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What I Learned: One TD's journey from the cabbage farm to the Dáil

Pub owner- and accountant-turned-TD Áine Collins says Ireland needs to have a “serious conversation about failure”.

Áine Collins and daughter Lily
Áine Collins and daughter Lily
Image: Flickr

IRELAND NEEDS TO have a “serious conversation about failure”. That could be at least one, positive thing Áine Collins would want to see come from the country’s crushing economic collapse.

But while in some countries like the US failure for a startup would almost be worn as a badge of honour, the Fine Gael TD from Co Cork said there was still a stigma surrounding unsuccessful business ventures in her home country.

“Here, if someone fails in a business it can be challenging on people – and for people who live in a small community it can be particularly challenging,” she told TheJournal.ie.

“Hopefully one of the good things that will come out of this recession is that people will look at failure in a different light.”

On that other f-word

Collins had her own brush with the dreaded f-word in business over 15 years ago when she bought a small-town pub and decided to try her hand at the restaurant trade.

“It wasn’t very successful, but it was a learning experience,” she admits.

“I had my own vision about what I wanted to do, but then I met other people along the way and I changed my vision in the process.

I learned that sometimes you need to trust yourself and trust your gut. But I am a great believer that failure is the mother of invention.”

Aside from her dalliance as a publican, Collins spent most of her pre-political career as an accountant in her own practice before taking a seat in the Dáil at the last election – an experience carrying its own challenges, like most famously the “lapgate” incident.

Áine Collins TD and Senator Michael D'Arcy at Ard Fheis 2012 Source: Dave Nowak

“My interest has always been in business – from when I was very young I knew I wanted to be involved in the business world,” she said.

I grew up on a small farm where my father used to grow cabbage and sell it. I think from an early age I was part of that practice where you were involved in producing something.”

Irish people are slow with the money

As part of our in-depth coverage of the small- and medium-enterprise (SME) sector, this month we shift our focus to financial issues in keeping with tomorrow’s delivery of the Budget.

And Collins, who has made SMEs a focus of her short career in the Dáil, has one piece of advice that is true for budgets big and small – cash flow is king.

“I think managing cash flow is a huge issue; you have to make money to keep a business growing, you have to make money to pay the staff,” she said.

We have a bit of a culture in small business in Ireland that people don’t pay people within the required time. That can have a big influence on cash flow.”

Business is risky

Collins singled out several areas in which she thought the government had more work to do for the SME sector in everything from business education to investment.

She said students should be taught about being entrepreneurs from an early stage and the state could step in with tax incentives to make it more attractive for people to invest in businesses compared to assets like property.

“Business can be seen as a risky career so government and government departments can facilitate the process of making it easier,” she said.

“We are not going to create the jobs, but we can help others create the jobs by making it simpler for them.”

Do you know an SME or startup that is doing interesting things in the field of money management? If so, let us know by sending an email below.

READ: ‘No excuses, I just shouldn’t have done it’ – Tom Barry >

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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