Breege O’Donoghue, Board Director, Primark, inaugural recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 at The IMAGE Businesswoman of the Year Awards 2014. Photo Kieran Harnett
You could have heard a pin drop at the DoubleTree Hilton (the Burlington Hotel to you and me) just seconds into her acceptance speech.
There wasn’t a peep out of the 600-odd mostly women in the room, many of them award winning businesswomen in their own rights.
They were enthralled, inspired and beguiled by the woman who hails from Boston, Co Clare and whose first mode of transport was a Mercedes, not the car mind, but “Paddy, a beautiful horse with bells and bows, which with a gleaming trap, brought us to mass and to the seaside on Sundays.”
From earliest memories of her late parents Thomas and Molly, who lived into their 90s following a life on a “hard working but idyllic” farm, to her later career where she entered the world of work at the then Great Southern Hotels group.
“I remember the price of my first wage packet with my name on it,” she said.
Since then she has seen a huge amount of change in the workplace, which she welcomed although she had a special mention for her late husband James “who was always helpful, interested, available, with sound advice and practical assistance, but never intrusive.”
Indeed, some of her 10 step-children were with her last night at the awards ceremony.
“During my continuing working years there have been many positive advances form women and others....for example, pay and the improvement in the status of women."
And she now sits on a board of seven with two female members "so the odds are moving in the right direction."
Breege is currently spearheading Primark's entry to the US market after successfully capturing the German and British ones.
She also believes success in business, like Primark, is based on the ability to communicate.
“Short lines of communication, with core beliefs and a common vocabulary.”
However, possibly her best advice was for the younger generation.
“Be true to oneself, show courage, independence, initiative, appreciate the need to recognise, respect and value differences.
“Know right from wrong, be ethically aware.
“Be satisfied only with the best, do not be clothed in power and status, but generous in heart mind and spirit, and yes, it is encouragement and live that inspire people to succeed and be happy the world over.”
When Breege first entered the workforce, the Irish economy was strong.
But she believes the economy is improving again, despite the recent signs of instability amidst the water charges fiasco.
Her advice for Taoiseach Enda Kenny?
“Be strong, think of the long-term. And communicate – bring the people with you.”