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The most inspirational quotes from the IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Award winners 2024

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By Edaein OConnell
20th Jun 2024
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The most inspirational quotes from the IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Award winners 2024

The IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2024 celebrated Ireland's leading female business leaders. Here are some of the most memorable and inspirational messages from our incredible winners' acceptance speeches.

On Friday, May 10, we honoured Ireland’s most inspiring businesswomen at our 16th annual IMAGE PwC Businesswoman of the Year Awards.

Our esteemed judging panel carefully selected an exceptional shortlist, from which our deserving winners emerged. You can find a complete list of winners and runners-up here.

The awards spanned categories such as Family Businesswoman of the Year and Management Professional of the Year. Unsurprisingly, the recipients delivered remarkably eloquent speeches, and we’ve gathered some of the most memorable quotes from the night below.

Lifetime Achievement Award – Anne Heraty 

“I’d like to share three lessons with you that I’ve learned through managing the cycles of business. The first is really about attitude. The way I see it is attitude is a choice. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, or what parts of the business cycle you’re in, what really matters are the people who are part of your team, and people who have the determination and will to succeed. Now, skills can be learned, they can be bought in, or they can be hired. But for me, it’s attitude that is the limitless driver of business performance. And we all know the right attitude can be infectious. But we also know the opposite is true, too. I believe you hire people for their attitude, and you train them for their skills. The second lesson I learned was really about navigating mistakes and failures. And believe me, I made lots of them. I can particularly think about one acquisition we made that went wrong on us. And we just had to cut our losses early. And it was particularly difficult. Yet, what I learned from that experience is that success and failure are two sides of the same coin. If you think about it, what does success do? It just sets another challenge for you. And failure, what does that do? It does exactly the same. Then, the third and final lesson that I’ll talk about is about relationships. You know, we all know that business thrives on relationships that are built on trust and I’ve seen the magic that happens when trust is in the room – so much is achieved. We need to be thoughtful about how we build relationships and foster good and open communication between our teams, with our clients and with our partners. These relationships create opportunities. So, just remember when you don’t feel like going out to that event, or you don’t feel like making that connection, it’s really important that you do. You have got to be in the room. You have got to have your voice heard.”

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

“There are two people I would love to dedicate this award to. The first one is my partner in crime and my business partner, my husband. He always champions me, he’s always told me how proud he is of me. I dedicate this to him. I’m dyslexic and I always found school very challenging. Standing up here as the CEO of a company of 140 people and another of 36, I’m very proud of myself. I have never let anything stand in my way. My dyslexia has never stopped me – I just see things differently. So the second person I would like to dedicate this award to is my eight-year-old daughter, who is also dyslexic. We all have daughters out there. May they find inspiration in the remarkable talents of the women in this room and let’s always celebrate the strength and achievements of women.”

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

“It has been a rollercoaster. I have had great fun along the way and have always been up for trying new things. It has been a great time but it hasn’t been without its ups and downs. I have been through several redundancies along the way and it is important to call that out to people. When there is a wobble, you can come back from it. It’s vital to face all of those things. I have found a company that I enjoy the culture of. I am very much myself at work and I try to encourage everybody who works with me to be the same and bring themselves to work. We lean into that diversity and this is key to building a great team. So, finally, enjoy what you do. Enjoy the journey and be true to yourself.”

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

 

“I feel so privileged to be in this room full of absolute power women. IMAGE, thank you. You have played a massive role in my career whether you know it or not. Growing up in Galway, far away from the streets of Paris, New York, London or even Dublin, IMAGE was my window into all things luxury, beauty and fashion. I had this dream that I could work for Dior one day and move to Paris. It took me a couple of years but in 2016, I joined the headquarters of Dior in Paris as part of their digital team. Then I moved to Google where I managed the LVMH group and three and a half years ago, I joined Puig. Before turning 30 I was made a director of the group and last week we went public with the company and had the biggest IPO of the year globally, adding a valuation of 14 billion. Working in fashion and beauty, people don’t view it as a business, but it absolutely is. I’m so happy that I didn’t give up on my dream because it’s an industry that is alive and kicking. Now my goal is to support Irish designers and help bring them to the global stage as well.”

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

“I’m thinking of something the inspirational Maya Angelou said. She spoke of how if you weren’t feeling good enough in a room or overwhelmed, you should imagine that you’re bringing all your people with you. So that can be your grandmother, your great-grandmother and all the people that passed before you. I want to try and imagine my grandmother and all the women who went before me standing here. They would never have received any accolades for all the hard work they put in over the years. Our family business has been running for 36 years and I have been working in it since I was 19. What I have learned most about leadership is that it’s not really a skill that you learn, it’s more like a way of being. If you can get comfortable with yourself and lean into that, it does offer a lot.”

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

“So, at XOCEAN we collect ocean data, but we do it using autonomous and uncrewed surface vessels. We operate in 22 countries now but when we set up the company six or seven years ago everybody told us that there was no way you could do that. It’s not possible, it will not work. And we proved them wrong, time and time and time again.”

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

“I started the business 29 years ago from my kitchen table with £10,000 from the local bank manager. What I realised over the years is that business is more than just about making a profit – it’s about what you can contribute back to the world. I went to India in 2010 to study corporate social responsibility and it made me realise that I can make my business so much more than just making money. We are very ambitious to use our business to create a better world. We want to make people’s lives better.”

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

“Running a small business is an emotional rollercoaster as I’m sure so many of you know and understand. I definitely wouldn’t be standing up here today without the amazing support that I have received from the amazing women who have gone before me – thank you! As Melanie said this award is not just mine, it’s for my family and our team too.”

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

“When I started, my ambition was to be an air hostess. I thought it was the most glamorous thing ever. You got those beautiful outfits, you got to do your hair, and your make-up and got to travel everywhere. Then I decided I wanted to be an archaeologist and that wasn’t very glamorous. Then I went on and became a scientist and an academic. I still work within a university, run a research group and work in sustainability. And now, I’m an entrepreneur, and that word sticks in my throat a little bit. I’m not comfortable saying it but I think that’s our superpower as women. We’re very adaptable. We can set out on a task, we can fail, we can succeed and we can fail again. Then we keep on going.” 

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

“Mentoring and giving support to other women is so important. It really is. I work in a very small team. There are only five of us and we put on a festival every year. It’s a fascinating, brilliant activity of plotting and planning. And just a shout out to IMAGE that one of my favourite scenes in film is from Working Girl and it’s the moment when Melanie Griffith puts it all together because of something she said in a magazine. So, keep connecting with media and their ability to give you ideas that you can turn into creative, artistic pursuits and programmes.”

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

“We started Platform 55 three years ago and there are easier ways to earn a living than getting behind a startup. However, we do it because we believe in what we do. We want to make a difference for everyone in this room. So for anyone who’s felt like they’re not good enough or they’re not doing a good enough job. For anyone who’s felt that going part-time means that you’re part-arsed. We want to change the world so that you can thrive in work and at home.”

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

“Inclusion and equality is something that we consider in every aspect of our operations. It is something we practice every day in the law firm also. I remember very notability when we set up the law firm seven years ago that the first ever case we took was against a very large organisation who was underpaying a women who doing the same job and had the same position as a male counterpart. We won that particular case and it had a very special meaning for us. Not only did we make a difference to that particular woman but the corporation changed their policies on equality across the board. However, what was important about that case was how it came to be because of the male involved. He actually pulled his female colleague aside and notified her that he was given a pay increase for no reason. He spoke up and when we see inequality, we must speak up and speak out. We must be the change we want to see.”

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

“To receive this award in relation to sustainability is such an honour. It’s so important because of the threats to the world and to the planet that we live in. Sitting here tonight and listening to the inspiring and motivating stories, I’m hearing women talk about the influence and the impact of the women around them, including mothers and grandmothers. Now I think that to help this planet, we need to be hopeful. We need a reason to be hopeful that we all can be really good ancestors to our daughters and to their daughters going forward.”

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

“Being a mom is super hard and we are the backbone of the Irish community, it’s fair to say. I am dyslexic myself and I have been through that journey and I knew how hard it was and when my daughter was diagnosed autistic I knew she couldn’t have that experience. So, we said we would come together and try to change that at a grassroots level. Neurodiversity is about celebrating people who think differently and seeing the beauty and the value that comes with them.”

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

“Everybody in this sector, we are total disruptors. We will challenge every system and every block that comes up against us. We will fight for a better system. We will fight ministers, we will fight Taoiseachs. And we will fight every single department to make sure that the people within our care have the very best services. And if that means not getting a bank loan and raising 16 million to build hospices to make sure that the man in a wheelchair that comes into us on Monday morning with three daughters – who is not going to see them married – goes home three weeks later, with the speeches written for those three weddings, we will fight to make sure that happens. We will fight and we will fund to make sure the dying child and her family have one last holiday and have that memory before she leaves this world. And we will do it with the help of everybody in this room.”

Photography by Kieran Harnett