‘The worst piece of advice was don’t do it. Which I ignored’

EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Pat McDonagh of Supermac’s Ltd

Pat McDonagh, founder of Supermac’s Ltd: “No matter how difficult it gets, keep going. Always keep the end goal in mind.”

When Pat McDonagh purchased a property on Ballinasloe’s main street, the plan he submitted to authorities was turned down, forcing him to set about looking to establish an alternative business. This turned out to be Supermac’s, now one of the State’s leading fast-food restaurant chains.

Since the first restaurant opened in 1978, McDonagh has grown the group to 166 outlets, employing more than 4,000 people and helping to establish 60 self-employed franchisees.

Business hasn't always been easy for the former school teacher, and McDonagh recently had to fight a trademark battle with international rival McDonald's. It won the case in January, requiring its rival to relinquish its "Big Mac" trademark in Europe, McDonald's has, however, appealed that decision and so the battle rumbles on.

Separately, McDonagh and his wife Una have been building a new hotel group called Só, which comprises six hotels, including the Castletroy Park Hotel in Limerick and the Athlone Springs Hotel.


In addition, they own the Plaza group, which comprises six motorway and national route service stations across the State. For a man who originally sought to build a pool hall in Ballinasloe, the fact it didn't work out appears to have been a blessing in disguise.

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

While every business is striving to improve on a continuous basis, what has helped make Supermac’s unique is the quality and service, and indeed the Irishness of both of those.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

My greatest achievement is seeing the business grow year on year despite recession or upturn and seeing our people grow in the business.

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?

Opening in Dublin in 1992 and being able to compete with the international brands.

What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

The best advice came from many different sources and it is hard to single out one. I suppose good advice includes staying positive, hiring a good solicitor and accountant, never giving up and hiring the right people. The worst piece of advice was “don’t do it”, which I ignored.

How will your market look in three years and where would you like your business to be?

Very different. All businesses will have to adjust to labour scarcity and costs, so it will become more automated, there’ll be more self-ordering, and more fresh product.

What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make and what is an important piece of advice you would offer to a less-experienced entrepreneur?

No matter how difficult it gets, keep going. Always keep the end goal in mind and always ask for advice from more experienced people.

What is the one piece of advice you would give

Government to stimulate the economy?

Get rid of all the red tape and allow more working visas.

What motivates you to keep performing at your best?

The will to succeed, a burning desire to achieve, and the self-satisfaction that one gets having achieved something.

Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your sector/industry?

Over the past few years, the economy has been doing well and consequently business is on the upturn. However, with the increased cost of living and accommodation there is less disposable income available this year.

What are you doing to disrupt, innovate and improve the products or services you offer?

We are being innovative in the products we sell – the marketing, advertising and PR we use to cut through the jungle and connect with the customer.

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business