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“Being so close to the border here in Monaghan… offers both a bio security advantage and a strategic advantage” – CEO Q&A: Micheál Briody, Silver Hill Foods

By Business & Finance
05 July 2018
Micheál Briody of Silver Hill Foods
Micheál Briody, Silver Hill Foods.

In our next CEO Q&A, Micheál Briody of Silver Hill Foods talks about the strategic advantage of being close to the border, and the challenge of making decisions faced with the uncertainty of Brexit.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My main focus is ensuring that Silver Hill can meet the world-wide demand for its famous duck. As we near capacity in our production plant, I am focussed on a project that will bring the capacity of our Centre of Excellence in Emyvale, Monaghan to 150,000 ducks per week from the current capacity of 80,000. To align all our farming capacities with breeders, hatcheries and growing farms to that is the key priority to enable us enter into our next phase of growth. Being so close to the border here in Monaghan and having facilities both sides offers both a bio security advantage and a strategic advantage in that UK retailers look for NI duck and ROI retailers look for ROI duck.

Focus is also being applied to opening new markets in Indonesia, Malaysia and Canada. We have orders in those countries for our products but we are in the process of getting our government to agree a market access with the competent authority in the new jurisdictions. This is a lengthy process and needs constant probing from our side to ensure both governments push it along.

Finally, it is vitally important that our employees are performing well and enjoying their work. We pride ourselves on constantly innovating ways to engage our employees even further as they are our greatest resource.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

The biggest challenge currently is making decisions to expand when you are faced with the uncertainty of Brexit. 45% of what we sell goes to the UK and given where we are situated in relation to the border with Northern Ireland it can involve a lot of logistical issues if we face a Hard Brexit. Trying to plan around Brexit and predict future volumes to the UK when we don’t know what customs and tariffs arrangements will be in place makes that a challenge.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

We invest a lot in training our staff and focusing on the softer skills as much as the technical skills. By learning life skills in their workplace that they can bring into their personal life grows that individual and they are motivated to learn more. 

I believe in empowering employees and giving them the latitude to make decisions and make mistakes. Work on the mantra of “what’s the worst that can happen?” and they can only flourish.

We invest a lot in health and well-being in the company and we have a constant schedule of events to encourage staff to eat healthily and exercise regularly. It adds a fun element to the topic and we have had increased employee engagement and national recognition as the Fittest Company in Ireland.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Avian flu is a challenge to every poultry industry and we have to be constantly investing in biosecurity infrastructure and training. Thankfully we have never been afflicted with it but it is a constant threat.

The Silver Hill duck is a unique breed of duck so we constantly have to do our own research and development as very little in the public domain applies to our duck. This is a big cost to us but one we will not reduce as it ensures we consistently have the best duck in the world.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

People are time poor and are looking for quick and easy solutions and we provide that with our retail cooked products. 

People are also more concerned about where their food comes from. Traceability matters and we pride ourselves on high standards of bird welfare, all our duck feed is natural with no additives and we are members of Origin Green which endorses our sustainability ethos.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

I would like to see a more focused approach from our government on assisting companies like ours to open up market access in new areas in Asia. It will increase our exports and staff numbers yet we don’t feel there is enough resources and know-how been being applied to this area at Government level.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

We are very lucky that we have a strong management team and by investing in our future managers we are punching above our weight on retaining talent.

Q. How did you strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

The banking and economic crisis ensured we stepped back at the time and looked at our cost base and tightened it as best we could. We have been in double digit growth every year since 2011 and have doubled the size of the company in that time. We always had a brilliant product so that made it easier to secure that success regardless of the economic landscape.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

The biggest effect is the uncertainty on our expansion. As we export so much to UK, how will that affect us will depend on levels of customs and tariffs and physical difficulty of crossing the borders. We have planned extensively for Brexit and have compiled a report that shows all areas of our business that will be affected. But what the report can’t tell us is how extensive that affect will be.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success is simply delivering on the plan that you back yourself and your team to be capable of delivering.

What drives me is the pleasure I get from working with a great team and seeing them develop over the years to being better performers and better decision makers. 

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Coach and then empower staff with potential and your return on investment will be significant.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Getting the business last year to its record turnover and a record number of 3.9m ducks in that period

In 2017 the company won 7 more Great Taste Awards, Deloitte Best Managed Company, Irelands Fittest Company, Bord Bia Exporter of the Year and then I personally won Monaghan Business Person of the Year 2018 a few months back.

Q. What’s next for your company?

A €25m investment in a new plant to take us to the next phase of our growth and also getting market access opened in Indonesia and Malaysia this year hopefully.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

If we get market access opened in those countries it will provide the foundation for our expected growth. Until we get market access and a new plant though we have to tread water and continue to meet demand for our existing customers.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

We still want to be known as the “Best Duck in the World” “The Mother of All Ducks” and the “Wagyu of Duck”.  

Coach and then empower staff with potential and your return on investment will be significant.