Award-winning McElhinneys manager Sandra Devenney tells how caring is the key to leading a strong team.

Saturday was a special day of celebration for Sandra Devenney as she took the title of Retail Excellence Ireland Manager of the Year 2018. While this was a huge personal achievement, she is keen to view the award as a team win.

Hard work and passion brought the Lifford woman to where she is today. They are also the qualities that inspired the judges to choose her as the overall winner.

Sandra Devenney winning Manager of the Year at the Irish Retail Industry Awards 2017.

As McElhinneys Business Development and Senior Sales Manager, Sandra oversees the work of managers in all other departments. There are almost 200 staff at McElhinneys of Ballybofey, Ireland’s last remaining independent department store.

Managing such a large staff force requires special business skills and people skills, Sandra tells Donegal Woman:

“Our job collectively is to improve sales, looking at ways of driving footfall into the store, bringing in the teams onboard, being there for them and supporting them.

“My number one skill would be people. I’m obsessed with the customers and the people who work with them.

“The biggest attribute of being a leader is having the team believe in you. You are not asking them to do something unrealistic that you wouldn’t do yourself. You need to be a support for them.

“That’s been my secret – I care so much about that team. Each and every one of them.”

Sandra added: “There are many days that my job is supporting someone who is going through a hard time. You’ll often find me taking someone for coffee who might be feeling down or going through something in their personal life.

“We spent more time with the people we work with than we do our families, so it is important to support them.”

Sandra says she learned her strong leadership skills from owner John McElhinney. She started off on the shop floor in sales and her role remains floor-based, where she works closely with General Manager Martin.

Sandra Devenney, Business and Sales Manager and Martin McElhinney, General Manager

Martin and Angela McElhinney at the Irish Retail Industry Awards 2017

Sandra has been with McElhinneys full-time for over three years and believes all her past experiences led her to her ideal role.

She worked for 11 years as an air hostess and was a cosmetics area manager before becoming the McElhinneys Womenswear Manager in 2014. She quickly took over as Bridal manager before getting the Sales and Business Manager role.

“I believe all my past jobs brought me back to this place, where I should be,” Sandra said.

Elizabeth Barnett- Womenswear buyer and Elizabeth Barnett- Womenswear buyer at the Irish Retail Industry Awards 2017

The past few years having been an exciting time of development for the shop. Managers have upskilled to new styles of training, a new sales formula was created and the team launched their own mission and values to uphold.

This week Sandra is looking forward to the true beginning of the busy Christmas season, which kicks off after the window unveiling on Sunday, 19th November.

“You always see the excitement in the team at Christmas. The minute the window lifts the energy rises. Retail can be tiring and taxing at Christmas, but we are always ready to put in the extra hours and extra effort.”

Brian Kelly – Menswear Manager, Angela Laffery, – Customer Service and Reception Manager, Breda Bonner – Bistro Manager, Richard Crawford – Bridal Manager.

The Retail Excellence judges saw that Sandra went the extra mile as a manager. She talks about the award modestly and is keen to point out that it was a team effort.

Today is her day off, but she plans to bring the trophy into the store to celebrate with everyone who was not at the gala awards night in Killarney on Saturday.

“I’m so passionate about John, the family and the people, and that is what the judges said stood out. That’s what I’m about. It’s not about my own self-gain,” she said.

Annette Diver – Promise/Shoes Manager, Sandra Devenney – Business and Sales Manager, Sarah Scott – Womenswear Manager

Sandra was the only woman out of the five shortlisted managers for 2018. She sees the victory as an achievement for all women in business.

Her proud daughter Lily had an important take on her award: “Lily told me: ‘I’m happy you won, but I’m even happier that a woman won’.”

Sandra says: “Women are fighting for their place these days and it’s brilliant that women have a voice.

“I didn’t go to university, my career was sheer hard work and fighting for my place.

“I think it’s great that my daughter sees you can work really hard and still get places.”

Congratulations Sandra. If you have an achievement or story to share, email