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Image / Editorial

#IMAGEInspires: 5 Minutes With Our 2016 Businesswoman Of The Year winners

by Meg Walker
15th Oct 2017

Did you get nominated for the 2017 Businesswoman of the Year awards? Ahead of the ceremony, we’re looking back at our previous winners and their incredible success thus far. Last year’s tenth annual IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards once again shined a light on Ireland’s outstanding female entrepreneurs, start-ups, digital and management professionals, CEOs and social entrepreneurs. These are the women you’ll want to take advice from. In the final part of our 2016 list, MEG WALKER meets last year’s winners to learn about their journeys to success.



MARISSA CARTER, Founder and CEO,Cocoa Brown

Marissa Carter is the founder and creator of the first 1 Hour Tan on the market. In less than four years, Cocoa Brown now comprises of 15 innovative beauty products and is sold in almost 10,000 stockists worldwide, including the UK, Scandinavia, Australia, Ireland, and in early 2017 it will hit Walmart stores in the US. ?”I’m excited about opening our New York office in the spring. The beauty industry is competitive, fast-paced and innovative. I share a lot of the day-to-day running of my business on social media. This has created a connection with customers that allows me to feel comfortable sharing when things don’t go according to plan. Being straight-up is much easier than trying to mask a mistake.” What other skills does she consider to be key when leading a business? “There’s an awful lot of rejection, plans going belly-up, and feelings of getting bashed on all fronts, regardless of whether or not your business is successful, so being resilient and able to get on with the work and keeping your team inspired is important.” Marissa is an advocate for supporting other female entrepreneurs. “I’ve been the recipient of much generosity in my career – financial, practical, advisory and personal, and these experiences have taught me humility. I didn’t get where I am without help.” With so much success, it’s sometimes difficult to remember Carter is an ordinary human being. “I don’t often tell people that I’m forgetful. My husband’s nickname for me is Wonder Woman. I wonder where my keys are, where my purse is, my phone. On a more positive note, I think my nearest and dearest would say that I’m very loyal. The people I count as friends, I’d walk on fire for.”


FIONA O’BRIEN, Director, Lenovo

The country manager for Lenovo in Ireland for ten years, O’Brien also serves as the EMEA business transformation director. “My greatest career challenge arose in 2005. I was 28, a newly appointed manager running IBM’s PC division. It was a great company and a secure role. When it was announced that Lenovo was to acquire the division, I had to make a decision to leap into the unknown. After many sleepless nights, I decided to take the opportunity. I was tasked with setting up and running the Lenovo Ireland business. This role required financial, operational and strategic skills, so forced me out of my comfort zone.” There’s no doubt that in her rise to director, Fiona has learned a great deal. “I don’t think I’ve stopped learning – you need to be open to new experiences and embrace change to survive in the IT industry. Managing a multinational team across various country and cultural boundaries has challenged me in how I communicate. I’ve learned you can never over-communicate a message, as you break down language and cultural barriers. The benefit of sitting in the same room cannot be underestimated, which is why I travel to our teams. People generally respond well to others who listen and are genuinely interested in their perspective – that is one truth that carries across all cultures.” So what advice does Fiona have for young women entering the IT industry? “The industry offers huge opportunities, as long as you are prepared to work hard, and embrace change. Always have a plan for what you want to achieve and when. Then within your week, make sure you do at least three things that get you closer to achieving that plan. It’s the only way to prioritise what is important and not get caught up in the day-to-day tasks we all have to struggle with. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Too often, I see talented women passed over because they don’t raise their voice. Have confidence in your right to be there and express your opinion. If you believe in yourself, others will too.”


DEBBIE O’DONNELL, Series Producer,Xpose, TV3

Debbie O’Donnell has been at the helm of TV3’s Xpose since its launch in 2007. Following a successful career on breakfast TV with Sky UK, Debbie first created Ireland AM. Now approaching its tenth anniversary in April, Xpose has established itself as one of TV3’s most valuable assets. “Reaching the ten year milestone is a huge achievement – ten years in TV land is a long time.” However, success generally doesn’t come without a few bumps along the way. “The financial crash in 2008 was one of our biggest challenges. When we launched, the Celtic Tiger was at its peak. Xpose was a celebration of Irish society at its best, with each night offering a different champagne party. Within two years, what was previously the best had become a parody of the worst; our economy was on its knees. To survive we had to fundamentally change the show. We listened to how our viewers’ lives were changing; disposable income had dried up, belts were being tightened.” Balance was the key: managing that fine line between being aspirational and being out of touch. “The changing ways in which people consume content is an ongoing challenge. We like our content now and on demand. When Xpose launched, we were one of the first shows on Irish television to deliver lifestyle content. Ten years later, and everyone is a broadcaster. With social media, the quicker the information is delivered, the better, and the quicker we can consume it, even better again. But these other platforms have shortcomings, often delivering inaccurate, libellous information. I’ve worked hard to learn everything I can about each new media platform. I have about a million apps on my phone! To compete, you have to stay constantly on top of the media game.” With 20 years’ experience behind her, what’s her advice to women looking to break into the TV industry? ?Success is 90 per cent determination and ten per cent talent. If you believe in yourself and don’t take no for an answer, then nothing will stand in your way. I won’t lie – it’s tough.Focus is key. Know what area you want to work in, and go for it. We must ensure we choose women for panels and on our shows – our voices need to be heard. We must highlight the role of women both on air and behind the scenes in both production and managerial roles, the ones running the business of television. We’ve come a long way, but there is much more to be achieved.”


KAY CONNOLLY, COO, St Vincent’s University Hospital

For the last 32 years, Kay Connolly has passionately worked to improve the care of patients, from her early days as a nurse through her various roles in St Vincent’s University Hospital, including lead assistant director of nursing and director of unscheduled care, that culminated in her appointment as chief operating officer in 2016. As COO of one of Ireland’s largest acute level 4 hospitals, with a staff complement of over 2,500, Connolly has successfully negotiated the challenges faced by the healthcare sector all the while improving services and efficiency. The secret? “The patient comes first -always. Also, being willing to try new initiatives and not being afraid of failure.” Her advice is to “not expect others to do anything you are not willing to do yourself; and always strive to do better.” The Sisters of Charity founded St Vincent’s University Hospital. There’s a tradition of women working at the highest level of this organisation. There are hugely talented and skilled women working across all disciplines. I would, however, like to see the hospital be even more recognised in 2017 for its excellence in its provision of quality of patient care and services.Connolly and the hospital have big plans for 2017. Namely, the construction of the new National Maternity Hospital at Elm Park. She’ll also oversee strategy implementation and operational performance across the organisation. Having worked her way up the career ladder, Connolly knows full well what it’s like to stare a challenge in the face. Her advice for anyone who might be afraid of a change in role or new career path is this: “Seize every opportunity. Believe in yourself. Be fair, loyal, respectful and trustworthy. And work hard.”


MARIAN CARROLL, Volunteer CEO,Ronald McDonald House Charity

The Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC) began in Ireland in 1997 with the aim to open the first Irish Ronald McDonald House. Marian Carroll, a secondary school teacher, took a break from her career in 1991 to work with her husband Ian, who was about to open his first McDonald’s restaurant. She was approached by a board member of the charity in 2001, who asked if she would help organise a fundraising ball. Four months later, she was invited to join the board. In 2003, building commenced on a 16 bedroom Ronald McDonald House on the grounds of Our Lady’s Hospital. “As I watched the building take shape, I realised I needed to become more involved. We needed a home for families, not a hostel. So I gave up the day job, put on the hard hat, attended the site meetings, and worked to create a warm and welcome environment for our new house, which opened in November 2004. ” Knowing we provide accommodation, care and support for families at a very difficult time in their lives is what keeps me motivated. Their children are diagnosed with serious and life-threatening illnesses, and they come from all over Ireland, far from their families, friends and support system. The hospital does an amazing job for the sick children, but somebody needs to mind mum, dad, siblings and extended family.” The charity opened a second house in 2010, and more than 3,100 families have received support since the first house opened. But it hasn’t been all happy days. “Following the economy crash in 2008, plus the recent scandals that have come to light in the charity sector, fundraising has been difficult. Public donations are down 30 per cent. As CEO, I work on a voluntary basis. We receive no government funding, so we rely heavily on the generosity of Irish people.” The new year will see great change. Planning permission has been granted for a new Children’s Hospital on the grounds of St James’s. RMHC has been working to provide a 53 bedroom Ronald McDonald House alongside the new hospital when it opens in 2020. “Knowing we make a difference to families every day makes me very proud.”


KASHA CONNOLLY, Director, Hazel Mountain Chocolate

With a background in fashion and the natural food industry in Poland, Kasha Connolly moved to Dublin to work for a multinational, but it wasn’t long before she decided it was time to follow her passion. Her award-winning luxury bean-to-bar chocolate has been produced in The Burren Mountains since 2014. The charming boutique factory and shop, with nine employees, is one of the smallest and most remote chocolate factories in the world. Here, she produces small batches using rare Trinitario cacao beans, raw cane sugar and Irish milk from grass-fed cows. “Our product and the provenance of the ingredients means we are educating people and changing the way they consume chocolate. We get phenomenal feedback. When people realise the true taste of cacao as distinct from industrial confectionery, it’s an eye-opening moment.” The company has enjoyed enormous growth, with the opening of a factory outlet in Galway. So what’s next? “In 2017, we hope to launch a few interesting lines, sourcing new varietals of cacao. We’re also in discussions with a UK TV production company on the story of cacao with Hazel Mountain Chocolate.” Happily working alongside her husband John, does Kasha have any advice for people considering going into business with their partners? “I’d imagine it’s not for everyone, but the best advice I can give is to both concentrate on areas you’re best at, and the rest will work itself out. It can be frustrating and rewarding.Definitely take two separate cars to work!”



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