Mary B Walsh: ‘I was destined to start’

It was never a question of if, but when, says Ire Wel Pallets co-founder Mary B Walsh.

Going for Growth, a programme jointly run by Enterprise Ireland and KPMG, assists ambitious women entrepreneurs to achieve their growth ambitions.

So far more than 850 Irish women entrepreneurs have participated in the award-winning programme, including Áine Kerr of Kinzen. The 14th cycle of Going for Growth reported significant results for its 57 participants. Combined turnover increased from €35m at the start of the cycle to €43m by the end, a 23% increase in just six months.

“Going for Growth has generated new ideas and possibilities for my company. I now have a more structured approach to the business, concentrating more on the strategy and direction I want to bring the company in”

Going for Growth is now inviting ambitious women entrepreneurs to take part in its 15th cycle with the deadline for applications set for Friday 18 November.

Ire Wel Pallets 

Mary B. Walsh began her career in banking with AIB in the 1980s, having studied Business and Accountancy in Waterford Institute of Technology and later in Accountancy through CIMA. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, however, Mary always knew that she was destined to run her own business, but did not know what area it would be in.

The Walsh family run a sawmill/hardware business in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. Often, they were asked if they could supply packaging and pallets to local manufacturing businesses. The family had no interest in the packaging business at all.

“My husband Shay and I thought it was a mistake to refuse any business. Almost overnight, we decided to go for it ourselves and set up on our own. Shay left the family business and I left AIB. We formed Ire Wel Pallets in May 1990.”

Ire Wel Pallets (IWP) is Ireland’s leading pallet and packaging manufacturer, supplying pallets, boxes and crates to specification for their customers. The company’s customer base is made up of companies in the medical devices, pharmaceutical, electronic, food and drinks industries. Mary and Shay celebrated 30 years in business in 2020.

Based near Gorey, Co. Wexford, the company leased premises for their first ten years in business. Twenty years ago, they bought a ten-acre site and developed the first purpose-built pallet manufacturing facility in Ireland. “We have grown steadily year on year to where we are today. We now have a 200,000 sq. ft. ventilated store for ideal storage of kiln-dried timber and pallets.”

IPW grew fast initially with the support of their customers, local bank and Wexford County Council. Coming out of the recession in 2013, Mary felt that Ire Wel Pallets could survive anything and truly believed it was the right time to focus on growing the business.

She successfully applied for a place on the 6th cycle of Going for Growth. “We were looking to bring the company to the next level, and we wanted to explore potential export markets.” Getting accepted onto the programme was perfect timing and a ‘game changer’ for the company.

Speaking of her experience on Going for Growth, Mary says that she discovered a new way of doing business. “Going for Growth has generated new ideas and possibilities for my company. I now have a more structured approach to the business, concentrating more on the strategy and direction I want to bring the company in. The programme allowed me to engage with like-minded people, in a confidential and safe environment, who were themselves on their own growth journey.”

At times Mary has found running her own business isolating. “It can be quite a lonely place when making difficult decisions. Being part of the Going for Growth Community allows you to connect with other businesswomen to brainstorm, network, share ideas and get advice from like-minded equally successful businesswomen.”

Over the past four years €6 million has been invested into IWP, with further investment planned. New technology on site has allowed more control of their production quality and stock. Recent solar panel investments are delivering immediate return on that investment, together with delivering a green energy power solution for the entire business. This project is a continuation of IWP’s strategy to minimise the company’s carbon footprint. Mary now hopes to focus on export markets. With customers nationwide throughout the island of Ireland, she believes IWP’s presence in Northern Ireland is a key steppingstone into the UK market. “Over the next five years, we want to keep the business growing and begin exporting into mainland UK. We also aim to be the most successful pallet manufacturing company in Europe.”

To help achieve their goals, Ire Wel Pallets currently employ a team of 50 staff and are expanding. “The team is extremely supportive. Many have been with us for years, while others have joined more recently.”

Mary believes in giving back and is a voluntary Lead Entrepreneur on the highly successful ACORNS Programme, a Board Member of TIMCON (The UK Pallet & Packaging Association) since 2015, on Hospice Homecare, LoveGorey, and County Wexford Chamber. Mary was the Wexford Ambassador on NWED in 2019 and 2020.

The call is open for applications from female entrepreneurs who would welcome peer support to take their businesses to the next level by taking part in the Going for Growth programme. This is the 15th year of Going for Growth and more than 850 female entrepreneurs have so far taken part in the programme. Sixty places will be available for the 15th cycle of Going for Growth, which will run from January to June 2021 and the deadline for applications is Friday 18 November 2022. There is no charge for those selected.

Anyone interested is encouraged to register on the website