Business woman Breege O'Donoghue has been awarded the 2019 RDS Gold Medal for Enterprise.

She was a key player behind the global success of retail giant Primark / Penneys, which now has 375 stores across Europe and the US and employs 75,000 people. 

Ms O'Donoghue was appointed to the board of the company in 1988, nine years after initially joining to set up the HR department, She became group director for business development and new markets, with her drive and ambition for Primark central to its successful expansions. In receiving the award she joins a roll-call of previous winners which includes Peter Sutherland, Craig Barrett, Willie Walsh, Moya Doherty, Martin Naughton, Pearse Lyons and Gary McGann.

During her time with Primark the fashion retailer expanded into an additional nine international markets, including the US, Germany, Spain and France. Earlier this month, revenues of £7.79 billion were announced for Primark, along with a profit increase of 8% to £913 million. This comes on foot of an additional 14 stores being added to its portfolio across the UK and continental Europe in its last financial year.

At a time when female leaders in Irish business were in short supply, Ms O'Donoghue was a pioneer, inspiring many other Irish women to succeed not just in retail but in many other industries. Breege continues to inspire through a number of initiatives that she is involved in, including being Lead Entrepreneur for groups of women as part of the 'Going for Growth' initiative sponsored by Enterprise Ireland and KPMG.

She is particularly giving of her time and expertise, having held board positions with State companies including An Post and Aer Rianta, and was Chair of the Labour Relations Commission and Chair of Shannon College of Hotel Management. She is currently Chair of the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, of Real World Analytics and of the Business and Human Rights Implementation Group that was recently established by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Speaking about the importance of ethics and values in business, Ms O'Donoghue said, "Ethics is not only for philosophers, but for business too and indeed every field of endeavour, ethics and values are words that tend to be used rather vaguely and have a number of different meanings. Ethics is not only about long words and dilemmas, ethics is about people. Values influence our actions and attitudes and rightly has a growing and more explicit present in business."