First encounters: Tanya Airey and Hilarie Geary
‘We’ve probably morphed into each other’
Tanya Airey and Hilarie Geary. Photograph: Dave Meehan
Tanya Airey is managing director of Sunway Holidays, a company started by her grandfather. The majority shareholder since 1998, in 2008 she was ‘Image’ Businesswoman of the Year. She lives in Sandycove, Co Dublin, with her husband Philip and children Jamie (21), Lauren (19) and
We met at a a wine and cheese party in Castle Park school in 2000. We both live on the same road in Sandycove – there are only about 20 houses between us. We were both new parents in the school and were just going on a school night to meet other parents. There were very few working mothers there; both of us had such a lot in common that in that first hour we were going: “Oh yes, I do too.” We clicked straight away.
We both have a similar sense of humour, although I think Hilarie’s is a bit more wicked. When we’re in a situation and we’re with other people, we tend to think the same thing – we might have quick look at each other across the table, pick up on exactly the same things.
When I finished school I went to work in Sunway Travel. It’s a family business, established by my grandfather and later taken over by my aunt, Madeline Kilbride. My eldest child, Jamie, was born on December 18th, 1992; the following day our first chartered flight flew to Morocco – that was the beginning of Sunway being a tour operator as well as a travel agency. It was pretty stressful: my waters broke in work and I went straight to Holles Street. I took about three weeks maternity leave.
Our husbands, our families, are friends too: every year since we met, we’ve gone on at least one joint family holiday. Both families are really active; we go on sun/sail holidays, go to Greece or Turkey.
Hilarie and I would ask each other for advice regularly. In practical terms, we help each other with school runs or whatever . . . we’re not afraid to pick up the phone and ask for help. I had a nanny that became Hilarie’s nanny. We understand each other because we’re both in the same boat. Sometimes your picture becomes a bit blurred and by just chatting about it, or someone else understanding it, or having gone through it, you see that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Somebody understanding at that basic level makes it a deep friendship.
We both have the same values; family is very important to us. We both spend a lot of time with our parents. And Friday night and the weekend is for family.
We both have cross-trainers at home. One of us will call and say: “I’m on the cross-trainer, are you on yours? My brother-in-law says: ‘God, you’re like Ab Fab’.”
We’ve never thought about going into business together; it could ruin a very good friendship. We’re both the boss so that would be very difficult.