Parenthood, losing money and falling from the top: Turning points in the lives of business leaders

Tools of the trade: The moments that changed the lives of Irish business leaders.

By Zuzia Whelan Reporter, Fora

STARTING A BUSINESS can be a life-changing event – or one of many. In the past 12 months, we’ve heard from business leaders in our Tools of the Trade series about the pitfalls and highs of going it alone. 

On the cusp of a new year – doubtless paved with good intentions – we’ve gathered together some of the biggest turning points in the lives of business leaders from the series. 

Becoming a parent ranks pretty high, while many also had to start from scratch after losing their previous jobs – or just decided to take a leap of faith in a different industry. 

Mark Ganly, CEO, N-PRO

One was becoming a parent – that changes your perspective on a lot of things. 

The second was when I left my previous employment (as a financial services software developer) and started up my own business back in 2008. I left the job in January 2008 – then the recession came, so it was a steep learning curve being self-employed back at that time. 

Bernard Brogan, founder, Legacy Communications and PepTalk

Starting life as an entrepreneur. I’m an accountant by trade and studied with Farrell Grant Sparks and did my time there until I was about 26. Then I took the plunge at around 27 to start Legacy, my first business. It was a great challenge.

With accountancy, there’s great career progression but I also had the ambition and the drive to do something myself. That was a big turning point, stepping out into the world and the unknown. 

Mark Walton, co-founder, VOYA skincare

We had a baby about a year and a half ago. It sounds soppy but it applies to business because it makes you focus on what’s important and what you need to be doing.

For too long my wife and I were doing everything and we didn’t need to be involved in everything. While it’s great having something like that thrown into your life, it makes you reevaluate what’s a priority. It forces you to delegate.

Ben Dunne, founder, Ben Dunne Gyms

Losing my job in Dunnes. I had to re-group. I was running one of the largest companies in Ireland and, due to my own weaknesses, I went from the top to, relatively speaking, very near the bottom. 

(I had) to either retire at a very early age or go into a new industry that I knew nothing about. I chose to take the challenge of going into the gym business and it turned out to be very successful – and rewarding mentally to build the business to where it is now. 

Gary Lavin, founder, VitHit

I sat down with an accountant years ago when we were losing money – in 2005 – and she basically said you need to get out and sell.

I got in my Jeep and I drove around the country and I think I sold into, I think it was, every Spar and Centra shop in the country.

That was a turning point for me. I understood what our customers wanted – and I knew that if I called into every shop I could control the sales myself and control the future of the company – and things have turned around from that point. 

Colman Walsh, CEO, UX Design Institute

When we started this business back in 2013, I didn’t know I was starting a business. I launched a training course for UX design back in 2013 and when that course sold out it kind of opened up a new world of opportunities in my mind.

Until then, I’d never seriously considered starting a business. After that moment, that was the path that I ran down – it became obvious that this is a viable thing. 

Con Traas, owner and managing director, The Apple Farm

When my parents had the farm originally it was me and my brother. Neither of us had decided that we were going to be the farmer but neither of us had ruled it out either. 

He was killed in a motorbike accident 30 years ago when he was just 18 years of age.

That was the biggest change in what might happen. As a consequence of that, it was either that I was going to farm of nobody was going to farm. It took away decisions and it also made decisions.  

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