Business Tips From Kate O’Donnell

Kate O’Donnell left her career in INTERIOR DESIGN to start a family business with her brother, she tells us about the idea behind O’DONNELLS CRISPS, launching during the recession and the SUCCESS OF THE BUSINESS so far …


Who or what has had a formative influence on your career?

My brother Ed was only twenty-five years old when he told me he wanted to make artisan crisps from the potatoes grown on the farm in Tipperary. Like the rest of my family I thought he was mad but he was so passionate about it that I became fully convinced and worked with him developing the O’Donnells brand from the very early stages.

Ed is a very ambitious, forward thinking, inspiring entrepreneur. Although I have quite a creative background, having worked as an interior designer for many years, I am naturally a cautious person when it comes to business decisions so I guess it’s a good balance when we put our heads together.

What are some of the achievements of which you are most proud?

We launched O’Donnells Crisps at the height of the recession in Ireland in 2010 which was a big gamble because it was such a premium product. Since then we have never looked back and the brand has been the Number One best-selling hand cooked crisps in Ireland every year.

In 2014 we made the whole range gluten free and were certified by The Coeliac Society of Ireland. One in 100 people in Ireland have coeliac disease.

When we were sourcing different flavours we were one of the first to source local food producers which was so important to us particularly during the recession when farmers markets became popular again. Our most recent big collaboration was this year when we created Ballymaloe relish & cheddar cheese flavour crisps which are already one of our most popular flavours.

What have you learned about the (changing) rules of business over the last few decades?

As digital grows, brands are always accessible for consumers so as a business you have to be always on and ready to respond to these consumers. People want and expect more so you cannot rest on any laurels, we are constantly striving to improve and investing in our brand to keep engagement levels high.

Describe a typical day – when it starts/finishes etc?

Up at 6.30/7am: Have breakfast with my husband and two children (aged 5 and 2).

8.30am: Visit the farm to check the animals and collect the post.

9am: Drop my daughter to school and my son with his child minder

9.30am: In my office.

2pm: Collect my daughter from school, have lunch together, do homework, bring the two kids to the farm, or playground. We’ve just got a new pony for my daughter so I love to go riding up the mountain with her at the weekends.

4pm: Head to the office again

6pm: Finish work. Make dinner for the children

7pm: My husband arrives home from work, we put the kids to bed and have dinner and a glass of wine together.

8pm: I usually do an hour of office work or laundry depending on the day.

10pm: I try to get to bed by 10pm most nights.

Are there any how-to manuals or books which you recommend?

I am a big fan of Richard Branson. His book Losing My Virginity is about how he survived, had fun, and made a fortune doing business his way. I think he is a dynamic, hardworking, successful entrepreneur who lives life to the fullest. Family, friends, fun, and adventure are equally important as business in Branson’s life. Like every other working mum, I am juggling a lot of things everyday but work/life balance is so important.

What are the key staples of your business/working wardrobe?

For meetings or work events I love silk, long sleeve tops with skinny jeans or black ankle length pants with heels. My style is very classic, I’m not afraid of colour but I do have a collection of little black dresses which are essential to my wardrobe. I am very lucky to have a black Mulberry Bayswater embossed croc bag which I throw everything into and always looks well no matter how much abuse it gets! YSL Rouge lipstick is always with me along with Carmex lip balm for dry lips on cold days.

If I am working in the office then it is always skinny jeans, by J Brand or Rag & Bone, with ankle boots or pumps, a T-shirt or shirt and a wool sweater in the winter. I’m a huge fan of short jackets and blazers with a scarf, I think they smarten any outfit for any event.

If I am on the farm then I would be lost without by trustee Hunter Field wellies.

What would your advice be to others hoping to have a corporate career?

You must be willing to work hard but most importantly be passionate about what you do and it won’t feel like “work”. I am very lucky that I love my job.

Penny McCormick

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