60 Years of CATEX: Joan O’ Shaughnessy ‘Catering for the Nation’

Wednesday, June 05, 2024. 1:24pm

Read the interview below:

Catering for the Nation: Joan O’Shaughnessy’s Journey through Ireland’s evolving Catering & Hospitality Landscape

The biennial catering event CATEX celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2025. For the greater part of its existence, Joan O’Shaughnessy has been a great advocator of this large-scale annual event, having sat on the board of IFSA (Irish Foodservice Suppliers Alliance) from 2012 to 2016.

While the tourism industry is undoubtedly facing multiple challenges, Joan’s professional trajectory is one of overcoming adversity and of embracing every challenge that has come her way.

In December 2021 Joan stepped down as Chair of Tourism Ireland after 5 years, she continues to support the industry.

“When I finished my tenure with Tourism Ireland, which was a fantastic experience, I   continued to mentor for a number of years, I believe it’s incredibly important to share knowledge and support future leaders in industry,” says Joan. Prior to this Joan spent over 20 years working in the Foodservice industry including 11years as CEO for US Food Service and Facilities Multinational Aramark following the acquisition of Campbell Catering and spent 12 years at the helm of the Irish operation.

From a young age Joan knew her passion was with food and hospitality, having grown up in a household that entertained frequently she gained insight to the organisation and grasped a flair for cooking and entertaining.

“Back then, while my mother would have assumed a career in teaching Domestic Science was in my future, I knew I wanted to lead in business and industry.” “Joan recalls.

After completing her Degree at Cathal Brugha Street College of Catering (now Cathal Brugha FET Campus); she began her journey in the hotel and catering management industry. I knew I had found my path and never wanted to do anything else” she recalls.

Beginning her career in the former 5 Star Royal Hibernian Hotel Dawson Street Dublin as a Housekeeper but missing the food side of business she moved to catering company Gardner Merchant as Regional Manager. Following 4 years there she and her husband took an opportunity to run their own hotel and restaurant in the west of Ireland. After a number of successful years and having 2 small children, Joan decided to move back to the catering business because at that time it allowed her to spend more quality time with her young family. She returned to work with Gardner Merchant, relocated to Dublin and became Intel’s first General Manager of the catering services, over 4 years she oversaw the growth and development of catering services of Intel Ireland serving up to 7000 customers per day.

By the mid-1990s, contract catering had evolved to meet the demand of the growing corporate sector as well as the evolving tastes of their employees. Joan was at the cutting edge of that revolution.

“The challenge then was to be innovative,” recalls Joan. “Navigating this shift posed a distinct challenge, as it necessitated training the staff to be highly efficient with costs and to delve deeper into the financial aspects of the business alongside their culinary responsibilities.”

Joan took the opportunity to move to Campbell Catering in 1995 as their Operations Director. Our ambition was to become the market leader in Ireland, and we did that by changing our approach to client services, introducing in-house training for their chefs and reassessing the entire product range. We would take clients into the market, introducing them to different propositions, inspiration for better kitchen design and innovative approaches aiming to enhance their service to employees and elevate their catering service into a highly valued workplace benefit.

 In 1998 Joan moved to the UK to head up the acquisitions of a number of smaller catering companies having been appointed Managing Director of the UK, during that period she began to also conduct business with Aramark UK,

On her return to Ireland in January 2001 as CEO of Campbell Catering, she continued to grow the business, “One of my greatest successes along with my incredible team at that time, was being awarded all PSNI catering and cleaning contracts in Northern Ireland, this was a fantastic achievement for our business, and I am still to this day very proud”.

Aramark Ireland came into existence in Ireland in 2005 following its acquisition of Campbell Catering, with its leadership seamlessly transitioning to continue guiding the business forward.  

During her tenure as CEO of ARAMARK Ireland, and the only female Country President within the international Senior Leadership Team, Joan O’Shaughnessy grew the company to become at the time to be Ireland’s largest integrated services provider, supplying facilities, food services, environmental and property services. After 11 years as CEO, overseeing 4,000 employees across 980 locations with revenues of €250 million Euro. “As a woman I never felt I wasn’t an equal” I had a great boss and mentor in the international team and I truly believe as market leader the other countries respected us and myself. I was respected for the results we achieved, and I was given every opportunity to grow. As a result, I’m proud to say I was recognised in the Sunday Independent 50 most powerful and influential business women in Ireland list.

In 2011, Joan stepped back from her CEO position, with Commercial Director Donal O’Brien stepping into her shoes. She continued to advise and support the Executive team for a number of years.

“Effective leadership hinges on succession planning. Says Joan.  “In my early career I was taught and firmly believe in empowering capable leaders and leveraging expertise to foster continual growth”.

“In 2005 I was appointed as Vice Chair of Tourism Ireland and that following year I became Chairman; this was a proud moment for both me and my family as this was a Ministerial appointment and recognition for the contribution  I had made in the industry over so many years”.

Joan has had the opportunity to represent Ireland on a global stage and promote the island of Ireland. Whilst building international relations to support our tourism economy.

“While the Tourism Industry has and continues to have its challenges such as the VAT issue, rising costs, availability of accommodation to support our visitors, it is important to continue to work closely with the Government and other industry bodies to find a solution that will support us all and drive exceptional visitor experiences.

“Take the example of the Wild Atlantic Way.  Many local communities supported this initiative   alongside Failte Ireland and local businesses to successfully achieve one common goal. This has been an extremely positive addition to the Irish Tourism industry contributing to the economy of these communities. It’s exciting to see these initiatives continue to evolve throughout the Island of Ireland.

Joan truly believes that as we have more than 275,000 people working in our hospitality industry here in Ireland, it is vitally important that we continue to train, provide good working conditions and flexible working hours where possible, so we can continue to uphold our international reputation for excellence in service and hospitality.

Joan firmly supports the vital role Catex plays within our industry. It is the opportunity to communicate, innovate, network and recruit over 3 days every 2 years, “it’s not a lot of time, but plan your visit and you won’t regret it, my personal favourite during the show is the Culinary Competitions and Barista Championships the excitement around these events is contagious”.

“One of the most important things is networking take the opportunity  to chat and have a coffee with people and learn more about what they’re doing and what opportunities you may be able to collaborate on.

“If you went back about 15 years to CATEX, there was a lot more equipment on show,” says Joan. “Nowadays, it’s equally, if not moreso, focused on the food side. You could nearly have your lunch walking around now.”

Joan continues to remain excited and optimistic about the future of the tourism and hospitality industry in Ireland. She believes investing in both people and business will lead to success. “I’ve great faith in our hospitality and tourism industry because I’ve great faith in people.”

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