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25th Jun 2018

The Irish entrepreneur who sat the Leaving Cert three times before setting up a massive business

Tony Cuddihy

Cathal O'Connell Paddywagon

Paddywagon Founder Cathal O’Connell chats to Tadhg Enright on this week’s The Architects of Business, in partnership with EY Entrepreneur Of The Year.

“A harmless messer, always with that little bit of wanting to get on, have a go, and win.”

In terms of sheer determination to start his own business, few can match Cathal O’Connell’s single-mindedness.

The Founder of Paddywagon Tours in 1998, Cathal’s parents had hoped that he would follow them into the pharmacy business. However, his failure to achieve the highest marks in certain science subjects turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I did three Leaving Certs – the first one to get into college and do my degree and Masters, and then I had to go back to do chemistry and biology twice when I needed two As and I didn’t get them, thankfully! It was the greatest escape that ever happened,” the 2009 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Finalist reveals.

“There would be no Paddywagon if I had got those bloody As.”

Cathal ended up in South Africa via Australia and a spell as a qualified cook; the seeds of the Paddywagon idea were sewn when his boss told him he needed a ‘cook/driver’ for one of his upmarket tours.

He went back to Ireland and, despite being told that there was no money in bus tours, he was determined to make it work.

“I had my model in my head. I said ‘if I can get 20 people on the bus at €200 a head, that’s €4,000 a week. My costs are €2,000 so I’m going to make money out of this.”

Since setting up the business at the age of 29, Cathal has seen it grow and grow and reveals how he plans to set up his own driving school later this year in a bid to recruit new employees.

“There’s a great living to be made. You can earn a lot more as a bus driver than you can as a school principal.”

The Architects of Business, brought to you in partnership with EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ , is available every Monday morning on iTunes, SoundCloud and YouTube