2018 Business 100 Luncheon
By Irish America Staff
On Wednesday, December 12, Irish America magazine hosted its 33rd annual Business 100 awards luncheon at the Metropolitan Club in New York City. The best and brightest Irish-American business leaders, representing some of the nation’s top corporations, were honored, and Eileen McDonnell, the chairman & CEO of Penn Mutual, served as the keynote speaker.
Coming in from all over the country, and representing a range of generations from 4th- to Irish-born, the impressive group of honorees, 57 of whom were in attendance, included such notables as Don Colleran, chief sales officer at FedEx; Gerry Cuddy, the CEO of Beneficial Bank; John Saunders, the president and CEO of FleishmanHillard; and Kevin McManus, Andrew O’Flaherty and Ted Sullivan, all high-level executives at SAP.
The occasion was also an opportunity to highlight the women on the Business 100 list, who, like the keynote speaker Eileen McDonnell, have broken through the corporate glass ceiling. These included Audrey Hendley, the Irish-born president of American Express Travel, one of the largest multi-channel consumer travel agencies in the world; Michele Cusack, a first-generation Irish American who is Chief Financial Officer of Northwell, one of the largest health systems in the United States; and Julie Davis, a private wealth advisor at Goldman Sachs, who is 4th-generation. Julia credits her persistence and love for finance to the spirit of her grandfather, who taught her that you can never give up on yourself.
Paying tribute to the ancestors is an important part of Irish America’s events, and the co-founders of the magazine, now in its 34th year, Niall O’Dowd and Patricia Harty, emphasized this in their opening remarks.
“You help us honor our past and celebrate our future,” said Harty, welcoming “old friends and supporters, and the many new faces” to the luncheon. The Consul General of Ireland in New York, Ciarán Madden, also welcomed the honorees and focused his remarks on the special relationship between Ireland and America that goes back many generations.
The true highlight of the gathering was Eileen McDonnell’s touching keynote address.
McDonnell, who is the subject of the cover story in the January / February 2019 issue of Irish America magazine, paid homage to her four grandparents who emigrated from Ireland so that she could one day have a better life. She spoke of her father’s father, Terence McDonnell, who grew up on a dairy farm in the west of Ireland, but, upon arriving in New York City, had to reinvent himself. He went to work in a grocery store, and rose to become manager of an A&P store, and moonlighted as a bartender in Richmond Hill, Queens, setting an example of how “adaptability and relationship skills are transferable and oftentimes even more valuable than technical abilities,” as McDonnell recollected.
She also highlighted the accomplishments of the other honorees in the room, noting that they all have their own stories of brave ancestors who left everything behind so that their descendants could one day sit in that room.
“Great leaders recognize that success is based on the success of others, and that they are a part of something bigger than themselves,” said McDonnell.
She added, “Adaptability, strength in adversity, lifelong learning, a shared sense of belonging; while my grandparents never received recognition like we are witnessing here today, they certainly possessed many of the same characteristics that our Business 100 possess.”
“So,” she stated in closing, “a century after my grandparents arrived on these shores to become Americans, I stand here proud to call myself an Irish American and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the other honorees here today. Congratulations. Erin go bragh!”
McDonnell received a standing ovation. As did Niamh Hyland, from County Leitrim, who, accompanied by Sku Namamura on guitar, provided the entertainment.
Niamh sang “Fields of Gold” and “Isle of Hope – Isle of Tears” to kick off the program, and closed out the event with “Silent Night,” singing the chorus in Irish, and, as the final song of the day, “Wild Mountain Thyme,” with the audience gleefully joining in, singing, “Will ye go, Lassie, go!”
For the complete list of the 2018 Business 100, click here