Breege O’Donoghue On Championing Irish Design And Her 37 Year Career At Primark

CHAMPIONING IRISH DESIGN as Chair of the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, O’Donoghue, 73, sits on four other boards and is a former board member of PRIMARK and continues to serve in an AMBASSADORIAL ROLE


MY CURRENT ROLE: I have an excellent, experienced twelve-member board, and a highly-committed chief executive, Karen Hennessy. We are the national agency for the commercial development of Irish designers and makers, stimulating innovation, championing design thinking and informing government policy. Driving demand for Irish design and craft by strategically supporting and investing in export, online, and domestic markets, as well as research and innovation, knowledge and skills, promotion and
advocacy for the sector, are all a part of our remit.

IRISH DESIGN: Joseph Walsh’s furniture is absolutely outstanding. Angela O’Kelly’s jewellery is the leading edge of Irish design. I believe we have a wonderful showcase for Irish glass, which we need to develop to its potential. Louise Kennedy’s designs are classic, beautifully made in gorgeous fabrics. I am so proud of the many fashion designers
who enhance our reputation across the globe from Sybil Connolly to John Rocha and Lainey Keogh. I visited Empreintes – le concept store des métiers d’art – in Paris and Ireland could stand tall among the exhibits there. I support a new generation of Irish designers; Richard Malone, Una Burke and Derek Lawlor.

GETTING AHEAD: Ambition is important; you have to understand the journey, be prepared to contribute, take risks and hire smart people. Be true to yourself. Show courage, independence and initiative. Be ethically aware and make sustainability a priority. Be generous in heart and mind and spirit. It is encouragement and love that inspires people to succeed.

ON EDUCATION: I just took my exam in Corporate Directorship, was a BComm night student at UCD many years ago, and enjoyed short programmes of study, for example, at Cornell and Harvard. I learned a number of foreign languages as I felt it showed respect and dignity when working in new markets internationally.

GOOD LEADERSHIP: Is about supporting, coaching and developing people as well as working with all stakeholders; being innovative and developing new product. Above all, have simple strategies and a sustainable business.

ROLE MODELS: Lots of people have shaped my thinking. The Northern Irish independent non-party candidate, Irene Calvert, also an economist with Ulster Weaving Company, was ahead of her time. Then there are many others including the Weston family, Paul Marchant, CEO of Primark and Arthur Ryan, Chairman of Primark.

MY FREE TIME: I go to the gym, I cycle, I do hot yoga, I read all the business journals and I fast for seven days at a health clinic at least once a year. This summer I went on a short cruise with friends and later I will go skiing.

ON READING: It keeps me stimulated. Recently I have read and recommend; Pat Leahy’s The Price of Power, Roisin Fitzpatrick’s Taking Heaven Lightly, and Dissent into Treason; Unitarians, Kingkillers and the Society of United Irishmen – Fergus Whelan’s book which relates the untold roots of Irish Republicanism.

MY WARDROBE: I wear Primark a lot – what you see and what you don’t – and am proud to do so. Primark is up-to-the-minute with fashion, trends and value for money. All merchandise is made with respect for workers rights and the environment.

ON AWARDS: The Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur from President Hollande was particularly significant. UCD School of Business Alumnus Award, Honorary Doctorate from DIT and the World Economic Forum award presented in Delhi were also special. In accepting these awards and others, I did so on behalf of all the people who shared my delightful Primark journey over 37 years.

As told to Penny McCormick

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