¦ Stephen Cadogan on this week’s high agribusiness retiree John Moloney of the Glanbia group.
Farmers kept Glanbia Group managing director John Moloney “earthed” during his 12-and-a-half-year stint heading up the global nutrition and dairy ingredients group, which is now rated one of Ireland’s top agribusinesses.
Moloney stepped down earlier this week and passed the Glanbia reins to former group finance director Siobhán Talbot, who takes over as MD.
“It’s a great grounding, if you go presenting in New York or London or Shanghai, and then go to regional meetings in Castlelyons or Donaghmore,” said Moloney, at a recent pre-retirement function. “You get earthed very quickly.” He has internationalised Glanbia, from an organisation operating 20% out-side of Ireland when he became MD in 2001, to 70% outside of Ireland last year — and he has delivered enormous earnings growth as he went along, said his successor, Siobhán Talbot.
Moloney recalled how he tried to emphasise the vital role of the dairy cow in Glanbia’s growth, during his globe-trotting expansion of the company, which now employs 4,900 people in 17 countries, and sells its products in more than 130 countries. “An-alysts in New York or London have at times driven me to a certain level of impatience,” he admitted. “If it’s the last of eight meetings in the day in London, and you meet another 24-year-old Oxbridge graduate, you have to start back at the cow, and you’re wondering will you make the last flight out of Heathrow. It’s much easier to go to Castle-lyons or Donaghmore, at least they understand about the cow bit there.”
Working well with farmers has been an important skill for Moloney since he arrived in Dungarvan in 1987 to work for Waterford Co-op, having immediately previously worked for the Department of Agriculture in the west of Ireland, and acquired an MBA from University College Galway.
He took a job to develop new post-quota enterprises for farmers.
“Waterford seemed to be going places,” he recalled. Instead, the co-op had disappeared by 1997, merging with Avonmore Foods to form the Avonmore Waterford Group, rebranded as Glanbia plc in 1999.
Along the way, Moloney says it has been a roller coaster, and a huge journey of personal growth and development, but acknowledges “the privilege and the honour to achieve a leadership position.”
“I owe the organisation and colleagues a huge amount for that. It reminds me there are people in organisations we need to take a chance on, because people took a chance on me.”
“I always enjoyed debate with farmers,” he said. However, from the outside, some of the collisions between Glanbia milk suppliers and managers looked anything but enjoyable. Matters came to a head particularly in 2001 (the year of Moloney’s appointment as group MD) and 2009.
Group chairman Liam Herlihy recalled one hot meeting, when Glanbia “got caught up in a cross fire” in 2001, and “It was then that John Moloney’s mettle was really tested. We knew on that night that he was the guy for the long haul, and he certainly didn’t let us down.”
Herlihy says history repeated itself in 2009, when “civil warfare” broke out again, as milk prices plummeted to 20c/litre.
One meeting with farmers was so heated that everyone stayed standing. “That will tell the temperature of the meeting,” recalled Herlihy.
Moloney’s version of that occasion reveals his secrets of dealing with angry farmers. “One night, there were about 500 here, they were a little bit miffed because we reduced the milk price 2c.
“There were several meetings going on down the back that you have no control over. What you play for is the silent majority, and if they accept, and believe what you are saying, it could be alright.”
“A cousin of mine who was milking cows in west Waterford came up to me after, and said, ‘You should get out of here, this place is f***ed’.”
Instead, Herlihy says, Moloney won the trust of ‘
shareholders, and has gone on to increase shareholder value enormously and set a sustainable path for the future, clear-ly setting out an opportunity for farmers to partake in growth and expansion opportunities when EU milk quotas are scrapped, in April 2015.
That breakthrough came in 2012, when over 75% of shareholders voted twice to create the new Glanbia Ingredients Ireland (GII) entity.
“We crossed that line because of the trust our shareholders had in John Moloney, he had earned that trust over the previous 11 years,” said Herlihy.
“He also decided to spin out shares, worth almost €200m. John, thank you very much, nobody sent back those cheques,” said the group chairman at the recent Moloney pre-retirement function.
More than 16,000 farmers received a spin out windfall of shares worth €172m as part of the plan to fund the new GII milk processing company — and the re-organisation has seen the Glanbia plc share price reach an all-time high this year.
The GII joint venture between Glanbia Plc and the farmer-owned Glanbia Co-op is the country’s largest dairy processor, and its €150m spend under way on a greenfield processing plant at Belview near Waterford Harbour is believed to be among the largest ever single site investments by an indigenous Irish company.
Group chairman Herlihy reveals that after the Glanbia AGM was told last May that John Moloney would retire before the end of the year, AGM business had to be suspended to allow the MD’s con -tribution be acknowledged by board members — many of whom have seen their Glanbia share prices rise from under 60 cents when Moloney took over as MD, to more than €11 last May. For many shareholders, Glanbia’s success has softened the blow of boom and bust investments going belly up. However, Moloney has revealed that better times at Glanbia are part of the reason for his surprise retirement decision. “Now the road ahead is clear, you look back with a certain satisfaction at the battlefield behind, and you get to a point where you are marching a little slower than the rest of the army. I have chosen to take the fork in the road, because it is the right thing for the organisation.”
“I never believed in the cult of the CEO. I tried to practice the role of a servant of the organisation. Whatever I have done or achieved has been all on the shoulders of those who went before me, and with the support of a great team of colleagues. There’s no other way it can be done.”
Describing himself as a lightning rod and punctuation mark in the history of Glanbia — and a not disinterested shareholder after he will step to the side of the road next month and watch Glanbia march on — he also remembered three colleagues who passed on prematurely during his watch — Pat Brophy, CEO of Consumer Foods (RIP, June 2005); Martin Maguire, MD of Glanbia’s Mexican operations (RIP, Sept 2006); and Eddie Russell, CFO, Global Nutritionals (RIP Sept 2011).
Kerry legend Pat Spillane’s praise for his brother-in-law
John Moloney’s success at Glanbia is a match for his broth-er-in-law’s eight All-Ireland medals!
Sports pundit, and one of the greatest Gaelic footballers, Pat Spillane was an entertaining after-dinner speaker at a recent function in Kilkenny to mark Moloney’s retirement.
He said when he married Rosarii, one of Moloney’s five sisters, the Glanbia man became known as Pat Spillane’s brother-in-law.
But now it’s the other way around; with Spillane (appointed Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas chairman last year) now known as John Moloney’s brother-in-law.
Thanking his wife Joan and children David and Stephen for their support, at his pre-retirement function, John Moloney also singled out for special thanks his assistant Rita Bergin, describing her as the “rock” who always made sure he was in the right airport as he expanded Glanbia across the world.
After his retirement this week, Moloney will find more time for his non-work interests as a sailor and musician, but will also be busy with his non-executive directorships, which include Greencore, DCC, and Coillte. He will follow in the footsteps of his father, Bernard, who served on the first board of Coillte.
John Moloney will bring enviable talents to the boards he serves on, says Glanbia Group chairman Liam Herlihy — including the energy to “work and work and work”, an appetite to hoover up knowledge and “incredible” mental capacity to store that knowledge, particularly business and statistical information.
“From the word go, John had a clarity of focus and determination in relation to what he saw as the right strategic direction for Glanbia,” said Herlihy.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved