Had you always hoped to work in a food or agri-related field?
I am from a farming background. My dad died when we were quite young. My mum was a teacher. When I was growing up, it was actually more the teaching profession that I would have been thinking of even as far as when I went to college. At the same time, I have to say that rural Ireland and dairy was very much in my roots.
What prompted you to study commerce & accountancy?
I was educated by the Mercy Convent at Carrick-on-Suir. We had a very good commerce teacher who always encouraged a great interest in business and finance. I was pretty clear that I wanted to do the B.Comm and that, if my career was going to be in teaching, it would be secondary teaching in that stream.
When I was doing the B.Comm, I talked to folk to get a sense of what the different career options might be. A lot of the accountancy professions were very actively, even then, talking to people about the different career progressions and what you might do. I think, in fairness, I was probably taken with the fact that, as a core professional foundation, finance is really strong. Following on from the B.Comm, I decided to try my hand at accounting. I joined what was then Craig Gardner, now PwC, and trained and qualified with them. That was really the foundation for my career in finance.
Having graduated in the 1985, you spent time in Australia - what are your memories of the Irish economy around this time?
I call myself a child of eighties recession. That was a really tough time in Ireland. I was newly married in the late eighties and my husband and I decided we would live in Australia for a few years. That was really about the enjoyment factor rather than a compelling need to leave Ireland.
We have always been homebirds, but being young, having no ties and no commitments at that point and having literally just qualified, I persuaded him to go to Australia for a few years. We were based in Sydney and I absolutely loved it.
PwC was always a great organisation. The core teaching you get there is really very good. You learn at the school of hard graft. They equally do a very good job of teaching you where your career might take you and offer strong international opportunities.
Did you have a sense starting out of how you might like to see your career develop? What were your longer-term ambitions at that time?
We came back to Ireland in 1992 and I joined Waterford Foods. At that time, there was no big masterplan. When I am speaking to the graduates here at Glanbia now, I often tell that they shouldn’t “over-angst” about what they’re going to be doing 20 or 30 years from now. I would say though that, at that point, I did think that finance was what I wanted to be doing. I always liked finance.
Going back to my time with PwC, I already had a sense of how finance reaches into so many other disciplines. Ultimately, it all comes back to the numbers. I really liked the link between strategy and finance. When I came back to Ireland with PwC, my husband, who is now a retired guard, had been moved to the Southeast. We were interested in moving home at that stage, so really I was fortunate that an opportunity came up with Waterford Foods at that time when, from a lifestyle point-of-view, we had already decided to move.
You oversee 6,200 employees in 32 countries - how do you manage such a big operation?
I would say the culture of Glanbia is very open. We are a performance-led growth organisation and I think having an open culture facilitating that is very important, one that recognises that not every day is going to be easy, but we can be strongest working through challenges.
As a public company, we are very clear about what we want to achieve and the entirety of the 6,200 people we employ are, I believe, very clear on what their individual roles are within that journey. We have a strong executive team and a very supportive board that is very willing to invest and develop our people, but no Chief Executive, Finance Director or Executive Team can be across the entirety of an organisation of this scale. So, we put a lot of emphasis on talent and empowering our people and they are equally clear on the “gives” and “gets” of what it means to be part of the organisation.
How do you describe the “culture” of Glanbia?
We are very grounded. That goes back to our core heritage. We are very cognisant that our roots go back to the cooperative movement in the sixties in Ireland. We feel a very strong responsibility to that and have an organisation that, I think, blends the best aspects of a number of different ethos’s.
So, you have the cooperative ethos, which is about making sure that the primary producer has a sustainable business at the very front end of the supply chain and you have a public company ethos that is very much about driving performance, being a value-led organisation, being very efficient.
Our culture is one that really seeks to marry those two. If you look at our values, they speak about the customer champion being front-and-centre and that performance matters. We have a natural curiosity and an innovative mindset in terms of finding a better way.
We are a collegiate organisation. While there are different parts to the group, all of the elements are very complementary. At the end of the day, Glanbia is about people, so respect is really important to us. When we speak to things like sustainability, we speak to it in its broadest sense – about it being respectful of the environment in which we operate as a dairy producer, but equally right through the totality of that supply chain.
Your career with Glanbia has followed a steady upward trajectory - what do you attribute your success with the group to?
I think like all these things, there is an element of luck, there is an element of hard work and an element of support infrastructure. I have been really fortunate in terms of the people I have worked with and for.
What does your average day look like?
As Group Managing Director, there is always an element of governance to my role. You’re always keeping an eye to the totality of what’s happening in the organisation. I travel quite a lot – over and back to the US in particular. My work is about managing the business and going through all the performance management routines we would have on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, both internally and externally with shareholders.
One of the great aspects of the job is its diversity. I will be attending information meetings with our farmer shareholders here in Ireland next week, for example, and then when our quarterly results come out, I attend a lot of institutional investor meetings around strategy and development.