14 June 2017

Women in the motor industry conference

The importance of entrepreneurship and of seizing opportunities was emphasised by speakers at the fourth annual Women@SIMI event, held last week in Dublin's Intercontinental Hotel, writes Trish Whelan.

The Society of the Irish Motor Industry event was again sponsored by Bank of Ireland Finance, with more than 140 women in the Irish motor industry from around the country representing various sectors within the industry.

Mary Kennedy MC; Anna May McHugh, Managing Director National Ploughing Association; Gavin Hydes, President of SIMI; Michelle Spillane, Director of Global Marketing, RTE; Paula Fitzsimons, Managing Director of Fitzsimons Consulting.
In an opening address, new president of SIMI Gavin Hydes stressed the importance of communicating ‘the exciting and dynamic career opportunities that are available in so many diverse sectors which SIMI represent’.

Karen Kennedy, Head of Marketing at Bank of Ireland Finance, noted the importance of recognising both the female role models and mentors within the motor industry, and said BoI Finance was proud to play a part in this.

Panelists interviewed by RTE’s Mary Kennedy included Michelle Spillane, Director of Global Marketing, RTE; Anna May McHugh, Managing Director of the National Ploughing Association; and Paula Fitzsimons, Managing Director of Fitzsimons Consulting.

Introduced as an icon ‘who embodies a wonderful spirit of Ireland and the best of what we are’, Anna May McHugh recounted her journey from assistant to the founder of the National Ploughing Championships in 1951 (he was a friend of her Dad’s) to her appointment as Secretary in 1956 and being elected Managing Director in 1973 — something she said she had never expected. “It was a huge responsibility on my shoulders and I wondered if I would ever laugh again," she recalled. "I had no idea then how it would grow to what it is today.”

She said the success of her career was based on a love of challenges, of organising things, and of people. "I’d also say I’ve got away with murder because I was a woman, and I never experienced a ‘no’," she said. "And I always believe in people, and if you have that belief in them they won’t let you down.”

Anna May has been at the helm of 'The Ploughing' as it evolved from a small competition and agricultural trade exhibition to what is now widely recognised as the biggest outdoor agricultural event in Europe, with 283,000 visitors last year. She believes around 40pc of the attendance are women.

She jovially recounted how her life has always involved working with men, ‘so hats off to the lovely men here today’ (and yes, there were a few!). She said her involvement in the NPC ‘was hard going’ and that 'if you make a mistake, it’s the best lesson you will ever learn'. She is always on the lookout for new events to introduce, attending overseas shows and trying to implement new ideas from them.

Anna May believes marketing to be all-important and her advice to women in the motor industry includes the truism that the customer is always right. “No matter how awkward a customer is, there is no problem that can’t be solved," she insisted. "You can get your own way … but in a nice way. It’s a lovely feeling to be at the helm, but it’s also a huge responsibility. You have to be dedicated and watch everything, because if anything happens, the buck comes back to you.”

Founder and MD of Fitzsimons Consulting Paula Fitzsimons spoke of how inspirational and motivational today’s women are. She advised those present to ‘develop antennae’ for opportunity. “It is there all the time. Whether you are open to it, and whether you see it, is what counts.” She noted too that statistics show two and a half times more businesses are set up by men than by women.

“Identify what you want to do and how you will do it," she advised. "Set goals and milestones to measure your progress. Decide what you want to achieve in three years’ time and what you will need to do over the next six months that will bring you towards that achievement. Write it down and then you own it, and revisit the plan every month.”

A recognised champion of entrepreneurship, Paula stressed how self belief is vitally important. “You have to become the powerbroker for yourself. Get a badge with your name on it and wear it wherever you can so people will know your name and will remember you. You own it and become your name and become an ambassador for yourself and for your organisation.”

Michelle Spillane with Mary Kennedy.
Michelle Spillane, currently the Director of Global Marketing in RTE, has worked in many marketing, media and entertainment sectors, including Disney, Warner Bros, ITV and BoI. Her expertise includes creating brands and making them stand out from the crowd, and the importance of believing in what you are doing. “Be the best version of you that you can be," she urged her listeners. "Stand back and understand why you are there, what your purpose is. It’s about showing the benefits to your customer. Think about what imprint you want to leave on every transaction you undertake. Create that 'stand out' attitude and cut through. Fitting in with the crowd is a short-term strategy but standing out pays off long-term.”

She said women must focus on what’s going to make the difference for their future. Her main advice was 'you never get the first six months back in any role, in any company'. "During that time I note everything down, every opportunity, every challenge, everything I want to change.”

Most of Michelle’s team are women. She says 'guys spend 80pc of their time working, and use the other 20pc to find out what else is going on' in the organisation, and while women in the workplace are committed, they can get caught up in day-to-day work. She said a daily To Do List is essential. “I don’t consider I have been especially lucky in my career. It’s work. It’s about being prepared, investing, looking forward.”

(Pics by Aidan Oliver Photography.)