Deirdre O’Neill – A Finalist in the WMB Businesswoman Award Category

11th April 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 Deirdre O’Neill, Compass Irelanda finalist in the WMB Businesswoman Award category

Title and Company Name

Managing Director, Compass Ireland

Sector & size of operation

Foodservices; principally catering contracts for workplaces and public spaces.

Compass Ireland employs around 1,500 people in the Republic and in Northern Ireland, and accounts for annual revenue in the region of €70 million.  Clients include offices and industrial sites, as well as education, leisure and hospitality facilities, spanning more than 130 Irish locations.  We manage complete food solutions and restaurants in workplaces like Google, Vodafone, NTMA and Boston Scientific, as well as catering facilities for the Aviva Stadium, the Royal College of Surgeons and Ulster University.

You originally hail from

Athlone, County Westmeath

Single or relationship

Relationship: Married to my husband, Kerry, with two beautiful kids, Ava, aged 3, and newborn baby Killian.

What is the best part of your job

Bringing new ideas to life.  I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to do so, almost every day, alongside a host of talented people and with the encouragement of a multi-national business for our Irish division.

We positively shape working lives in many ways.  We bring a lot more than just food to the equation, in terms of the quality and choice of food and how and where it is presented.  Flexibility, nutrition and enjoyment drive us, and our food solutions vary from app-based ordering for desk delivery, to food trucks, to full restaurants, with, most recently, the introduction of Ireland’s first-ever completely contactless food-store for food-to-go on a client site – no queuing, no payment, just grab and go, while hi-tech AI cameras charge your account and send a receipt to your phone!

And the most challenging

The traditional notion of 9-5 office working and fixed breakfast/lunchtime slots have become a thing of the past.  We need to flex and adapt, to manage unpredictability and feed the nation’s workforces in a way that works for them.  Whether that’s serving them at the office, at their desk or even at home, we can’t be limited by change and have risen to this challenge in recent years.

Professional chefs and catering teams are difficult to recruit, and female chefs are under-represented in our industry.  However, we developed mentoring programmes and a new degree qualification, championed by renowned chef, Danni Barry, to motivate and develop our catering teams, and create rewarding career paths.

A personal challenge for me has been not being able to get out to 130 locations across the country, to meet our dedicated staff and clients during the pandemic, due to onsite visitor restrictions.  I thrive on interacting with people and learning from them, and their experience of our set-up.

Your definition of success

Personally, the fact that I get out of bed in the morning really looking forward to what I do, and to producing results that make a difference in people’s lives; whether they work with us, or supply our food ingredients or equipment, develop food solutions with us, or just enjoy our food offering.

Enjoying what you do is career success.

I am also proud of the extent to which our business champions sustainability, waste management and locally sourced produce.  Over 70% of the food we source for the Irish market is produced here, working with 180 Irish food producers and spending €35m a year on Irish food.

Best trait

I’m all about empowerment.  Give teams the tools and space they need to get the work done. Next, celebrate the mini achievements along the way.  I never leave it on the long-finger to recognise people’s contributions.

Working as a collective is also a big part of my culture; communicating and visualising a common goal is a powerful motivator.

I believe I am open, approachable, and empathetic.  I have an open door policy and love people to bounce ideas and observations off me; the only bad idea is one you fail to share!

Worst trait

I am a constant thinker and a perfectionist.  I love developing creative solutions or examining how to make something better.  Going that extra mile is in my genes, and I do believe that healthy self-reflection is a learning process.

Biggest ‘win’ to date

During Covid, I led the development, launch and mobilisation of our Copper Pan Kitchen brand, a new production kitchen for fresh delivered meals.  The concept is a first for our industry, a solution capable of scaling up and down with client demand, delivering food experiences to employee homes and offices.

Apart from meeting client needs, at the height of the pandemic, we were also able to feed over 8,000 of the most vulnerable people within our community, through the Copper Pan Kitchen, in conjunction with Dublin charities.  So, this was a win-win!

Who inspires you most

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minster, seems to be my kind of woman. There are so many facets to her leadership that I admire, from her approach to motherhood, multi-tasking, her passion to address climate change …

She’s a warm and empathetic leader, but also quick to implement change.

Name two things on your ‘bucket list’

To travel more, now that we can, I’d love to visit New Zealand, the Amalfi coast in Italy, and take another trip to south Africa.

When my children are a little older, I am also determined to do some meaningful volunteering and identify a community cause where my talents can be put to productive use.

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

As a MD, I think I have to be a role model, in terms of illustrating that loving what you do, and giving everything your genuine best shot, means you will progress in your chosen career.

There are a lot more women in senior business roles these day than there were a generation or two back, so we all must support and encourage each other, to ensure every woman with talent can achieve her potential in corporate life, entrepreneurship or her chosen vocation.

Best advice to pass on

Love your job.  Embrace the journey, more than the destination. Strive to do what you love, keep learning every day, and success will follow. Most of the execs and MDs in our business started off back-of-house or peeling spuds, but, nine times out of ten, they had a passion for food.  It’s much easier to excel at a job you love. This Tina Fey line sums up my approach to work and life: “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution.  Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles!”