Business Leader: 'We are a Chamber that punches above our weight' - Helen Downes

Nick Rabbitts


Nick Rabbitts

Business Leader: 'We are a Chamber that punches above our weight' - Hospital's Helen Downes

FOR the last decade, Hospital's Helen Downes has overseen growth in Shannon Chamber:

Tell us a little about the Shannon Chamber

The Shannon Chamber is in existence since 1995, when a number of key business leaders decided their needs were not represented at regional  or national level. We are affiliated to Chambers Ireland – the national chamber movement, and are one of 46 Chambers currently in existence in Ireland. Shannon Chamber is now recognised as one of the most progressive and fastest growing Chambers in the country.  We are seen as a Chamber that punches above its weight. We have a current membership of over 300 companies, with an extended reach to more than 12,000 staff. Our membership is representative of all sectors; manufacturing, ICT, pharma, medical device, aviation, financial service and, to a lesser extent, retail.  

What is the role of the Shannon Chamber?​

The key role is to identify and direct the policy and influence the agenda of the Chamber based on listening to, understanding and representing the Shannon business community and our membership. We work for the economic development of Shannon town and the adjoining region. As the voice of the business community – industrial, commercial and consumer retail – we offer a wide range of services to benefit our membership, including training programmes, via our skillnet, corporate lunches with keynote speakers, and information and educational seminars.  In recent years, Shannon Chamber has established a chief executive forum, human resource forum, and now we are looking at establishing a learning and development forum.

What does your own role entail?

Managing the day to day operation of the Chamber; continuously engaging with members, and with regional and national stakeholders; political and non-political.  We now have five staff, including myself and an outsourced public relations function.

Where were you born and raised?

I was ​born in raised in the village of Hospital. I crossed the border into Clare and now live in Kilmurray.

What is your educational background?

I attended secondary school in Hospital, Co. Limerick, then studied business studies and what would be now known as human resource management at the University of Limerick. I recently completed an advanced leadership programme with the Timoney Institute 

How did you get to where you are today?

I w​orked from October 1988 until April 2008 in a financial services company, Thomson Financial.

Thomson Financial was an operating unit of Thomson Corporation, providing integrated information and technology applications in the global financial services industry. The company has been in Shannon since 1987. I initially joined the company as an analyst and worked my way up to take on the role of human resources manager.

It then moved its operation from Shannon to establish Thomson Financial facilities in other locations, resulting in the closure of the Shannon office. At that stage, I was invited by the Shannon Chamber board to take up the role of interim chief executive.

What made you want to join the Shannon Chamber?

I sat on the Shannon Chamber board so I saw this as an opportunity to do something different, step outside my comfort zone and challenge myself.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?

In terms of business, my goals are to continue to provide a range of services and events that meet the needs of business and members. To ensure that the opinion of Shannon Chamber reaches the appropriate targeted audiences both locally and nationally when appropriate, and to continue to develop and maintain an effective operating structure to support the current and future needs of Shannon Chamber. In terms of my personal goals, these would be to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Who do you admire in business?

I admire lots of people across all sectors from the multi-national corporation, small to medium sized enterprise and micro-enterprise companies. I won’t single any one person/persons out as there are so many that I have engaged with. I am motivated by so many and and I am very fortunate to have go-to people when I want to engage on issues. I enjoy people with a can-do attitude; people who are frank, open and honest. These ingredients all help me make better and more informed decisions. Information is power; the more you engage the more informed you are and this helps at so many different levels.

In business and life, are you guided by any particular motto?

‘Be yourself: everyone else is taken’. It’s an Oscar Wilde quote. Also, ‘happiness is a journey, not a destination’. It was shared with me only recently by an entrepreneur.  You can apply the following in both a business and personal context.

Away from work, what are your pastimes and hobbies?

Running, gym, friends and family are important to me and for me.