We are pleased to announce that the panel of judges for Cork Company of the Year Awards 2021

John Higgins, Chair Cork Company of the Year Judging Panel, Managing Partner of EY’s Cork office and Head of Transaction Advisory Services

John is a partner in EY’s Transaction Advisory Services team. He has worked with the firm for over 30 years. John’s more recent projects include loan acquisition and disposals, business acquisition and disposals, due diligence and independent business reviews. Also John leads many larger scale transaction and diligence projects in the Agri/food and healthcare sectors. John is also on the team that delivers the annual EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

Paula Cogan, Cork Chamber President

Paula Cogan is the current President of Cork Chamber and CEO at Cognate Health. Cognate Health is a leading supplier of Occupational Health Services in Ireland. Prior to her move to Cognate Health, Paula had worked for over 25 years in the hospitality industry and had held senior roles in sales and marketing, culminating as Global Head of Sales for The Doyle Collection. Paula sits on the board of Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind and The Glucksman Gallery at UCC. She completed her primary and postgraduate studies at UCC and in 2015 undertook a Diploma in International Sales and Marketing at Cornell University.

Ronan Murray, Vice President Cork Chamber, Deloitte Partner & Head of Corporate Finance Munster

Ronan is currently Vice President of Cork Chamber and is a Partner & Head of Corporate Finance for Deloitte in the Munster region. He holds both an Honours Bachelor of Commerce and Executive MBA from University College Cork. He is also an FCA Chartered Accountant. He provides a broad range of corporate finance services to clients including M&A Sell side Lead Advisory, Transaction Services such as buy side financial due-diligence, and capital/debt raising for clients depending on their strategic objectives.

Frank Walsh

Frank Walsh, a UCC Graduate, joined EEVC in March 2006 and is based in our Cork office. His investee Board Directorships include: Swrve, EpiSesnsor, StoryToys, SensL, Ferfics, NitroSell, Gameyourgame, Metabolomic Diagnostics. Previously, Frank spent 7 years in San Francisco in the 1990’s working for investment bank, Volpe Welty, as a Research Associate and Prudential Volpe as an Equity Research Analyst covering the Enterprise Software space. As an Analyst, Frank was involved in several technology IPOs, Secondaries and PIPEs (Private Investment in Public Equities). He was also responsible for the firm’s thematic research and publication in the enterprise software space. Between his two roles in San Francisco, Frank worked as a Joint Venture Business Manager for Millicom International Cellular in Luxembourg between 1995 and 1996. Millicom is a publicly traded company that develops and operates cellular telephone networks in developing countries. Following his return to Ireland in 1998. Frank founded two companies, both of which operated successfully and were ultimately sold. Firstly, Technology Research Group which provided research analysis and valuation services to Irish technology and investment companies/funds was acquired by a start-up US Venture Capital Company to spear-head its operations in Ireland. Subsequently, Customfit Golf, a golf hardware business which was taken over by a competitor.

Thia Hennessy, Dean of Cork University Business School

Thia Hennessy is Professor of Agri-food Economics and Dean of the Business School at UCC. With over 3,500 students, Cork University Business School is the largest business school in Ireland. Prior to joining UCC in 2016, Thia was head of economic research at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority of Ireland. Her research interests include the sustainable development of the agri-food sector and the impact of policy on the economic performance of the farm sector.

Deirdre Waldron, Partner, Fuzion Communications

Deirdre founded Fuzion, a multi award-winning communications and creative agency in 2000 and she works between Fuzion’s Cork and Dublin offices.
She is one of Ireland’s leading communications consultants with more than 25 years industry experience in the UK and Ireland and specialises in Strategic Communications and Reputation Management, working with a very diverse mix of clients.
She is passionate about supporting women in business and in 2016 was President of Network Ireland, an organisation driving the personal and professional development of women. Deirdre is also on the board of the Cork Foundation the National Youth Orchestra of Ireland and Triskel Art Centre.

David Owens, SVP Finance & Operations, Solarwinds

David Owens is currently Senior Vice President, Finance and Operations for SolarWinds (NYSE: SWI). Prior to joining SolarWinds, Mr. Owens worked for Red Hat, Inc., an enterprise software company, for over seven years, where he served initially as Director of Global Logistics and Production and then as Senior Director of Finance- EMEA. Mr. Owens qualified as a chartered accountant with Ernst & Young and is a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland. He currently sits on the Board of The Marine Institute.

Orla Rimmington, Partner, Kernel Capital

Orla is a partner with Kernel Capital. Orla works closely with the entrepreneur community identifying Series A investment opportunities in the range of €1M-€5M. Prior to joining Kernel Capital in 2007, Orla was Global Services Manager with Qumas Ltd, a Kernel Capital portfolio company, which sold to Accelrys, Inc. (NASDAQ: ACCL) for US$50m in December 2013.
Orla graduated from UCC with a degree in Economics and Computer Science (2000) and subsequently attained a Higher Diploma in Software Engineering (2001). Orla holds a Diploma in Digital Marketing (2010) from the Digital Marketing Institute, is a member of the Institute of Directors (IoD) and holds an IoD Diploma in Company Direction (2015).

Mark Whitaker, CEO, Johnson & Perrott Motor Group

Mark Whitaker was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Johnson & Perrott Motor Group in 2001, having previously held the post of General Manager at the Group’s Fleet Division. Mark studied Law at UCC and qualified as a Chartered Accountant working with the firm EY in 1990. In 2008 he completed the Owner Presidents Management Program (OPM 37) at Harvard Business School.
In his 20 years as CEO, Mark led a broad investment program in all aspects of the business including the acquisition of units in the Opera Lane Retail Quarter in 2009. In 2012, he led the disposal of the Group’s Avis car rental operation and the re-focus of the Group’s operation into three core areas of Motor Dealerships, Fleet Management and Commercial Vehicle Rental. This included the acquisition of three companies, including National Truck Rental in 2018.
Mark retired as a Board of Cork Chamber of Commerce in 2020 and was previously a member of Governing Body and Chair of the Finance Committee of Cork Institute of Technology.

Gerard O’ Donovan, Head of the Faculty of Business and Humanities, MTU Cork

Gerard O’Donovan is Head of the Faculty of Business and Humanities in Munster Technological University – Cork campus where he is responsible for the strategic direction, people management and operation of the Faculty. During his 18 years at the university, he has held a number of senior positions including Head of School of Business, Head of the Department of Accounting & Information Systems and founder of the Hincks Centre for Entrepreneurship Excellence. Prior to academia, his industry experience includes work in retail, human resources, IT and consultancy roles in Ireland and the USA. He holds a BComm (Hons) from University College Cork and an MBA from St. Joseph’s University, USA. Gerard serves on a number of advisory and foundation boards.

Conor Healy, Chief Executive, Cork Chamber of Commerce

Conor Healy took up the position as Chief Executive of Cork Chamber of Commerce in February 2006. Prior to joining Cork Chamber Conor worked with Ireland’s inward investment agency IDA Ireland playing a lead role in the strategic development of the South West region and the winning of new investment. Previously he worked with Enterprise Ireland holding responsibility for the development of the indigenous software and international services sector and has also worked in business development working with micro enterprises.
Mr Healy holds a BSc, MSc and MBA from University College Cork. He is currently a Board Member of Chambers Ireland and a member of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) in the United States. He also sits on UCC Alumni Board as well as a range of boards and committees supporting economic development and tourism across the Cork region.


Hugh Smiddy, Head of Business Development, Tyndall National Institute

Hugh Smiddy is the Head of Business Development at Tyndall National Institute with more than 25 years of international experience in the development and commercialisation of technology with world-leading technology companies. His role in Tyndall focusses on building relationships with key industry partners and ensuring the delivery of research excellence with economic impact. He holds a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from TU Dublin and an MBA from Warwick Business School.