Author: EricBBigham , Last Modified, 2017-10-08 Deep Down from the album EXILE by ROLLINGEXILE
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Lily O'Brien's chocolates founder: 'Sugar is becoming a little bit of a bad guy'
But Mary Ann O’Brien expects the Kildare company to hit €50m in sales within a few years.
BY CONOR MCMAHON REPORTER, FORA
OCTOBER 7TH 2017 7 MIN READ
LUXURY CHOCOLATE COMPANY Lily O’Brien’s expects to hit sales of €50 million within the next five years.
In an interview with Fora, founder Mary Ann O’Brien says the Kildare-based outfit’s turnover has surpassed the €30 million mark and is on track to nearly double by 2021.
Headquartered in Newbridge, Lily O’Brien’s celebrated its 25th year in business this year.
The idea for the luxury chocolates famously came to O’Brien – who named the company after her daughter – while she was on holiday in South Africa.
At the time, O’Brien was in “recuperation mode” after being sick for two years with chronic fatigue syndrome.
An edible chess set in her hotel served as the inspiration for the fancy chocolates, which are now exported to 16 countries.
“It’s hard to believe that it took me down the road that it did,” O’Brien says.
“It was not an overnight success. It was a building-block project and still is,” she says. ”It’s been a long old road and there has been a lot of learning along the way.”
“We’ve learned the hard way that you only have so many people to look after businesses on the ground in these countries,” she says. “If you’re going to have positive effect and make products that the consumers love, you need to have your finger on the pulse.
“You need to make sure the culture of that country suits the taste profile of your product.”
There’s also a matter of biting off more than it can chew. For example, the company is not chasing after China as it doesn’t have the scale to make what management would see as a significant impact there.
It was announced earlier this year that Lily O’Brien’s majority shareholder, private equity fund Carlyle Cardinal Ireland (CII), had put the company up for sale with an asking price of €50 million.
When asked when she expected a deal to close, O’Briens says, “How long is a piece of string?”
“Our present owners are superb people, but they were very clear when they bought us that they’re usually people who hold a business between four and five years,” she says.
“It’s no secret that we are there for somebody to approach. As to when it will happen, there is no definitive timeline. Nor is there any hurry. They’re very happy and the company is very profitable and doing well.
“If you sell a company, nothing really changes. It’s just business as usual. A business is a living, breathing entity and it doesn’t mind if it’s being sold or not. It needs to continue growing and looking for opportunities.”
Next week, O’Brien will be one of a number of business ambassadors taking part in talks around the country for National Women’s Enterprise Day, which is organised by the Local Enterprise Office.
O’Brien has been actively supporting businesswomen over the years, namely through the Women’s Network of Ireland and ‘Going for Growth’ mentorship programme.
When asked whether she has ever felt discriminated against because of her gender, O’Brien says: “It has never even entered my head.”
She says her father brought up O’Brien and her two sisters to believe that they could do whatever men could do.
“We were definitely brought up with no limiting beliefs. I just never saw any walls.”
O’Brien says the gender balance in the Newbridge boardroom is fairly evenly split, which has served the company well.
“We do find the different minds and attributes bring different assistance to a management meeting or indeed a board meeting.”
Other than chocolate making, O’Brien’s other passions are politics and charity.
Lily O'Brien's Chocolates - Our Story by Mary-Ann O'Brien
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