After heading the Carbery Group for 25 years, its chief executive Dan MacSweeney has announced that he is retiring at the end of this year. Kieran O’Mahony spoke to Dan about his career to date and plans for the future
‘TIME for a change’ is how Dan MacSweeney, chief executive of the Carbery Group, has described his announcement that he is to retire from the company after 25 years in the role.
Dan, who has worked at the company for nearly 39 years and who has overseen its worldwide growth and diversification will stand down from his position and from the board at the end of December.
In the interim, a comprehensive process to identify Dan’s successor in currently under way, led by the chairman and including Carbery board members.
‘It’s time for a change as I’ve been 25 years in the job and the company will benefit from a change, I’m sure, and a new impetus. The company has developed greatly over the years and now is the time to start looking to the next 25 years and pushing on. That’s the way to describe it – pushing on,’ said Dan.
‘Come December I will be looking forward to having a bit of time to reflect and enjoy life, because when you are involved in business it’s constant going and you’re constantly thinking about the business.’
The first thing Dan said he will do is ‘draw a breath for a while’ and the decide on some other projects he may pursue next year.
‘25 years sounds like a long time but we’ve been quite busy and time has passed quickly and it’s quite surprising to look at the calendar and see it’s actually been 25 years.’
Dan joined the Carbery Group back in 1979, on only his second job, when it was owned by Express Dairies and he worked in production management there until 1988 when he became general manager of the site. After the four West Cork dairy co-ops – Bandon, Barryroe, Drinagh and Lisavaird¬ – had acquired Carbery from Express Dairies in 1992, Dan was then appointed its chief executive.
‘Prior to 1992, we were a small part of a large multi-national because Express Dairies was part of Grand Metropolitan who then joined Guinness. We became a small West Cork dairy business with the challenge and opportunities of developing it and what we’ve transformed to now again is an international company again with the base in Ballineen,’ added Dan.
Having clear and focused objectives has always been the business ethos of the Carbery Group: ‘We are owned by the farmers of West Cork and the milk suppliers and it’s very important that we give a strong milk price. Our strategy was to build a business that could do that and our record on price is good and we work obviously very closely with the shareholding creameries to ensure that we pay a strong milk price every year.
‘So building a business to deliver that milk price was the challenge over the past 25 years.’
Dan also believes the company has added a lot of value to the milk stream coming into Ballineen through cheese, diversification and through their nutritional business and they have invested in a significant flavour and natural extracts business overseas.
‘Synergy is a company that we acquired in 1998, which manufactures and markets flavours and natural extracts, and we have three facilities in the US, one in Sao Paulo (Brazil), one in the UK and one in Thailand – which is a base for the South Asian market ¬– and we’ve just invested in a sales and technical resource in Indonesia.’ As he leaves the company, Dan is confident that the company is in great shape for growth.
‘We’ve a very strong nutritional business which I believe will grow and develop. Our taste and natural extracts division is very strong and it has a lot of what we call differentiators that will help it grow in the future. So there’s great growth there and as you know we have a great cheese business.’
For the immediate future the uncertainty over Brexit is one the Carbery Group are very aware of: ‘Brexit is obviously the biggest challenge that we’re dealing with at the moment and nobody knows how it’s going to evolve. The important thing really is that there is a reasonable transition period that allows businesses in Ireland, UK and Europe to adjust and whatever is thrown at us, then we’ll manage. ‘The one thing I’m really encouraged with is seeing Minister Simon Coveney having a special responsibility for Brexit in his new post, as I think he’s a great guy and he’s very familiar with agriculture and we’re very fortunate to have him at this time,’ added Dan.
Dan is keen to stress that the tremendous management team in the Carbery Group will be able to face any challenges, Brexit included, that face them: ‘It’s not about me, I’m just one member of the team and a lot of team here have been working together since 1992.
‘I think we have great management capability that has improved over the years and what you need in times of challenges like Brexit is good management and everyone rowing in behind them.’
Growing the business has been a great challenge and Dan admits it hasn’t always been easy: ‘Working with the farmers in West Cork has been great and I’ve enjoyed that very much and I’ve really enjoyed working with the management team that’s around me, building the business and putting the flag down in the US with four acquisitions in recent years. It’s not just about a business performing well, it’s about what it can deliver, firstly to the milk suppliers and secondly to the employees which is very important.’
After an eventful almost 39 years with the company, Dan is now happy to retire and pass the baton on to his successor, who he hopes will continue to grow the business.