The ingredients for building a business empire

Supermac’s co-owner Una McDonagh shares her secret formula to building Ireland’s largest and fastest-growing indigenous fast food restaurant group.
When a young Leaving Certificate student with her heart set on becoming a garda was too young to begin training, she instead started working part-time at a local fast food restaurant in Ballinasloe, County Galway. Now, over 40 years later Una McDonagh is the co-owner of Supermacs, Ireland’s largest and fastest-growing indigenous fast food group, with over 116 restaurants across the country and employing over 4,000 staff, including franchises.
She puts the success of the chain down to hard work, good personal relationships with staff and staying ahead of the curve.
“Our success has come from hard work and from the great people we have working for us,” says Una. “Some of those people are with us for 35 years. Pat (husband and Supermac’s founder) opened his first shop in Ballinasloe in June 1978, I started working there part-time two weeks after my Leaving Cert. Going back 35 years, we had a good few people at a young age working for us, going to college to get their degree and coming back to us. One of our operations managers did engineering in college, he was working with us part-time and stayed on. Now he is one of the key people in the building of the new units. There are many more staff like that, who did accountancy or business and are still with us.
“We are very hands-on; we know a lot of the staff. We would try to visit every shop at least once a month and the franchisees three or four times a year. It’s very important to be able to put faces to names. The fact that we are known to staff makes them more loyal, rather than a faceless company,” she adds.
“ It’s very

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Jane Ohlmeyer: Universities are not changing fast enough

TCD history professor Jane Ohlmeyer says that while progress has been made to give females senior positions, universities are not changing at the pace they should be.
While workplaces increasingly recognise gender inequality as a problem to be tackled, data reveals that less than one in four professors in Irish universities are female. What is more, in their 400-year history of progress and achievement, the places that should act as beacons of excellence and merit have never had a female provost.
As we approach International Women’s Day, Jane Ohlmeyer, professor of modern history at Trinity College Dublin, founder and director of the Long Room Hub research institute, and chair of the Irish Research Council, explains why gender parity in Ireland’s higher education system can’t come fast enough.
According to the latest Higher Education Institutional Staff by Gender report (2018) published by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), in 2017 only 24% of professor posts in universities were occupied by women. This percentage is, of course, better than the staggering 8% back in 2001, and cracks are definitely showing in the glass ceiling of academia. Yet, women seem to have a hard time advancing from the entry level of their academic career, where they outnumber men (51% of lecturers are women, with this number dropping to 38% for senior lecturers) to higher-grade positions. Why is it still so difficult for universities to accept women into their most senior structures?
“The problem is partly structural and partly cultural” explains professor Ohlmeyer. “And when I say structural I just don’t think that there are enough figure women in the system. But I also think that universities are very conservative institutions and for a long time we’ve been dealing with the patriarchy and a very conservative body it is difficult for women to get into. And that’s not true

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Huge gender issue still to be addressed in agri-food sector

Agri-food specialist Karen Brosnan says more needs to be done to bridge the gender gap in her sector with 50% of companies yet to address the issue.

Originally from a dairy farm in north Kerry, Karen Brosnan is a management consultant working with companies, boards and executives in the agri-food sector to plan strategically for organisation and culture change, and to implement programmes of leadership and people development.

She is the current chairperson of Gurteen College, a director of Nuffield Ireland and the former chairperson of Ceres, the women in agri-business leadership network, as well as a member of the agri-food inclusion and diversity (I&D) taskforce. Here she discusses a number of issues facing women in her field.

What can be done to get more women involved in the sector?

Research shows organisations that embrace I&D are more innovative, sustainable and successful in the longer term. In this fast-paced world, it is important to provide opportunities for both men and women to make the most of their skills and experience.

According to a study by AON last year, 50% of agri-food businesses surveyed have engaged or have started the process of engaging in I&D strategies. The other 50%, in order to compete for talent with other sectors, need to follow suit and continue to row in behind the national programmes and initiatives that are currently underway.

At a broader level, the goal of the National Women and Girls Strategy is to develop ‘an Ireland where all women enjoy equality with men and can achieve their full potential, while enjoying a safe and fulfilling life’. The strategy’s success depends on the shared engagement of women and men, in building a fairer society. This involves finding the programmes, opportunities, and people who support change and working with them.

“Research shows organisations that embrace I&D are more innovative, sustainable and successful in the longer term.”

What are the biggest challenges facing women in the sector?

While the number of women in CEO positions in the Irish agri-food sector has increased in recent times, female representation on boards and at senior management level is still low and far from the 30% base-line considered international standard.

I believe that the biggest challenge facing women in the workplace is unconscious bias. This bias comes from our life experiences and the way we have been brought up. It is hardwired into us. We bring these unconscious biases into the workplace and they influence how we make decisions.

When it comes to women in decision-making positions in the agri sector, we need to consider what are the assumptions that men and women make that might stop them recognising and utilising talent and potential. What are the assumptions that women themselves are making that might be stopping them putting themselves forward. Individuals need to become aware of their beliefs and biases and to take part in conversations around how we support women, young men, and different nationalities in different roles.

“While the number of women in CEO positions in the Irish agri-food sector has increased in recent times, female representation on boards and at senior management level is still low.”

What needs to be done to increase female representation on boards of agri-food organisations?

Studies over the last decade have consistently shown a positive correlation between women on boards and the company performance. In a global analysis of 2,400 companies conducted by Credit Suisse in 2018, organisations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that didn’t have any women on the board. Increasing numbers of women in the workforce has not translated into significantly higher numbers of women in higher and management grades. Organisational cultures, and particularly agricultural cultures, need to become increasingly open to challenging gender and other stereotypes.

Is there a lack of talent in the pipeline?

Ireland has the highest rate of college students per capita, in Europe, and with an increasing number of third level programmes in agri-food with a high female participation, it means that a shortage of talent is not the issue; the issue is graduates’ perceptions of the industry. The agri-food sector needs to be able to compete with others for top talent. There are many businesses in the industry that are struggling to attract talent from traditional sources, because they cannot compete on reputation or compensation. The future success of the agri-food industry depends on attracting diverse talent and thinking. The pace of change demands it.

“I believe that the biggest challenge facing women in the workplace is unconscious bias.”

Are there opportunities for greater planning and review on family farm businesses?

As with every self-employed person in Ireland, some businesses are ahead, but for many, it can be hard to get the balance right. Entrepreneurs need to build in thinking time, and time for review. I speak for myself when I say that it is easy to get lost in the ‘doing’ instead of thinking. One of the best opportunities I have had in the last 18 months has been to become part of an entrepreneurs synergy group. We take one morning a month to review our business goals, our challenges and outcomes for the month. This gives us a great opportunity to take an honest look at the return on investment of our time and to look at what is stopping us being better, more courageous or to question our motives. It has encouraged me to be more realistic, and it is something I think all business, including farms, could benefit from.

The rise in veganism is having a previously unanticipated effect on meat farmers – just how worrying is this?

Growing public awareness of health, climate change and animal health are driving changes in food preferences. We know that the food industry is responding by providing more plant based products, which means that this is a new reality rather than a food fad. This is a complex debate with much broader social and environmental ramifications, which will greatly impact on farmers who serve as custodians of land and animals. We need a holistic view on the impact of our food systems, as we must also consider the nutritional value of what we can grow locally versus alternatives with lower nutrition and more additives, which may be imported from across the world.

The sector needs to choose to be informed, to challenge ‘fake news’ and to avoid polarised responses. Everyone wants better health, a stable climate and the vast majority of farmers are passionate about the health of their animals and their land, so committing to collaborating on policy and outcomes is imperative.

By Stephen Larkin.

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Thousands to celebrate International Women’s Day

Bristol Women’s Voice works to make women’s equality in Bristol a reality. ThinkBusiness talks to its chair Penny Gane about the discrimination facing women, as well as its events for International Women’s Day.
What are the issues facing women in your area?
Women’s safety is a big concern with more than 1,500 women per year suffering violence or abuse and young women afraid to walk home alone and being harassed in the street. There are many children living in poverty, often in lone parent families headed by women.
Our gender pay gap needs to improve along with maternity discrimination. We need more women on boards. Women’s health is an issue, with life expectancy being worse than the national average and increasing rates of smoking, drinking and self-harm amongst young women. There is also discrepancy in numbers of boys and girls taking up STEM subjects. All of these issues need to be addressed.
“Women’s safety is a big concern with more than 1,500 women per year suffering violence or abuse.”
What does Bristol Women’s Voice do to address these issues?
Bristol Women’s Voice runs the citywide Zero Tolerance initiative aimed at preventing gender based violence, abuse, harassment and exploitation. Companies and organisations are trained in recognising signs of abuse and how to support those suffering abuse. We run maternity rights sessions throughout the city, sessions on health inequalities, menopause workshops and we are proud to launch our menopause pack at our International Women’s Day celebration on Saturday.
We chair and support the women’s commission and its six task groups. The commission works on strategic change and the development of initiatives. The commission developed Zero Tolerance, 50-50 campaign, and our Women of Lawrence Hill project, based on ensuring that women in more deprived areas are able to benefit from new developments in the city. Our Women in Business group is

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Women have unique abilities which can be applied to business

Vanessa Creaven, who co-founded Spotlight Whitening with her sister, says women have unique abilities which makes for great entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurial success isn’t about “any special talents or intellect but about hard work and determination”, says Vanessa Creaven, a dentist, who along with her sister Lisa, founded Spotlight Whitening, a revolutionary range for safe and effective teeth whitening at home. Spotlight has not only become a household name in Ireland but now it is also available in eight countries, across 7,000 retailers.

You and your sister, Lisa, run two successful businesses – your dental clinic and Spotlight Whitening. How do you juggle between the two?
Juggle is a very good word to describe it, it is a bit of a juggle. Myself and Lisa are dentists so we run a practice called Quay Dental. That’s where we work for let’s say a part of the week and before Spotlight was formed we were both full-time on the practice. Looking at it, the practice gives us a lot of ideas for when we form our products for the Spotlight.
For example, what we saw was that a lot of our patients didn’t have a real alternative to teeth whitening other than the whitening that we provided in the practice, which is a little bit of an investment as it costs around 300 euros. So we decided to come up with a product that could be used over the counter, that it would be available in a pharmacy, through a retailer, that would give a good result, wouldn’t cause sensitivity and would be a little more affordable. And that’s how we came up with Spotlight Whitening.
I think we are quite diligent with our time, we spend time in the afternoon touching base with the Spotlight team and how they are getting on. I also think we are very focused

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Body Project balances for better in more ways than one

Gillian Hynes left the cooperate world to set up Body Project because she wanted to be in control of her own destiny. Here she tells Think Business how changing your lifestyle can change your life.

What drove you to set up Body Project?

As a personal trainer, I saw how my clients struggled to eat well with any real consistency. While they had their training right, breaking unhealthy eating patterns proved much more difficult for them. I set up Body Project to meet this problem. We provide personal training and healthy, chef-prepared meal plans under one roof, taking the stress and guesswork out of healthy eating and allowing people to make positive changes in the long-term. The programme is one of kind in Dublin and as far as I know in Ireland.

How important is a healthy mind and body to attaining business goals?

In my experience, it’s not so much that people fail to achieve work goals due to being unhealthy but rather they can find themselves having achieved a lot in their work life but at the expense of their health and fitness. We often have clients who come to us at the top of their game in terms of their career but feeling physically at a low. The great thing is that carving out time for themselves and getting fitter actually boosts the enjoyment of their work and gives them tonnes more energy to tackle their day to day.

“We often have clients who come to us at the top of their game in terms of their career but feeling physically at a low.”

How can we achieve a better balance?

First and foremost, it is vital to diarise exercise. If it’s not in the diary something else will always take precedence over an impromptu workout. I book myself in with my trainers at Body Project otherwise I’ll find myself tackling my to-do list and exercise won’t happen. Planning for healthy eating is also key. For instance, if you have a work dinner you simply balance the day by eating a lighter than usual breakfast and lunch. It’s important too to know that healthy eating doesn’t mean having to be ‘perfect’ all of the time.

Anyone setting up their own business has drive. I would say to people, find your niche, whether it’s Zumba or hill walking, find something you like to do. Having your own business is 24/7, you’re never really switched off from it. You have to have something that helps you switch off.

“It’s important too to know that healthy eating doesn’t mean having to be ‘perfect’ all of the time.”

How does the support Body Project provides help women in all aspects of their work/personal lives?

I think women generally can be very self-critical. I have seen so many women come through our doors with an outwardly great life and successful career and every reason to feel great but inwardly their confidence is at zero. Training doesn’t just make their muscles stronger; it makes them stronger mentally and more confident too. I am continually amazed at how life-changing adopting a healthier lifestyle can be.

“I have seen so many women come through our doors with an outwardly great life and successful career and every reason to feel great but inwardly their confidence is at zero.”

Energy levels are better, stress is reduced. We have women here who are going through a stressful period and it’s their lifeline. They come for weight loss but it changes their lives in much more profound ways. A lot of them don’t know how they will take time off to do the programme. What they realise when they do it is that business doesn’t ground to a halt. Wherever you work they will take as much as they can from you. You have to look after yourself. They get a better balance from doing our programme and realise life goes on. It’s good for them to get the balance back.

We had one particular client who came to us feeling very low in herself. She felt trapped in a well-paid but ultimately dissatisfying role and had neglected her personal life for years. Fast forward a few months later and she was bouncing in the studio door and smiling all of the time. Within the year she had a new job, a fiancé and was pregnant. I love that story; it encapsulates so much about what we do at Body Project and why we do it.

Gillian Hynes is the owner of Body Project, a fitness and lifestyle transformation business based in Dublin 2.

Interview by Olivia McGill.

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The best apps to help you be productive

Being productive means getting the important things done in the time that you have. Here’s the best apps to help you. 
We need all the help we can get to be productive in today’s world of instant communication and constant distractions. Being productive means getting the important things done in the time that you have. So let’s look at some apps that can help you stay on track and save some valuable time.
There are hundreds of productivity apps out there. If we are not careful, we can be unproductive trying out lots of different ones. Here, we present apps we have tried and tested to save you valuable time.
Most of these apps or software have a “fremium” version that provides basic functionality. This allows you test out the app before paying for more advanced features.
Google Keep
A great app for making lists or keeping ideas and notes. Effectively a digital post-it pad on your phone or laptop. Google Keep is an option on the share menu so it lets you save a clickable link to an article or website to read later, helping you manage your time and stay focused.
If This, Then That (IFTTT) can automate the routine jobs you do or possibly forget to do. It can connect between different apps or programmes based on a ‘recipe’ which is a simple list of instructions you create. An action or event in one app can trigger a task completion in the other. Here are some examples:

Mute your phone in meetings by automatically setting your Android phone to silent according to your Google Calendar appointments.
Track your work hours for a client by setting the location to automatically note your arrival and departure time in Google Calendar.

Try it out – the possibilities are endless and only limited by your own imagination.
This is collaboration tool

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Acres Machinery – thinking differently through design

Acres Machinery is an award-winning agri-machinery design and engineering company, based in Co. Roscommon. Here, CEO David Doran outlines some of the significant progress being made by this innovative agtech startup.
Recent developments
One of our latest developments is the Supercrop 1 crop conditioner. It’s a machine designed to reduce both the time and costs involved in the wilting of silage and hay and targeted at both silage contractors and large-scale farmers. Wilting grass reduces the moisture content of the crop in the field and plays a vital role in the process of quality silage and hay preservation, prior to it being baled or placed in the silage pit. The machine is now for sale worldwide across sixty countries in cooperation with leading Italian agri machinery manufacturer Sitrex. Recently, we were also delighted to have been selected as an Enterprise Ireland-backed HPSU company.
How does the machine work in practice?
Supercrop 1’s innovative design eliminates the need for three separate machines – the rake, conditioner and tedder, combining all three functions into a single machine. This design combination brings greater efficiencies such as the ability to simultaneously rake and condition altogether, in one go. This is quite a compelling proposition and means that you get better-quality forage, higher dry matter digestibility, better formed bales, eliminating at least one field pass, along with the ability to get your crop off the ground a day earlier.
“Supercrop 1’s innovative design eliminates the need for three separate machines – the rake, conditioner and tedder, combining all three functions into a single machine.”
What problems do you solve for the contractor?
The silage contractor gets paid per bale or per acre and looks to get in and out of the field as quickly and efficiently as possible. Most contractors don’t get paid for raking, which they carry out for their own

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Donegal farmer doubles output since Brexit annouced

Keith Roulston has seen lots of changes to the dairy farming industry in his almost 40 years in business in Donegal. His farm now has 460 cows and he doesn’t see Brexit disrupting his operation.

Do you want to tell me about the history of this farm?

This farm started off with no cows after I came back here from Gurteen College. Prior to the early 1970s we used to milk cows but then we lost a herd of almost 80 cows here in 1976, which I remember well. After that, my father never milked a cow because it had such a damaging effect on him. I came back from Gurteen in 1981 and I bought 30 cows in Dungannon and we went from there and it has taken us to where we are today.

How big an impact do you see Brexit having on you?

For me personally, I’m not one bit bothered by Brexit. Of course the UK is a big market for butter and cheese, but our milk is internationally traded and we’re most interested in what happens in the GDT auction in New Zealand because that is what sets our price. Our milk goes to Lakeland Dairies in Co Cavan and they are trading with counties in North Africa, Asia and Central America, so the UK market isn’t going to be make or break for us. It may cause some inconvenience but I’m not worried in the slightest. The price of milk is going to rise this year. Brexit is a storm in a teacup and it will blow over. It’s just a case of getting the right measures in place that will work.

“Brexit is a storm in a teacup and it will blow over. It’s just a case of getting the right measures in place that will work.”

It will have a bigger impact on the beef trade because there is so much beef leaving here and going straight onto supermarket shelves in the UK. If things with Brexit go wrong, companies in the UK could decide to import from countries like Brazil or Argentina, but it depends mostly on the general public. If they demand for a food supply that is safe and trusted, well then they will continue to buy from here. But if it comes down to price, they may look elsewhere.

Have you had to make any changes to your operation since Brexit was announced?

None at all. We have just carried on as normal. Since 2016, we’ve doubled our output. At the end of our quota in 2015, it was about 1.5 million litres per year, and at the end of December 2018, we put out 3.3 million litres in the previous 12 months, so we’ve actually doubled our production in the time since Brexit was announced.

“No matter how difficult things might seem, especially now with the potential challenges with Brexit, there will always be light at the end of the tunnel.”

Have you spoken to any beef farmers and are they concerned?

Their only concern seems to be that people are trying to scare them by constantly giving them the worst case scenario, but until it goes through no one knows what the implications will be. At the moment, the beef trade is a bit of a disaster and that’s without Brexit. You can barely give cattle away at present, never mind actually selling them. There’s no money in beef at the moment.

For young farmers starting out, are there opportunities for them?

I think there are plenty of opportunities for young farmers today. If you’re willing to work and you have the right focus, then there will always be an opportunity. If I had adopted the ‘wait-and-see’ approach 35 years ago, I’d be sitting here growing old doing nothing. No matter how difficult things might seem, especially now with the potential challenges with Brexit, there will always be light at the end of the tunnel. In the dairy business, it’s continuous investment that is required, and take that from me because I’ve been doing it a very long time.

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Which Irish business sectors will be most impacted by Brexit?

Pierce Butler, head of sectors for business banking at Bank of Ireland, outlines the potential impact across different sectors. 

Irish manufacturers have enjoyed more than five years of continuous growth, but they’re now looking at how they can overcome the challenges that Brexit might pose.

They’re looking at their supply chains and routes to market: their supplier’s suppliers, and their customer’s customers, how they will be impacted by Brexit, and how they can plan or react accordingly.

The food, farming and beverages sector is likely to be one of the most affected by Brexit. If we look at beef farmers, 50% of exports go to the UK. That’s a very high exposure, and it’s going to be a significant challenge for the sector. Beef farmers are very resilient however, and have overcome challenges and volatility in recent years.

In the dairy sector, there is a wider diversification of markets. 25% of exports go to the UK, and it’s an area where there has been strong growth, driven primarily by strong global demand for dairy produce.

Here, there are opportunities for Irish companies to displace UK suppliers that sell into Ireland. There are going to be challenges where perishable exports are concerned, however.

To mitigate against this, we’ve seen a number of companies invest in frozen storage, or reconfigure their production processes, how and where they produce their products. Other businesses are trying to ensure they will have refrigerated logistics to try and counter any impact of disruption that might arise.

Retail is another sector where business will need to understand their supply chain. Where are their products coming from, and how could there be a disruption as a result of Brexit.

Equally, there may be an opportunity to displace UK retailers, who may have more products coming from or through the UK. So that might give Irish retailers the impetus to target that market.

At Bank of Ireland, we’re here to help and support our customers. There are a number of ways we can do this. If you log on to our new Brexit Hub, you’ll find we have a range of supports available.

But also talk to your Relationship Manager who will be delighted to help. We have a team of 120 mobile Relationship Managers who are out talking to customers at their place of business every day.

By Pierce Butler.

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