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The Venue

15 November 2019

Breege O’Donoghue Awarded 2019 RDS Gold Medal

  • Former Penneys Director first retail winner of annual RDS award
  • Important early role model for Irish women in business
  • Has contributed back to Ireland beyond Primark success

Breege O’Donoghue was today (15.11.19) awarded the 2019 RDS Gold Medal for Enterprise; a key player behind the global success of retail giant Primark / Penneys, which now has 375 stores across Europe and the US and employs 75,000 people. Appointed to the board of the company in 1988, nine years after initially joining to set up the HR department, Breege became group director for business development and new markets, with her drive and ambition for Primark central to its successful expansions. In receiving the Award she joins a roll-call of previous winners which includes Peter Sutherland, Craig Barrett, Willie Walsh, Moya Doherty, Martin Naughton, Pearse Lyons and Gary McGann.

When Breege joined in 1979 Penneys already had 24 stores and was beginning to expand into the British market. During her time with Primark the fashion retailer expanded into an additional nine international markets, including the US, Germany, Spain and France. Earlier this month, revenues of £7.79 billion were announced for Primark, along with a profit increase of 8 per cent to £913 million. This comes on foot of an additional 14 stores being added to its portfolio across the UK and continental Europe in its last financial year.

At a time when female leaders in Irish business were in short supply, Breege was a pioneer, inspiring many other Irish women to succeed not just in retail but in many other industries. Breege continues to inspire through a number of initiatives that she is involved in, including being Lead Entrepreneur for groups of women as part of the ‘Going for Growth’ initiative sponsored by Enterprise Ireland and KPMG.

She is particularly giving of her time and expertise, having held board positions with State companies including An Post and Aer Rianta, and was Chair of the Labour Relations Commission and Chair of Shannon College of Hotel Management. She is currently Chair of the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, of Real World Analytics and of the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group that was recently established by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

After the awards lunch in the RDS Concert Hall Breege was joined on stage by business journalist Richard Curran for a conversation about her entrepreneurial career.

Speaking on stage at the RDS Concert Hall, the former Primark board member said “I am deeply honoured to receive this RDS Gold Medal affirmation from an institution whose ambition, delivery and longevity has navigated three-centuries, while remaining relevant, purposeful and with the capacity to retain the affection and respect of the people of Ireland. At its core, business purpose is simply about people – customers, colleagues and the communities in which we operate. I strive to embrace this and truly believe this is what drives sustainable economic development.”


Speaking about the importance of ethics and values in business, Breege said: “Ethics is not only for philosophers, but for business too and indeed every field of endeavour, ethics and values are words that tend to be used rather vaguely and have a number of different meanings. Ethics is not only about long words and dilemmas, ethics is about people. Values influence our actions and attitudes and rightly has a growing and more explicit present in business.

Speaking at the lunch to celebrate the Award to Breege, Michael Duffy, Chief Executive of the RDS said: The RDS Gold Medal for Enterprise builds upon the founding aims of the RDS which is to actively promote excellence in key areas of Irish life. The recipient must have shown outstanding professional and leadership skills and have an outstanding track record in business achievement which has contributed to employment and economic development in Ireland. Breege O’Donoghue has displayed all of these qualities in abundance during her career and we are delighted to recognise her successes in this way.”

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