At the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards on Thursday night, Supermac’s founder Pat McDonagh struck a sombre tone.
After he picked up the gong for Industry Entrepreneur of the Year, the fast-food business sage was quick to share his economic forecasts with Cantillon.
“We’re faced with a little tightening of the belt coming forward,” he proffered, adding his hope that “it won’t be too serious”.
What McDonagh is seeing ought to be a cause for concern for his fellow business leaders. Across Supermac's, his Só Hotel group and his Plaza Group, the entrepreneur is at the front line of discretionary spending.
Admittedly, fast-food and its lower price points won’t be the first hit in a downturn, but McDonagh will see trends earlier than others at his Plaza Group – the success of which is clearly linked to general economic conditions given its reliance on motorists traversing the country’s motorways.
Business leaders at the event also heard from Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe that the State just this week reached another milestone with more than 2.3 million people at work for the first time ever. The suggestion here, of course, is that our economy has never been stronger.
Indeed, that suggestion is mostly borne out by official data. But official data tends to lag the picture on the ground. And as we know, past performance isn’t an indicator of future success.
McDonagh’s advice is that downturns can be dealt with as long as people realise they’re coming along. “You can prepare for it before it becomes a problem,” he told Cantillon.
The more prudent among us would do well to pay heed to that advice. Particularly given that McDonagh himself is planning on improving his company’s sales in the next five years by as much as he did in the past 10.