I was delighted to once again facilitate the Women Mean Business Conference & Awards in Dublin, at the magnificent Shelbourne Hotel, on October 6th. Incredibly it is now 8 years running and I have had the privilege of being the host for all 8 years. It is always a positive and uplifting event but this year’s theme ‘Think BIG and Live the Vision’ seems to have captured the zeitgeist of our times; coming out of a deep recession and literally putting our heads up and gasping for air.
There is a sense, at the moment, that we’ve been in a long cold winter where we got used to sitting in the dark with the heating off. The economic thaw and awakening this year is beginning to show real results and like nervous crocuses we are daring to come out of the dark and see if it is time to grow.
The event this year, as always the brainchild of Rosemary Delaney of Women Mean Business Publishing, featured an all Irish cast of women leaders and speakers - outstanding achievers who have walked the walked of both thinking big and making their visions realities. We started the day with Dublin’s new Commissioner for Start-ups - Niamh Bushnell - and she has the tough task of drawing all the elements of enterprise and entrepeneurship together to make Dublin a fantastic city for start-ups.
(Niamh I noticed is as short in height as I am!)
Niamh has moved back to Dublin from New York and talks about the need to create a collaborative community in the city where everyone working in the same space works together. Seems simple but for anyone who has been in the enterprise and start-up sector in Dublin they will know it is often quite the opposite where there is not only no common thinking and community but a lot of competition and territory guarding by players. Niamh, who has a background in sports mentoring, seems a wonderful addition to the sector and we’re looking forward to what she does next.
As facilitator my focus is always on bringing the whole show together and while big ideas and visions are welcome it is also critical that big ideas become action plans and that visions are not dreams but structured goals and outcomes. Our next speaker Deirdre Somers, CEO of the Irish Stock Exchange, (and the first woman to hold that position) hit that topic on the head and talked of the need for Ireland to overcome its need to often belittle achievement and she talked about a culture where we can feel embarrassed by ambition and by the very idea of thinking above our station.
It is a common phrase in Ireland ‘who does she think she is?’ or ’she’s getting above herself’ ….we like to bring people down and often we’ve a public narrative which begrudges ambition and mocks ‘big thinking’ . Deirdre was highly critical of the enterprise culture which encourages start ups to see their end game as selling for millions within 3 years rather than becoming a substantial company in its own right. We applaud those who sell their companies rather than acclaiming those who stick it out and go on to employ hundreds of people and become global leaders themselves.
Elaine Coughlan of Atlantic Bridge is a major global player in capital investment and is currently working between Ireland and China. She charmed the WMB audience with a powerful and insightful overview (which even included a picture of George Clooney!) and inspires most of us to think the 1.4 billion China market should be part of our coming quarter plans. Elaine went on to give the conference some spot on networking tips in the networking session - including ‘never be afraid to ask for help’ and ‘dont talk about yourself - ask questions!’.
The event is always about rewarding achievement and the winners this year were :
WMB Businesswoman of the Year Award 2014: Anne Heraty, CEO - CPL Resources plc.
WMB Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2014: Ramona Nicholas, Managing Director - Cara Pharmacy
WMB Woman in Technology Award 2014: Leonora O’Brien, CEO and Founder - Pharmapod Ltd.
Boots WMB Empowering Women Award 2014: Paula Fitzsimons, Director and Founder - Going for Growth
Newstalk WMB Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2014: Debbie Deegan, MD and Founder - To Russia with Love
It was the afternoon key note speech by Lucy Gaffney chairperson of Communicorp which really lifted the house. Lucy is probably one of the most powerful businesswomen in the country, and has worked side by side with Denis O Brien for decades, but her talk was frank, down to earth and hilarious. She managed to get part of the human anatomy into it in a unique manner and left everyone with both a smile and some clear-thinking insights. Believe in yourself, work with people who believe in you, and dont listen to the critics. In Ireland that may just be the key to success - an ability to flick the mute button on the crowds who say it can never work, it’s been done before and anyway it won’t work.
Our video crew led by Amy Millar and Barry MacNeill shot the day and they’ll be turning around a short video within the week but while we wait - here is one they made earlier - the 2013 event - featuring Cherie Blair.