By Padraig Hoare
She has been one of the most familiar faces on the Cork corporate scene for over a decade, co-ordinating events for Cork Chamber — but now is the time for Leigh Gillen to take that experience and run her own business.
Ms Gillen has set up Leigh Gillen Events, which will see her organise, co-ordinate and consult on business breakfasts, awards ceremonies, gala dinners, networking lunches, information seminars, and more.
“Events are such an important part of business and companies need to know that their event is in competent hands. I see companies using stretched internal resources to put together their events, taking busy people away from their own jobs. Quality events require such attention to detail that it is a lot more time-consuming than you would think.
“Events are live, they must be exactly right. In as much as you might outsource your IT or your HR, Leigh Gillen Events is an outsource resource to bring a high level of quality and professionalism to each and every event.
“In terms of taking the leap into the entrepreneurial world, it has been a long-standing dream of mine to run my own business. In my career, I have met many start-ups and it always impresses me to see people mapping their own journey and following their dreams,” Ms Gillen said.
She has realised a professional and personal dream of owning her own events business but Ms Gillen admits it is bittersweet leaving her colleagues.
The Sligo native said: “When my dream job came up at Cork Chamber in 2006, I couldn’t get to Cork fast enough. I still consider it to be a massive turning point in my life and I’ve never looked back.
“One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Cork was how supportive businesses were of each other. Business people here collaborate and support each other as well as taking a broader view of how to make Cork the best place to visit, to live in, to work in and to invest in.
“In my 12 years at Cork Chamber, I have been privileged to meet many, many businesses of all sizes, from all sectors, as well as engaged and proactive support agencies.
“My role in Cork Chamber was strategic and operational — developing, creating, organising, and executing one of the busiest event calendars in the country.
"Each event has a specific purpose, whether it’s creating an environment for networking, inspiring people with successful keynote speakers, or facilitating development for companies with topical and relevant information for their business.
“I managed 100 events per year in this role so it has provided me with the best possible training for Leigh Gillen Events,” Ms Gillen said.
She has been preparing for this moment all her working life, gaining experience and different insights in a variety of roles.
“I went to college in Letterkenny IT to study Applied Languages. After college, I lived and worked in Germany. On my return to Ireland, I started working in the arts sector, particularly in large arts events such as Galway Arts Festival, the Druid Theatre, the Model Arts Centre, Sligo Arts Festival and for the Saw Doctors band.
“It was my first experience of a membership organisation and lead to more event management, co-ordinating corporate dinners, annual conventions and golf classics.
“It was a natural progression into the Institute of Directors in Ireland, where I organised seasonal corporate networking lunches and large gala dinners for our members.
“From my time with the Galway Arts Festival, I enjoyed being behind the curtain and loved the variety of tasks involved, such as communications, advertising, promotion, sales, booking management and relationship management.
“From that point on, I knew that working in events was the only thing I wanted to do and it was only a matter of time before I moved into the corporate market,” she said.
While Leigh Gillen Events will be Munster-focused, it is Cork where the business wants to make its mark.
“Cork is poised for massive change over the coming years with 5,000 new jobs in the city over the next couple of years alone.
“As well as the city transformations bringing more visitors, more investment and more businesses to Cork, there will be an increase in housing, commercial space, and infrastructure which in turn will put Cork on the global map and attract top talent to our shores,” she said.