A Day in the Life… Catherine Toolan, managing director, ICC Belfast
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
I’m the managing director of ICC Belfast, Waterfront Hall and the Ulster Hall. I took up the position in August 2016 and lead a team of over 600, with a focus on establishing ICC Belfast as a world-class conference and entertainment facility. We aim to deliver 50,000 conference delegate days each year by 2020, which will generate £100m of economic impact to the city by the end of 2021.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND?
I grew up in a village in Sligo and completed a degree in Business and Hospitality Management in Galway, followed by a Master’s in Business in UCD (Dublin). I worked in Paris, London and Dublin with the Forte Hotel Group. As part of my MBS, I won a Post Graduate Master’s Scholarship to study in Tsinghua University, Beijing.
I previously spent over 10 years as managing director of Global Sports and Events with Aramark, a $15bn US corporation. There, I oversaw the build, design and execution of food and retail in the Athletes Village for the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing and London. This included building a supply chain for elite athletes from scratch in a developing country and serving 100,000 meals on a peak day, to ensuring we met specific dietary requirements of Olympians from 205 countries.
WHAT ARE THE BEST/WORST PARTS OF YOUR JOB?
I love welcoming new visitors to our city from across the globe. It’s fantastic to be part of Team Belfast (that is anyone who is proud of Belfast and wants the best for it) and build brand awareness of Belfast as a business tourism destination.
On the entertainment side, it’s a plus being a music lover in my job. Live music and live events as an experience are a growing phenomenon and being part of the ongoing promotion of live music really excites me.
Sometimes as a business leader, you must make tough decisions that not everybody appreciates, understands or supports. I never take such decisions lightly and ensure they are in the best interest of the business.
WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST CHALLENGING ABOUT THE SECTOR?
The biggest challenge we face is to build awareness of Belfast as a business tourism destination as it is an incredibly competitive industry. However, by repositioning the Waterfront Hall to ICC Belfast for the international conference market, we aim to make Belfast a world leading business tourism destination.
OUTLINE A TYPICAL DAY
Every day in this industry is different. I am regularly in London or another European city raising awareness of ICC Belfast and Belfast as a business tourism destination. In Belfast, I meet my leadership team every day, and welcome and meet clients to ensure we are delivering the product and service they require. I often work late to check in on our entertainment events at Belfast Waterfront and Ulster Hall. I also spend a lot of time with our stakeholders to ensure we’re all working together.
PROUDEST MOMENT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE
I am very proud to have led the largest peacetime catering projects in the world for the recent Summer Olympic Games, with the largest team being over 7,000 people. In 2010, I was humbled to have been awarded the Business and Finance Asia Pacific/Ireland International Business Person of the Year in Hong Kong for outstanding contribution to the international business community. I’m also honoured to be part of Team Belfast and to be part of the journey to deliver economic development.
BEST THING ABOUT BEING INVOLVED IN THE LOCAL SECTOR
I am proud to call Belfast my second home. Belfast today is full of ambition, optimism and above all energy. I believe Team Belfast can make a difference and leave a legacy that is the development of sustainable business tourism for our future.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO TO UNWIND AWAY FROM WORK?
As well as attending live music events, I love cooking and like nothing more than hosting a dinner party using culinary techniques I’ve picked up from everyone from my grandmother to my Asian, Irish and South American colleagues.
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF NOT MANY PEOPLE KNOW
I love to hike and climb mountains and, in 2011, I realised a lifelong ambition to climb to Base Camp Two on the Tibetan Side of Mt. Everest in the Himalayas to 7,000 metres above sea level. It was one of the most amazing but challenging experiences ever.