Miriam Meets..... Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and Jonathan Irwin - 11th September 2011

This week, Miriam O Callaghan meets newly appointed Senator Mary Ann O'Brien and her husband, Jonathan Irwin.

Mary Ann and Jonathan met when they both worked for the Phoenix Park Racecourse. Mary Ann describes the chemistry between them as instant, despite the twenty year age gap and Jonathan's marriage to his first wife, Michaela. They married and have had five children together.

Mary Ann tells Miriam about the family background in horse racing - her father was Phonsie O'Brien, the horse trainer and her uncle was Vincent O'Brien. Because she knew how hard the life of a trainer is, it was never her ambition to follow her father down that career path. It was very unlikely that Jonathan would end up in horse racing. His grandfather had been headmaster of Wesley College in Dublin and a well known preacher, his parents both enjoyed successful acting careers. But an Austrian nanny introduced him to the joys of betting while in his pram and his love of horse racing was born. Today, the love of horses is evident in their youngest child, Molly.

Two of Mary Ann and Jonathan's children died in early childhood. John died at birth while his identical twin brother, Phonsie, survived. Jack Irwin lived 22 months and the experience of nursing a profoundly sick child at home inspired them to establish the Jack and Jill Foundation which provides nursing care for children in their own homes. Mary Ann and Jonathan talk about their grief at the loss of their two boys, a grief compounded for Jonathan by the death of his son Sam from his first marriage.

Mary Ann currently runs the confectionary business Lily O'Briens which has diversified in recent months into the dessert business as a way of coping with the recession. Describing how the call came from An Taoiseach Enda Kenny to offer her an appointment to the Senate, Mary Ann says she hopes to bring some of this real world business experience into the Oireachtas.

Jonathan describes the challenges facing charities in fund raising and explains how the Jack and JIll Foundation raises money be recycling mobile phones, bus tickets,crutches and zimmer frames as so few people can now make cash donations to a charity such as theirs.

Listen to the Podcast Here!

Newstalk - 21st July 2011

Mary O’Brien, founder of Lily O’Briens, Senator and one of Ireland’s most successful female entrepreneurs was on Newstalk this morning telling her story.

Lily O’Briens are an IIS SAP Business One Customer.

You can listen to the podcast here

Business & Finance Magazine - Who's Who in 2010

Mary Ann O'Brien is the founder and managing director of Lily O'Brien's Chocolates, a company she started in her kitchen in the early 1990s. Her trademark chocolates are hugely popular and the company has successfully carved out a substantial share of the market and grown to become one of Ireland's most recognised global brands.

She received the Irish Enterprise of the Year Award at the 2009 Business & Finance US Awards presented to her in December 2009 at a special lunch in New York. O'Brien received this award in recognition of her company's long-standing commitment to the export market and for her ability to successfully develop an instantly recognisable brand.

Founded in 1992, Lily O'Brien's started life in O'Brien's Kildare kitchen with little more than a saucepan, a wooden spoon and a genuine passion for chocolate. Named after her eldest daughter, Lily, the company quickly gained a reputation for creating delicious chocolates from the highest quality ingredients and competed effectively with the influx of Belgian chocolate brands establishing themselves in Ireland at the time.

Through retail and food service channels, the company set its sights on growing its export business, which currently accounts for more than 75% of its annual turnover.

Along with top international retailers, the company has been uniquely effective in building and maintaining relationships with airline customers during periods of huge change and flux in the industry. Indeed the company supplied more than 17 million branded chocolates to more than 22 airlines in 2008, making it a leading supplier to the airline industry over the past decade.

Exporting to more than 10 markets worldwide, including the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, Lily O'Brien's is now one of Ireland's most recognised global brands, and has an international reputation for being one of the most innovative brands in the luxury chocolate market.

Located in a state-of-the-art factory in Newbridge, the company employs over 100 people and manufactures between 55 and 60 tonnes of chocolates per week.

Despite the challenges facing the company over the past 18 months in relation to currency exposure, declining consumer confidence and an increasing retailer focus on price promotions, 2009 has seen the company expand into retail.

At the beginning of 2009, the company opened its flagship café and retail store in Bryant Park, New York City. Officially opened on St Patrick's Day by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, the café has proved to be a huge hit among New Yorkers and visitors alike and continues to expand its consumer base each week.

Closer to home, Lily O'Brien's teamed up with prestigious lifestyle and garden centre, the Arboretum, in Leighlinbridge, Carlow to launch its first ever retail store in Ireland in October 2009.

In light of the difficult economic climate, the link-up between two Irish-owned companies represents a new move forward for both organisations. The natural synergies between the two brands were obvious from the outset, according to O'Brien. And, led by two of the country's most influential female entrepreneurs Mary Ann O'Brien and Rachel Doyle, both companies have family values at their core.

O'Brien is no stranger to awards. She has won the Tatler Irish Businesswoman of the Year in 2004, the 2005 Trailblazer Exporter of the Year Award, the Irish Food & Drink Exporter of the Year Award in 2006, and numerous Great Taste Awards.

Who's Who is 2010, Business & Finance Magazine

Lily O'Briens Green Day - 23rd April 2008

The Ecology Foundation and Irish chocolate maker Lily O'Briens, based in Newbridge, Co. Kildare, launched its campaign to "go green" on Earth Day, 22nd April.

The company has already taken action by recycling waste paper, moving from disposable to reuseable cups in the canteen and installing sensor-controlled lighting throughout the company's offices.

The Ecology Foundation will help Lily O'Briens develop performance targets and strategies for each department to reduce waste and energy consumption. According to Lily O'Briens, "The Ecology Foundation will form an integral part of its long term strategic vision for growth."

Kildares Green Party addressed the company's employees and helped officially launch the "Green Programme" with Mary-Anne O'Brien, Managing Director of Lily O'Briens, through a ribbon cutting ceremony. Tracy Godfrey, Project Manager and Gerard Bennet, Director and General Manager were in attendance to speal about the project.

The Ecology Foundation

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