Dee Ahearn – Barretstown – A finalist in the WMB Businesswomen Award Category

21st March 2022

Over the coming weeks, we will be introducing you to our WMB Award Finalists.  Ultimately there will be one winner in each of our five Award categories, to be announced at our Conference & Awards on May 16th.  If you’d like to attend our Conference & Awards, you can book now>>

Here, we introduce you to Dee Ahearn of Barretstown, a finalist in the WMB Businesswoman of the Year Award category.

Title and company name

CEO, Barretstown

Sector & size of operation

Barretstown is a children’s charity in the not-for-profit sector and employs fifty people year-round, increasing to one hundred during the summer months.

You originally hail from

I am a proud Tipperary woman; I grew up in Cahir.

Single or relationship

My partner Ciaran and I have been together for 23 years. Our daughter Millie is currently studying for a masters in Trinity.

What is the best part of your job

Working here in Barretstown I get to see the impact of our therapeutic programmes firsthand for the children and families who attend our programmes. Not everyone is lucky enough to work in the location their services are provided. Here in Barretstown all the staff are surrounded by the magic of Barretstown every day – It’s an honour to witness the transformation in the children and families we serve and to play our part in pressing play on childhood for families who have had their lives put on hold by serious illness.

And the most challenging

Fundraising is the most challenging aspect of my role. Barretstown receives just 3% government funding, and this year we must raise €7 million.

Covid-19 has had an enormous impact on our ability to fundraise with many events and activities cancelled over the last 2 years. The families we serve are some of the most impacted by Covid – so the need for our services have never been more important.

Your definition of success

Constantly innovating and striving to improve our services for children and families living with serious illness, that to me is success. Here at Barretstown we are always looking forward, expanding our programmes so we can serve more seriously ill children every year.

Best trait

I am driven by a keen sense of responsibility as a leader. Responsibility to my amazing team here in Barretstown but most importantly to the children and families we serve. This sense of responsibility for the importance of the programmes we deliver and the impact it has on families living with serious illness drives me every day.

Worst trait

I know it’s a little clichéd, but I am perfectionist, my inner critic can be tough at times.

I take immense pride in producing results and am constantly motivated by the impact of what we do here at Barretstown. I am learning to be mindful of my inner critic, not allowing it to push me or my team too far. I’m learning to recognise when my inner critic is right and when I need to ignore it.

Biggest ‘win’ to date

We had to close our gates in March 2020 due to Covid-19 but we quickly pivoted to delivering our programmes online so we could continue to serve our families when they needed us most. The ability of the team to adapt in such uncertain and worrying times, with the single focus of ensuring we could continue to support families living with serious illness was a career highlight for me.

I joined Barretstown in 2010. At that time we served 1,792 campers a year and raised €4.4 million. This year our target is to pass the milestone of 10,000 campers in a single year, a 458% increase on 2010, and raise €7 million, a 59% increase on the funds needed in 2010.

Who inspires you most

Honestly, it’s our campers, the children and families who come to Barretstown. The resilience they show in their daily battles with serious illness inspires me and reminds me of what is enormously important in life, our family, and their health.

Name two things on your ‘bucket list’

My personal bucket list top two would be:

I would love to visit Australia, it’s a country that fascinates me but I haven’t been fortunate to visit yet.

Like many others I recently took up sea swimming, I would love to build my confidence in sea swimming and undertake a swimming challenge.

What does it mean for you to be a woman in business today

My career began in the commercial sector, in male dominated industries.

As a woman in business the most important trait is to believe in yourself and trust your instincts, and empower those around you to learn and lead, especially other women. Whether you are a male or female leader, as Gandhi said, be the change you seek.

Best advice to pass on.

Don’t be afraid to take risks. Make the best-informed decision you can but sometimes we need to take a risk and learn from that experience. Don’t give up.

Learn from mistakes and grow as a person and as a leader.