Five Northern Ireland company directors – three of whom are women – have been shortlisted for the finals of the Institute of Directors' UK Director of the Year awards.
All five were winners of their category in the Northern Ireland awards for 2012-13, and will now attend the UK finals in London on October 11.
They include the UTV Media plc non-executive director Helen Kirkpatrick, who stepped up to the role of interim chairman last year after John B McGuckian was removed from his position because of fears his independence had been compromised.
Karen Dundee from Galgorm Manor Hotel is shortlisted as the UK's small to medium-sized business director of the year.
Her namesake Karen Carmichael from marketing agency Mxb is running in the category of young director of the year.
John McMullan of Bryson Charitable Group is hoping to be named third sector director of the year and David Dobbin from United Dairy Farmers has his eye on the prize of the UK's large company director of the year.
The five finalists were unveiled as Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry launched the search for the 2013 to 2014 Director of the Year in Northern Ireland.
Linda Brown, the divisional director of the IoD in Northern Ireland, said: "I am delighted that five of our winners have made the prominent national shortlist.
"The IoD here plays a significant role in mentoring and supporting leaders and Northern Ireland continues to produce business leaders who are world-class with unequalled business success.
"The five directors shortlisted are excellent ambassadors for their industry and for the region as a whole.
"These awards are among the most prestigious business accolades and I wish the directors the very best in the national finals in October."
The minister said: "Leadership and management skills are a key factor in fostering innovation, unlocking the potential of the workforce, increasing productivity and growing our economy.
"The IoD Director of The Year Awards celebrate excellence in leadership which is fundamental to creating the ambition, confidence, and skills to respond to the current economic conditions and compete successfully, both nationally and globally."
How you can apply
The Northern Ireland IoD Director of the Year Awards take place on 29 November at The Merchant Hotel in Belfast.
Closing date for applications is 30 September 2013.
Large Company Director of the Year
David Dobbin is group chief executive of United Dairy Farmers, a dairy cooperative owned by 1,500 farmers and employing around 1,000 people.
United is the largest dairy business in Northern Ireland and is also in the top five in the UK.
Its processing subsidiary Dale Farm has become one of the UK's largest dairy exporters, selling to over 40 countries worldwide with a focus on North Africa, Middle East, China and Russia.
He has been in the role of chief executive for 13 years and led the United group through privatisation as it shed its previous identity as the Northern Ireland Milk Marketing Board.
David also serves on the board of Invest NI and the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. He is chairman of Ulster Rugby.
Young Director of the Year
Karen Carmichael (nee Brady) is managing director of mxb, a creative agency which was established in Northern Ireland in 1991.
Karen was appointed managing director in 2008 and has more than doubled the company's turnover in the past two years.
She is currently mentoring small businesses within the creative industry in association with the Institute of Directors and Creative Industries Innovation Fund.
In 2011-12 she became the first female director and the first non-accountant to achieve a double distinction in the IoD Chartered Director Programme in Northern Ireland.
A the moment Karen is working towards chartered director status.
Non Executive Director of the Year
Helen Kirkpatrick is the senior non-executive director of UTV Media plc and chairman of the company's remuneration committee.
Helen was awarded the Institute of Director's Lunn's Award of Excellence – the first female in Northern Ireland to receive that accolade at the institute's annual dinner in February.
Her achievements include serving as interim chairman in 2012 and working with the chief executive to build a strong independent board. Helen is one of five non-executive directors at UTV Media plc. She joined the UTV Board in 2007, initially chairing the audit committee.
Helen is also a non-executive of Kingspan and Cause NI and works for the corporate finance division of Invest NI.
SME Director of the Year
Karen Dundee has been finance director of Galgorm Resort & Spa (Galgorm Manor Hotel Limited) for seven years.
During Karen's time as finance director, Galgorm has grown from a small family-owned business to a medium sized company, driven by a combination of strong financial control and a strategy of growth and investment.
Revenue has grown from £2m to £12m since 2006.
She had worked in manufacturing and had no previous experience of hospitality but completed the General Managers Program at New York State's Cornell University's world-famous School of Hotel Administration.
She particularly recognises the contribution and value of the employees and attained Investors in People recognition for the hotel in July 2011.
Third Sector Director of the Year
John McMullan is chief executive of Bryson Charitable Group, where he has worked since 1985.
Through its seven wholly-owned subsidiaries, it provides services such as recycling, training and care across Northern Ireland, Co Donegal, and more recently Wales.
Under John's leadership, the Bryson Group has grown to employ over 670 staff and 150 volunteers delivering over 25,700 services each day to individuals and families.
In 2011-2012 its turnover grew by 12% to £34.4m with 94.8p of every pound spent used for service delivery and development.
John's vision is to see Bryson grown as a social enterprise so that it builds a better future for all involved – and to be listed in the Top 100 Northern Ireland companies.