Plastic Fantastic: Entrepreneur Rita Shah on her recycling empire
Whether she’s in the office, at the stables with her racehorses, or helping others through her charity work, Rita Shah loves life. She was honoured during Athlone Institute of Technology’s 2019 conferring ceremony with the institute’s highest honour – a Distinguished Fellowship. The title was bestowed upon her for her significant contributions to Irish society. Here, the successful entrepreneur explains why she’s thankful for her lot
How did your career path lead to Shabra Group?
I started my business, Shabra Plastics, selling plastic bags from a horse stable, before moving to state-of-the-art recycling and reprocessing facilities where we began manufacturing bags from waste collected in Ireland. We later turned our attention to the hospitality industry and acquired the Moyvalley Hotel and Golf Resort. We have also acquired Urban Wellness Ltd, a natural skincare brand selling Urban Veda products.
What’s the most important lesson you have learnt over the course of your career ?
Be positive, listen and believe in yourself.
What’s a typical day for you?
My day starts at 5am when I begin work on my laptop. At 7am, I visit my stables to feed my racehorses and appreciate the quiet morning and the beautiful scenery. I then head out to Shabra headquarters, where the day goes by very quickly. In the evening, I enjoy cooking and reading, and I always thank God for allowing me to have another good day.
How many staff are on your team?
We have nearly 200 employees.
What are the highlights of your time at Shabra?
Sharing with my team the knowledge and lessons I’m learning from day-to-day experiences in business. If there is a problem or issue – which is expected in business – we always try to sort it out and not be downhearted. After all, tomorrow is a new day.
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
The biggest challenge was when the levy on carrier bags was introduced. I only learned about it when I went to visit a friend in hospital and saw in the newspaper that the Minister had introduced a 15% levy on carrier bags from the following week. We were told a levy may be imposed at some point but no notice was given. For Shabra, it was devasting news. I was sitting on million pounds of stock and the next day there was no business. Legislation can make and break you. We decided to rethink and diversify to recycling and reprocessing of waste material in Ireland and get our own feed stock for manufacturing of recycled bags from waste collected in Ireland, with further expansion in reprocessing of plastic bottles and manufacturing PET and HDPE flake for making carpets, nappies and injection mound containers Determined and aggressive – we expanded recycling facilities and are now the leaders in this industry.
Are women reluctant entrepreneurs?
When I first started out in business women were more reluctant and cautious, but I have noticed over the years that attitudes have changed and more and more women are growing stronger in confidence and self-belief. Now, there are a lot more women entrepreneurs which is wonderful to see.
What advice would you give a woman who is starting out in business?
Believe in yourself and your vision for your business. Work hard every day and be passionate – don’t give up. Your perseverance will be worth it.
Does the glass ceiling exist for women?
In some companies, perhaps, but not at Shabra Group where 50% of the board of directors are women. There is no limit to what position can be achieved by anyone, male or female, if they have the right attitude and capability.
With your busy schedule, are you able to maintain a work-life balance?
I would have to say yes as I love what I do every day – in my businesses, at my horse stables and in my charity work. They allow me to spend time with friends and family doing what I love best and, of course, all the while caring for the environment and caring for needy and underprivileged people.
If you weren’t in your current position, what career would you like to pursue?
I have always been determined to have my own business and I thank God for giving me the positive attitude and determination to do the same. I take on any challenge that is put in front of me. However, I would like to do more charitable work, caring for underprivileged people. This gives me the greatest satisfaction as life is what you make of it.