From significant sales milestones to multimillion-euro deals and important legal victories, the first seven winners of this year’s Irish Times Business Person of the Month Awards are among the country’s most accomplished business leaders.
The monthly award, in association with KPMG, was created to mark excellence and outstanding achievement in the field, and is open to business people at home and abroad as well as international executives leading major companies in the Republic.
Here we profile the winners for the first seven months.
Róisín Hennerty – Ornua
The first award in April 2019 went to the managing director of Ornua’s global foods division Róisín Hennerty, as the Kerrygold brand under her control became the first Irish food brand to exceed €1 billion in annual sales.
Hennerty is credited with getting it off the ground in the US market having targeted the premium food brand segment in high-end retailers. Grass-fed, hormone-free and entirely natural, it tapped the growing demand for whole foods, something other than high-intensity farming. And she pitched it at the foodie market in California rather than more traditional Irish targets on the east coast.
Hennerty originally joined Ornua Co-operative in Dublin before moving to the US where she was responsible for the strategic marketing and launch of Kerrygold and Dubliner Cheese. Now, she oversees a portfolio of brands sold in more than 100 countries.
Hennerty, who holds a higher diploma in international trade, will be well placed to see the company through troubles on that front with a small selection of Irish produce a target of US president Donald Trump via tariffs.
And having already seen brands under her control grow substantially – in Germany, for example, a standard 250g block of Kerrygold was the fastest-selling food or drink item on supermarket shelves last year – doubtless that success can be replicated again.
Donal Murphy – DCC
DCC chief executive Donal Murphy won the award in May 2019 after the diversified energy and services group continued its winning streak by posting the company's 25th year of dividend growth since it joined the stock market in 1994.
The company, one of just a handful of Irish businesses ever to have made it on the blue-chip FTSE 100 index, posted a 20 per cent rise in operating profits to £460 million while Murphy also outlined its ambitions to expand in the LPG (liquid petroleum gas) fuel markets in the US.
DCC is a highly acquisitive Irish company and has the capacity to spend up to €1 billion on buyouts.
Murphy is a company stalwart who joined in 1998 and has held the chief executive role since July 2017. He has maintained the group’s upward trajectory and has grown the energy business from a small, relatively localised operation to an international business with units in 10 countries.
Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, Murphy has been able to point to DCC’s diverse and “resilient business model, leading market positions and an extremely strong balance sheet” as the group navigates its way out of the crisis.
Kevin Lagan – FastHouse
Belfast-born construction magnate Kevin Lagan picked up the award for June 2019 after one of his newer ventures – FastHouse – agreed a series of deals that demonstrated the clout the company was starting to yield in the construction sector.
In the month for which he won the award, FastHouse built up a sales pipeline of more than €22 million having only been founded in 2015 as a specialist in rapid-build homes. Among its largest projects to date was the completion of 466 houses at the Center Parcs Ireland development in Longford.
The group manufactures its products at a 200,000sq ft, multimillion-pound production facility in Limavady in Northern Ireland.
While FastHouse is far from Lagan's first success – he sold Lagan Group for €526 million in April 2018 – his work in housebuilding appears to be paying off. In addition to FastHouse, he controls Lagan Homes NI and Lagan Homes England.
But FastHouse is well placed to build its pipeline as the Government works to increase the Republic’s social and affordable housing stock, particularly given that the company’s factory can produce at least five houses a day.
Ger Rabbette – Uniphar
In July 2019, pharmaceutical distribution industry veteran Ger Rabbette was chosen as the award winner after his long-term turnaround of Uniphar bore fruit.
Rabbette helped the business raise €135 million in an initial public offering during the month.
It wasn't an easy journey. After being hired in 2010 to help turn around the company, Rabbette had a lot of trouble to contend with at the then-struggling drugs wholesaler and pharmacy chain owner. At the time, the industry was rattled by the economic downturn and a series of price cuts by the Health Service Executive for the dispensing of drugs, while Uniphar was trying to recover from a €98 million writedown in 2008 on the value of scores of pharmacies.
Formed in 1994 through the merger of United Pharmacists Co-op and Allied Pharmaceutical Distributor, the company diversified under Rabbette into higher-margin commercial services in 2014, a move that set the foundation for its IPO.
Rabbette, a chartered accountant by training, now has his sights set on more substantial growth, intending to double group earnings to almost €100 million by 2024.
Even with the Covid-19 pandemic, US brokerage Stifel thinks there’s plenty of good news to come, having initiated its coverage of the company with a price target of €3.10 on the stock, suggesting that it trades at a 12 per cent discount to other healthcare services businesses.
Brian O’Sullivan – Fulfil Nutrition
Brian O’Sullivan pick up the award for August after the company he runs, Fulfil Nutrition, signed a deal worth taking note of.
The long-time executive with confectionary industry giant Cadbury/Mondalez signed on American industry leader Hershey to take a significant, but unspecified, minority stake in the Fulfil business.
O’Sullivan joined the group in 2017 as chief executive and has overseen its continued growth since. Following its entry into the UK market, Fulfil found itself getting the attention of private-equity and industry groups and signed the Hershey deal in August last year to help it fund its aggressive expansion plans and open the door to the US, the world’s largest snacks market.
It was a surprise, then, when O’Sullivan announced that he would be stepping down as the group’s chief executive in October as he looks “to explore new opportunities”. But having racked up the success he has, there should be plenty to explore for the Cork businessman, especially given that the group, which reported revenue of more than €25 million in 2018, is understood to have been on track for consumer sales of close to €100 million for 2019.
Pat McCann – Dalata Hotel Group
Dalata Hotel Group chief executive Pat McCann won the monthly award for September 2019 after the company grew profits by almost a fifth and said that some of its properties would enjoy record revenues.
The country’s largest hotel chain increased its pretax profit to €42.2 million in the six-month period on revenues of €201.9 million, which were up 12 per cent year on year.
While there was nothing to suggest what was to come at that time, the business had unwittingly put itself in a strong position to deal with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Having successfully built out its portfolio in Ireland in recent years, Dalata is now increasing its presence in the UK, in line with its stated aim to build up to 8,000 hotel rooms there. It announced in September that it had acquired a site in Shoreditch, London, for €35 million that comes with planning approval for a new hotel. The site, which will operate under the Maldron brand, will have between 130 and 140 bedrooms and is expected to open in early 2022.
And while all has changed in the hotel sector, McCann is surely among the best-placed business leaders to help the group weather this slump.
Joanna Murphy – Taxback. com
Last October, Taxback.com chief executive Joanna Murphy was chosen for the award after the company won a landmark legal victory in Australia.
It was a significant win when the Australian court ruled that the country’s controversial backpacker tax cannot lawfully be applied to travellers from a number of foreign countries because of the wording of double-taxation agreements. The expectation is that the decision would mean a windfall of up to 2,730 Australian dollars (€1,680) per year for any young working visitors to Australia since 2016, including the estimated 75,000 travelling from Ireland every year.
The business itself was established in 1996 by Terry Clune, specialising in reclaiming tax for students who had worked abroad. It has since become a global provider of advice on tax refunds and compliance to both individuals and businesses and now has 27 offices across Europe, Australasia, the US and South America.
Having taken over at the helm of Taxback.com in July 2019, Murphy will be aiming to drive growth through technology with eight of the top 10 universities in the US using the group’s system to ensure their students are tax compliant.
And while the company is quiet on numbers, Murphy noted last year that it was growing, hiring more people and scaling up at an accelerated rate on the back of technology it has developed.