Tom Roche among key speakers at DCU CFB event attended by Irelands family businesses

On a bright July morning, over 90 members of Ireland's family business community gathered at AIB Bankcentre, Ballsbridge, to attend a specially curated seminar organised by DCU Centre for Family Business.

'Family Dynamics in Business Succession Planning' took place on Tuesday, July 3, at 7:30am. Designed with the unique challenges faced by Ireland's family business community in mind, the seminar focused on the topic of family dynamics, and how to navigate the overlap between business and family when planning for the next generation.


Attendees heard keynote presentations from a panel of special guests - founding Director of NTR plc and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Tom Roche; clinical psychologist, author and broadcaster, David Coleman; and Chief Executive Officer of Woodford Capital, Michael Walsh.


The event was also attended by DCU President, Professor Brian MacCraith, who opened the seminar highlighting the pivotal role family businesses play in Ireland’s culture and economy, and how DCU is committed to supporting this role.

“What we’re about is adding value’’, DCU President Professor Brian MacCraith.

DCU president speaks

Leading the seminar and the panel as MC for the morning was Head of Business Banking at AIB, Catherine Moroney. Catherine spoke about AIB’s relationship with DCU which has existed “since the university’s foundations”. As one of two partners of the CFB, AIB has been supporting family business research at DCU since 2015, and this year announced another three years of partnership with the Centre.

Catherine Moroney speaks

During the panel session a series of questions were posed by Catherine Moroney to Tom Roche, Michael Walsh, David Coleman, and Dr Eric Clinton. Questions about conflict resolution, and the best pieces of advice for the next generation of family business leaders elicited some deeper insight into the core issues that families face in every generation of their business.

panel question to Tom Roche

Attendees also heard from the Chairman of DCU Centre for Family Business, Paul Keogh. Emphasising the uniqueness of family businesses which “come in all shapes and sizes”, Paul spoke about the importance of the work that the CFB does in educating the next generation.

Paul Keogh speaking

The final presentation of the morning was a special pre-budget analysis from Ronan Furlong, Tax Partner with PwC. Ronan described the shortfalls in Ireland’s tax regime, and provided insights on the ways in which Budget 2019 can affect family businesses in Ireland. In dual partnership, PwC also announced earlier this year their continued support for family business research at DCU, and will remain a partner of the CFB until 2021.

Ronan Furlong

The Director of DCU Centre for Family Business, Dr Eric Clinton spoke during the panel session about the experiences of students at DCU who are also next generation family business members, and the importance of thinking about the values of incoming family business leaders.

“When you think of the word family, what comes to you?”, Director of DCU CFB, Dr Eric Clinton.

Dr Eric Clinton

Closing the event and thanking all those in attendance, Dr Clinton also made reference to the CFB’s upcoming Connectivity Project – a family business mentoring programme – which aims to foster fruitful and supportive relationships between national and international family business leaders and peers in Ireland.

Dr Eric Clinton

The DCU Centre for Family Business Annual Conference will take place in October 2018. More details about this event and how to register will be made available on the DCU Centre for Family Business website over the coming weeks.

Audience clapping

Tom Roche - how the family overcame (most of) their disputes

Three generations of the Roche family have made their unique mark on the landscape of Ireland’s family business sector. Tom Roche, founding Director of NTR plc and Chairman of the Board of Directors, began his keynote presentation describing what he called “the plain vanilla” history of the Roche family business.

Tom Roche

The difficulties faced by the second generation of the Roche family business were never far from the media’s watchful eye, and Tom spoke about the family’s claim to fame in the book Irish Family Feuds: Battles over Money, Sex and Power, by Liam Collins, where they occupy two chapters. In an open and frank discussion, Tom Roche spoke about his experiences with family disputes and the tensions that lie in the overlap between business and family.

“The tough ones are the soft issues” … “It was about learning the rules of engagement, saying the right things, to the right people, at the right time”, Tom Roche Chairman of NTR Board of Directors

Tom Roche

Tom shared insights from his personal experiences with conflict resolution. He emphasised the vital importance of family consultants in this process, naming Dr Tim Habbershon as a key player in the resolution of the Roche-Doyle conflict – an outcome which would have been impossible “if we hadn’t had a shared vision and a shared alignment”. Though there still one family dispute, Tom pointed out, that has never been resolved.  

The key message of Tom’s presentation - sometimes family businesses need professional help.

“We started out as parent to children, and we became peer-to-peer”, Tom Roche, Chairman of NTR Board of Directors.

Michael Walsh –  methods of managing family dynamics  

Michael Walsh is the Chief Executive Officer of Woodford Capital, and was previously Group Finance Director of NTR plc. As somebody with an extensive professional history with the Roche family, Michael spoke about the ways in which family businesses can navigate their own unique family dynamics.  

Michael Walsh

He described the role of the family charter, the significance of effective family governance and organising family assets. Echoing Tom’s advice, Michael emphasised the important role that non-family advisors can play in managing family dynamics.

“Family advisors must have an affinity with the family”, Michael Walsh, CEO Woodford Capital.

Michael Walsh

At the same time the commitment from family members must be steady, as they “cannot abdicate on responsibility”.

David Coleman – family values need to match family actions

Attendees were given a lesson in role identities and the typical roles that people might play in families by clinical psychologist, author and Irish Independent columnist David Coleman.

David Coleman

He urged families to think about their own personal, internal dynamic before the family dynamic. People might act differently in different family business environments, and family members should be aware of the roles that they might be pushing onto their children.

“We need to listen more than we talk”, David Coleman, clinical psychologist.

One of the key messages from David’s presentation was that sometimes the ‘family values’ that parents might enshrine into the character of the business don’t actually translate into real action – and children need to see these values in practice.

David Coleman

9th July, 2018