best managed companies panel discussion

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Symposium Speakers 2020

Best Managed Companies

The Symposium, run by our academic partner, IMI, is exclusively hosted for CEOs and management teams from the Best Managed Companies network. The Symposium takes place on the same day as the Gala Awards on Friday 6 March in the Convention Centre Dublin.

The day features business educators, thought leaders and guest speakers leading a variety of interactive sessions, providing exclusive insights and practical, targeted advice. It also allows winning companies to spend a day sharing best practices and new ideas, while learning practical tools that Best Managed Companies leaders can apply immediately to drive their business. For more information on the Symposium please email

Symposium Speakers 2020

Symposium Speakers 2020

Sahar Hashemi, OBE

Keynote: START UP FOREVER - How to scale big but still act small

In this session, Sahar will talk about her own personal experiences which have given her a ground-level understanding of what start up culture really is and why it gets blocked in big companies. She will share the essential message that entrepreneurial culture is NOT something you grow out of, but something every business should fight hard to maintain. She will address how to keep the entrepreneurial spark alive; you don't need a complicated theory or complex change initiative; you just need to connect the head with the heart in business. Sahar's experience has given her a practical toolkit of simple behaviour shifts any employee can learn to do just that.

Speaker Biography

Sahar Hashemi described as "a change agent" and "a powerful catalyst to drive entrepreneurship within big corporations Sahar offers a simple, powerful toolkit to unlock start up culture at big companies. She is an entrepreneur, Bestselling Author and Innovative Thought Leader.

Sahar understands entrepreneurial behaviour to the core. A former lawyer, she started two ground-breaking businesses: the UK's first coffee bar chain, Coffee Republic, which grew to 110 stores and a £50 million market cap, and Skinny Candy, a market segment-defining brand of sugar-free sweets.

Her first book, "Anyone Can Do It: Building Coffee Republic from Our Kitchen Table", became a bestseller by demystifying the idea that entrepreneurship is an innate trait. Moreover, Hashemi understands corporate culture. Her latest book, "Start Up Forever: How to Build a Start-Up Culture in a Big Company" stems from her experience of seeing the business she founded transform into a large company and from speaking to over 400 large corporations over this last decade about what gets in the way of entrepreneurial behaviour. "Start Up Forever" was named FT Business Book of the Month and provides straightforward practical answers to questions all leaders are asking.

Hashemi was awarded an OBE for services to the UK economy and to charity, named by Director magazine as one of its Top 10 Original Thinkers, named Pioneer to the life of the Nation by HM The Queen and named Young Global leader by the World Economic Forum. She has recently co-chaired the UK government Scale Up Taskforce. She also sits on the board of the Scale up Institute, Change Please Coffee, ECB Hundred Cricket and BFC Fashion Trust.

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Nicklas Bergman

Keynote: Navigating the Techstorm – The Business Impact of Technology Beyond the Hype

We're living in times of great strategic uncertainty, caused by challenges in the geo-political environment, changing consumer sentiment, a greater environmental concern and an intensifying speed of innovation. Nicklas lives with technology 24/7, meets with scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs and fellow investors daily. He's optimistic about the promises emerging from new technologies, but at the same time very concerned that society is not ready for the upcoming techstorm.

We're entering an era in which technology will redefine who we are, and it's no longer just a question of what it can do for us, but what should we allow technology to do. We need to discuss the ethical perspectives of any new innovation or scientific breakthrough. Technology in itself is pointless, it's the applications and ability to improve people's lives that's important.

Digitization is highly relevant but only the warm-up. True disruption will come from a combination of new digital technologies such as AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things in combination with a deeper understanding of nanotechnology, neuro technology as well as biotechnology and genetics. In a couple of decades, this will create a world that's totally different from the one we're living in today.

Nicklas's keynote will provide a deep dive into the most talked about technologies at the moment, combined with a framework to understand the strategic business implications for your company.

Speaker Biography

Nicklas Bergman is an entrepreneur and technology investor who focuses on investments and business development in instrumentation, nanotechnology, computing, new materials and new media art.  Bergman aims to understand where technology is taking us and if we are ready for the upcoming tech storm. His primary interests are currently AI, predictive analytics, new media art and quantum computing. Bergman advises on the topics of technology, strategy, agility and business transformation. He is strategic advisor to European Commissioner Carlos Moedas and the European Innovation Council, working on a new innovation strategy for Europe. He is also Scandinavian representative of the TechCast Technology Think Tank in Washington DC.  As a writer, he is interested in the merger of technology, society and business. In 2016 he published a book on how to deal with new technologies from a business perspective: "Surviving the Tech Storm -Strategy in Times of Technological Uncertainty". In 2018, he published his latest book "Navigating the Tech Storm, the business impact of technology beyond the hype".

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Yvonne Byrne, Deloitte

Keynote: Build Meaningful Relationships by Creating a Connected Customer Experience

If you want to have more meaningful relationships with your customers, you need to think beyond just the marketing and sales experience; you need to think about how to engage with them throughout the journey. Investing in your capability is critical -  making it easier for you to listen to your customers, personalise their experiences, understand the moments that truly matter, while always engaging with them in ways that makes sense for them – this is fundamental to building lasting and valuable relationships. Having a clear
strategy and design for your customer experience will help you identify the
right capabilities to invest in for your business, ensuring you can deliver an experience that your customers have come to expect and want.

Speaker Biography

Yvonne Byrne is the Partner Lead for Customer & Applied Design. Yvonne also leads the Customer Transformation practice within Deloitte, specialising in customer experience analysis and design, channel strategy and management, sales and service transformation and new proposition development. She has 14 years within the UK Financial Services and consulting industry, having previously worked with the Royal Bank of Scotland, Tesco Bank and KPMG UK. Yvonne has extensive experience in all aspects of Customer Experience, product management, customer and channel strategy and new proposition development.

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Nina Noonan

Breakout Session: The Employee Connection – Building Powerful and Sustainable Engagement

One of the key challenging issues faced by many companies is retaining qualified employees and employee engagement is a key factor in retaining your valued staff. During this session Nina will give insights into the most recent research on employee engagement – what is it, why do we need it, what are we currently at, what's the outlook into 2020, how does this impact on employee engagement strategies. She will discuss how high levels of engagement can drive positive change in a VUCA world, she will clarify the role senior leaders play in creating an engagement workforce and give practical take aways on what leaders can and need to do to drive sustainable employee engagement.

Speaker Biography

Nina has been working with national and multinational organisations across many sectors for the last 18 years. Nina has worked both internally and in a consulting role; assisting in the development of management and leadership capabilities that deliver business results.

Working with managers at all levels, Nina's focus is on making leadership theory practical and applicable. Her training programs and coaching sessions help current leaders to introduce real positive change in the way they interact with their teams.

Nina is part of the Associate Faculty in IMI, where she Programme Directs customised and open Leadership programmes and contributes to Diploma and Masters' courses. She is a Master Trainer, qualified executive coach & DiSC trainer as well as holding qualifications in HRM and Economics.

Her research is focused on the effect of interpersonal communication on managing people and performance, as well as understanding communication in a multicultural context.

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Dr. Kerrie Fleming

Breakout Session: The Empathetic Leader – The Future-Fit Leader

In the past, emotions were often deemed as an unwanted and unsociable set of characteristics which needed to be controlled, as they were associated with weakness and instability. However, research is emerging that emotions are essential for motivating actions which are critical for adapting to challenges of survival or well-being, both personally and professionally. Emotions become much more evident during times when our values and beliefs are compromised by either ourselves or others. This can have a profound effect on our level of well-being and ability to function normally in our work environment. Therefore, in order to function professionally, we often have to find ways to temporarily manage our emotions in order to encourage smooth communication or avoid conflict in the moment. Mismanagement of these situations can cause emotional labour which contributes greatly to harmful physiological effects.

This highly interactive session will explore some strategies on how to perceive, use, understand and manage your emotions (MSCEIT-Mayer Salovey and Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test), to help instil resilience and prompt leaders to become empathetic while managing both the personal and professional demands of a market which has become filled with uncertainty and pressures to perform.

Speaker Biography

Dr. Kerrie Fleming is an Associate Faculty Member at IMI and Senior Faculty and Academic Director for Executive Doctorate in Organisational Change at Ashridge Executive Education, Herts, UK.

Dr. Kerrie has worked for 12 years as a facilitator and consultant in leadership, emotional intelligence and organisational change. She began her career in strategic acquisition management, account management and customer service within the European Food Industry before completing a PhD in organisational behaviour, which examined the role of emotional intelligence and innovation in architectural practices in Ireland. As a Client Director and facilitator at Ashridge, Kerrie has designed and delivered customized, MBA, EDOC and Open Leadership and Management development programs to senior executives, incorporating sessions on emotional intelligence, organisational change, resilience, influencing, strategy and innovation to Fortune 500 companies as well as UK and international governments, indigenous and international organizations. Her book The Leaders guide to Emotional Agility by Pearson FT was shortlisted for the CMI Management Book of the Year Awards and along with Roger Delves is editor of Inspiring leadership with Bloomsbury. Her work has been featured in Forbes, the BBC and her leadership research is presented at her Hult TEDx talk. She was a guest editor, for two special issues in the Journal of Management Development 'From Hollow Hero to Expert Empathiser: Leadership in Transition in 2018 and Journal of Change Management 'Leadership Capacity in an Era of Change: the New Normal Leader' in 2019.

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Paul Hall, Deloitte

Breakout Session: Workplace wellbeing: practical tips for employee wellness

Business leadership teams today are acutely aware that employees require more from their employers and the organisations they work for than just a job.  Today’s talent look at the culture of the organisation - not just the policies they implement - but the practices they demonstrate. Wellbeing ranks one of the top cultural considerations for employers and in this regard the future fit organisation must lead from the top.

In this breakout session Paul Hall will bring attendees through the wellness cycle and take a common sense approach to increasing overall wellness.  By providing practical tips to help attendees make personal positive changes.

Speaker Biography

Paul is a Director in Consulting where he leads the Pursuits Centre of Excellence within Clients and Industries. He also works across the firm on various initiatives that encompass wellness and mindfulness. He regularly delivers wellness and mindfulness programmes to division within Deloitte, individual employees and strategic clients.

As a qualified mindfulness coach and personal trainer he has worked extensively with senior GAA and soccer teams, and individual athletes, for the past 10 years. He is a former international athlete and semi-professional soccer player.

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Julie Ryan, Symposium MC

Julie founded and heads up IMI's Customised Executive Education which is globally ranked (Financial Times) for the quality of its work. She and a professional team work with hundreds of organisations and their senior teams to enhance business performance through talent development programmes.

Julie is leading on the design and delivery of a range consortium programmes for sectors including – Tourism & Hospitality, Construction, Engineering and FDI in Ireland.

She has extensive experience working with stakeholders and industry partners including Enterprise Ireland, IDA, Irish Banking & Payment Federation, CIF and UCC to both expand IMI's footprint in industry and support leadership development in Ireland.

Julie is an executive coach, board member, participates in industry working groups and is a judge for IITD and GradIreland national awards.

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Symposium Speakers 2020

Symposium Panelists

Kerril Burke, Meritsoft

Kerril and the Meritsoft team are members of the Best Managed Companies Club and former winners. Meritsoft is a leading edge, Dublin-based software business focused on the banking sector. It previously raised private equity funding from UK based fund Synova, and in 2019 the business was sold to a US corporate in a highly successful exit for the shareholders and their private equity partners.

Cathal Geoghegan, Henderson Foodservice

Cathal Geoghegan is Managing Director of one of our [Platinum] Best Managed Companies; Henderson Foodservice. Part of the Northern Ireland based Henderson Group, Henderson Foodservice is a leading supplier to the foodservice industry across the island of Ireland. Supplying a range of 6,500 products to 4,500 customers across 11 sectors; Henderson Foodservice is a diverse, dynamic business. The business has been actively growing by acquisitions; including the acquisitions of FoodCo and BD Foods in the past few years.

Mary McKenna, Tour America

Mary McKenna is the CEO of Tour America; a leading Irish travel business based in Dublin and Cork. Tour America is a proud Best Managed Club member having been recognised as a Best Managed Company for the 11th year in a row in 2019 - and Mary and her team have been highly successful in growing a very successful travel business and brand; even through the recession and more challenging economic climates. The business is customer centric at its core – and its vision is to have a “raving fan club” year on year; which has been fundamental to its success.

Charlie Soden, Merlyn Industries 

Charlie is the CEO of shower enclosure business Merlyn Industries Ltd.  A Best
Managed Club member; the business was founded in 2000 by Michael Hoyne, with its head office in Kilkenny.  In 2017, the business was sold to UK based
Norcros PLC. With a predominant export focus (c.85% of Merlyn’s sales are in
the UK and mainland Europe) the new owner gives Merlyn and its team access to more customers and channels to market.  Merlyn is a great example of an
Irish success story and an exceptionally well run, internationally focused
business.  Merlyn continue to be passionate about innovation and quality
products; at its heart is a pursuit of excellence and continuous


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