Breege O’Donoghue named ‘Irish Times’ Top 1000 distinguished leader in business

Ms O’Donoghue of Primark/Penneys, is one of the most powerful people in Irish retailing

Breege O'Donoghue, executive director of Primark/Penneys, which employs more than 5,000 people in the Republic, has been named 'Irish Times' Top 1000 distinguished leader in business.

One of the most powerful people in Irish retailing, Ms O'Donohoe was part of the vaunted "Gang of Four" led by the legendary Arthur Ryan, who over several decades transformed the company into one of the fastest-growing and most successful volume retailers in Europe.

Raised on a farm in Boston, near Tubber Co. Clare, Ms O’Donoghue got her first job with the Great Southern Hotel in Galway in 1963. In 1979, she was approached by Arthur Ryan to set up a HR department for the fast-growing retailer.

She was later appointed board member and group director for business development and new markets, where she oversaw the retail giant’s entry into new markets.


Having joined the company 40 years ago, Ms O’Donoghue continues in an ambassadorial role for the brand.

In addition to her work at Primark, the businesswoman has held board positions with State companies including An Post and Aer Rianta and was Chairwoman of the Labour Relations Commission for seven years. She is currently chair of the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland.

Ms O'Donoghue has won a number of awards for her achievements over the years, including the Chevalier (Knight) of the Ordre National de la Legion d'Honneur, which was presented to her in 2016 by then French president Francois Hollande.

“In whatever role one plays in leadership, be true to oneself, show courage, independence, initiative, appreciate the need to recognise, respect and value difference, blend passion, persistence and tenacity,” Ms O’Donoghue told attendees at the Irish Times Business awards ceremony.

“Know right from wrong, be ethically aware. Be satisfied only with the very best, do not be clothed in power and status, but generous in heart, mind and spirit, and yes, it is encouragement and love that inspire people to succeed and be happy the world over,” she added.

Other awards being distributed at the Irish Times ceremony on Wednesday include business person of the year, chief financial officer of the year, deal of the year, and company of the year.