12 inspiring Irish women on how to be successful in business

In preparation of the 13th annual IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards, we are taking a trip down memory lane with our glittering alumni. Together, they make up a class of extraordinary females. Behold the roll call of Overall Businesswomen of the Year since its inception in 2007 and their words of wisdom for aspiring leaders.

2018 - Nora Twomey is an acclaimed animator, multi-Oscar-nominated director and partner in Cartoon Saloon. “No matter where you are in your career, it’s always a learning curve. If you feel like you’ve stopped learning, it’s time to move on.”



Nora Twomey, overall Businesswoman of the Year 2018

2017 – Aoibheann O’Brien & Iseult Ward – co-founders of Food Cloud. “It was heart- warming,” says Aoibheann. “There’s been a lot of women willing to help and support us, and the awards night showcases so many of them working together, sharing opportunities, and celebrating each other’s successes.”

Aoibheann O’Brien & Iseult Ward, overall Businesswoman of the Year 2018, picture by Anthony Woods

2016 – Pamela Quinn –managing director, Kuehne + Nagel. “You need to be clear early in your career about what position you are ultimately aiming for. Everything you do should be about that end goal, and this should drive you. Too many young people wait for a position to open up and then only try at the interview stage to convince someone they are right for the role. I believe performance and attitude throughout your day-to-day work is what will get you the job. Work for the job you want, not the one you have.”

Pamela Quinn overall Businesswoman of the Year 2016, picture by Kieran Harnett


2015 – Anne Heraty – CEO, Cpl Recruitment. “I am constantly saying to other women: You are incredible, be confident about your skills. Back yourself and believe in yourself, believe in your idea, and anything is possible. And don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t let the fear of judgement influence how you live your life. It’s about finding your passion – it’s in you, and you just have to dig for it.”

 Anne Heraty, overall Businesswoman of the Year 2015

2014 – Marian O’Gorman – CEO Kilkenny Group. “Our ongoing success still depends on the nurturing of new talents and products, but our staff are definitely one of our most important attributes. Business is all about people. My role as CEO has always been to mentor and coach my staff. I really believe in constructive encouragement, in leading by example, motivating them and bringing the best out of them. I’m terribly involved, of course, but I employ great managers and give them their space to thrive. And I tell them constantly when they’re doing a good job.”


Marian O'Gorman, overall Businesswoman of the Year 2014


2013 – Caroline Keeling, CEO, Keelings. “Make sure you have a very clear vision of the business plan you want to deliver, and that you believe in it. You’ve got to be able to be flexible when things go better or worse than planned. Get as much help as you can from the government agencies (we’ve found Enterprise Ireland’s resources invaluable), and finally, ask for advice. I have been amazed at how helpful people have been to me along the way.”

Caroline Keeling, overall Businesswoman of the Year 2012, picture by Anthony Woods

2012 – Susan Whelan, senior executive VP at King Power Group, head of Leicester City Football Club. “When you say an industry is dominated by men, it sounds as if there’s no opportunity for women. I think there are always opportunities if you want them enough – you’ve got to make your own path in life.”

2011 – Vicki O’Toole, JJ O’Toole Ltd. “There’s an expression that I say to people at times: The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do – and that’s me. In the very early days, after my very first sales meeting, I arrived at a drinks party, late and in my suit, and when I explained where I’d been, a man actually laughed at me and asked, “What would you know about a sales meeting?” I was very upset [at the time], but that man’s remark drove me on.”


 Vicki O’Toole of JJ O’Toole Ltd, winner of The IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year 2011, pictured with their award at The Merrion Hotel, Dublin

2010 – Avril Bannerton, managing director, Brand Events Ireland. “There’s no set time for work for me; I’m always working. I enjoy what I do – there’s a great buzz about finding unique news angles to support a client’s business or promote a new product. It can be extremely stressful though, especially co-ordinating events and dealing with a range of different clients, but it’s also satisfying when an original idea takes off.”

 Avril Bannerton, winner of The IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year 2010

2009 – Domini & Peaches Kemp, managing directors, Itsa Ltd. “In the early days, our business was all about growth,” said Domini, “we never had any massive cash injection or investment so we never refused work. What may have been tea and sandwiches for a client one day could become their wedding in future.”

 Domini and Peaches Kemp, winners of The IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year 2009


2008 – Tanya Airey, managing director, Sunway. “At times, it’s been survival of the fittest all right. We’ve had huge hurdles to jump – the volcanic ash was major. We know now that this isn’t the time for expansion, this is the time to look after what we have and to stay diverse.”

 Tanya Airey, winner of The IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year 2008

2007 – Mary Ann O’Brien, founder and managing director, Lily O’Briens. “I have never had a problem walking into a man’s club, or doing business with men. I think it was the way I was brought up. I’ve never felt any different in business or in Leinster House. I don’t think there’s any difference between men and women in the workplace except for one thing – work/life balance. I think we need 50 per cent women in boardrooms and in Cabinet – we think differently, we bring a balance to the conversation, but I honestly think the work/life balance is impossible for women to achieve. Some women seem to be able to manage it, but, I’m being honest, I never could.”

 Mary Ann O'Brien, winner of The IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year 2007, pictured at The Merrion Hotel, Dublin. Photography by Johnny McMillan.



Read more: To enter the IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year 2019.

Read more: To buy tickets to this year's gala event on November 25.



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