Getting the top job during a pandemic comes with its own set of challenges; but leading a company out of the recent crisis also has its advantages, as the only way may be up. We take a look at some of the new names who’ll be aiming to do just that at Ireland’s top companies over the coming year.
Chief executive designate
He won’t take on the mantle of the top job until later this year, when the incumbent Pat McCann steps down after five decades in the industry, but Dermot Crowley will likely nonetheless have a challenging debut as he tries to bring hotel operator Dalata back to growth.
The Dublin listed company was hit hard by the pandemic, with revenues falling by 68 per cent in 2020, leading to a €111.5 million pretax loss. However, the operator of the Clayton and Maldron chains expects domestic tourism to support the industry this summer, with international travellers hopefully returning towards the end of the year, and into 2022.
Mr Crowley is more than familiar with both the business and his predecessor, having been appointed deputy chief executive, business development and finance of Dalata in 2012, after previously working with Mr McCann at Jurys Doyle Hotel Group.
He has helped oversee the expansion of the group across the UK and Ireland, playing a key role in its 2014 flotation and the acquisition of the Moran Bewley Hotel Group in 2015.
He previously worked as head of development with Jurys Doyle and as a financial controller within Forte Hotels, and has held roles with PwC, Procter & Gamble, Renault and Ion Equity.
Chief executive and chairman
Having joined British Airways in 1992, Lynne Embleton is an airline industry lifer, most recently working as chief executive and chairman of IAG Cargo, a position she held for four years during which time she expanded the organisation's digital capability and strengthened customer focus. Prior to that she held senior roles in British Airways, including managing director of Gatwick and director of strategy.
Ms Embleton joined the former Irish flag carrier in April 2021, in a slight case of musical chairs at the airline group; she fills a role vacated by Seán Doyle, who left to take the top job at British Airways, also part of IAG, in October last year.
The first female chief at the airline, Ms Embleton will face a challenging launch to her time at Aer Lingus, with the industry decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Revenues at Aer Lingus slumped by 78 per cent in 2020 while it recorded an operating loss of €563 million.
With passenger numbers still at low levels, the airline will be hoping the sector will take off over the summer, as vaccine passports come into play, or, as Ms Embleton warned employees in April, further cuts could be on the way.
Country manager Ireland
A strategic transformation of drinks manufacturer Coca-Cola has given Italian Agnese Filipi a chance to make her mark in Ireland.
The global brand has been looking at ways to emerge stronger from the pandemic and accelerate growth in its operations, by creating a more networked organization. This new approach means organising the business around operating units, and the new Europe unit brings together the former western Europe and central and eastern Europe organisations. Combined, it includes over 40 countries, stretching from Ireland to Russia, under the leadership of President Nikos Koumettis.
As part of this change in approach, Ms Filippi has been appointed to the role of general manager of Coca-Cola Ireland, replacing Petre Sandru, who is moving on to Coca-Cola’s business in China. In her new role Ms Filippi, who joined the business from Coca-Cola Italy and Albania, will be responsible for positioning the organisation to win in the marketplace and ensuring continued delivery of the company’s long-term growth and success in Ireland. Ms Filipi previously held senior roles at Nutella maker Ferrero.
After more than 20 years with one of the country’s largest law practices, Owen O’Sullivan was appointed managing partner in November 2020, assuming the role from Bryan Bourke, who returned to the firm’s corporate/M&A practice.
Mr O’Sulllivan first joined the firm, which has about 460 employees and five offices across Ireland, the UK and US, as a partner in 1999, having trained prior to that with McCann Fitzgerald.
He has advised on many high profile disputes and has extensive product liability defence experience in the pharmaceutical, energy, drink, motor and tobacco sectors, and was described in the Legal 500 as a “great litigation tactician”.
Football Association of Ireland
Rebuilding the embattled soccer association’s reputation will be key for Jonathan Hill in his new role as chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland (FAI).
Mr Hill comes to the governing body of football in Ireland with a wealth of football and leadership experience, having previously worked as group commercial director with the English Football Association, as commercial director of Wembley National Stadium and commercial director for Euro ‘96.
Fans and players alike will be hoping Mr Hill’s appointment marks a turning point for the organisation, after a tumultuous number of years which saw his predecessor John Delaney leave amidst an investigation into the FAI’s finances.
The association is facing financial struggles on a number of fronts, having agreed a more than €30 million rescue package with the Government and Bank of Ireland in January 2020 to save it from potential liquidation.
Covid restrictions resulting in zero ticket sales for much of 2020/2021, as well as a further blow in the decision not to allow any Euro 2020 games go ahead in Ireland in June, may not have helped on this front.
And an underperforming national side won’t make rectifying the association’s finances any easier either.
After 32 years with Heineken, having started his career with the sales and marketing team in Ireland, before working in the Netherlands and then Poland.
Mr Forde joined drinks group C&C as chief executive in November 2020.
He assumed the role from C&C’s chairman Stewart Gilliland, who became interim executive chairman when long-standing chief executive Stephen Glancey stepped down in January 2020.
A graduate of NUI Galway, Mr Forde led Heineken’s operations in the UK before joining Bulmers maker C&C.
The group, which also counts Magners, Tennent’s and Woodchuck among its portfolio of brands, found its business severely restricted over the past year due to the closure of hospitality due to Covid-19 restrictions, but fared better in the off-trade market. However, the drinks group more recently said it is “increasingly optimistic” about its 2022 financial year, as the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccination programme continues leading to an easing of on-trade restrictions across the UK and Ireland.
The group predicted its business model along with reduced operating costs would support a stronger return to trading cash flows and profitability once restrictions ease and the hospitality industry reopens.
MSD Ireland Human Health and head of MSD Ireland country leadership team MSD
Monaghan native Mairéad McCaul was promoted to head of the pharma group’s country leadership team in November last year, succeeding Ger Brennan, who has moved onto a role with Organon.
Ms McCaul, who is managing director of MSD’s human health business in Ireland, has taken overall responsibility for the American pharma group’s Irish operations.
MSD has a long association with Ireland; it first established here over 50 years ago, and now employs over 2,700 people across five sites in Ballydine, Co Tipperary, Brinny, Co Cork, Carlow, Meath and Dublin, manufacturing about half of the company’s top twenty products.
A trained nurse and midwife, Ms McCaul joined MSD, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies in 2007, subsequently progressing through a sequence of roles of increasing responsibility in sales management, marketing and commercial operations.