The founder of one of Northern Ireland’s most successful firms was among 11 business leaders to be honoured at the annual Institute of Directors Northern Ireland (IoD NI) Director of the Year Awards sponsored by First Trust Bank.

Brian Conlon, who established Newry headquartered software firm First Derivatives more than 20 years ago, building it into a £1 billion company listed on the London Stock Exchange, received the inaugural Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Director and Board Practice.

The award was made at a ceremony held in the Merchant Hotel, Belfast, where winners across 11 categories were announced, each of whom will now be considered for the UK Director of the Year Awards, taking place in London later this year.

The awards seek to honour directors at private, third and public sector organisations who go above and beyond to show exceptional levels of leadership and motivation and demonstrate good corporate governance.

The Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service received two awards, with Gary Thompson being named the Director of the Year for Inclusivity while Carmel McKinney OBE was named the Non-Executive Director of the Year.

Other recipients included Denis Lynn of Finnebrogue Artisan who was awarded the Director of the Year for Innovation after he launched Naked Bacon, made without nitrates.

This year’s winners were:

  • Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Director and Board Practice sponsored by 4c Executive – Brian Conlon, First Derivatives
  • Director of the YearGlobal sponsored by Invest NI – Paula Kennedy Garcia, Convergys Ltd
  • Director of the Year – Non-Executive sponsored by Deloitte – Carmel McKinney OBE, NI Fire and Rescue Service
  • Director of the Year – Corporate Social Responsibility sponsored by IoD NI – Ray Hutchinson, Gilbert Ash
  • Director of the Year – Family Business sponsored by BDO Northern Ireland – Ashley McCulla, McCulla Ireland
  • Director of the Year – Public/Third Sector sponsored by Capita Managed IT Solutions – Bill Atkinson, USEL
  • Director of the Year – New sponsored by Carson McDowell – Paddy O’Hagan, Neueda
  • Director of the Year – Start-Up sponsored by Ulster University Business School – Stephen McDowell, Hayward Hawk
  • Director of the Year – Inclusivity sponsored by William J Clinton Leadership Institute at QUB – Gary Thompson, NI Fire and Rescue Service
  • Director of the Year – Innovation sponsored by PGR Chartered Accountants – Denis Lynn, Lynn’s Country Food – Finnebrogue Artisan
  • Director of the Year – Young Enterprise NI Alumni sponsored by Concentrix – Maria Doran, Skinny Sauce

Speaking at the awards ceremony, Gordon Milligan, IoD NI Chairman, said:

“Encouraging exceptional standards of management and a commitment to good corporate governance is at the heart of the work that the IoD does in Northern Ireland. The Director of the Year Awards act as a benchmark to local organisations and showcases the immense talent and leadership of our business leaders.

“I was particularly pleased to honour Brian Conlon as the first recipient of the Chairman’s Award for Excellence in Director and Board Practice. As one of Northern Ireland’s pre-eminent business leaders, Brian Conlon is credited with building one of our best-known firms, with a brand that is known globally, and providing employment for more than 4,000 people.

“I’d like to congratulate all winners and those directors that were shortlisted and wish them each continued success for the future.”

Brian Gillan, Head of Business and Corporate Banking, First Trust Bank, said,

“While recent headlines might focus on a lack of political leadership, today is a positive day for Northern Ireland’s business community as we recognise and celebrate the strong leaders helping to grow Northern Ireland’s economy and contributing to our local communities.

“What was clear from this year’s judging process is that our local businesses do not sit on their laurels. Each finalist demonstrated an outstanding commitment to skills enhancement to ensure they are at the top of their profession in today’s ever-changing business environment. Reflecting on this year’s winners, a number of key attributes stand out including a focus on digital learning and adoption, innovation and responsible, open communications.”

“The calibre of entries exceeded our expectations once more and on behalf of First Trust Bank, I offer many congratulations to all the winners on receiving a prestigious IoD ‘Director of the Year’ title. Your journey helps inspire others in a time when Northern Ireland needs strong leadership.”

The awards were judged by a panel made up of leading business representatives. For more information about the awards, or the Institute of Directors, visit