First encounters: Tanya Airey and Hilarie Geary

‘We’ve probably morphed into each other’

 Tanya Airey and Hilarie Geary. Photograph: Dave Meehan

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
Max (14)

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.

Hilarie Geary is managing director of banking/finance recruitment company Executive Connections, which she founded in 1991 at 25. She was named Young Businesswoman of the Year in 1998. She lives in Sandycove, Co Dublin, with her husband Philip Byrne and children Seán (18), Harry (17) and Charlie (13)

Tanya and I met at a party, forced together in a crowded room. I was wearing a fake fur coat and Tanya’s handbag matched it – that’s how we got chatting. We’re really lucky we found each other. We don’t live in each other’s ear but we’d communicate probably every alternate day, would send a small text to say: how are you doing?

We understand each other’s difficulties, be it a work difficulty or something else. I would trust Tina [Tanya’s nickname] implicitly. We take work seriously but love living – both of us get giddy quite quickly. We go for a lot of walks together, and fight for airspace to address elements of our day; we’d ask each other: “What would you do in this situation?” It’s not that we necessarily figure it out but it’s lovely to have a shoulder to lean on.

We’re both very ambitious and very competitive, although we pretend to each other that we’re not. We’re both very opinionated, we’re always trying to persuade each other of our opinion, about everything. We’d be tough to a level, being businesswomen; there might be an element of both of us that we definitely need to soften. And Tina would soften me up in areas; be it family, personal, work.

I established my business in 1991, and Seán, my eldest, was born in 1995. I took five weeks maternity leave; there was no choice – the business was four years old. Tina and I are both believers in hard work, that you get what you put into it.

I think we’ve probably morphed into each other at some level. We do look a bit alike. We went out shopping one Saturday recently and the lady said: “Are you girls sisters?” I said: “Oh yeah, and I’m the youngest.”

We talk to each other about what to wear. I’ll ask, does this look horrible on me? Tina might say: “Yes, that backless dress does not look good on you.” She won’t let me go out looking bad . . . that’s a friend.

We’re both big into sport; into Pilates, golf, tennis, do a lot of cycling.

Our husbands are really good friends and our children connect too: Charlie and Max are really good buddies.

And Lauren and Seán would often share a taxi. Our two families can have a Sunday lunch and the kids are delighted to sit around with us.

Tina and I annoy each other sometimes, we’ve probably had a cross word, we’re together so much.

But we would never fall out, we’d miss each other too much . . . I don’t think I would be without T, ever.

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