“The pandemic forced us to be very internally focused” – John Jordan, chief executive, Ornua

Guest Blog | Thu 18 Feb | Author – Business & Finance

John Jordan is Chief Executive of Ornua

This article was originally published in the cover story of Business & Finance magazine, vol. 58, no. 1. It is available to read in our archive, here.


It is human nature to lament on what we had rather than living in the moment. While the global pandemic has brought great tragedy to some, for many, it has been about lifestyle changes. Personally, there are elements I miss from my pre-Covid life – going on holidays or being at a live sporting event. However, there have been some benefits to our current situation – for me, it was getting to spend more casual time with my family and spending time with my three teenage sons.

Ornua as a business has thrived in 2020, and I would be very optimistic about building on this over the next few years. The last nine months have taught us a lot, and key to future success is building on these learnings.

People are more resilient, adaptable, and open to change than we ever could have expected. For Ornua, future working life will be a blended model of working from home, working from the office, and travelling. At Ornua, we are Ireland’s largest exporter of dairy products and work alongside our customers and consumers in 110 different markets worldwide. It is critical that we have face-to-face interaction with our stakeholders to maintain and build relationships, allowing us to collaborate, to innovate and grow together.

Investment in our IT infrastructure has been critical to working through this pandemic, allowing us to continue to deliver for our customers. As a business, we invested in robust processes that were enabled by appropriate IT systems. Our IT teams responded to the pandemic incredibly efficiently and ensured those working from home had everything they needed for a seamless transition. Our business did not miss a beat.

As a global business, travel has always been a must, but maybe the extent to which we travelled has not always been necessary.

As a global business, travel has always been a must, but maybe the extent to which we travelled has not always been necessary. For some of us, myself included, travel had become a habit. Looking back, getting up at dawn to catch the first flight to Manchester, host internal meetings and return home late at night to Dublin now raises questions on how efficiently you managed your time. In the future, travel will likely be less frequent but for longer trips, with itineraries built around visiting our businesses and our people, meeting our customers, and experiencing the marketplace.

Responding to the pandemic, particularly in the early stages, forced us to be very internally focused – ensuring we have the right systems and tools in place to keep our business operating. What we quickly realised is that our customers and consumers were also experiencing enormous change.  We had foodservice customers that were shut down overnight, with B2B and retail customers seeing surges in demand. Ornua engaged with customers, responded to their needs and as a result, saw growth in many sectors of our portfolio. Clear communication across our customer portfolio was critical to this, and our approach has been acknowledged by many of our customers, strengthening our relationship and providing an excellent foundation for future growth.

To help maintain the viability of any industry, you need to create opportunities for collaboration to drive innovation. In my view, collaboration is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. Many of our customers have put innovation on hold as they attempt to stabilise demand and limit non-essential personnel on-site. Looking forward, ensuring that you work with your customer to provide the opportunities that support innovation will be key for future growth.

The success of any business centres around its greatest asset; its people. Dealing with a global pandemic has tested our mental resilience. As with all aspects of life, some have been able to deal with this better than others. For me, it is so important that we all take personal responsibility for our physical and mental wellbeing. Ornua has a range of different programmes to ensure we support our employees, but it all starts with someone reaching out and asking for help. I believe we have become more empathetic, tolerant, and patient, and we owe it to ourselves to ask for help when we need it and offer support to those in need.

Living through Covid-19 has been a unique experience for us all. There is no playbook of how to steer a business through a global pandemic; we are all learning as we go. At Ornua we have been very fortunate that our business is thriving, and this is down to how our 2,400 global team have responded. I am optimistic about the future, the opportunity for growth and the continued success of our business.

John Jordan

John Jordan is Chief Executive of Ornua after a career spanning over 20 years with the company.

Prior to taking up his role, John was CEO of Ornua Foods Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia where he successfully developed long term strategies to grow Ornua’s consumer sales portfolio. This involved the regional development of Ornua’s iconic brand portfolio including Kerrygold and Pilgrim’s Choice, as well as working with Ornua’s retail partners to develop new opportunities in the private label sector of the market. Prior to this, John was CEO of DPI Speciality Foods based in California, a division of Ornua and the third largest specialty food distributor in the US. He has also held a variety of senior commercial roles within the organisation in Dublin and within international subsidiaries.

John holds an M.Sc. in Business Administration from Trinity College Dublin, an M.Sc. in Environmental Resource Management from University College Dublin and a B.Sc. in Biotechnology from Dublin City University.