Ramona Nicholas

Yesterday, this ‘Extraordinary Women’ interviewee received ‘Women Mean Business’ Female Entrepreneur of the Year award; an accolade that is extremely well deserved.

Why did she win? I have no hand, act or part in the judgement process but from speaking with Ramona, I imagine it is because she is diligent, honest, loyal, inspiring, modest, ambitious, competitive and incredibly hard-working.

Perhaps I should not admit to this but since interviewing Ramona, I’ve made a conscious effort to be proud of being the eldest child in my family and moreover, I’ve scribed a list of goals that I too want to achieve; maybe not today or tomorrow but someday.

extraordinary-women-minnie-melange-ramona-nicholasHow would you describe yourself both personally and professionally?

Gosh, that’s a hard one! That’s like something you would get asked in an interview.

Ha! In a sense, I’m turning the tables and being a ‘dragon’ of sorts…

Let me think! Personally, I’m extremely honest; with me, what you see is what you get. I am not someone who has a hidden agenda and those that know me or are close to me know that I will never be anything but truly honest. I am an extremely loyal friend; when someone becomes a close friend, my loyalty could never be questioned. I’m not good at letting people in, but when people do break down those barriers, I would like to think of myself as a very open, loyal and honest person. I have been diagnosed as being a perfectionist with hints of obsessive compulsive disorder but on the whole, I’m a very happy and grateful person who is extremely family-orientated. Professionally, I must admit that there isn’t much difference as I am a firm believer in the notion that I don’t have a work ‘face’ and a home ‘face’, I’m just me. From an employee’s perspective, I would like to think that I am fair, honest, approachable, understanding – but then again, as an employer you have all of these aspirations for the characteristics you emit but you would have to ask the employees for a definitive answer. From the buyer’s perspective, I’d like to think that I’m concise and a good time-manager.

As co-Managing Director of Cara Pharmacies, decision-making must be a core element of your work. Do you find that an easy task?

I trust my gut. Frequently, when I’m buying new products or employing a new team member, I make my decisions on instinct and so far, it’s been reasonably successful.

You mentioned earlier that you are a perfectionist and I too have been diagnosed with that ‘condition’. Much like yourself, I am the eldest of five children and I am convinced that my experience of being a leader of so many and at such a young age, impacted upon that and more importantly, the person I have become. Would you credit that experience as one which impacted on who you are today?

Definitely, yes! When I was fourteen or fifteen, my mother gave birth to twins and quite quickly, I took responsibility for them and was branded as having an ‘old head on young shoulders’. When all of my friends were in college and spoke about wanting to settle down and have a family, I remember thinking to myself, ‘You have no idea what you are letting yourself in for’. Being the eldest, you are very conscious that you are setting an example for your younger siblings. I look at it is a hugely positive experience though, it was great to have that responsibility and it pushed me forward onto the path where I very happily am today. It’s interesting though that a lot of people who are successful tend to be the eldest of their siblings and by that, I’m not trying to say that I’m successful but the correlation is interesting. 

I think it’s because they assume a leadership role at such a young age that to pursue anything else is perhaps never even considered.

Exactly! We could talk about it all day.

We could, but this interview is about you, Ramona! If one was to look at your many endeavours, and I hope you don’t mind but I am going to use the word successful to describe you, there are thirteen Cara pharmacies, you have two home store, you have an online store, a blog, event management and lots more but all of this runs from your base in Bundoran, what are the advantages and challenges of having your professional base in a more rural location?

I was born in Co. Tyrone but for some reason, I always wanted to live in the Republic of Ireland. I’m not quite sure why but from a young age, we visited Donegal as a family and I think that really was the beginning for my love for Donegal. My parents still to this day have a holiday home in North Donegal. It had an integral role in my childhood and became even more important to me as I grew up. It’s the place that I define as home and I’m not saying that as we begin to span nationally we won’t have an office in Dublin but I’m a country girl at heart and thrive when I’m surrounded by nature and greenery. It brings me back to my centre and Donegal will be my professional and personal base for as long as possible.

I’ve raised this question in other Extraordinary Women interviews but at the inaugural Women on Air conference earlier this year, TV3’s Ursula Halligan vocalised what she believed are the boundaries stopping women from being more prevalent on air. They are childcare and the importance women place on their image. Do these same boundaries exist in the business / medical realm?

Childcare is a massive challenge, I have one son and depending on salary, it can be quite a financial burden. How do we combat that though? I’m not quite sure. Then in terms of image, I was once the young woman who wore black to every meeting as I felt that it was the only way to appear professional. One day, I became so sick of my dreary wardrobe and I started to dress in a way that reflects my personality and is in effect, ‘me’. What I didn’t realise at the time was that my image and uncomfortable clothes choices were having a negative impact on my performance. When I dressed to my mood – I’m not one of those people who can decide what to wear the night before, it very much depends on how I feel that morning – particularly when I’m in terrible form, I’m going to wear the clothes that make me feel the most confident and comfortable. It gives me a boost and others reading this may think it sounds silly, but it matters to me.

Talking about women in leadership roles, currently the statistic is that 4.8% of the Fortune 500 CEO positions. What would your recommendations be to increase this percentage?

4.8%? That’s crazy! To a certain degree, I have a bee in my bonnet about this. It’s tradition of sorts that defines a woman’s role to be at home and raise her children. Sometimes to do otherwise, people almost assume that there must be something wrong with you. I experienced that too and I felt really guilty about simultaneously working and being a mother. Looking back on it now, the phrase ‘it’s cool to be different’ comes to mind. I’ve had some wonderful opportunities to speak to young girls in schools and I consistently try to instill the notion that we should embrace our differences and our ambitions to be business woman and a mother; we shouldn’t let what others say hurt us – it took me a while to learn that lesson, it only really rang true as I became older. I think if we embrace that thinking and realise our own potential, in five to ten years that statistic will have to increase.

In your own position of power, were you ever concerned about being the sole female investor in Dragon’s Den?

No. I have absolutely no fear of being put in a room full of men which sounds really peculiar but when I was in secondary school, I studied A Level Chemistry, Biology and French. Due to doing a language with two science subjects, my timetable clashed. I attended an all-girls school but so that I wouldn’t have to drop one of the science subjects, I studied Chemistry in the boys’ school. I was the only girl in the class of approximately twenty five boys. I was sixteen at the time and the teacher would pick on me and bring me up to the blackboard and explain what we had learned in the previous lesson. Very quickly, I overcame my fear of public speaking, particularly in a room full of boys – even when I fancied one or two of them! It was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had and at sixteen I knew that I wanted to be a Pharmacist and couldn’t drop the subject – no matter what! I persevered and it worked!

The spectrum of your skills and the projects that you are involved in is incredibly vast but is there one which you are particularly proud of or aspire to develop further?

Cara Pharmacy is almost an intrinsic part of me and I want to continue to develop that but that’s quite a generalised answer to your question, I mean everyone wants their business to grow. Something I’m particularly proud of is being part of ‘Secret Millionaire’; I did it because I wasn’t sure if I would actually be able to do it. I’m proud that I was able to give back to some people who needed it and that I was able to see another side of life that previously, I had never witness. Dealing with the repercussions of that, in my own life was difficult and I feel proud and lucky to now look at life through a different lens purely because of that experience. I also wish that I had the time to blog; I love to write and in a strange way, it’s a form of relaxation for me and I would love to be able to spend time developing that further.

You were Graduate of the Year 2013, you were shortlisted for Image Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year and this week you won Women Mean Business’ Entrepreneur of the Year award but what remains on your bucket list for the next decade?

Wow, that’s a long list! I’m a big goal setter and currently, I have approximately 76 goals. They aren’t all to be achieved within the next year but each goal is something that I want to pursue or make happen. What’s on it? I would like Cara Pharmacies to reach the gold standard of The Deloitte Best Managed Company award but it’s not all about awards and I actually have my list of goals sitting here beside me – I have a firm belief that if you keep them close to you, the likelihood of them being realised is much higher – some examples of them are that I want to exercise more, I want to be more organised, I want to learn how to meditate, I want to sit down with my son and do his homework with him every night, it’s my aim to read one business book per month, I want to climb Croagh Patrick again and I wanted to become an ambassador for a charity but just a few weeks ago Action Research Meningitis asked me to be an ambassador. I was thrilled! My goals may sound trivial but they’re really important to me – my personal well-being and professional development.

A huge thank you to Ramona, Noreen and Carolyn for all of their assistance. For more information on Ramona and to stalk her via social media, you can find her on Twitter.

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Written by

Sinéad Burke is an academic and a writer with an obsessive interest in fashion, education and 'Extraordinary Women'. She is an ambassador for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the National Women's Council of Ireland.