Friday 28 April 2017

Passion, power and positivity: How women make business work

Success is all about networking and finding a mentor, say the women at the top. We report from Digital Week

Innovative women: Norah Casey, publisher and broadcaster; Anne O Leary, CEO, Vodafone Ireland; Louise Phelan, vice president of global operations at PayPal and Dee Forbes, president and managing director of Discovery Networks Northern Europe at the launch of National Digital Week.
Innovative women: Norah Casey, publisher and broadcaster; Anne O Leary, CEO, Vodafone Ireland; Louise Phelan, vice president of global operations at PayPal and Dee Forbes, president and managing director of Discovery Networks Northern Europe at the launch of National Digital Week.

Ailin Quinlan

They're international high-flyers, but when you ask these powerful businesswomen about the secret to success their answers are simple: Use Twitter. Learn to work a room. Seek out a mentor. Form a support group of other like-minded women. Have passion for what you do. Never fear failure. Use technology to empower your business.

Three prominent and highly successful businesswomen, two of them Irish, one American, are among a formidable line-up of speakers taking the stage today at Ireland's first ever National Digital Week, running until Sunday in Skibbereen.

They will be among the experts addressing a special session for female entrepreneurs dealing with issues such as mentors, supports, expertise and advice and the benefits of digital technology.

The session is just one of many during the four-day event, during which some 2,000 entrepreneurs, digital marketers, technology enthusiasts and business owners have descended on the West Cork town to hear blue-chip tips and advice from a stellar line-up of 60 experts like Ronan Harris, vice president of Google EMEA, Dr Laurence O'Rourke, Rosetta Mission Science Operations Coordinator at the European Space Agency and Ingrid Vanderveldt of the US-based Empower A Billion Women 2020 organisation.

So what advice do the three female business dynamos have for the women attending the Female Entrepreneurship session today?

For tech entrepreneur Ingrid Vanderveldt, understanding technology and using it in an innovative ways is crucial for spotting and exploiting business opportunities. And she's a lady definitely worth listening to.

Vanderveldt has grown businesses, built $100 million multi-million dollar ventures, held an executive position at Dell and sat on the United Nationals Foundation Global Entrepreneurship Council. In 2015, she launched the Empowering a Billion Women by 2020 campaign.

She has created a special websit, minther.com, to provide the services, supports and products businesswomen need to ensure financial success. Minther is the product of decades of hard experience. "I created what I always wished I had," is how Vanderveldt explains her design for the website.

"Women can tap into this to learn business and technology tips and get the products and services they need."

But you also need the personal touch, believes the co- founder of The Billionaire Girls Club - so, she counsels, get out there, find a mentor and form a support group:

"Find four other women who are aspiring to big goals like you and then create a safe place where you can meet once a month to come and talk about your challenges and brainstorm solutions," says the woman who created and hosted CNBC's original primetime series, American Made, and serves on the Advisory boards of Springboard Enterprises, Current Motor, and is a member of the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network (DWEN).

Now take Dee Forbes, president and managing director of Discovery Networks Northern Europe and one of the key organisers of National Digital Week.

Women really must learn to work a room, believes Forbes. "Networking is such an important part of any business. Whether you are one individual on your own or a big company entity, networking is what will help."

Women are great networkers on a social basis, but, she believes, when it comes to business they don't always take to it as easily as men.

"You have to come out of your comfort zone and work the room," she insists.

In fact every time you attend a lunch or networking event, says Forbes, your aim should be to come away with "between one and three new coffee dates." To achieve this, she explains, "you have to work the room and meet people and consciously grow your network.

Forbes, who grew up in the village of Drimoleague, is another strong believer in mentoring and 'throwing down the ladder' to younger colleagues.

"It's only by talking about issues and sharing experiences that women can become aware of issues and chase them down and do something about it," she says, adding however, that in the business world, women should actively seek out people who will help to further their careers - she did it herself in her first big role at Turner Broadcasting.

Forbes requested her boss to mentor her, putting into play a hugely beneficial experience which taught her a lot and stood to her throughout her career:

"We all meet people like that but you have to be the one to ask."

Twitter is where it's at for entrepreneur, hotelier and former TV and radio broadcaster Bibi Baskin.

"I'm very much a late-comer to Twitter, and only joined this year, but it's been the highlight of the year for me," she says, adding that the social media platform has brought a lot of work her way since she returned to Ireland permanently earlier this year after 20 years abroad - 14 of which she spent establishing and running a successful hotel in India.

"Several interviews with leading radio and TV presenters came about because of my presence on Twitter. It's also a great way to develop your interest plus it's an excellent platform for business," says Baskin.

She's concerned, she says about the paucity of people in their 50s and upwards who are using this social media platform: "I'd like to see more people aged 50 and up using it - there's a real gap there," says Baskin.

She says her biggest lesson came during a conversation with a successful hotelier, who told her that the secret to success was to have passion for what you do.

"At this seminar I'll be talking about the importance of having a passion and also about the need for positivity," says Baskin, who adds, that on reflection, she realises that the key to her success was that she never feared failure. "We can often become so full of fear that it traps us."

National Digital Week runs until Sunday at the West Cork Hotel, Ilen Street Skibbereen. For further information follow @DigitalWeekIRL on Twitter

Irish Independent

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