Many people working in the agricultural industry have taken a circuitous career pathway to get to their roles. Michael Curran, the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Macra is certainly one.
In his position now almost a year. he told Irish Country Living his pathway into agriculture is “a funny one in one way, but in another it makes perfect sense”.
Originally from a 52-acre farm in south west Kerry, he was conscious that going into agriculture was never viable there, between being one of six children and the relative size of the family suckler farm, which was predominantly bog.
The farm, he explained wasn’t viable itself, his mother was a teacher and his father worked as a contractor. As a result, he never contemplated agriculture as a career option.
Michael obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree (economics and social science) from the University of Galway (NUIG).
Reflecting on the economic reality at the time of his graduation, he said “1992, as some of your readers will know, was a dark time in Ireland - jobs didn’t exist,”
None the less, Michael started applying for any graduate job he could find. To this day, he says, “I still have an envelope with 48 letters of rejection.”
Having first applied in 1993 without success, Michael reapplied for the defence forces and was accepted into the cadets as a graduate entrant
“To be honest - I loved it,” he says on his experiences there.
He started off in the Curragh and throughout his 24 years in the defence forces, he worked in a variety of roles. “[I think] that, for most people that go into something like the defence forces, you’re a generalist and you kind of find a calling,” he explains.
Michael worked in the cavalry in armoured vehicles before moving into a staff officer position in human resources (HR), where he spent five years writing regulations. Although, it was only jokingly he added that, this skillset was “very applicable to ag!”, there is much truth in that. Michael then worked in logistics for four years as an inventory manager.
As he was “spending too much time away from my family”, Michael left the defence forces in June, 2016, ?and worked for The Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport Ireland (CILT), which is the professional body for people in the logistics, transport and the supply chain. Michael spent four and a half years in this membership-based organisation.
Macra beyond farming
When the CEO role in Macra became available Michael decided to apply.
“I said, ‘Do you know what? That actually looks interesting.
“Some people will think that Macra is all about farming,” he adds. “And farming is - and will always be - a massive part of it, but it is more about young people. It is a youth organisation and that’s the bit we can sometimes lose [sight of].”
That is what attracted him to the role looking at it from the outside. And from the inside?
“I was actually right,” he says.
There are a few sayings that bounce around the organisation. Michael highlights: “One is ‘members first,’ and that is really happening. Everyone is important and no one will be left behind.”
Words of Wisdom
When queried on what advice he would give to young people looking at their career options, he says; “It’s absolutely impossible at the age of 17, 18 or 19 ?to decide what you are going to do for the rest of your life. Just because you are going down a road, it doesn’t mean you have to keep going down that road.”
At any stage,? you might decide this pathway isn’t for you. Providing a personal example of this, he points to his own brother, who at the age of 42 became an apprentice chef.
“You never really know what’s in front of you. Qualifications don’t define who you are, they should get you into an interview but then it’s up to the individual.”
Keeping the show on the road
Irish Country Living asks Michael what his role involves.
“This is a hard one, and I am rarely caught for words,” he says. “My role is to be the executive of the organisation, which is providing services for all its members.”
To achieve this, he works closely alongside the president, John Keane, national chairperson, Caroline O’Keeffe and the Macra board.
“Macra is the sum of its pieces, and its pieces are its members,” he explains. “11,000 individuals from all different backgrounds.” Bringing it back to the question, he says, “What do I do? I try to keep the show on the road. It’s very easy because we have a really dedicated team of staff.”
In Michael’s opinion, there are three broad reasons why people join Macra.? The first is the social side of it. “We are all social beings; we like interacting with people who have similar interests.” One of the big things bringing people together from a social perspective at the moment is jiving. “It’s fun - don’t ask me to do it, but when I see people doing it they look like they are having a ball.”
The second aspect is the competitions the organisation runs. “We have competitions for pretty much everything,” he says.
The final reason that “people do overlook” is personal development.
“A small bit of help goes a long way,” Michael says. “My chairperson is half my age and she will run a meeting better than most people I know. That is a skill she developed through Macra.”
The importance of charity work
Michael emphasises the importance of charity work to the organisation. Creating charities like ‘Make the Moove’ to tackle mental health in rural Ireland, and delivering programmes to Teagasc students is an essential part of what they do.
After working for the organisation over the last ten months , Michael says he has found his tribe. “Which is weird, at 52 years of age, but I really have.” He adds “They really are special in the best possible way. They support each other and give up ridiculous [amounts of] time. The effort they put in is ludicrous, but they do it without complaining.”