary and beside her family home. As well as being a farmer, Ailbhe is an educator, a scholar, a team builder and an organiser and she established Field Exchange Ltd, a space where relationships between agriculture and creativity are examined and invigorated to combat climate change. Through her work, she supports farmers and rural communities around changing attitudes in this space.
On the night, her sister accepted the award on her behalf and said: “My sister wants me to specifically applaud the entire sustainability shortlist… We’ve had over 500 people participate in the Field Exchange from all over Ireland. Art and creativity is the key element in these exchanges.”
The runners-up were: Aideen O’Hora, Karen Deignan and Laura Heuston, Directors, SustainabilityWorks and Sandra Rockett, Director, ILIM Retail and Wealth Distribution Channels, Irish Life Group.
MANAGEMENT PROFESSIONAL of the Year
Caroline Sherry, CFO and Executive Director, Hostelworld Group Plc
As a professional with over 20 years of strategic experience at the highest level, Caroline joined the Hostelworld Group in 2019 and was key to navigating the intense challenges that the pandemic brought to the world of travel and tourism. She works across 11 jurisdictions, including finance, tax, cyber security, and has seen her organisation’s share price double in the past 12 months.
Speaking on the night, Caroline said: “Hostelworld has been on a journey the past few years. With Covid, we were nearly wiped out. As they say, tough times call for a tough team. So thank you guys, my team should be up here with me, and to all the nominees in my category, you’re all fantastic.”
The runners-up were: Orla Carroll, Director of Product Development, Fáilte Ireland and Caoimhe McAuley, Director of Pharmacy and Superintendent Pharmacist, Boots Ireland
SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR of the Year
Dee Ahearn, CEO, Barretstown
As CEO of Barretstown, a non-for-profit camp that provides therapeutic recreation programmes for over 6,000 children and families affected by serious and often life-threatening illnesses, it’s no surprise that Dee Ahern values empathy as a key leadership quality. Over her decade with the charity, she has brought this value to the 100 staff and 1,600 volunteers, while raising annual income by 120%, growing attendee numbers by 700% and increasing monthly donations by over 1,000%. Dee believes communication is key to leading any team through such growth and she brings the corporate strategic marketing experience she gained in corporate roles with Black&Decker, CBRE and Treasury Holdings to her role today. In addition to her role in Barretstown, Dee is a member of the Board of Directors of the SeriousFun Children’s Network International. From Tipperary, Dee spent time in London before taking the reins of the Co Kildare camp.
Speaking on the night, Dee said: “I cannot believe I won this award, I’m so honoured. Let’s all give a round of applause to the nominees in this category. I joined Barretstown over 13 years ago and I never looked back. Every year, there was something more to achieve, more to do. I love my job. I’m very emotional, and I want to dedicate this to the children and family we serve in Barretstown.”
The runners-up were: Aisling Hurley, CEO, Breast Cancer Ireland and Nicole Ryan, Director, Alex’s Adventure Ltd
FAMILY BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year
Aisling Ryan, CEO, Ryans Cleaning
Aisling has worked from the ground up to her current position as CEO of her family business Ryans Cleaning. She is a leading figure in a male-dominated industry and continues to evolve the 30-year old Thurles-based business in its operations in Ireland and the UK, offering state-of-the-art, sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices, setting the benchmark for highest industry standards. Following on from the work of her dad, Pat, Aisling has made a multi-million euro success from large-scale cleaning and waste management with clients including sporting arenas, racecourses, music festivals and many more.
Speaking on the night, Aisling said: “I want to thank my parents. They’ve been a massive support and so encouraging. They started the business, so they understand the pressures that come with us, they understand what’s involved. They’ve been a great support and have encouraged me to push things the whole way along . . . coming from such a male-dominated industry, it’s great to see so many women supporting other women within the many different industries here tonight.”
The runners-up were: Laura Kelly, Director, Kelly’s Resort Hotel & Spa and Ann O’Brien, Managing Director, Kent Stainless.
The 2023 IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards is sponsored by Key Capital, DS Automobiles, Glenveagh, Kuehne + Nagel, and Ibec, and held in association with Marks & Spencer, Circle Club and istil 38. Now in its 15th year, the award ceremony recognises the outstanding contribution Irish women make to business and modern life.
Photography by Kieran Harnett.