I grew up on a mixed dairy and beef enterprise in a little village called Clonoulty, in Tipperary.
As a farmer’s son, there is always that little bit of pressure on you to decide whether or not you are going to take over the family farm.
When I was growing up, I worked part time in the office in Cashel Mart. That helped me see that I wanted to focus on the business side of food and agriculture.
I went to UCD, did my undergrad in ag science and did a post-grad in food and agribusiness management. I was always fascinated about Irish food on a global scale.
So, as part of my college work placement, I went to Tours, in France and worked for Dawn Meats in a factory. I got a great overview of how Irish beef is distributed in the European market.
A lot of my interest in procurement was picked up from going to marts with my dad, buying and selling
When I graduated in 2017, I got a job with Glanbia, initially working on the agribusiness commercial team. An opportunity arose on the procurement team and I went for it. The funny thing is when I say the word procurement, a lot of people don’t know what it is.
A lot of my interest in procurement was picked up from going to marts with my dad, buying and selling.
When I got into procurement properly, I realised how much I loved the thrill of it, meeting suppliers and being involved in deals. Glanbia gave me a love for procurement. It showed me the fun side of bartering and trading.
I was only about a year and a half into the job, when I was at a student recruitment fair in the RDS. While I was on my lunch, I started chatting to Conor Heavey (programme director at UCD Smurfit), who turned out to be head of the Bord Bia course, from UCD Smurfit. He suggested that I go for the supply chain and procurement masters programme.
It was always at the back of my head to do a master’s, but I had been putting it on the long finger. When I thought about it, I said, ‘What better way to do a master’s, than with Bord Bia, the Irish food board?’ So I went home that evening and signed up for it. That was in 2019.
As part of the programme you are put on a 15-month work placement
with a global leader in the food industry
The interview process was so interesting, as I could really let my love for the Irish food industry lead the whole thing.
I got offered the opportunity and started lectures in UCD Smurfit. We covered an array of modules, from negotiations, to innovative work practices.
As part of the programme you are put on a 15-month work placement with a global leader in the food industry. I went into a company called Food Buy, whose parent group is Compass Group – the largest contract caterers in the world. They cater for a lot of the sports stadiums here in the UK, they have all the National Health Serve (NHS) contracts and provide food for a lot of the schools. Something really eye opening for me was to see how much poverty there is in the UK, amongst children. So the school meals initiative is so important.
There is quite a culture of self-doubt in Ireland, I was reluctant to go for this programme, because it is so highly coveted and thought I would never get it. But what’s the harm in applying? If you get it, brilliant. If you don’t, there is always next year. If you work hard and are passionate about Irish food companies and food sustainability, you will be an ideal candidate for this role.
I was based in London and Brexit was coming. We got opportunities to speak to various [Irish] suppliers and groups, to say, ‘This is how various companies over here are preparing for Brexit’. And being able to give that insight to Irish companies, I felt like I was doing something right.
Going through this programme in the middle of a pandemic was a challenging experience, but I would push people to apply now
I learned a lot during my time at Food Buy and I felt like I gave a lot back to Irish companies.
It’s not easy doing a masters and working at the same time. But when you have people behind you in Bord Bia, pushing you forward and making sure you are OK, it makes things a lot easier. Going through this programme in the middle of a pandemic was a challenging experience, but I would push people to apply now. To be able to say, ‘I completed a master’s and worked for a company on an international scale, during a global pandemic’, is incredible. Seeing how businesses work in emergency mode is second to no other experience.
The opportunities that are opened up to you on the back of this programme are incredible. I am part of a whole new network now.