Business & Finance Awards preview: the underdogs prevail

Business, Editor's Choice | Wed 14 Dec | Author – Business & Finance
susan whelan

Leicester City’s Premier League victory stunned the sporting world – a sporting and business success guided by its Irish CEO Susan Whelan, who will pick up the Global Irish Outstanding Achievement in Business award at this week’s Business & Finance Awards.

The dust has settled at this stage, but it’s still hard to get used to the idea. Earlier this year, the Premier League giants of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Spurs were all made to look like amateurs: Leicester City became champions.

That a relatively small English midlands club could prevail against billion-pound rivals in a league dominated by money matters is already part of football legend, and Leicester won the hearts of footballing people the world over.

Everyone loves an underdog, and their story was a joy for journalists to write. Off the pitch, though, a Dublin woman was a key part of that story – for the CEO of Leicester City is one Susan Whelan of Howth.


Her working life began at her family’s jewellery store, followed by a career at Aer Rianta International that saw her travel the world. Her next move was to Thailand’s King Power Duty Free, where she served as senior executive vice-president.

The role saw her work with owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (formerly known as Vichai Raksriaksorn) – who would buy Leicester City in 2010.

Whelan has played a crucial role in building the club’s infrastructure of success and delighting football fans

She joined the Leicester board that year, and was appointed CEO in 2011: she became its first female CEO, responsible for the club’s day-to-day running with a particular emphasis on commercial activity.

“I believe that we are assembling a talented collection of staff, both on and off the field, supporting the owners’ commitment to excellence, so we have much reason for optimism,” said Whelan, in words that now seem strangely prophetic.

“We have the foundations set in place for success, but it is now important that everyone continues to work hard, both individually and collectively, to deliver success as we enter an exciting new era at Leicester City.”

That exciting new era would see Whelan back Claudio Ranieri as manager last year and the pair would navigate the club into uncharted waters, in business and sporting terms: Premier League champions, Champions League high-fliers and a club infrastructure capitalising on its on-field success.

Susan Whelan has played a crucial role in building the club’s infrastructure of success and delighting football fans around the world – a truly outstanding achievement in business from a remarkable global Irish business leader. 

The Business & Finance Awards, in association with KPMG, take place on December 15th at The Convention Centre Dublin. Susan Whelan will be presented with the Global Irish Outstanding Achievement in Business award on the night.