Pat McDonagh, the man who quit primary school teaching to become one of Ireland’s most successful entrepreneurs, admits he fell out of love with his job during the pandemic.
The last year has been a good time to reflect, and there are days when I thought, ‘What the hell are you doing this for, it’s time to move on and let someone else take over’,” he says.
The Galway man turns 68 this year and the last 12 months have probably been the most turbulent of his career. Between insurance costs, planning rows and lockdown, there have been many tear-your-hair out moments – but it hasn’t all been bad.
He became a grandad for the first time, which has changed his outlook on things somewhat. “It’s been nice to take a step back and enjoy time with them, time I wouldn’t have had if the pandemic didn’t happen. The grandkids are a great source of optimism and they’re oblivious to everything going on. They don’t care about the vaccines or case numbers, they’re just happy out.”
McDonagh started Supermac’s in Ballinasloe, Co Galway in 1978 and there are now 106 outlets across the country, with two new drive-thrus set to open in Tuam and Waterford city later this year.
As a multimillionaire, who also runs his own hotel chain, Só Hotels, many would question what’s not to love about his role. For McDonagh, it boils down to a few issues.
“Doing business in this country was a lot more enjoyable 15 years ago,” he says.
“As is the way with any job or business, there are days you wish you could have avoided. Life isn’t a holiday. There’s twists and turns, good days and bad days but you have to look at the long-term and prepare to keep going.
“I’ve enjoyed it for 90pc of the time but for the last while, I’ve really had to try and seek the enjoyment out of it.
“The day you stop enjoying it, that’s the day you need to start looking for something else. This too will pass.
“There’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”
In 2019, Supermac’s recorded a turnover of almost €119m.
While McDonagh expects a significant hit following 2020, he knows he is in a more fortunate position than others. It’s the younger entrepreneurs starting out who he feels for.
“There’s so much red tape and bureaucracy now and the costs of running a business are huge. There’s definitely an anti-business sentiment creeping into the country as well.
There’s a fair bit of white collar crime beginning to become visible now, so I don’t know if that’s contributing to it.”
The issue of insurance costs and personal injury claims inevitably comes up. It’s a subject which always gets McDonagh animated. His latest gripe is with “psychological injuries”.
“I’ve always said I’m happy to pay out on genuine injuries if there’s negligence, but this new thing of claiming to be traumatised after a minor incident is a joke,” he says.
One woman who sued a Supermac’s branch claimed she suffered PTSD after allegedly finding a foreign object in her chips. She claimed in her affidavit that she stopped eating in restaurants as a result and had fears the same would happen to her children.
McDonagh instructed a private investigator who captured footage of the claimant eating a carvery after the incident – two months before she swore an affidavit claiming she could no longer eat in restaurants. The claim was later withdrawn.
In a more recent case, a delivery man injured himself at a premises owned by McDonagh after falling. The man had to have an operation but claimed he couldn’t work ever again.
The Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) made a substantial offer, but the man wanted to go to court to get more. McDonagh again called a private investigator, who got photos of him working on a farm. When the claimant and his representatives were made aware of this, the PIAB offer was accepted.
“I’ve dealt with two insurers in the last week who are quitting the market here because they lost their shirt in it.
“They don’t want to fight claims so you end up having to fight them yourself. It’s a losing battle”. He has been carrying out interviews for his hotel group after some staff quit the hospitality sector due to the pandemic.
While some staff are now working reduced hours, thankfully he hasn’t had to introduce too many cuts.
“One of the worst things you’ve to do in your life in business is letting people go. Sometimes that has to be done, and it’s not the nicest thing to have to do. Most of our senior management and that, we would still have them in place, but others are leaving.
“A lot have willingly gone on the PUP and some have had hours reduced but overall, we hadn’t any major job losses.”
The last year has made him rethink his options, so naturally the big ‘R’ word is mentioned.
Will the Supermac’s chief be stepping down any time soon?
“Ah, I might go back to teaching when I finish here,” he says.
“I think I’d be a better teacher now than I would have been 40 years ago. I really admire the people in it. I used to often look at my mother when she was teaching back in the day.
“She’d a love for the job and the kids, it wasn’t a job to her. But no, I won’t be retiring, not for another little while anyway.”
Source: Irish News