Monica Leech, Waterford Chamber’s high-profile CEO, is to leave her position to resume her career as a consultant.

The Chamber’s board were made aware of her decision at their monthly meeting on Monday night. She informed the management committee of her intention to return to the world of consultancy, and that she would not be renewing her contract with the Chamber when it expires on May 31.

Chamber President Colin McGookin told the directors it was with “great regret” that the committee accepted Ms Leech’s decision. “Her drive and vision have brought about tremendous progress in the organisation and she has taken the Chamber to a whole new level of competitiveness and professionalism during her tenure,” he said.

Board members commended the outgoing CEO’s contribution to the organisation, and indeed to Waterford City, during her time in the role and wished her her future business plans every success.

Ms Leech in turn thanked the members for their kind words “and for your support and cooperation during my time as CEO.” The Chamber, she said, “is an effective lobbying force for Waterford and a powerful network of 800 businesses that will continue to have my support long into the future.”

Mr McGookin confirmed that a ‘task group’ chaired by Pat Cullinane will immediately initiate the recruitment process with the objective of having a new CEO in place by May to ensure a smooth transition.

Ms Leech took up the €60,000-a-year post in October 2005, having previously been president of both Waterford Chamber (2001-’01) and the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland (2002-’03). Her predecessors as chief executives were Katharine Bulbulia and Frank O’Donoghue.

A married mother of two, Ms Leech – who was also a member of the Higher Education Authority for five years – has had an extensive career, including several years in sales and later as chief executive of Waterford Tourism.

She worked as election campaign manager for Minister Martin Cullen and subsequently as his PR adviser during his time as Minister for the OPW and at the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government.

An investigation into that arrangement found that any work her company carried out complied with the terms of official contracts, and was carried out to a high standard. Around that time Monica Leech Communications had merged with Dungarvan-born journalist Ian Noctor to form the short-lived public relations partnership Leech Noctor International.

Ms Leech successfully sued a number of media outlets for libel over their reporting of entirely false allegations originally aired on RTÉ Radio in late 2004, receiving a series of profound public apologies and sizeable damages.

Since her appointment as Chamber CEO she has been a vocal and impressive advocate of, among other Waterford objectives, a university of the southeast and critical commercial developments such as the KRM project in the city centre, as well as the need to develop more knowledge-based enterprises to replace our over-reliance on traditional manufacturing.