Siobhan Talbot shares insights on how to succeed in business as well as her personal interests – from her favourite book to how she stays current.

Are there any mistakes you made along the way that stand out for having taught you a valuable lesson?

I would say the biggest lesson I learned early in my career, and it is probably where the finance discipline comes into its own, was that if somebody is telling you something and they haven’t got the ability to explain it in simple language, the chances are they probably don’t understand it. That was the biggest lesson for me.

There were one or two instances where I would be listening and taking something at face value while thinking “God, that sounds really complicated”. Earlier on in my career, I might have tended to let it go. Now, I don’t. If someone can’t actually explain something, they don’t understand it, because everything can be explained.

It might be the most complicated financial derivative or the most complex commercial or marketing challenge, but I have learned over the years that, if someone really understands what they are talking about, and they are really passionate about it, they will be able to articulate. You know that great phrase where it is sometimes easier to write a novel than it is to write one page or a paragraph? It’s the paragraph that really holds the truth.

You joined Waterford Group in 1992 and continued your career with Glanbia following the Avonmore merger and on to the present day – wo have your mentors been during that time?

I am often asked this question from a gender perspective and from many other angles, and I have to say that I have always found people hugely supportive. I have been really fortunate from the very early days as a youngster at PwC, but also more laterally, with the folk I’ve worked with at Glanbia. At the time of the merger, there were a few tough years in the organisation, but you sometimes learn most, I think, during those tough times.

Pat O’Neill was Group Managing Director at that time and Geoff Meagher was Finance Director, while I was in the finance function. They were hugely supportive. John Moloney [Group Managing Director of Glanbia for 12 years prior to Talbot’s 2013 appointment to the role] was a huge mentor of mine. He and I worked together very closely from the time he took over as head of the company in the early 2000s.

He was a big influence on me, not only as I was taking the step from Deputy Group Finance Director to Group Finance Director, but then ultimately stepping into the role of Group Managing Director. It is hard to understate the merits of having somebody who asks the question “why not?”.

The Group Finance Director was the role I had envisaged as the pinnacle of my career, because that was my core disciple. When John wanted to retire and the role of Group Managing Director came up, it was he who made me think “why not?”

In your time with the Glanbia group, what have you learned about managing people within a large organisation effectively?

I think communication is really important and having an environment in which open dialogue can happen. You have to support people on the not-so-great, as well as the great, days. “The great days have many fathers” as we often hear, but it’s on the toughest days that the organisation can really come into its own and it is when people within the organisation can learn most.

So, I think encouraging that sense of community, making people feel they are part of something, is really important. That was a real ambition of ours when we were setting out our purpose statement. We wanted everybody in the organisation – no matter what level they are at or what part of the group they are in – to really sit under the same banner of nutrition, so they can absolutely understand and stand beneath that purpose. That means a lot to us, because like the wider stakeholder base we touch here in Ireland or the US, our community of 6,200 employees are all ambassadors and advocates. It is really important to my colleagues and I that they speak with one voice.

In terms of personal development, what do you do to stay current?

As an organisation, we have a lot of people involved in dairy economics keeping us very abreast of trends, so I get a whole plethora of market intelligence on an ongoing basis. In terms of what is happening in the world generally, making sure that I keep informed is really part of the job, but there is so much information available in the world now that I am quite disciplined in terms of the online areas I would go to.

Sometimes the biggest challenge is just parsing through the sheer depth of data. From a personal and an organisational perspective, one of the really interesting evolutions as we look forward is going to be data and data management. Technology now is so advanced. There is so much available information. I have probably picked a number of sources I will use and that’s it. Otherwise, you just get swamped.

What are your hobbies outside work?

I am a keen gardener and I love my garden. I am very fortunate to be a part of a global organisation, but I live in the country in South Kilkenny. When I drive in the gate at home, that of itself is very settling.

What’s the last great book you read or film you watched?

I really enjoyed Edna O’Brien’s book The Little Red Chairs. It was a great read. I love to read and my happiest scenario would be on the beach on holiday with a book in my hand. I love the physical book and when the Kindle came out, I thought “I’m not going to like it”, but I bought one and, in fairness, the technology is really good. I was surprised by the extent to which I like using it.

What kind of music do you listen to?

I have quite eclectic music taste. My 21-year old would probably say she never knows what her mother is going to come out with. The best concert I have ever been to was the Coldplay show in Dublin last summer. I went with my two sisters and we had a ball. I also like Andrea Boccelli, but I will literally listen to anything from country music to classical music and a lot in between.

When you travel for pleasure, where do you go and why?

We go to Spain. It’s a short hop from Ireland. The weather is generally lovely. The food is beautiful and the people are great.