Kerry Gainsborough is one of the largest Kerry sites in the UK. The technologies manufactured on site consist of flour milling, both standard and heat-treated flours; dry blending plants; crumb production; and an extrusion factory. Our site despatches both bulk tankers and palletised finished goods either direct from site or through our National Distribution Centre (NDC).
My path to supply chain
I started out my career in supply chain, joining Kerry in 2001 as an agency worker, after leaving the business in 1998 to concentrate on bringing up my two young sons. After three months as a temp, I was offered a role on a specific project, the management of our recently commissioned dry blending plant in 2000. The project lasted several months and provided me significant experience in both project management, people management, and exposure to presenting to our senior leadership team.
When I look back, I don’t know how I managed to fit it all in with the boys being so young. My husband works shifts so between us we always made sure that one of us would be there for sports days, football practice, parents’ evenings and the many football tournaments we attended over those wonderful years. There were always feelings of guilt, however; when dropping the boys off at nursery in a morning, Aiden, my youngest son used to make me cry as I’d see him in the top window watching me leave all upset. I was assured by the staff that the tears didn’t last long after I left but it still tugged at my heart strings all the same.
I certainly didn’t choose the easiest path in my career. Having my family young meant I took the unconventional approach, deciding to undertake a five-year degree in Supply Chain & Logistics Management whilst working full time. But I have a great support network with family and friends. I also really enjoyed learning – but maybe not the revision over the Christmas holidays, as this was tough when with a young family.
There were 21 of us signed up to the initial FDSc (Foundation degree). Only two of us completed our full BSc honours degree and I fully understand why – it was tough going trying to juggle everyday demands. I met some great friends along the way, some of whom I’m still in touch with.
I believe consistency, honesty and authenticity are important when managing a team. Trust and feedback are important, and that works both ways. I have a great site leadership team, some just starting out in their management positions, others who have held their position for a few years.
What’s important to me in my role as a manager is accountability, ensuring that my team know what is expected of them in their roles and that they consistently strive to uphold our site leadership purpose, in ‘providing a safe, calm and efficient environment for every factory and process – making it easy for our employees to carry out their duties, whilst delivering high quality products in a sustainable and inclusive environment.’
There is a lot covered in our purpose and I’m passionate about it and care about our employees. I can’t imagine being a leader and not caring about your people, and we are lucky to have a fantastic team in Gainsborough. As an example, we have employees who have volunteered as mental health first aiders in order to support themselves and their colleagues in a world that is vastly different since the Covid pandemic.
We also have a great team of health and safety champions, volunteers from each of the factories and departments across the site to ensure everyone is represented. Since the inception of our volunteer HSE Champions we have seen a shift; our employees are coming forward with the suggestions and are driving the improvements needed, making real positive change. If you maintain a consistent and inclusive approach, your small daily gains will provide positive long-term improvements.
My current role comprises of both short term and long-term goals. Short term consists of supporting my team with the management of daily KPIs (key performance indicators). Every Kerry site has a framework to support standard ways of working. The programme provides multiple playbooks to ensure we consistently challenge ourselves for continuous improvement.
The Gainsborough team won an award last year for our implementation of the programme and I was so proud, they thoroughly deserved it. Inevitably, there will be obstacles, and since taking on my new role in the height of the pandemic (June 2020), I’ve certainly experienced a few of those. I strongly believe that these experiences have supported my development and made me stronger in the process.
Longer term goals are an important part of my role, focusing on the business strategy and translating it in connection with my site and our focus areas for the next five years. Sustainability is one of our key focus areas, we are investing in several key projects to support our longevity and success.
If I were to give my younger self any advice, it would be to go easy on myself. Self-reflection and self-love are so important – celebrating milestones and achievements, no matter how small, is vital.
I’ve recently learnt that my natural role in a team is that of a ‘shaper’. It was explained that the role of a ‘shaper’ is to piece things together and continuously drive momentum and move forward once a goal or objective is met. Because of this I have to work on remembering to acknowledge and celebrate success before moving on. This is a learned behaviour that I’ve been actively working on for a few years now.
We’ve also had team members volunteer to help support our local community by using their company MyCommunity day to participate in local activities. We have supported a local primary school that has an outdoor area that needed renovating and a mental health charity walk-in cafe. Our MyCommunity programme empowers all Kerry employees to support their local community and I think this is a fantastic initiative.
It can be a lonely role at times, but I have a great network of fellow plant managers, both male and female. We continually support each other and openly share any challenges or positive improvements we are working on in order to keep us all connected.
The next stage
Two years ago, I discovered I was entering the next stage of life – menopause. I was lucky enough to have my diagnosis confirmed through blood tests, FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) levels. The only reason I was able to have the test was due to my age and my persistence. I’ll be honest – I have really struggled, primarily due to thinking I was going crazy and not understanding what was wrong with me and the unnecessary suffering I endured due to the length of time it took to diagnose.
Holding down a demanding full-time job, taking on a promotion and managing others while going through one of the most challenging experiences in my career to date could have broken me. I was so fortunate to be able to connect with fellow colleagues who were also entering this stage of life and open up about our struggles.
One colleague in particular, Nicky Dea and I had many calls sharing our experiences and struggles but more importantly knowledge and education, through specialist advice and how we could seek help and support each other. It wasn’t long before Nicky rallied together a team of Menopause Champions, all with one goal in mind, to raise awareness and offer support for all women in Kerry. There’s been some amazing work in this space in the last twelve months with lots more on the agenda.
I’m so proud to be able to play a small part to help raise awareness for women and men. I started on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in 2021 and haven’t looked back since. Whilst this may not be for everyone, it’s so important that women understand their symptoms so they can manage their treatment and well-being.
Because of this network, support and diagnosis I now have confidence that my ability to lead a complex business into the future is assured.