CORKONIAN Paula Cogan is only the second female President of Cork Chamber in its 200-year history. In 2013, Gillian Keating did the job.
“We are getting there!” says Paula, 44, who, as Chamber President, has the honour of representing the interests of 1,200 members — who employ 100,000 people, in a host of diverse ways.
Paula is Sales Director with the Doyle Collection, who have hotels in Ireland, the UK and in Washington.
“Before I was offered the job, after a chance meeting, I’d have said, ‘never’ to working in the hospitality industry!” says Paula.
“The hospitality sector in Cork is part of the Cork confidence story, investing in infrastructure, people, and experiences that are second to none.”
Now she loves her job that involves lots of international travel, and she is embracing her two-year stint as President of Cork Chamber.
“My predecessor, Bill O’Connell, guided the Chamber through two of the most critical years in its history,” says Paula.
“In 2018, Cork was finally differentiated and acknowledged in Ireland 2040, a plan that is quite unique, aligning capital spend and spatial planning to create a vision for Ireland, with Cork as Ireland’s thriving second city, a compact city, where people want to come to live and work. It is all about sustainability, diversity, and inclusion.”
Paula believes in promoting and supporting companies and businesses that consistently perform well and flourish, adding significant advantages to city and community.
She may be the second female president of the Chamber, but she is not the first Cogan associated with it. The organisation held its first meeting in the Old Victoria Hotel, Patrick Street, on November 8, 1819, attended by a group of 15 men from the merchant class.
“As chair of the Cork Chamber 200 working group, I was proud to read that in November, 1819, when the original Chamber was established, one of the first members elected was John Cogan. It seems to be in the DNA!” says Paula, who is mum to Calum, Oisín and Senán.
“We have two exam candidates this year,” says Paula.
“Oisín is doing his Leaving Cert and Senán is doing his Junior Cert. Calum is studying at UCC.”
It doesn’t seem that long ago when Paula was a student herself in UCC, studying Archaeology and History, where she met her husband, Mike Morris, who is a Garda sergeant.
“We were both involved in the rowing club at UCC,” says Paula, who lives in Bearings, Mallow, but was brought up in Glasheen.
“I got married here in the River Lee Hotel,” says Paula. “It was just a perfect day.”
It doesn’t seem that long ago when Paula’s involvement with Cork Chamber began either.
“My own involvement with Cork Chamber started in 1996 when I joined the Young Enterprise committee and I have held various roles since that time.”
Her first job was in the Planning Department at County Hall.
“That was 35 years ago. I was very young.”
She had good role models.
“My mother always worked outside the home. My grandmother reared her family and she worked hard on the family farm.”
Her grandmother was of her time, offering sound advice.
“She always said ‘make sure you have a good winter coat!’”
Paula, a woman of her time, who worked in Tourist Development, interacting with the farming sector and rural community groups, has served her apprenticeship.
“Yes,” says Paula. “I feel confident I have served my apprenticeship. In this role, I see myself as your ambassador, the voice of the business community.”
The Chamber hasn’t changed much in 200 years.
“We are still a lobbying group,” says Paula. “Working closely with local authorities, local and national government to attain the commitments for Cork set out in Ireland 2014.”
She likes looking at the rising sky-line, demonstrating that Cork is on the up and up, from her office high above Kent Station.
“The only way is up!” says Paula.
“It is good to see Cork city going up.
“There is no limit to the level of impact that the business community can make here. It has responded with great confidence and speed of action to the commitments set out in Ireland 2040. We are building offices, commercial, hotels, student accommodation and housing.
“We are competing for talent internationally, improving our diversity and our innovation. Cork is the fastest growing city region in Ireland. Over 5,000 new jobs are coming to the city in the next three years alone.”
Cork and Cork people enable progress and inclusion.
“That is so true,” says Paula. “I meet people every day, hearing their stories, people who worked abroad now coming back to Cork to work, setting up new businesses and setting up home where place, culture and quality of life is so important.”
Connecting with others is also important.
“The Chamber is very supportive of people, welcoming them to live and work in Cork. We like to buddy them up.”
What else attracts people to Cork?
“The city is irreverent!” says Paula.
“It is so laidback. Europeans like that.”
They like other things about Cork too.
“Cork has great mobility. You can be walking in the woods or walking on the beach within 40 minutes.”
But you’d need transport to get you there.
“Infrastructure is the natural enabler, providing flexibility for jobs and for the people for the future.
“Yes, Cork needs flexibility and functionality,” says Paula, who sees the need for robust commitment opening up connectivity for Cork.
“From bike schemes, to bus corridors and motorways. Each has a part to play creating a city that is globally magnetic.
“We need the delivery of the M20 and the northern ring road without delay.”
Cork’s population is set to rise from 210,000 to 340,000 in the next 20 years. In the next ten years, 20,000 more people will be working in the city.
How does Paula juggle working her day job and her presidency?
“Mike, my husband, is super,” she says.
“And both sets of grandparents are hands on. We are very fortunate.”
She gives credit where credit is due.
“My youngest son, Senán, is a great cook. He has a few signature dishes!
“All the boys do their bit, making their beds and keeping their rooms tidy. They are all in sport and we love going to matches at the weekend.”
Paula relishes the challenge of her working roles. There was one role, though, she was never signing up to.
“I was never going to be the ‘Irish Mammy!” she says, laughing.
“My boys say to me ‘how many shoes and handbags does a woman need?’”
They say something else to her too.
“Go big or go home!”
She took their advice.
“I have a great supportive network and I have a great team of people around me,” says Paula.
She’s human too.
“When I take time out, we head to our bolt-hole in West Cork. Getting away from it all is a good way to relax.”
At the Future Forum exhibition at the Glucksman recently, one of the young students, Sumaya Mohammad, from Cork Educate Together Secondary School, envisaged what Cork might be like in 20 years’ time.
“Happy and colourful,” she said. “We have it better than most here.”
Would Paula concur with that vision and that sentiment?
“I certainly would,” she says.
“Happy, colourful and green. As active citizens, we can all play a part in Cork’s future.”