The best executive cars on the market

Mark Gallivan takes a look at the best executive cars on the market in Ireland for 2019.

Depending on your view, the rise of the ubiquitous Crossover SUV and impacted demise of the executive car in the hearts and minds of Irish new car buyers is either one of two things; pretty depressing or simply a change in what consumers perceive as motorised status.

In the first two months of 2019, six of the top ten selling new cars in Ireland were Crossover SUVs. If you dig deeper into these very same statistics and combine Jeep and MPV sector cars, a total of 22,049 were sold against 6,512 saloon cars. It seems buyers now champion a taller driving position, better versatility, load capacity and quasi go-almost-anywhere capability while sacrificing any semblance of driving enjoyment and the consequential trade-off of a compromised cruising refinement.

Speaking of the executive car segment, which ones should you consider? As a segment, it is defined by the contenders like the BWW 3-Series, Audi A4 and the Mercedes C-Class. What is the real winner here and what are the quirks and gripes that you may not have heard in other car reviews?

First place: BMW 3-Series – from €43,120

If you’ve quietly held a suspicion that the BMW 3-Series has slipped a bit in recent years, you would be correct. Somehow the cars core DNA of best in class steering and chassis dynamics was often described as very good rather than outstanding. Enter the all-new G30, the seventh generation of BMW’s executive car and now with a guarantee that BMW has mended the less-focused dynamics and delivered electric steering communication that is amongst the best I’ve tested. The step up in cabin architecture, with a new digital dashboard, makes good strides in keeping up with Audi’s A4.

You’ll like: Best in class driving dynamics, an improved infotainment system, fabulous agility and rewarding dynamics. Cabin a proper advance in design.

You’ll grumble: Avoid run-flat tyres – they ruin the ride. New digital dash less easy to read than analogue dials. M Sport trim is best option for looks but adds a harsh ride.

Second Place: Mercedes C-Class – from €37,710 (Pictured in main image)

Isn’t this where we’d usually find the Audi A4? It was. It was after testing the facelifted C-Class Saloon, Estate and fabulous Cabriolet recently, did I shift my opinion. True, the C-Class interior and actual build quality trails the A4 in places and if we’re being honest, only matches it for driving engagement. But as an overall ownership proposition for middle management executives – those with a burning ambition to do better – the Mercedes C-Class in any of the variants is a beautifully crafted car.

Sporting an intriguing range of smaller four-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engines and 1.6 petrol/electric regenerative hybrids, along with the larger perennial larger engined diesel and petrol engines, the range is vast enough to suit all buyers. Where the Saloon version of the C-Class scored well is the rear-wheel drive bias and creamy smooth steering and suspension composure. Of all the cars tested in this segment, it’s the C-Class you’d drive after a long day and 300 kilometers to travel before reaching home. Everything in the C-Class is geared towards reducing stress and eliminating unnecessary fatigue. And this all-around package is not limited to the Saloon. You can also opt for the Estate, Coupe or Cabriolet version. It’s a close thing, but the C-Class pips the Audi A4 to the second place spot.

You’ll like: Classy and composed with junior S-Class styling. Surprisingly fun to drive. Lovely cabin. Smart 1.5-litre petrol engine a good bet for low mileage drivers.

You’ll grumble: Gearbox kick down is slow. Some interior fittings would shame a VW Golf. Pricey options.

Third Place: Audi A4 – from €35,930

Just because the Audi A4 was launched four years ago, it doesn’t mean it is now relegated to an also-ran. So much was right from the start with the fifth-generation (B9) Audi A4 that it still warrants serious consideration for your executive car choice in 2019. No other car in the executive segment is better constructed and feels like it could survive everyday business and family duties for years while remaining largely unscathed. The car’s only demerit is after four years, Audi needs to update the exterior look and cabin layout. Lastly, if you’re less than six foot tall, make sure you test one over a longer drive. The driver’s seating position is set low and can feel claustrophobic. Otherwise, you’ll be treated to car that is a massive step up from the previous generation A4 and is decently rewarding to drive.

You’ll like: Bank vault build quality. Brilliant to drive, with excellent ride and refinement. Still looks sharp after four years.

You’ll grumble: Engine’s momentary hesitation when accelerating a concern. Seating position set too low and proves claustrophobic. Cost of Audi’s options extortionate.

Fourth Place Lexus IS – from €41,480

A surprising fourth place is given to the Lexus IS for several reasons. Granted, it’s not down to the Japanese brand’s sales success during 2018. By shifting a total of just 484 cars and registering a paltry 110 Lexus IS models during 2018, it is the forgotten executive car choice. Indeed, as left-field choices go, the Lexus IS is a 2019 panacea for the executive that is still mourning the demise of SAAB in December 2011.

But choosing a Lexus is to enter an elevated world of customer care and bullet-proof reliability. After all, Lexus won the top spot in the UK’s Auto Express with a golden 95.12 per cent reliability rating. In Lexus land you tend to bypass any semblance of indifferent customer experience. If you want to waft in a car that is constructed with millimetric precision and enjoy a cabin with solid sporting looks, then the Lexus IS as an ownership proposition with guaranteed rarity in the German default car park.

You’ll like: Excellent reliability reputation. Genuine customer care. The 2017 update tweaked and honed the IS to within tiny tolerances. Immense and a brilliant left-field choice.

You’ll grumble: Infotainment system is fiddly to use. Hybrid never as seamless as suggested.

By Mark Gallivan

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Founder Friday hits Gorey this March

Founder Friday returns to The Hatch Lab on March 29th with Mark Kellett the special guest for the evening.
Founder Friday is a free monthly networking meet-up for founders, innovators and the wider business community over drinks and nibbles. The event is an opportunity to wrap up the week with networking and an inspiring fireside chat with an established entrepreneur from Leinster.
Who will be there?
The guest for the evening will be Mark Kellett, of Magnet Networks. Mark Kellett is an internationally recognised CEO with vast experience across technology, software, telecoms and media with firms such as Yahoo!, Network Appliance, Sun Microsystems and Aer Lingus globally. He is heavily involved with Enterprise Ireland and sits on their start-up advisory panel.
As CEO of Magnet Networks, Mark has grown his company from its Irish roots as a dedicated telecoms company into a developing global company that is fast becoming a leader in the connectivity IoT and Smart City solutions arena and now operates across five continents. Mark drives Magnet Networks’ challenger thinking, which has led to the brand being the trusted choice of some of the world’s biggest companies. Mark continues to push the boundaries of traditional telecoms thinking, and his achievements outside of the office include climbing Mount Everest and swimming the English Channel. Hatch Lab resident, Sarah Jane Vincent of Miss Content Creative, will be MC for the evening.
How to register
Founder Friday is run by Bank of Ireland in partnership with Wexford County Council, and will be hosted by Emer Cooney, community enterprise manager with Bank of Ireland as well as John O’Connor, The Hatch Lab manager.  To register for the event, visit the registration page here.
If you have any further queries, please contact John O’Connor at or Tina Coleman at

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A Tipperary farm where hens go out to graze

Kylie and Billy Magner produce pasture-raised eggs and pasture-raised chicken. Kylie provides some background to starting a poultry enterprise, and producing an award-winning chicken bone broth.

How did you start farming?
I grew up on a farm in Australia and Billy’s background has been in the equine industry in Ireland. In 2016, Billy and I took the decision to leave Australia, along with our four children, to return to Ireland to a small farm, that we previously purchased back in 2004. We started out with some sheep and cattle and hens, but we soon began to focus on the hens as an enterprise. Hens return cash on a weekly basis, which as you can imagine is not the case with cattle or sheep.
We began by selling eggs from the few hens that we had; and my son Finn, who was eight years of age at the time, was soon onboard with the enterprise. We kept the money in a jar and when we had enough money to buy more hens; we bought more hens and it just really all developed from there. In October 2017 we started in earnest, buying 150 commercial laying hens from James Ryan, a breeder from Cork. James gave us some great advice on infrastructure and how to manage the hens and we started off selling at farmer markets.
We didn’t have any experience in poultry management, so we possibly approached things slightly differently. We allowed our hens out on grass where they ‘creep graze’ like cattle or sheep, topping up on fresh vegetation and natural food from the soil during the day. Soon our eggs began getting really good reviews and lots of people began buying on a regular basis.
Last June we bought another 300 hens and again our markets continued to grow. We sell our eggs,

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Bank of Ireland celebrates International Women’s Day

Bank of Ireland celebrated International Women’s Day supporting gender diversity in the workplace conference in Limerick

Bank of Ireland celebrated International Women’s Day 2019 by supporting the 11th International Women’s Day Conference at the University of Limerick. The event shed light on the importance of gender diversity in the workplace and the significance of female representation at all levels of business.

The conference was chaired by Catherine Duff, general manager at Northern Trust and was addressed by inspirational female leaders including; Gillian Harford, county executive 30% Club Ireland, Professor Helen Kelly Holmes, dean faculty of arts, humanities and social sciences at UL and Vicky Phelan, cervical cancer activist.

Bank of Ireland is hosting a series of gender diversity seminars taking place nationwide as part of its campaign #BalanceForBetter. This campaign is highlighting the positive impact women have in the workplace and the value they add at all levels of a business.

Addressing the conference, Andrew Keating, group chief financial officer at Bank of Ireland said, “Bank of Ireland has developed the #BalanceForBetter campaign to encourage better awareness of gender diversity in the workplace and the importance of women being in senior leadership roles. We have heard from a number of inspirational female leaders here today and this conference, along with Bank of Ireland seminars rolling out nationwide, are demonstrating the importance for all businesses to work towards better gender balance at all levels within their organisation.”

“It’s a proven fact that the greater the diversity, the greater the innovation, and greater innovation leads to greater commercial success.”

By 2021, all appointments or promotions for senior grades in Bank of Ireland will be split 50:50, male and female. They group have already made great progress and are well on course to reach their target.

“Men, including myself, have long enjoyed the unfair advantage of achieving our ambitions, while many women couldn’t do so. It’s a proven fact that the greater the diversity, the greater the innovation, and greater innovation leads to greater commercial success,” added Keating.

In closing his keynote speech, he said, “I don’t want my son Darragh to have more opportunities than his sister Aisling based of his gender, and I don’t want Aisling to have more opportunities than Darragh, I just want equality and a better balance for all.”

Does better balance mean better business?

Gillian Harford, country executive of the 30% Club, gave a powerful talk on diversity in Ireland stating that while progress is being made, females are still massively underrepresented in leadership positions across all sectors in Ireland. “Ireland is one of the best countries in the world for equal education with 56% of undergrads being women, but we are not seeing this have an effect on leadership roles with just 18% of positions on boards being occupied by females.”

“I&D is not a numbers game, and it’s not about women winning and men losing, it’s about capitalising all talents. ”

She continued, “Diversity is not important unless you have inclusion. Diversity means I’m here, but inclusion means I’m heard.

“I&D is not a numbers game, and it’s not about women winning and men losing, it’s about capitalising all talents. Better balance means we give everyone an equal opportunity to thrive and break down barriers,” she finished.

Also discussing the topic with an onus on vulnerability, Mary T. Tierney, from Azurite Consulting Ltd, discussed why creativity and innovation is what make businesses thrive, and why we need an equal balance in order to thrive.

She also talked about how people feel ashamed about their vulnerabilities and “run as far away as possible” from them.

“Vulnerability is not a weakness. It’s our most accurate method for courage – in fact it’s our only pathway to courage. We need to start having the correct conversations without worrying about possible implications or opinions. Embracing vulnerability is a minute-by-minute choice as it happens every single day,” said Tierney.

Powerful women and leadership

Professor Helen Kelly Holmes, dean of the faculty of arts, humanities and social sciences at the University of Limerick said women are really starting to be heard, drawing on the Repeal referendum last year, which “gave a great insight into the power women have in Ireland”. Historically, to be a powerful woman was to act like a man when in a position of power, according to Holmes, but this has now changed.

“Having women in positions of leadership isn’t about having a woman ruling over everyone else. It’s about having women in positions where they have a voice and can effect change,” before discussing her own industry, saying, “A lot of statistics show that universities are problematic institutions for women. They are incredibly slow to change and are very conservative institutions.”

“Women will only apply for senior positions when they believe they meet 100% of the criteria in a job description – whereas men are likely to apply if they only meet 50% of the criteria.”

Dr Christine Cross, head of department, work and employment studies at UL echoed Holmes’ thoughts and spoke about ‘gendered language’ and the role it plays in recruitment.

“There are a number of words that are considered ‘gendered language’ so we need to be cognisant of this when writing job descriptions so that we are encouraging more females to apply for roles and take risks.

“Women will only apply for senior positions when they believe they meet 100% of the criteria in a job description – whereas men are likely to apply if they only meet 50% of the criteria.

“Visibility is six times more important than your performance to move up the ladder into senior positions. Women need to be putting themselves out there more,” she concluded.

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Equality unlocks human potential

Antony Keane, managing director in Accenture, believes that companies that foster equality not only accelerate career advancement for women but improve career progress for men as well.

Accenture has been celebrating International Women’s Day for years. What’s on this year?

For Accenture in Ireland, IWD is our largest client event of the year. This year it will also be the largest IWD celebration in Accenture. The event will focus on how inclusion and diversity (I&D) help to drive innovation in business and more broadly in our society.

This year Accenture is also celebrating being in business in Ireland for 50 years so the event will take a look back at how I&D has evolved over this period. As always there will be a great range of speakers and performances which always make this event something special.

What strategies are in place to achieve an equal balance?

At Accenture, we believe the future workforce is an equal one, and that gender diversity is essential for an innovation-led organisation. Globally we have set ourselves bold goals to help us accelerate equality.

Today 47% of our new hires are women, and 42% of our global workforce of almost 500,000 people are women. By 2025, Accenture will achieve a gender-balanced workforce and, by 2020, women will account for 25% of managing directors globally.

To help us achieve this we offer flexible and innovative working arrangements, we encourage our women to connect through employee resource groups that help them build networks through the Accenture Women’s Network, our global online platform. We also ensure all employees have a mentor and a personalised training programme – women comprise 41% of total participants in mentoring and development programmes.

“At Accenture, we believe the future workforce is an equal one, and that gender diversity is essential for an innovation-led organisation.”

Does awareness about gender parity affect office culture?

It’s very clear to me and is supported by recent Accenture research and our ‘Getting to Equal’ studies, that creating a culture of equality unlocks human potential. If companies succeed in creating a workforce culture that fosters equality, they will not just accelerate career advancement and pay for women, they will also improve career progress for men. Sounds like a win-win to me.

“Creating a culture of equality unlocks human potential.”

How important is it for companies to implement policies aimed at closing the gender skills gap in STEM and ICT sectors?

I think it is undoubtedly important for companies to do this, however, I think the focus on this needs to start much earlier – there are simply not enough girls pursuing technology careers and learning to code from a young age. So much so that the gender gap in this space is actually getting worse. My own data point on this is when I drop my nine-year-old son to his weekly coding class and see a room filled almost entirely with boys.

Thankfully, there are a growing number of examples of technology and computing initiatives designed specifically for girls, but we really need to see more happening and more female role models flying the STEM flag.

Interview by Irene Psychari.

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Greater gender balance a priority for Bank of Ireland

Alan Hartley is commercial director at Bank of Ireland. He tells ThinkBusiness about the bank’s commitment to being a prominent advocate for greater gender balance, not just within the company but throughout the country.
Tell us a bit of background about yourself and your career?
I qualified as a chartered accountant but most of my initial career was as an interest rate trader in the dealing rooms of firstly KBC, and then Bank of Ireland. I hung up the trading boots after nearly 20 years and moved into group treasury and then investor relations, before moving again late last year into Bank of Ireland’s retail business to run its commercial office.
How did you come to be involved in inclusion and diversity in Bank of Ireland?
I have three young daughters and have a natural interest in ensuring they get the same opportunities to achieve their goals and ambitions as I did. Andrew Keating, the group CFO, and I were discussing the topic by chance a couple of years ago and he was looking for opportunities to bring inclusion and diversity (I&D), and gender balance in particular, higher up the agenda within his division and the wider bank. I asked to help and it’s taken off from there.
What does it mean for Bank of Ireland today?
Playing a prominent leadership role in promoting greater I&D within the bank and beyond is completely aligned with our strategic ambition to be Ireland’s national champion bank. In addition, it is also completely consistent with and supportive of the bank’s commercial objectives.  
“In Ireland, research suggests that household finances are increasingly being managed by women.”
Why do we need an I&D agenda and how successful is it as achieving its goals?
I think the moral and social imperative in today’s world is clear. What’s less focussed on are the commercial opportunities

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Global design guru on the shape of things to come

Natasha Jen, an award-winning designer, educator, and a partner at Pentagram speaks to ThinkBusiness ahead of her talk on International Women’s Day.

An individualistic mentality defines design studio Pentagram in more ways than one. Operating a unique socialist business model, rather than a purely capitalist one, as well as its innovative use of graphic, verbal, digital, and spatial interventions that challenge conventional notions of media and cultural contexts, all give Pentagram unique appeal.

You have 23 partners at Pentagram working together and independently, how does that work and how important is it to the company’s success?

At Pentagram, each partner is autonomous as a design business, with different staff size, different overheads and different revenue targets. Within each office, the partners share general shared overhead: office rent, general admin, office supply, etc. Each partner would generate different revenues, depending on what they pursue and how they manage their staffing overhead. This setup, at first glance, is similar to different teams (studios) sharing an office.

What makes Pentagram unique is that the different revenues from different teams would get aggregated and redistributed equally back to each team, so it’s a socialist model. What this model does is essentially a very sophisticated check-and-balance. It first allows a partner – a designer – to define what he or she is interested in and they can shape their practice accordingly. It’s an incredibly individualistic kind of mentality. What keeps it in balance is the socialist economic model. While we pursue what we like to do, which may include things that are not profitable, we must keep in mind that our own profitability or unprofitability would affect other teams. 

This business model is really simple mathematically, but behaviourally and psychologically more nuanced than a pure capitalist model. This is beyond simple friendship, it’s a true partnership psychology and that creates a collegial culture and that culture is what keeps Pentagram going.  

How important is design in the way we live in 2019?

I think design has to be talked about specifically as opposed to generically. Generic “design” tends to end up being a feel-good word that, in the face of some of the biggest crises we face right now, feels superficial. There are real urgencies that each design field faces and there are shared crises, such as global warming, or the erasure of local culture in the age of social networks and global monopolies, or the paradox of algorithm, that it is benefiting us yet manipulating us. I don’t think we know how to answer those questions as a collective. I don’t. But that not-knowingness also sets a direction for years to come. 

What has made Pentagram so successful?

I sometimes wonder if we’re just lucky. We are not a practice informed by conventional corporate models yet we are prolific. We’ve done celebrated work and we’ve done work that went under criticism. But what’s true in the history of Pentagram is that we are a creativity-led practice, and that’s the soul of the group. 

How important is avoiding trends and designing instead for longevity?

It’s hard to say what are trends and what are timeless. Trends, such as the Chanel tweet jacket, can become timeless. I think it’s more important to think about how we respond to the challenges of our time than thinking about being trendy or timeless. That is for history to judge, 

How has technology influenced design and do you as a designer embrace it or feel you have to fight it?

Technology, similar to the word ‘design’, has specificity to it that it’s hard for me to answer generically. Digital technology pretty much has consumed everything we do and communication design, my field, is a sub-set in that totality. Technology has its way to erase uniqueness and encouraging sameness, and that’s what we work against. I don’t like to think that I am “fighting” as I have no power to set the rules in the big currents of technological developments; I tend to think that there are choices that we can make and that we don’t have to feel that we are victimized by tech. 

How important is keeping control of your work and how can you do this in a busy and large company?

There’s never a case where I can say we’re “controlling” the outcome. Design service is a messy process and clients, regardless of how much or little they have training in design, get their hands dirty in the process with us. This is not to say that we’re not the author in the final outcome, it’s that the outcome is never as pure as a fairytale. But people are people: we can be genius and we’re also flawed. For me I try to understand the people condition the best I can so the work can be conceived in the most communicative way possible. 

Interview by Olivia McGill.

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“I found my true core values and vowed to live by these”

Gill Carroll’s journey in business has seen many setbacks, but each time she got back up and turned things around. Here’s her remarkable story.
Everybody loves a success story – especially one that strikes just the right balance of determination, passion, values, and dedication. Gill Carroll, the proud owner of 37 West and 56 Central, two unique restaurants in Galway city, is living proof of entrepreneurship done right. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, she talks about the importance of continuous improvement, the meaning of giving to the community, and the changing culture in a male-dominated industry.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in the restaurant industry?
I grew up surrounded by business. My father is the creator and owner of Zhivago music shop in Galway city. My mother is a nurse. The combination of the two led me into the hospitality industry. I had a burning desire to add value to people’s lives.
I studied business and hotel management in GMIT. While doing my degree, I also did a certificate in human resources. From an early age, I knew I needed to have a broad education. I invest in my education every year through courses, talks, books, podcasts, masterminds and people. Anywhere I can learn, I am there.
I got my first taste of being a business owner at 26 in Edinburgh when I was approached by my boss at the time to open a Gastro Bar with him. Wow, what an experience! Two years of insane work, I made so many mistakes. The bar became successful, but I didn’t as a human. I was looking at it all the wrong way around. Partnerships are so hard. After two years and a broken heart from a breakup, I returned home to Ireland.
It took me a while to get back on track.

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Relentless hunger pays off for beauty entrepreneur

Beauty entrepreneur Debbie Mulhall talks about starting her company from nothing, the importance of constant learning and following your passion.
“Success didn’t come without its challenges and my greatest lessons were not easily learned,” says Debbie Mulhall, owner of Urba Skin Clinic in Athlone and Dollface Brows in Tullamore. She talks to Think Business about starting a company from nothing, the importance of constant learning, hard work, and following your passion.
You are the owner of two successful beauty salons, what inspired you to get into the industry?
I lived in New York for nine years and opened my first business there when I was 26. Most people are quite surprised to learn that my first venture was an American sports bar and grill and not at all beauty or skincare related. I had my daughter in 2011 and returned home to raise her in Ireland. This was a challenging time in Ireland as we were in the depth of the recession. I was in a financial bind and realised quickly that I needed a plan and the bar and restaurant industry in Ireland didn’t quite have the same sparkle as the New York scene.
I realised it was time to follow my passion for beauty and skincare and I started very small with a very basic skill set and grew from there. I started my career freelancing with a set of brushes and a two-week makeup course certificate under my belt. I worked two bar jobs to support me while I honed my skills and got my name out there. The success came from relentless hunger and passion.
What do you consider as your biggest professional success so far?
My biggest professional success would have to be opening the door to a single treatment room in 2013, without any budget or even signage or new

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