THERE are signs of recovery. We're out of the bailout, back to the markets on a full-time basis and growth is predicted to pick up considerably this year, although we've had plenty of false dawns. 2013 saw plenty of movement among the big beasts in the corporate and financial world. The Central Bank has lost some of its top brass, including Matthew Elderfield and Fiona Muldoon and chief economist Lars Frisell is due to depart in March to move to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
We think 2014 could shape up to be an equally fascinating year and we've picked out some of the key individuals who we believe may leave their mark in the business and economic world over the next 12 months. Colm Kelpie gives a rundown.
CYRIL ROUX (CENTRAL BANK)
The new financial regulator has a tough act to follow as his predecessor became almost a household name.
Frenchman Mr Roux, who took up his post in October, may have started at a much calmer time than Mr Elderfield but there are a number of thorny issues that he must tackle, and his progress will be keenly watched.
The first relates to the continuing problem surrounding the mortgage arrears crisis.
The mortgage mess has shown itself to be stubborn, with banks extremely reluctant to roll up their sleeves and tackle it. The Roux in-tray will also have SME lending, or lack of it, as another pressing issue.
And the fact that four out of 10 of the bank's staff work a 35-hour week is likely to bemuse Mr Roux and act as an impediment to getting some of the difficult issues sorted out.
Regulation can be difficult in good times so it's essential that Mr Roux maintains a strong, even contrarian voice.
JULIE SINNAMON (CHIEF EXECUTIVE, ENTERPRISE IRELAND)
Ms Sinnamon was appointed to the top job in late August, replacing Frank Ryan at the helm.
In her previous role, the Co Down native was executive director for global business development at EI, in charge of helping Irish businesses expand into new markets. Prior to joining EI, she worked in the IDA.
She'll be harnessing all that experience to ensure the semi-state agency tasked with helping exporting companies continues its success, especially as the global economy begins to turnaround.
EI has a good story to tell. EI-supported companies experienced record exports in 2012 breaking €16bn for the first time, up from €15.2bn in 2011. The pressure will be on to continue that trend.
SIOBHAN TALBOT (GLANBIA)
Ms Talbot made headlines when she was appointed as John Moloney's replacement at the head of dairy company Glanbia -- the first woman to take over the running of a public company in Ireland.
Like Mr Roux (left), she's under a lot of pressure given the success of her predecessor.
Mr Moloney's exit brought to an end one of the most dynamic careers in the food industry.
A 25-year veteran of Glanbia and its predecessor companies, he was appointed as managing director in 2001.
Since then, the share price has increased significantly and Glanbia has been transformed from an Irish food business into a food multi-national, with operations all over the world.
Mr Moloney was instrumental in harnessing the firm's whey protein sector into a consumer-facing business that has capitalised on the surging interest in fitness supplements from consumers around the world, but in particular in the US.
All eyes will be on Ms Talbot, the former group finance director, to see if she can continue the run of good fortune.
Writing in this newspaper last May, Ms Talbot said the buck would stop with her.
"There will be huge decisions to be made on acquisitions, capital expenditure, investor relations, not to mention strategic development. But I relish the challenge ahead and love the diversity in my work, from meeting farmers at a local area meeting to a huge institutional investor based in New York."
BRIAN HAYES (MINISTER OF STATE DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE)
THE former secondary school teacher is ambitious, articulate and a rising star in Fine Gael.
His profile has been relatively small as he has played second fiddle to the senior minister in the department, Michael Noonan.
But he is determined to make his mark.
In the days preceding the announcement from the Government that it was not taking a precautionary credit line, Mr Hayes gave one of the strongest signals that the Coalition would not be taking an overdraft facility.
He has also been boosting his profile on the international stage, giving interviews to international media on Ireland's progress, and speaking with foreign press on a recent trip deputising for Mr Noonan at a meeting of European finance ministers in Brussels.
He is authoritative and appears in command of his brief. Should his senior minister decide he's had enough in the tiring finance brief after a weary few years, Mr Hayes may be the obvious successor.
ALBERT MANIFOLD (NEW CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF CRH)
When news emerged in July that Mr Manifold would succeed Myles Lee at the helm of Ireland's biggest company, CRH, analysts reacted positively.
They hailed the appointment by declaring that it seemed likely the culture of "performance and growth" was set to continue.
And if anyone has the insider know-how to take the building materials giant forward, the 50-year-old has the correct pedigree.
He joined CRH in 1998 after working with a private-equity group and has served in a number of roles within the company, including managing director of the group's Europe materials division and group development director. He was appointed to the board in 2009, when he became chief operations officer -- the role he played until the chief executive's desk beckoned. He was the first person to hold the COO role at a group level.
But 2014 looks set to be a challenging year as the company undertakes a major review of its global operations. CRH has been criticised in the past by some investors for failing to target sufficient growth in developing countries. It has countered that criticism by saying that many of its peers who acquired assets in such regions in recent years did so at over-inflated prices.
Manifold said that CRH was looking at where there were opportunities to grow over the next decade.
The review, he said, was wide and comprehensive and indicated that it would result in more than incremental change.
Shares increased on news of the review. Mr Manifold will be hoping the positive sentiment continues in his first year at the helm.
ERIC MOSLEY ( CO-FOUNDER AND CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF GLOBOFORCE)
Eric Mosley, the entrepreneur behind the fast-growing Globoforce, will join the ranks of the country's super-rich with the upcoming Nasdaq float of the €400m technology firm.
The company, which has its European headquarters in Dublin, was set up in 1997 and has developed social recognition software that businesses use to engage their employees, as a way to "create alignment with values and advance company goals and culture".
It has signed up numerous blue-chip clients, including P&G, Symantec, JetBlue and Thomson Reuters.
Now Mosley looks set to be in for a major windfall, potentially in the new year, with the upcoming float.
IPO documents show that Mr Mosley has an 11.5pc stake in the firm, which is likely to be worth up to €46m when the company lists on the stock markets shortly.
SIMON MCKEEVER (CHIEF EXECUTIVE, IRISH EXPORTERS ASSOCIATION)
The pressure on Ms Sinnamon (left) will come from many sources, not least from the organisation that represents companies trying to access international markets. Simon McKeever succeeded John Whelan at the helm of the body in November. He has had senior executive roles in global financial markets, business consultancy in Ireland, and more recently in development of trade and trade policy and strategy across Ireland and UK as director of trade and investment at the British embassy in Dublin for the past three-and-a-half years.
In a recent speech, he outlined the challenges ahead, highlighting the uncertainty in the world economy. He also pointed out concerns about competitiveness issues, energy costs and access to finance. His predecessor, Mr Whelan, said Ms Sinnamon would face trouble encouraging extra EI staff to locate in the high growth Asian markets. Mr McKeever will be ensuring Ms Sinnamon remains on top of her game.
JOHN MCHALE (HEAD OF FAC)
The soft spoken head of the State's budgetary watchdog, the Fiscal Advisory Council, has been in the role for a number of years now. But with the State exiting the bailout and the Government free to make its own financial decisions, the need for a tough and outspoken watchdog is critical to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
The Government ignored the council's advice in relation to the budgetary adjustment for 2014 and on the precautionary credit line. The NUI Galway economics professor doesn't appear too worried by that, claiming the Government is listening to what it is saying.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan has also praised its role.
The council has done a good job this year in raising its profile and ensuring that it gives opinions. It must continue this in the years ahead as the Government is left to its own devices.
MICHAEL CULLEN (CHIEF EXECUTIVE, INVESTEC IRELAND)
In August it emerged that the South African-owned bank was going to enter the Irish mortgage market, aiming to be the first new lender since the start of the financial crisis.
But the Sunday Independent reported just weeks ago that its plans have been put on hold, as the company reviews changes in the market and amid concerns about the insolvency and repossessions regime.
Sources said the bank remained committed to the market, but that it had reservations about the ability to get its money back if loans go bad.
On news of the mortgage announcement in August, Mr Cullen told this newspaper that Investec was always looking at opportunities to increase its footprint in the Irish marketplace.
Investec has already displayed expansion plans with the acquisition last year of NCB Stockbrokers
What Mr Cullen does next on the mortgage issue, will be keenly watched. 2014 might be the year the plans all come off.