Breaking the bias: Succeeding as a female CEO in a male dominated industry

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Derry Bros Customs Clearance Ltd | AIBF
Brigid Derry ,CEO of Derry Bros Customs Clearance Ltd.

Brigid Derry is the CEO of Business All-Star Accredited transport company Derry Bros.

Founded by talented entrepreneur Jim Derry the multi-faceted family business quickly became a name synonymous with high quality transport and shipping solutions throughout the Island of Ireland.

Thanks to the continuous hard work of his daughter Brigid Derry, Derry Bros maintains that exceptional reputation after more than 50 years in business.

The All-Ireland Business Foundation is proud to share Brigid’s story and insights as a successful female CEO in the transport industry.

Hi Brigid, can you tell us a bit about the history of Derry Bros and where it all started?

My father started the business in 1963 and it was delivering fruit and vegetables to the fruit markets in Belfast. Quickly after that we progressed into transport, then to farming and eventually to a shipping agent.

My father was a real entrepreneur, and was always searching for opportunities. There were only three girls in our house, no boys and we grew up surrounded by lorries, tractors and machinery and we loved it.

He was a really outgoing man and extremely hardworking. I would confidently say he was one of the strongest people I have ever known and he was extremely solutions-focused, and always finding a way to sort any problem or issue out quickly and efficiently and I think that approach has always remained within Derry bros.

Did you always see yourself working within this industry?

I started working within the business when I was 16 so I honestly didn’t have a lot of time to think about it. The business faced two very sad tragedies, and two of our workers passed away suddenly. I began with the intention of helping out my father for a short while and I’m still here all these years later.

It’s incredible that you started working here at such a young age! What were your responsibilities?

I was thrown into the deep end and began running shipping straight away. It was a great lesson on thinking on your feet and having to learn on the job. I was so glad to help my father out at what was a sad and stressful time for him and was always eager to make him proud of me.

The push to make your father proud makes you always go the extra mile and I think that was where I got the real motivation to succeed and keep the business going. On reflection, it feels a bit surreal to think back to where we started and where we have come to now.

The way you, your father and the team would have worked back then would be extremely different to how you work now. Can you tell us a bit about this?

We do have diaries from then, that note how we did everything and our day to day tasks. Everything was done by hand, and of course, nothing was computerised.

Things took an awful lot longer. We didn’t have phones to call the drivers or to communicate with anyone that wasn’t there with you in the yard. The transport manager would have had a diary, with the loads written in the diary and drivers would have been handed a note and we might not have heard from them for two or three days.

Even when it comes to marketing, everything was word of mouth. The business was all about maintaining loyal relationships with people and receiving recommendations from them. Your reputation had to be golden because people really sold to people. It meant that everything was very personal and really good fun. We always try our best to maintain that personal connection with our customers, and we’re always eager to get to know them as real people and real businesses.

What’s it like being a female CEO in a male-dominated industry?

To be honest, because I have been working within this business and running the workings for so many years, it comes very naturally to me and I’m used to these environments. I think it helps because I have gained a lot of confidence in my knowledge of the industry throughout the years, and so I am well fit for all the conversations that a CEO needs to have throughout her career.

I’m very proud to champion women in the transport industry and definitely feel that women have so much to offer in this field. We have a great balance of men and women working for us, and that’s what a company really needs to thrive.

What’s been your biggest challenge to date?

I definitely think when my father died, taking over the business was a big challenge. My father left such an impressive empire behind, and having to keep it going and improving as well as balancing grief and turmoil over his passing was a difficult time for us. But I am extremely proud of how we weathered the storm and it gave Derry Bros great resilience.

Do you have any advice on how to keep your team motivated and focused?

I think it’s really important to be understanding and supportive of your staff. Yes, we all have to get the job done but your staff are real people with real lives. I also think it’s important to encourage your staff to have good relationships with each other. We would often ensure our Shipping staff are given opportunities to connect with our Customs Clearance staff, in order to boost morale in the offices and keep the environment a positive one.

Do you have any advice for women embracing the transport industry?

Work hard and you’ll get there in the end. I have to say that the main word that springs to mind when I think of my career and my job is “fun”. There’s always going to be good times and bad times but if you remain positive, you’ll always have fun.

What has been your proudest moment?

I think probably the first award that I won, which was the “Women In Transport Award”, at the Fleet Awards in 2012. That was the first award for women in transport, and to be the first to win it was amazing. We were able to sponsor that award then for a few years to support other women in transport. But also, there’s great satisfaction in just getting the job done every day, knowing that we provide jobs for people and that our staff are extremely happy at work. Having the business still thriving for almost 60 years makes me extremely proud.

What are your hopes for the future of Derry Bros?

To just keep growing bigger and stronger and always making sure we’re the best we can be.

To learn more about Derry Bros Customs Clearance Ltd, visit their All-Star showcase page here.

Or get in touch with their talented team today on +44 28 8778 4949 | customs@derrybros.com | www.derrybroscc.com