Deirdre Devitt describes her first six months since becoming the LVA’s first female Chairperson last May as busy, meeting with the various parties in Government and preparing for the Bicentennial itself – but a positive six months nonetheless.
And in moving forward to complete the rest of her term of office, Deirdre intends to ensure that the Association has a productive year in this, the 200th Anniversary of Ireland’s oldest continual trade association with an unbroken history stretching back to 1817.
“I don’t want to just be able to say we’d a nice Bicentennial celebration” she stresses, “I want us to achieve something – such as having much better communications with members.”
Of course the recent refurbishment of the LVA HQ at Angelsea House has made it more useful for said members and the Association now has better communications with those members thanks to the appointment of a Communications Executive, Gillian Daly.
“I want the door to be open for members in that they fully know what we do for them and in that they can see that they’re better represented publicly in the media,” she says, “In the last year we’ve really changed and moved with the times, we’ve become more media-savvy – but we have to be careful about our use of that too,” she warns.
“The Association is consistent in its message and in return, the members are supporting us in our contacts with Government and in our lobbying activities because we’re stronger together.”
Has the role of LVA Chair changed?
So has the role of the LVA Chair changed much down through the years?
“That depends on the hot topics of the era in which you’re Chair,” responds Deirdre, “We’ve been very lucky over the years to have had fantastic leaders and businessmen as chairmen who can run their business and still dedicate the time to being Chair.
“We’ve also had the support of a strong Board and Council which has seen it go from strength-to-strength.
“I think the fact that we have a new Chair every year brings something different to the table and having strong members on Council gives us confidence that we’ve the best of people who can take us forward.”
The Bicentennial celebrations also engage with members by getting them to go back through their own archives, some which can date back as far as four or five generations, she says.
Deirdre’s mother’s family carries the publicans’ torch with four generations having run pubs since they were the proprietors of Roches on O’Brien Street in Tipperary town.
Deirdre’s memories of going to Tipp town as a child during the Summer base themselves around the pub.
“Granny was at the helm and was the boss; she knew her customers and the trade” she remembers, “and my first cousin still owns the pub today, living upstairs.”
Deirdre therefore grew up in the business, living in Dublin’s Camden Street where she got to see the trade “warts and all” via her father Willie. She never got treated any differently as a child growing up in that environment.
Very proud and honoured to fill the position of LVA Chair in this particular year, she expressed delight when the outgoing Chair, the late Oliver Hughes, asked her to go forward for office.
In looking back at the very first LVA board founded by James Lube in 1817 and comparing it to today’s Association, she still feels a sense of pride in both the Association and in being its first female Chair.
“Being the first female Chair of the LVA does not make me a feminist by any means – there are now three other females on the LVA Council – but I’ve always claimed to hold my own and I’m passionate about this business… my whole family are,” says this fourth generation publican who firmly believes that both the Association and her own business have benefited by her becoming its first female Chair.
“We’ve done more media than we usually would which is part of our objective to get out there more,” she explains, “But we need to do a hell of a lot more to improve the perception of the Dublin pub and the changes we’ve gone through over the past few years.”
She also believes it to be very important to have a female perspective in today’s business.
“A lot of our customers are female and a lot of them are paying premium prices for premium products,” she explains, “I’ve always believed that you should impress your female customers – if the wife is happy the husband is happy too as he’ll get to go to the pub for a pint or for an extra occasion, the food will be good. The pub is a fairly friendly and welcoming venue which is important for the next generation of pub-goers.”
In her communications to members, Deirdre makes use of one piece of advice in particular, taken from the LVA’s archives, written by one William Phipps, ‘Former Secretary to the Fair Trading Vintners’ Society and Asylum of the City of Dublin’ in 1825.
“What struck me most about this was that the advice that this man gives about being a good publican is still relevant 200 years later,” she says.
William Phipps offered the trade a number of advisory saws, setting out a code that someone in the trade should follow. It contained the following gems:
- Be strict in discharging all legal debts. Do not evade your creditor by any shuffling acts, in giving notes under your hand only to defer payment; but if you have it in your power, discharge all debts when they become due. Above all when you are straitened for want of money, be cautious of taking it up at a high interest, this has been the ruin of many, therefore avoid it.
- Endeavour to be as much in your shop or warehouse, or in whatever place your business properly lies, as possibly you can; leave it not to servants to transact, for customers will not regard them as yourself, they generally think they shall not be so well served; besides mistakes may arise by the negligence or inexperience of servants, and therefore your presence will prevent, probably, the loss of a good customer. Be complaisant to the MEANEST as well as the GREATEST. You are as much obliged to use good manners, for a farthing as a pound, the one demands it from you as well as the other.
“It’s so relevant still” she points out, “particularly for the last 10 years or so with the banks. So the relevant principles of business haven’t changed. You still need to know your customer base and still be relevant to your customer.”
She also emphasises another valid point from William Phipps for today’s publican: “Your customers need to see you there and we may have lost sight of this in the boom times. You need to know their names and those of their offspring as well as what they drink.”
Doesn’t sound like that would be much of a problem for the current LVA Chair.