Soon-to-be chief of Bord Bia, Tara McCarthy from Dunmore speaks to Brian Moore about the untapped potential which exists within the Irish food industry
Good food, innovation, sustainability and quality have been the watchwords of everyday life for West Cork woman Tara McCarthy in her role as chief executive of Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM). From next January she will take over as CEO of Bord Bia and undoubtedly she will carry these values with her in this new role.
Tara, who hails from Dunmore outside Clonakilty, knows that Irish food products, be they harvested from the sea or the land, have a bright future both at home and abroad.
‘We have some of the most productive waters and coastline on the planet and we at BIM want to support the seafood sector under four top priorities – skills, sustainability, innovation and competitiveness. With our new brand identity, our vision for Ireland is to become the international leader in high-value seafood products that satisfy growing domestic and international demand for nutritious, safe, responsibly and sustainably produced food. Contributing €1bn in GDP to our economy and employing over 11,000 people, directly and indirectly, Irish seafood is in high demand and offers significant potential in the years ahead,’ Tara told The Southern Star.
So, how did the daughter of the local secondary school principal in Clonakilty make her way to the top of not one, but two of Ireland’s best known State agencies? ‘I attended St Joesph’s Convent National School and then on to Clonakilty Community College where, under the watchful eyes of my father Kevin, I completed my Leaving Cert,’ Tara said. ‘After leaving school I went to University College Galway to study for a BComm. The plan at the time was to teach, and my first job was as a substitute teacher for about a year.’
With teaching in her blood so-to-speak and her sister Denise also a teacher at Clonakilty Community College and her brother Fergal a principal in Kinsale, it seemed Tara would follow the same path. However – ‘I decided that I would like to complete a masters degree in marketing at the UCD Smurfit Business School. I took part in the European Orientation Programme and with that got a three-month placement with AIBP in Germany while working for CBF – the Irish Meat Board in Germany,’ Tara continued. What started out as three months soon turned into five years and so began Tara’s involvement with the Irish food industry.
‘After that, I was appointed to Bord Bia as the manager of their Paris office, and I have worked promoting Irish food ever since. I think that I also broke the run of those members of my family who might have been destined for a career in teaching. My brother Emmet went on to a career in craft brewing and my brother Shane is a solicitor,’ Tara said.
While Tara’s home is in Dublin where she lives with her husband Didier and her children James (10), Emily (8) and Mark (6), she travels to BIM’s Seafood Development Centre in Clonakilty every two weeks or so. ‘I’m very lucky, I get to travel to Clonakilty and West Cork regularly with work, but even if I didn’t have to, I think the family and I would definitely try to get home to Clon at least once a month.
‘It’s a real honour for me to represent Irish food internationally because we have some of the best produce and producers to be found anywhere. We are also very lucky with regards to the fantastic food that’s available in Clon and across West Cork. When we get home, we love to eat out at Dunmore House or Scannell’s, but there is always an excellent choice no matter where we go,’ Tara continued.
Tara was appointed CEO at BIM back in 2015. She is very positive about what she sees as a bright future for the fishing industry in West Cork and around the country’s coastline. ‘We have the best quality seafood, but we need to create a vision and become “the” international leader in high-value seafood. We have brilliant seas and an enthusiastic fishing industry. I believe we have a phenomenal future, but it has to be associated with “value-added”. We have to think better, not bigger,’ Tara said.
So, does she have any words of advice for the young people of West Cork – perhaps students who are to sit their Leaving Certs in 2017? ‘The main advice I would give to anyone is to pick a subject that is of interest to you. If you choose a subject and a career that you love, it will never feel like work.
‘However, you have to be aware that when you start out on one path and other opportunities present themselves – and they will, you should be willing to take a chance. For me one of those opportunities was Ireland’s food industry, and I am delighted I took the chance. I really enjoy working in the seafood industry, and I am looking forward to representing Irish food producers across the globe in the future,’ Tara said.