Irish America Celebrates 31st Annual Business 100 Awards

By Irish America Staff
December 7, 2016

Irish America Celebrates 31st Annual Business 100 Awards with FleishmanHillard CEO John Saunders delivering the keynote address.

On Wednesday, December 7, Irish America magazine celebrated the 31st annual Irish America Business 100 Awards with a luncheon at the Metropolitan Club in Manhattan. Since its inception, the Business 100 awards have sought to recognize Irish-born and Irish American business leaders in the ever-adapting corporate environment of the U.S.

John Saunders, president and CEO of the public relations firm FleishmanHillard, delivered the keynote address, relating his experience with the Irish in the U.S. and citing the impact Irish Americans had on his sense of self and his career, including famed radio sportscaster Don Criqui, who was also in the audience. Saunders met Criqui during his first trip to America in the summer of 1978 and his friendship led to Saunders landing his first major public relations account in 1985 – the Budweiser Irish Derby, at the time the richest horse race in the world.

“They were difficult times between Ireland and Britain back then,” he said. “That first day, the first 24 hours, to feel for the very first time that not only was it okay to be Irish, it was actually good to be Irish. It felt so good. And it gave me a confidence that, frankly, I did not have. And ever since then back in 1978, you, Irish America, have been taking me up when I was down and making me feel good about myself, as you have done for so many of our people who have moved over here down through the years and continue to move here.”

Saunders with his wife Jean, holding the 2016 Irish America Business 100 Keynote Award, a House of Waterford Crystal Lismore Essence Vase. (Photo: Nuala Purcell)

Saunders with his wife Jean, holding the 2016 Irish America Business 100 Keynote Award, a House of Waterford Crystal Lismore Essence Vase. (Photo: Nuala Purcell)

Born in Ireland, Saunders began his career as a journalist at RTÉ. In 1990, he founded FleishmanHillard Saunders and helped it develop into Ireland’s largest and most successful public relations consultancy, earning more awards than any other firm during his tenure. Prior to his appointment as president and CEO of FleishmanHillard, he served as regional president for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for four years.

Only the fourth individual to hold his current title in FleishmanHillard’s 70-year history, Saunders was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the Public Relations Institution of Ireland in 2007, was inducted into the ICCI Hall of Fame in 2011, and is featured as the cover interview for Irish America’s December / January issue.

Saunders also used the occasion to call for a new linguistic precision in the business world, arguing that the recent proliferation of fake news and cynicism against “business speak” has created an environment skeptical of brands at large.

“Today, reputations are the new brandings. You can spend all the money you like on brands, but if your reputation is not aligned, then you are indeed in trouble. And reputations are hard-earned and hard to retain,” he said.

“But now there’s another layer of complexity that we all have to deal with. On the one hand, there’s the voice of authenticity, of transparency, versus what has now been termed ‘post-truth.’

“We’ve had Brexit, and we’ve had a divisive presidential election here in the United States. And we need to be careful, because there’s a battle going on between, on the one hand, truth, and what’s now being called fake news. And companies and corporations need to find a way of telling our truth in a much more compelling way. And those who I believe are on the right side of that argument really don’t help ourselves. Because an issue that continues to baffle me is, just why do we make language quite so complicated? Why do we indulge to the extent that we do in ‘business speak?’ It makes people so cynical.

“I’d love to read more plain English in business in 2017, but I suspect, if it’s a New Year’s resolution, I’ll be waiting a long time to see it completed.”

Patricia Harty, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Irish America, and Niall O’Dowd, founding publisher, presented Saunders with the Keynote Speaker Award, a House of Waterford Crystal Lismore Essence Vase.

Irish Repertory Theatre performers Melissa Errico and Matt Gibson, accompanied by Geraldine Anello on the piano, gave a preview of two songs from the Irish Rep’s current production of Finian’s Rainbow, Fred Saidy and Yip Harburg’s 1947 musical, singing “How Are Things in Glocca Mora” and “Old Devil Moon.”

Among the attending honorees were: Grainne Barron, founder and CEO of Viddyad; Jim Delaney, COO and founding partner of Vin-Go; Tom Higgins, CAO of First Data; John Greed, CEO of Mutual of America; Jim McCann, CEO of 1800-Flowers.com; Maureen Mitchell, president of global sales and marketing for GE Asset Management, Dave O’Malley, president of Penn Mutual; and Vonnie Quinn, Bloomberg Television anchor.

Also in attendance were: Ed Kenney of Mutual of America, Diarmaid Cunningham of ICON plc, Paul Keogh of Dublin Landings, Consul General of Ireland in New York Barbara Jones, Alison Metcalfe of Tourism Ireland, and Pat Tully of the American Ireland Fund.

In addition to ICON plc, FleishmanHillard, and reception sponsor Dublin Landings, the event was sponsored by annual sponsors Mutual of America, the Coca-Cola Company, Tourism Ireland, CIE Tours International, UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, The American Ireland Fund, Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, Quinnipiac University, House of Waterford Crystal, and 1800Flowers.com. ♦

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