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IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2024: Meet the winners

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By Leonie Corcoran
11th May 2024
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IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2024: Meet the winners

Visionary leaders, brave risk-takers, global go-getters and social changemakers, the winners of the 2024 IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards spanned the breadth of Ireland represent an inspiring and diverse range of experiences and industries.

The winners of the 2024 IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards were announced at a black-tie awards ceremony in The Clayton Hotel on Friday May 10. Fourteen prestigious trophies were handed out to women across a wide range of industries, including the Anne Heraty who received her Lifetime Achievement Award. It is a night that shines a light on some of the best and brightest women in business. Here’s what they had to say…

OVERALL BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year: Emma Maye, CEO, CORE Builders Providers

With over 20 years’ experience across sectors of the construction industry and a family legacy in the home building industry, Emma Maye has leveraged her heritage and creative vision to build a business empire.

She is CEO of CORE Builders Providers, which she assembled through a series of strategic acquisitions, and the housebuilder Ardale Group, which she set up with her husband Alan. Prior to this, Emma was Managing Director at ELM Holdings managing a portfolio with a value in excess of €1billion.

Ardale says its company vision is to revolutionise home building, challenge conventions and embrace a unique approach to crafting exceptional homes and prioritising what matters most to people.

“These awards mean so much to me,” shared Emma, who used to attend the awards her best friend Jenny Taffee, who was also a former winner and who sadly passed away in 2019.

“I feel very privileged … there are so many amazing people in that room today. I’m thrilled to be to get this award. Even be shortlisted (in the Family Businesswoman category) was a massive, massive thing for me. I was not expecting to win at all. This is humbling.”

Speaking with me after receiving her award, Emma also drew attention to her dyslexia.  “It has always been one of those challenges throughout my life and now sit here I speaking with you as a businesswoman, as a CEO of a company – to get recognised as a businesswoman…it’s incredible and it shows that having dyslexia doesn’t have you hold you back.”

“These awards of innovative in terms of the breadth of industries represented; empowering because they are giving all of these women in different industries a voice and you leave with a fire in your belly!”

CEO of the Year: Fiona Matthews, Managing Director, Applegreen

Fiona Matthews has an impressive resume, holding key roles with globally-recognised business, before taking the reins as Managing Director of Applegreen where she provides inspirational leadership to an overall workforce of 3,400.

Fiona has lead and managed a high degree of  change at Applegreen as the organisation grows laterally, extending into new partnerships and launching first-to-market retail, service and ESG initiatives. She’s a board member with Retail Excellence Ireland and sits on the global leadership team. She has also been the company representative tasked with bringing significant US food brands into Ireland, following her success in delivering the soon-to-be nationwide Marks & Spencer collaboration.

Asked how she felt being honoured with the award, Fiona said: “I am shocked. I’m feeling overwhelmed and I’m feeling very humbled by an incredible room of incredibly talented people. I feel so very privileged and I am surprised that it’s me sitting here.”

“These awards are so important to continue to shine a light on female leadership and to encourage women to step up and back themselves. You have mentioned the 16-year history of the awards and isn’t it wonderful to see IMAGE shining a light on the women who are coming through their industries and leading. I am lucky to be surrounded by male allies and supporters at Applegreen but not all women have that …Nights like this celebrate women who lead and who women can still be women. It’s so important.”

The first runner-up was: Fiona Gallagher, CEO, Wells Fargo Bank International. The second runner-up was: Dr Tara Shine, CEO, Change by Degrees Ltd

MANAGEMENT PROFESSIONAL of the Year: Ashley McDonnell, Global Digital Media and E-Commerce Director, PUIG

Ashley McDonnell is a power player in the luxury and tech sector, holding a global position with PUIG. She is admired for her pioneering strategy and revenue-excelling successes with the world’s leading luxury brands, as well as her passion-projects, including the highly-acclaimed Tech Powered Luxury podcast.

Ashley is someone with a personal as well as professional passion for innovation in her industry and has been recognised by Forbes on multiple occasions and named as the top Innovator at NFT Paris 2024 for her work. She builds teams in Europe, the Middle East, Far East and the US as well as holding multiple advisory board positions. Asked about what she is most proud of in business, Ashley highlights her delight in showcasing Irish creatives in global luxury campaigns.

Ashley is someone with a personal as well as professional passion for innovation in her industry and has been recognised by Forbes on multiple occasions and named as the top Innovator at NFT Paris 2024 for her work.

Speaking on the night, Ashley said: “I’ve been a huge fan of IMAGE  since since I can remember – from the magazines, to the website and to joining the IMAGE Business Club. To receive this award tonight…  it’s an absolute honour.”

“It’s a big deal! To be here right now, to have just turned 30 and to have recognition within this category in particular . . . often we think that it’s going to take decades and decades for us to reach a director or higher role within a corporation, especially large organisations. But I think there’s an opportunity for young people today in particular, within innovation and technology and digital. We have an advantage because we are digital natives. For the most part, we were either born into a digital world or experienced that shift. And I think that’s where the younger generations in particular can focus their energy and their ambitions.”

The first runner-up was: Hilary Quinn, Marketing Director, Diageo Ireland. The second runner-up was: Lorraine Griffin, Chair and Tax Partner, Deloitte Ireland

FAMILY BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year: Edwina Donnellan, CEO, MillroadMotors t/a Donnellans Centra

A true stalwart in her family business, Edwina Donnellan has been involved in Donnellans Centra in Ennis, Co Clare, since her teens. Now at the top, and looking both inward and externally, she’s put as much focus on longevity and future-proofing the business as well as consistently reporting impressive annual profits. This busy enterprise offers local employment and gives back to the community through meaningful supports and sponsorship.

Even today, her work on the shopfloor is as crucial as her skill in management and vision when it comes to planning. As CEO, she is focused on longevity and future-proofing the business, while consistently reporting impressive annual profits in a busy enterprise that offers local employment and gives back to the community through meaningful supports and sponsorship. In the past decade, the business has won multiple, impressive accolades including the National Q Award Gold for Best Convenience Store in 2015, and 2019’s Centra Musgraves’ National Off-Licence of the Year Award.

Speaking on the night, Edwina paid tribute to her parents for the sacrifices that are made in small family businesses and her grandmother and great grandmother. “I try to imagine all of the women that went before me that worked for hard for their whole lives and never got any recognition for anything. That is what I try to remember tonight . . . I am so proud that I get to bring this home. Nights like this are so important – they give an opportunity to get off the treadmill, especially for people in small businesses which is incredibly tough right now. You’re up against it all the time and these awards recognise the backbone and the tenacity that you need in business. It’s nice to get that acknowledgement.”

The first runner-up was: Phoebe Holland, Managing Director, Rugs.ie. The second runner-up was: Louise Whelan, Managing Director and Owner, Pioneer HomeCare

STEM PROFESSIONAL of the Year; Karen May, Company Director and Chief Financial Officer, XOCEAN Ltd

Karen May is a founding member of marine-tech company XOCean Ltd, which provides gsme-changing ocean data for clients. For the past 17 years, she has been closely connected to the world of renewable energy and finding innovation within it. She displays an impressive balance of entrepreneurial desire to change the status quo and the expertise as a chartered accountant to apply commercial and mathematical skills to disrupt the market.

XOcean is leading a revolution in the marine industry and over the next five years it will support the development of over 100GW of offshore wind and is on target to displace the emission of one million tons of carbon. They have an exemplary safety record and are leaders in addressing sectoral gender balance.

Speaking on the night after receiving the inaugural STEM Professional of the Year award, she said: “I am very excited, I can’t believe this. I’m in shock! I’ve never worn anything in my life before. There is an incredible atmosphere here, an atmosphere of people who are supporting each other. Winning an award like this is recognition of what I’ve achieved. I never sit back and give myself that recognition, so it’s really nice to to actually do it.”

“These awards highlight women’s impact on business in Ireland and it is really important. It encourages the next generation to not have fear and get out there and do what they want to do.”

The first runner-up was: Tina Raleigh, Head of Offshore Wind, Ireland, Statkraft. The second runner-up was: Rosanne Longmore, CEO, Coroflo

ENTREPRENEUR of the Year: Mairead Mackle, CEO and Founder, Tarasis Enterprises

Like many entrepreneurs, it all started for Mairead Mackle at her kitchen table. Now after working in the homecare sector for 29  years, her organisation Tarasis Enterprises boasts turnover of £32 million and a team of over 500, who have impacted the lives of over 60,000 people to date.

Mairead, who is a mother of seven, has grown the business which was started with minimal funds and investment, to incorporate a wide arc of services in the fields of  healthcare, housing, renewables and agriculture. Today Tarasis provides essential homecare and support to enable independent living; as well as helping those facing homelessness, addiction, and mental health challenges by providing 5,000 beds every night for those in need. It champions renewable energy through Anaerobic Digester plants that fuel their homes, and Mairead’s newest venture pioneers sustainable beef production in Northern Ireland.

Of personal importance to Mariead is not just to generate profit but also as a force for positive change. There are two not-for-profits within the organisation – the Evolve Academy which supports female start-ups and iCare, a charity to spread kindness.

Speaking on the night Mairead said: “You cannot be what you cannot see. I really believe that. When I started my business I could not see that you could be a mother and a businesswoman. I am a mother of seven with two grandchildren and I have built a business that gives me flexibility and freedom – that is what your own business should do. These awards show that to others I hope. To be recognised is amazing.”

The first runner-up was: Elaine Brady, Founder, Barden. The second runner-up was: Lisa McGowan, Founder, Lisa’s Lust List and Lisa & Co Ltd

START-UP of the Year: Dr Helena McMahon, Co-founder, Seabody

Dr Helena McMahon is someone for whom it has possibly taken years to become an overnight success, such is the amount of research and development involved in molecular medicine and biotechnology. Like many involved in start-ups, she straddles many worlds, from science and tech, to sustainability, product innovation and paths-to-market, all of which she’s finessed with obvious success for Seabody, an Irish circular health and beauty brand.

Her work has unlocked the regenerative power of the ocean and she has achieved many firsts for her ground-breaking work with natural Irish ingredients. Seabody’s innovation lies in their clean processing technology, which involves disassembles the seaweed plant to unleash these incredible molecules, concentrating them into potent products – high-potency bioactives that work wonders for skin, gut health and overall wellness.

Seabody is the first Irish brand to receive the Butterfly Mark, a global ESG excellence award for luxury brands, and  her products are now available at some of the most prestigious outlets in Ireland and the UK.

Speaking on the night Helena said: “I am thrilled and I feel really proud, to be honest with you, to be recognised. It’s a bit of validation … I remember looking at the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards over the year and thinking, ‘Oh my God, look at all those amazing women. They are such a smart businesswoman; they’re entrepreneurs’. Now I’m here. So it’s very nice.”

“I come from a scientific background and I never did that business subjects in school. And now I’m in a business awards. So that peer recognition is very powerful.”

The first runner-up was: Sharon Mooney, Managing Partner, Hyphen Strategy Ltd. The second first runner-up was: Rebecca Hoban, Founder, Outwest Clothing Ltd.

YOUNG BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year: Aine Kennedy, CEO and Founder, The Smooth Company

Entirely self-financed, Aine Kennedy founded The Smooth Company in 2022 after she spent eight years working in the beauty sector and undertook a degree in entrepreneurship from Maynooth University. She has worked hard bringing solution-driven products to market, with the Smooth Stick being the first, working in every part of the company herself, growing it rapidly through hard work and a thorough knowledge of her market.

Despite only been in business two years, she has harnessed the power of organic social media and great storytelling to grow her distribution in Ireland, the UK and US at a meteoric rate.

It’s often advised not to mix family and business but it’s that combination that is powering The Smooth Company with style impact – Aine’s sister Eimear works alongside her and their grandad Billy is a social media sensation with their fans.

Speaking on the night, Aine said: “It’s only an event like this and you can take a step back and actually look at how far you’ve come and celebrate your achievements. It’s been a very busy few months and you’re constantly onto the next thing, so it’s incredible to be able to stand back. These awards are inspiring, powerful, amazing and enjoyable. I definitely didn’t think we would be shortlisted and here we are. It’s fabulous.”

The first runner-up was: Gráinne Dwyer, CEO and Founder, Heritage. The second runner-up was: Emily Brick, Founder and Director, Athena Analytics.

CREATIVE BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year: Gráinne Humphreys, Executive Director and Festival Director, Dublin International Film Festival Ltd

As a creative, a business founder and passionate advocate for her industry, Gráinne Humphreys brings two decades of experience to her position as Executive Director and Festival Director at the Dublin International Film Festival Ltd.

She has evolved her business to not only feature its main activity, but also a whole sidebar schedule of workshops, educational and cultural events, and commercial collaborations.

Through Gráinne’s vision and talent in curation, she has put Dublin on the map with an established festival of international calibre and acclaim that lures Hollywood stars alongside homegrown talent. Under her stewardship the festival has high recognition and respect in Ireland and abroad.

Speaking to me on the night, she said: “I find it quite amusing sitting here being interviewed by you Leonie. I feel like I give these awards to people and I am quite happy with that dynamic. So, now that it is the other way round, I feel ‘oh wow’.  I am really honoured. It is a lovely atmosphere to see quite so many people from so many parts of the country in so many different areas, all together and all being celebrated and celebrating each other. I have this theory about Ireland being filled with silos, and we all stay in our little lane, and we all stay within our little kind of like bubble. So what is just lovely is to be surrounded by so many creative people from so many different walks of life. I learned so much! And to receive this award on top of just being part of that group is really, really special.”

The first runner-up was: Madeleine Blaine, Founder, Silver Works and The Collective. The second runner-up was: Suzie Mc Adam, Founder, Suzie Mc Adam Design

DIVERSITY & INCLUSION BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year – COMMUNITY ADVOCATE: Lisa McKenna, Principal Solicitor, McKenna & Co Solicitors

Lisa McKenna is a real example of someone who is sending the lift back down to those who want to follow in her footsteps. As the Principal Solicitor in her Dublin-based firm McKenna & Co Solicitors, Lisa works tirelessly to level the playing field through her cases and her leadership style. She worked previously with large corporate law firms and small corporate law firms, but driven by a desire to make a change for the better, she set up her firm six years ago.

Lisa has experienced the cost barrier to enter her profession and so, with a mantra of “Empower to Inspire”, she established an annual bursary and internship programme with her practise, now in its second year.

She is the youngest elected member of the Dublin Chamber Council, and uses her voice and position to advocate for others. She contributes to Focus Ireland’s fundraising endeavours and provides pro-bono assistance to the Ukrainian refugee community.

Speaking on the night, she said: “As women we often undermine our own abilities so I have a lot gratitude in my heart right now for this award and I’m really excited to bring back to the team. This night is incredible, from Imelda May’s poem on love, to hearing all the incredible stories of the work ethic and the hard work, and the challenges and the wins and the successes that all these women went through to get to where they are . . . it just gives you on a a feeling of empowerment.”

The runner-up was: Loretta Dignam, Founder and CEO, The Menopause Hub.

DIVERSITY & INCLUSION BUSINESSWOMAN of the Year – INDUSTRY LEADER: Tracy Gunn and Michelle O’Keeffe, Co-founders, Platform55

Driven the by talented and dynamic duo of Tracy Gunn and Michelle O’Keeffe, Platform 55 is equipping leaders with the skills to manage a diverse and multi-generational workforce. The organisation is at the forefront of driving sustainable change in Ireland, championing issues around gender and family equality and addressing bias in the workplace.

They consult with a wide spectrum of businesses and are a much sought-after voice in media,  delivering keynotes at conferences and events covering everything from maternity discrimination, parent-friendly policies to management and HR issues.

Speaking on the night, Tracy said: “Starting a business from scratch in an industry where we were trying to educate market about why this solution that we offer was needed, what the commercial impact of it would be, that’s been really, really tough. I often joke that there would be way easier ways to earn a living. But we’ve did and we do it because we really care. It really matters to us, we want to make a difference. Now, almost three years in, we’re really starting to see the benefits – people are starting to get it, to understand. They’re really interested in what we do which is such an achievement. And this award is the icing on that cake.”

The runner-up was: Margot Slattery, Global Head of Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging and Social Sustainability, ISS World Services

SUSTAINABILITY CHAMPION of the Year: Dr Val Cummins, Chief Impact Officer, Simply Blue Group

Dr Val Cummins is one of Ireland’s most accomplished individuals in the sustainability sphere. Over a 25-year career to date, she has led different roles in the marine, energy and ESG space and has an abundance of academic accomplishments, including a BSc in Marine Geography, an MSc in Zoology and a PhD in Coastal Management. She’s an Eisenhower Fellow, and has participated in Women in Leadership executive training at Harvard University. Through her work as a senior lecturer in UCC for over 20 years, she supports future leaders in the space to flourish. Val has been with the Simply Blue Group for four years, where she holds the positions of Chief Impact Officer as well as Ireland Portfolio Director, responsible for the ESG impact of projects, including offshore wind, wave, sustainable fuel, marine food and biodiversity initiatives.

Speaking on the night, Val said: “I am honoured with this award and it is a wonderful opportunity to recognise the importance of sustainability. And for me, in particular, to draw attention to the whole issue of our oceans when addressing climate change. In Ireland, in particular, we have incredible marine resources . . . and we have an incredible opportunity to try and harness that energy, and develop, I suppose holding ecosystems of enterprise in the periphery coastal communities, as well as reaching those very, very challenging climate targets that we have set. So this award is a wonderful opportunity to draw attention to that. But also, this award is something that is hopefully something my three girls will be a little bit tickled by. I’m just dying to go home and tell them about it and hopefully, they might be a little bit inspired.”

The first runner-up was: Madeleine Murray, Chief Product Officer, Change by Degrees Ltd. The second runner-up was: Patricia Kane, Founder, reuzi; Partner and Sustainability Chief Officer, Pragmatica

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR of the Year – COMMUNITY IMPACT: Dairine Kennedy, Co-founder, Neurodiversity Ireland

Dairine Kennedy has combined personal experience with a passion to spread awareness and help others across generations in co-founding Neurodiversity Ireland. As someone who is neurodivergent – she is dyslexic – she has been aware of differing needs throughout her life and saw the power of embracing diversity and differences in team members in coming up with fantastic ideas in her work with Google over 12 years. When she and her husband Leo Cullen found out their daughter was autistic, her awareness was heightened even more and she knew that educating people enables them to be more understanding of the needs of others and to be more compassionate.

Neurodiversity Ireland was established three years ago and offers support, camaraderie, educational resources and a new sensory centre for respite and occupational therapy that has welcomed over 300 children since opening.

Speaking on the night, she said: “It is massively humbling and I am so delighted for the charity tonight to receive this award. For us to be a part of such an esteemed group of people is amazing. What makes these awards stan out from others is that they are celebrating incredible achievements which happen to have been done by women.  The level of these achievement is amazing. There is so much knowledge in the room. Irish women really are a force.”

The runner-up was: Niamh Ní Dhrisceoil, Community Activist, Cape Clear Island

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR of the Year – CHARITABLE ORGANISATION: Martina Jennings, CEO, Mayo Roscommon Hospice Foundation

 

The first thing that stands out is Martina Jennings’ passion and energy for her work as CEO of the Mayo Roscommon Hospice Foundation. She brings her corporate experience and expertise to the role, building both hospices at a cost of €15.3 million on time, within budget and without any loans, securing all financing through fundraising. She is an exceptional CEO and over the past seven years she has led an incredible team who offer palliative care services to people with life-limiting illnesses and their families.

Martina oversees everything from governance to finances and team management and has previously been awarded Mayo’s Most Inspirational Lady, and Mayo Person of the Year. As a volunteer, she previously fundraised over a million euro to build a Cystic Fibrosis clinic in Co Mayo, running two marathons and climbing Kilimanjaro  – both with zero training – as part of the process.

Speaking on the night, she said: “We’re a small charity in the west of Ireland and we believe we’re doing great things. And we love what we do. So to be recognised with this IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Award . . . it’s brilliant. It’s brilliant for everybody. It’s brilliant for the team. It’s brilliant for the board. And it’s brilliant for the staff in the hospices and in the community, because ,in my mind, they do the real work – they bring the dignity and respect to everybody in their care. So, to have palliative care and hospice care, on a national stage like this – it is a very good thing.”

The runner-up was: Kerry McLaverty, CEO, LauraLynn