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The golden girls

A recent financial survey has shown that a particular kind of self-made millionaire in Britain has risen by 40%. What this means is that in the UK there are over 72,000 women with a net worth of £2.5 million or more.

This number is set to rise as expectations that there will be more female millionaires then males ones by the year 2020.

Women are taking more initiative in family finances and investing more in property portfolios.

Men who have invested their money in stocks and shares have recently received something of a battering in the economic downturn.

However, women are also notorious for taking an idea and running with it.

Think of the likes of The Body Shop's Anita Roddick, Space NK's Nicky Kinnaird and Martha Lane Fox of lastminute.com

These women have taken simple ideas and turned them into multi-million pound empires.

Women are also taking over more senior positions in companies as they scale the career ladder.

The number is lower in Northern Ireland but that doesn't mean women here can't compete.

Here are three women entrepreneurs at various points on the ladder to financial success.

‘I’m not a millionaire yet, but it’s fair to say I’m on my way’

Patricia O'Hagan (40-something) is managing director of Core Systems. She lives in Antrim with husband Tommy Maguire and son Aaron (16). She says:

My original degree was in engineering but after I graduated I retrained in both construction and computer science so I was in my mid -20s before I went out looking for work.

My first job was in the IT department of Harland & Wolff. Even though it was a very male environment it was a good experience as they have such a high standard of quality products. I was there for 18 months before moving on, then I had quite a few jobs in IT in all sorts of businesses from colleges to IT companies. I rose quite quickly through the ranks as I took on new responsibility with every new job.

I got frustrated with my work though and felt that my vision was held back by those ultimately in control of those companies. I wanted to be in control.

Edward Hanna and Tommy Maguire set up Core Systems around 1994. I was going out with Tommy at the time and I thought what they were doing had potential — I saw an opportunity for me. The guys had the technical talent to produce an excellent product and I had the business experience to market it.

I got excited about what it could be, even though I had no idea what it would eventually become.

I joined Core Systems roughly ten years ago and in 2003 I convinced the guys to make it into a limited company. We all became directors and I became managing director in 2005.

We now have 22 staff, and a US office and we're an internationally recognised company. We produce recognition software that lets people be identified by the technology they use.

We've weathered the recession because we supply to public services — prisons, hospitals and so on. It has been a roller-coaster though. Sometimes you put a lot effort into things and they don't come to fruition.

People are worried about dealing with small companies at first, but once you establish trust with clients and build up a reputation you can get past that.

Now I spend one or two weeks out of every month in America and when I'm at home I probably spend about 50 hours a week in the office. I also catch up at weekends and work on presentations and things like that. I don't resent the time even though it can take me away from my family. Sometimes I barely get to speak to Tommy from morning to evening. My son Aaron loves what I do and is really proud of both of us. We get the kids in his school to test our systems for us and he even comes to awards ceremonies.

I would do it all again if I had the chance — I think I would be faster to learn from experience and I would ask questions sooner.

I didn't set out to make money but it is a by-product of ambition. It's not my driver though; success and good business are my motivations but I do welcome financial success. My mother and grandmother were housewives so I think this shows you can do anything if you put your mind to it.

I'm not a millionaire yet, but it's fair to say I'm on the way. I think these days we need to take the barriers away from young people and that they need to be encouraged.

‘Rich or poor, it’s the enthusiasm and passion that drives me on’

Debbie Boyd (50) is the chief executive officer of Re3, a resource and recycling company. She lives in Armagh with husband Trevor and daughter Zoe (22). She says:

When I was 16 I left school. Back then you left school and went to work for Ulster Carpet Mills, which was what I did. There was no need for university.

I thought I would like jobs doing administration in the civil service or working in the post office but they bored me.

I got married to Trevor at the age of 19 in 1979 and we went to live in Amsterdam. I worked in hotels, I was good at it and I was offered a post in Singapore three years later. I decided to postpone that job and come home to Northern Ireland for six months in order to get some computer training.

It turned out I couldn't get the qualification here I wanted. I could still have gone to Singapore but for some reason I felt that fate had brought me home and that it was the right time for me to be here so we decided to stay.

I went to the job market in Portadown who set me up with a job as the receptionist for a waste disposal company called Cleanway.

Eight weeks after I joined I presented the Murphy brothers who owned it with two A4 pages detailing what I though could be done with the company. They took heed and made me office manager and then development strategist.

I was with the company for 10 years. We went from having zero exports to 95% of the business being exports; from a £400k turnover to one of £20m. However, the company wasn't mine. I wasn't part of the Murphy family and they didn't have the same vision as I did.

I left my job in 1992 but worked for Cleanway as a consultant for four years and then moved on to other consultancy work.

I've always known green technology would be one of the fastest growing sectors of the 21st century. I get frustrated because no facilities exist to deal with recycling properly.

Since 2006 we've been developing an autoclave treatment for industrial waste that is incredibly effective. We can process 20 tonnes of waste in two hours. It could reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills by 80%.

Our first plant is up and running and we have more planned in Ireland and the US. We still have a long way to go though. I work about 60 to 70 hours a week and I'm certainly not a millionaire yet.

The secret was always knowing where I wanted to go and having the passion to go there.

Whether rich or poor it's the enthusiasm of the thing that always drives me on. But then I've always said, where there's muck there's money.

‘I’d a £20m property portfolio ... but that did take a battering’

Siobhan McAleer (43) is managing director of The Mortgage Shop. She lives in Belfast with her husband Jerry, son Stephen (20) and daughter Beth (6). She says:

I joined the Abbey National graduate management scheme after graduating in law and eventually ended up a branch manager. I was a bit of a square peg in a round hole at Abbey.

I was held back as an entrepreneur and saw a gap in the market for broker-led business. It was the kind of place where I won a sales award but was disciplined for doing it the wrong way in the same week. I found having to work within so many restrictions frustrating.

One day I decided just to go for it. It was a tremendous risk as I was a single mum with no capital — I didn't even run my own home. My strengths lay in my business plan though as I had worked on it for about three years.

My law background and Abbey National had given me good preparation for it and I managed to persuade an insurance company to give me money to start up my own business.

I opened the first Mortgage Shop in 1992 in Belfast and the second one six months later in Derry. Because I stretched myself so far so quickly I found myself in financial difficulty even though many people had warned me about it.

I was determined not to lose the Derry office even though my accountant was advising me to lock it up and walk away. I investigated getting someone to invest in the company but just before I did a company offered me £60,000 to buy out the lease on the shop in Derry.

If that hadn't happened I would be sharing the profits of the company with someone else now.

I will admit I lost my nerve a bit after that and slowed down a lot but more offices did open. I found that girls who worked for me were eager to take up a franchise and run their own shops. I would buy properties and rent them out to the franchisees.

At its height we had 28 Mortgage Shops in Northern Ireland and 18 in the Republic. I was a millionaire — I had a property portfolio of £20m.

We did take a battering during the economic downturn. My portfolio has dropped and we now only have 21 shops here instead of 28. I am positive about it though — other businesses have suffered much worse.

Running your own businesses makes you feel like you could run the world. I think being my own boss suits me down to the ground. I will admit that my family life suffered in the early years — I've found a balance now but I should have found one sooner.

I used to work 60-70 hour weeks but now it's more like 40. It sounds strange but as you go up the ladder you have less things to do but the things that you do have a bigger impact.

My journey has been an adventure and I've certainly given it my best shot. There are highs and lows in every venture and the most important part is learning. For me, failure would be not getting back up again after a fall.”

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