Telesales girl to super-rich executive

  • 29 March 2006
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Businesswoman Anne Heraty was already one of Ireland's richest women before selling a chunk of her stake in CPL Resources this year. Fionola Meredith charts the career of the media-shy multimillionaire.


Anne Heraty is a rare beast. In fact, she's unique – as chief executive of Cpl Resources, not only is she one of the tiny band of women managing directors, but she holds the record as the first female chief executive of a publicly quoted Irish company. Heraty and her husband, Paul Carroll, floated 20 per cent of the company – a leading Irish provider of specialist recruitment and HR outsourcing services – in 1999.

The company, which she co-founded in 1989, has made Heraty and Carroll a very wealthy couple indeed. (He came on board as business development director in 1996.) The 2005 Sunday Times Rich List estimated the pair's fortune at €41m, which placed them at 181, just behind footballer Roy Keane. Since then, they've become even richer, after selling part of their stake in the company in January of this year. Heraty and Carroll trousered nearly €20 million, while still remaining the company's largest shareholders; Heraty's own remaining 15 million shares are worth €60 million.

Heraty herself remains an obscure figure, who appears to shun public attention. Dark-haired, soberly and sensibly dressed, she looks like any other businesswoman. Only her ruthlessly-plucked eyebrows might suggest a rigorously controlling personality. Born in 1960 in Ballinalea, Co Longford, Heraty holds a BA degree in maths and economics from UCD. Her career began at the equipment company, Xerox, where she was one of Ireland's first telesales workers, before being promoted into direct sales.

After a period working for Grafton Recruitment, Heraty left to set up Computer Placement (now Cpl) with Keith O'Malley, who was running the Professional Placement Group at the time. She's currently a Board member of the Irish Brain Research Foundation and the Council of Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC). Heraty also chairs both the National Training and Advisory Committee (NTAC) and the Expert Group for Future Skills Needs (EGFSN), and she's a non-executive director of Bord na Móna.

But it's hard to catch a glimpse of the real woman behind the impressive CV. And it doesn't help that she claims to have no hobbies outside work. In a rare interview in 1999, when asked about her personal interests, she replied, "none really ... a bit of reading. I am currently reading the Dr Seuss book, The Cat on the Mat, for my daughter." She must have had one eye on fluctuations in the stock market while she was reading it since, as most youngsters know, the correct title is The Cat in the Hat.

But motherhood is evidently a big part of Heraty's life: in fact, the challenges for women of balancing home and work life are one of the few topics about which she publicly speaks with passion. She and Carroll live in south county Dublin with their two children, aged ten and four. She says that it's "unfortunate that having children and a family can almost be presented as an obstacle to succeeding in business".

She's particularly concerned about "the opt-out revolution", where women choose to leave or avoid high-powered positions at work in order to become full-time parents. After winning the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year Award in 2005, Heraty called for more women to remain in the workplace after having children. She believes that this is "not just a female issue ... but an issue for policy at national level as well as for individual employers".

What's Heraty like as a boss? In her own words, she sounds a model of fairness and flexibility: "Because we are working in a very competitive business, it is necessary for people not to be too competitive with each other at work. A lot of time is spent on the phone or out meeting clients. It is all very intense. That is why it is necessary for there to be harmony within the company. The majority of people here belong to the Shelbourne Gym and the work environment is flexible. If you are doing your job well, then you are in a position to dictate your own terms."

It's common for bosses to present an enlightened front, but former colleagues and employees aren't exactly queuing up to complain about her either. She's described as astute, sharp, demanding, with a willingness to pull up her sleeves and pitch in. And while Cpl suggests a "professional" dress code for its employees, Heraty is happy for her staff to express their individuality. Somewhat bizarrely, she says she "wouldn't have a problem with green hair as long as it's clean and well groomed". Perhaps that flash of non-conformism in Heraty is a remnant of what her friends call "her lefty days at UCD".

Heraty has so far steered clear of controversy in her career. She and Carroll easily weathered the rumours in 1999 that they had floated their company in order to enable the purchase of 17 Merrion Square, the former home of the founder of the Irish Red Cross, Dr John Shanley. Shortly afterwards, the couple paid £1.77m for the house. At the time, Carroll responded: "We did not float the company to buy a house and we are very upset that this is being talked about." The husband-and-wife team also own the Cpl premises at 83 Merrion Square, which is leased by the company.

Meanwhile, Heraty continues to chalk up the awards. She's recently been named Leading Lady Entrepreneur 2005 by Europe's 500, an independent pan-European organisation which lists high growth, job-creating companies. It seems that business is meat and drink to Heraty, both her inspiration and her driving force. She has no time for fripperies like hobbies and personal interests. And that's why she is an incredibly wealthy woman.