Podcast Ep 06 – Niamh Walsh, Founder, TDL Horizons

A Pivotal Moment Podcast Ep 06 - Niamh Walsh, Founder, TDL Horizons
Listen On Google Podcast Button

Podcast Episode Transcript – Niamh Walsh, Founder, TDL Horizons

Mark Cahalane 

Hello and welcome to A Pivotal Moment, a podcast series about ordinary people who made extraordinary decisions, both in their business and personal lives. I’m Mark Cahalan and in this episode I will be talking to Niamh Walsh who, after living and working in Dublin for several years, made the decision to move herself and her family back to Carrickart in northwest Donegal. This was not an easy decision for Niamh, but as we were hear, she found a way to make the move work for herself and her family.  

Niamh, you’re very welcome to the podcast. Perhaps you might start by telling us a little bit about your background, where you grew up and your family. 

Niamh Walsh 

Well, I’m from a place called Carrickart in Northwest County Donegal. I’m the youngest of six. My parents had a family run hotel. So, I suppose from a very early age myself, and indeed all of my siblings, grew up working and practically living in the hotel, to be honest. You know, so weekends, summer holidays, we were consistently working in the hotel. So, I suppose looking back, certainly at peak season it was a bit hectic, a bit mental, but I for one absolutely loved it. I have to say. 

Mark Cahalane 

Was that the focus of conversation a lot at home, or did it the business stay as the business at home as home? 

Niamh Walsh 

I don’t really ever remember there being any distinction. I suppose looking back, it was very much our lifestyle. There was never business conversations versus family conversations. It was very much just the way our life was. It was very much just the lifestyle. It was all intertwined into the one, to be honest. 

Mark Cahalane 

And Niamh, as you began then to think about college university, what was coming into your mind, what did you want to do? 

Niamh Walsh 

Yeah, I suppose there was no mad plan as such, you know. So, after school I went to Galway, and I studied BCom (Bachelor of Commerce). After that, then, I did a sales and marketing role in a worktop manufacturing company in Derry. So then in about 2006 I decided that I’d like to make the move to Dublin and move into the property industry. So, I suppose today I’m very lucky that I work in the property industry, but I specialise in the hotel sector. So for me I’m delighted to be able to kind of do both passions in one – both the property and the hotel hospitality element. 

Mark Cahalane 

And just rewinding slightly what interested you or attracted you initially to the property and the hotel area in particular? 

Niamh Walsh 

How I began specialising in hotels is interesting, so I will bring you back. So, when I moved to Dublin and wanted to get into property. For me it was a little bit more challenging at the outset because for a lot of the proper sectors, within the certainly the larger companies in Dublin, you need to have the proper property undergrad degree which I didn’t have. So what I did was I used my network to get an interview with Lisney. That’s where I started. I got in there as an overseas residential negotiator. So once I was in Lisney, I could then do my masters in real estate.  

By doing my masters in real estate. And ensure that I could get the various qualifications to become a chartered surveyor. So I worked in Lisney for a good few years and that was through the financial crash. So it was a very strange time to be working specifically in property. There was a huge amount of redundancies. We were consistently getting pay cuts and that type of thing, you know.  

Fast forward then slightly to 2013. I’m off on maternity leave after having her first child, Alicia, and a job role came up in Cushman and Wakefield. Specifically in their hotels department. And I just knew that that was exactly what I wanted to do, so I got that job. I moved to Cushman and Wakefield in 2014 and it just clicked. Work just clicked. I got it. I love it. I love the hotel industry. I love hotel people. I get the lingo. I understand how the fundamentals of a hotel business works, so I’m just very lucky to be able to work in property as a professional expert. But in an industry that I love and get. 

Mark Cahalane 

That job was still in Dublin? 

Niamh Walsh 

Yes, that job was still in Dublin. 

Mark Cahalane 

And obviously, from your childhood, the hotel industry is in your DNA. That gives you a unique insight into the currency of your profession. 

Niamh Walsh 

Absolutely. And I understand it and particularly in terms of when you get to a stage maybe whereby you’re looking at succession planning and that kind of thing. Most hotels in Ireland are run by family run members and families. And it’s a very difficult decision to choose what route am I going to go down. So I’m unique in that perspective that I suppose I get it and I’ve been there and done that. 

Mark Cahalane 

Are there difficult things to value? Hotels? 

Niamh Walsh 

Not when you understand them. No. For property experts that don’t understand hotel evaluations, then yes, absolutely. It’s exceptionally different to looking at your industrial units or your retail units or your your office units. You’re looking at the trade, so you’re not looking at the bricks and mortar. You are looking at the trade and where the potential lies and your demand generators within the area and that type of thing. So you are taking in the whole hospitality business element? 

Mark Cahalane 

In a typical year how many hotels would you sell? 

Niamh Walsh 

I mean, it varies. A lot of my work would be advisories. So one year you might have a huge amount of advisory and valuation work. In the next year you might be focusing on agency. So there’s no kind of definitive number per year. And certainly, I suppose TDL horizons is still very new. My own company, I just set that up in 2021. 

Mark Cahalane 

Might come to that in a moment. I imagine this business is very much centred in Dublin, but you’re beginning to think I want to go back to Carrickart. You’re married. You’re living in Dublin. You’ve got a child, but you’re thinking you want to go home? 

Niamh Walsh 

Yeah. So let’s put a bit of context around that, Mark. So I suppose if I go back to when I moved to Dublin for experience, which I thought was going to be a year to two years, there was no map plan. So for me, one year moves into two. Two years moves into five. The next thing in our situation, we got married, had children, were looking to register our children in creches and in preschools and schools. When we look around we don’t have our own home. And for us, it wasn’t because of price. It was because of this, this niggling feeling of will I? Can I move home?  

Then in 2015, I was going off maternity leave with my second child, and Cushman and Wakefield had this super offering of giving you a career coach. So you met with her name was Sarah Courtney. And you met with her three times. Once before you went maternity leave. Once, when you’re on maternity leave and once when you came back. So this very first meeting. I’ll never forget it was December 2015. And her question to me was where do you see yourself in five years time? I typically don’t like those kind of questions, but it was my first time with a career coach. She was brilliant. She totally put me at ease. It was towards the end of the session and I just gave her my gut reaction. My answer was I’d love to take my job home with me to Donegal. And she just went. Why don’t you?  

So of course I had all the excuses of the day. And her answer was you should at least ask. It was fascinating. It was something I think, that was always there in my subconscious, but she really planted that seed. So fast forward a few months and I approached Cushman & Wakefield and I told them that I could do my job from Donegal and would they give remote working a chance? And to be fair to Cushman and Wakefield, I became their first remote worker in the Irish office. It really worked exceptionally well and for us remote working gave us the opportunity to relocate to Donegal. 

Mark Cahalane 

This is all pre COVID, so remote working was not really in vogue at that stage. What did you need to do your job from home? Was it literally an internet connection or what did you need? 

Niamh Walsh 

Yeah, absolutely. That’s all we did need to be honest. Now to ensure that Cushman & Wakefield were going to say yes, they asked me to do some research and I had to present them with a business plan. So I suppose ultimately, to see exactly how is this going to work. And when I was doing the research, one of the findings that came up was very much that after five to seven years, some remote workers can begin to feel isolated and lonely, and they do indeed end up going back to the head office. But for us, that wasn’t an option because our head office was both in Dublin.  

So once we got the green light to relocate home, yes, absolutely, all we needed was an Internet and a desk ultimately. But to ensure that it was sustainable, what myself and Seamus did then, in conjunction with a local community group at home in Carrigart… We set up an open plan office with digital hub in Carrigart. It’s got 18 open plan desk spaces and the reason for that is that now remote workers in Carrigart in Donegal can work from home or work remotely but go into this open plan professional office whereby that combats that issue of the loneliness and the isolation. So what we’re hoping is that that will encourage more families like us to relocate home. 

Mark Cahalane 

So you’ve had with your career coach this pivotal moment that has put in your mind I want to go home? But then you realise, well, look, we have to do more for other people who want to work from home as well. You’ve done the research you know about the isolation, so now you’re back in Donegal. You’re also thinking you want to do your own thing? 

Niamh Walsh 

Yeah. So at the time, I agreed to go up and down to the Dublin Office one day a week and it worked very, very well, because if you can imagine there’s a team of us in the office and then all of a sudden I’m working remotely from Donegal. And you have to go back to 2016 / 2017. This was not the done thing. This certainly wasn’t the done thing in a corporate property environment. So it worked really well because I was determined that it was going to work very well.  

I was up and down to Dublin one day a week and then the other few days of the week. I think what I did, I suppose in hindsight was I made myself available all the time. So in hindsight I nearly worked harder than I needed to because I wanted to ensure that it worked very, very well. And then I suppose COVID comes along and changes all of that in an instant. And now remote working, we know, can work very successfully. But fast forwarding then to the end of 2020, there were redundancies in Cushman and Wakefield. Predominantly because of the pandemic. I took redundancy and that then gave me the opportunity of setting up my own company. So I set up TDL Horizons in 2021 and we specialise in the property market. But we are unique offering in the hotel property market. So we offer valuations, sales and advisory to the hotel market. 

Mark Cahalane 

Where did the name come from? 

Niamh Walsh 

Yeah. So interesting. Very interesting actually because TDL horizon stands for the initials of my children. Thomas, Daihti and Leisha. And it’s actually very reflective as to where I was at the time when I set up TDL horizons because I was getting ideas and a bit of a focus group in terms of right, what will I call the company when I was setting it up when there was names like management and consultancy and all quite corporaty. But it just wasn’t sticking with me at all. I didn’t like them. I suppose when I set up TDL horizons, I very much wanted that word that we always use, that I don’t like using. But I did want that work life balance and I didn’t want to have the corporate ethos in the name. And so I just thought that TDL horizons kind of reflected where I was and what I wanted and certainly I absolutely love working for myself. I find it’s easier. It gives me much more flexibility. 

Mark Cahalane 

Did the idea of selling hotels all over the country by yourself from one of the more remote locations in Ireland ever intimidate you? 

Niamh Walsh 

Never. But it’s not an issue. It doesn’t matter where you are now. It didn’t matter before the pandemic happened. Once you know what to do and you do your job exceptionally well, it really doesn’t matter where you’re located. 

Mark Cahalane 

To set up yourself, I understand that it was nearly an industry in itself in terms of setting up the digital hub. What really was your motivation for doing that, and how complicated has it been? 

Niamh Walsh 

There was 2 main reasons for starting up the digital. The first was it was mad when we told people that we were moving home and taking our jobs with us. Remember we have to go back to 2016 / 2017. It was not the done thing and the amount of people in our situation with young children who would just say we would love to do the same thing. So it really was to create a space. To encourage families like us to think now we can work from a professional environment in Carrickart and also if you go back to that time working from your kitchen or working from your bedroom in your home wasn’t really very appealing to a lot of people. So that was the main objective. 

The second objective, as I mentioned, was the research and the data is there or was there at the time. I’m sure that will now change with more of us remote working, but that a lot of remote workers become kind of isolated, lonely after kind of five to seven years and end up moving back to the office. So certainly in Donegal for those people that are moving up from their offices that are headquartered in Dublin, London, Galway, Cork that’s not an option. So you want to have a professional space where you can go to once you are getting a bit frustrated in your in your house I suppose ultimately. 

Now in terms of setting it up it was very much a local initiative. We brought the idea to our local voluntary group and we ran with it. Then we looked for funding. We got significant amount of funding. And then really Donegal County Council took over the reins and it’s gone from that. So it’s a brand new build building in the Main Street of Carrickart with 18 open plan desks and it’s like walking into a Google. It’s really cool, quirky, modern, it’s super. 

Mark Cahalane 

And Niamh before we finish, just a couple of more questions, if that’s OK. First of all, for those who don’t know, Carrickart, can you paint a picture? What’s it like? How big is it? How rural is it? Where is it? 

Niamh Walsh 

Yeah. So we’re in NW Donegal, we’re on the coast. Listen, I’m very biassed it. To me, it’s the most beautiful place in Ireland. We have the most gorgeous beaches, mountains. We have an incredible kind of reputation for our food offering. We’re always there on, on the best listed places to eat. But yeah, throughout the winter it’s very quiet. So we get very, very busy obviously at peak season. We get a huge trade from from Dublin, huge trade from Northern Ireland and then in the winter it’s very quiet. But it’s wonderful. It’s wild, it’s windy. But I love it. And you know you have this three mile beach all to yourself in the middle of winter. It’s the most beautiful place. 

Mark Cahalane 

I think in the picture you’ve just painted, I got a very strong sense of why you moved back. What are the main differences between the lifestyle you had in Dublin and the lifestyle you have now? 

Niamh Walsh 

The best way I can put that is the pace. It’s it’s an easier pace. It’s a slower pace, but it’s an easier pace. When I did live in Dublin. I, you know, don’t get me wrong. We were in Dublin for the 10 years and we absolutely loved it. And also to add to that relocating home wasn’t as easy as we had anticipated because we did love Dublin so much. We were both from Donegal so there was this expectation with ourselves, but there was also a wider expectation from our family and friends that we would settle back really, really quickly, which didn’t actually happen. You have to work at it.  

But now that we’re settled and the children are settled it’s a lovely pace and that’s the best way I can describe it because we still have all the amenities. We still can go to the theatre and the cinema and those kind of things and a lot of people think that you don’t have those opportunities and a lot of people think that you don’t have career opportunities in Rural Ireland, but you absolutely do. I mean, there are real companies, real international companies calling out for talent. So you know, there are so many opportunities and it’s a super lifestyle. 

Mark Cahalane 

I probably know the answer to this question before I even ask. If other people are listening to this thinking, I’d like to move home. I’d like to create an enterprise that is sustainable. What would your advice be? 

Niamh Walsh 

My advice is if you have that niggling feeling, if you have that uncertainty about putting down roots somewhere else. The wonder, the hope, the possibility of will you can you move home, then just ask yourself the question, how can I make this work? Can I bring my job home? Are there hubs to work from? If I can’t, what international companies are in the local area? There are so many ways to make it work. And believe me, it is worth it. 

Mark Cahalane 

Niamh Walsh, thank you so much for your time.  

Niamh Walsh 

Thank you. 

Mark Cahalane 

You’ve been listening to a pivotal moment. My name is Mark Cahalane. I help businesses tell compelling stories to engage their stakeholders. I coach senior business leaders on systemic change and leadership. I partner business teams to help them drive high performance. And when business relationships go wrong, I help them all negotiate better ways of working together. You can find out more on my take on these topics at marteloleadership.com. 

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top