From launching Tour America in her sitting room to surviving a serious accident, Tom Parry hears Mary McKenna’s take on life and business.
“The only way I grow is getting outside my comfort zone,” says Mary McKenna, gripping her coffee cup with determination.
In 1995, McKenna launched Tour America from her sitting room and has since built the company into Ireland’s largest operator to the US. The business, 24 years later, also includes the nation’s biggest seller of cruise breaks, Cruise Holidays, with 65,000 passengers carried last year across both brands.
This remarkable story is one of adversity, ingenuity and sheer grit. But it is a rather more literal account of “ups and downs” that begins our conversation in McKenna’s Dublin office.
Just days earlier she had finished a 400-mile charity bike ride through Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, raising £3,700 for Alzheimer’s Society.
“I was black and blue when we finished and right now I never want to look at a bike again,” she laughs, although her beaming smile shows little sign of fatigue. McKenna is clearly cut from a different cloth to me – the early-morning Ryanair flight to Dublin was enough to tire me out.
We meet at Tour America’s city centre headquarters. Behind McKenna’s desk is a list of “12 things to remember”, while press clippings of company milestones, business awards and family pictures adorn the walls.
It’s a glimpse of the drive and focus that first pushed this businesswoman, an EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 finalist, to not only rebuild her company post 9/11 but also her life – fighting back from an accident in 2004 that should have killed her.
“It’s all about attitude”, she smiles, pointing at a photo of her son, whose rugby and football teams McKenna coaches. She believes there are parallels between business and sporting success, having played top-division hockey herself.
“You will get trashed from time to time. My son’s team were 4-0 down at half-time last week, but only lost 5-0 in the end. I was so incredibly proud. It’s about how you get back up and keep fighting.”