“Never be too proud to ask for help or advice” – CEO Q&A with Grace O’Shaughnessy, Managing Director of Java Republic

CEO Q&A, Irish News | Wed 24 Mar | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Grace O’Shaughnessy, Managing Director of Java Republic

Grace O’Shaughnessy is Managing Director of Java Republic. In 2019, the group celebrated their 20th anniversary and joined forces with Spanish coffee company Cafento. Grace has seen the business go from strength to strength, and has won Fingal Chamber Business Awards, Business Person of the Year. Since being named Managing Director, Grace has focused on the strategic future and commercial agenda of Java Republic, including entry to new verticals such as travel, hospitality solutions and larger customers where she holds many key relationships.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

As Managing Director, my priorities and goals stretch across all facets of the company. Despite the immediate focus in navigating through the pandemic, I’m focused on developing, not only the business, but the culture and people that define us. We are “Coffee for the People, by the Coffee People”. My goal is to continue to develop this and ensure our people are motivated to deliver the best product and service possible.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

One of my biggest challenges this year is leading the team through recovery as the economy reopens. Looking after our people, communicating with them, and keeping focused on opportunities this period has presented will allow us to remain agile and ready to come back stronger.

We have worked hard to build up the sense of community and positive culture within the company. My goal is to continue growing this, driving the accountability and responsibility amongst our colleagues.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

Communication and engagement are key. We’ve implemented policies aimed at breaking down silos, enhancing culture and ensuring open communication between teams. Our values are “passion, expertise and conscientiousness”, this is something we want our colleagues to live and breathe. We’ve introduced initiatives to help embed this into our DNA. From ambassador awards, staff barista training, development programmes and an internal communications strategy, we’ve seen our efforts reflected in staff who are deeply committed to the brand.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Hospitality has been acutely impacted by COVID-19. That said, we are encouraged by the changes in the industry, businesses have pivoted to be where consumers are seeking coffee. Consumers have moved to purchase online and are seeking their local coffee shop for their daily caffeine.

Sustainability will be a key focus for us as we emerge from the pandemic. We were the world’s first purpose-built carbon neutral roastery and have continued to look for new ways to be sustainable. One thing that does pose a challenge is the proposed so-called ‘latte levy’. The concern is it may remove incentive to invest in fully recyclable or compostable cups. Instead, it’s likely that cheap, non-recyclable, single-use cups will be imported, leading to increased plastic waste and a reduction in Irish manufactured cups.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Consumers are now more sustainable and health conscious, and more are moving towards plant-based diets. In the coffee industry we are seeing this in the emergence of alternative milks. Another trend is “authenticity”, meaning you need to tell your story and be open and transparent.

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

Aside from the number of speciality coffee shops and micro roasters that have sprung up, people’s tastes in coffee have changed significantly. We are currently experiencing the third wave of coffee, and it’s driven by the younger generations and their demand for high quality coffee that is ethical and sustainable.

Now is the time we need to see support from government. Whether it’s for the hospitality sector as it reopens, or a commitment to driving sustainability from a policy perspective. For example, increasing the number of compostable bins to support businesses and consumers in their drive to be more sustainable.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

For me the challenge is availability of talent. The skills are there, but there’s a lot of competition amongst companies to do more to attract the right people. That’s why we’ve placed a focus on developing the company culture. This approach has served us well to date in terms of attracting and retaining top talent.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We moved into new state-of-the-art facilities in 2008 and the business was put under a lot of pressure. Our focus was to maintain and trade through the downturn. We struggled like everyone, but our strategy pulled us through. When we came out of the crisis, we evolved our strategy to drive us forward and position us as leaders in the industry. Experience will serve us well as we

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

Prior to COVID-19 restrictions, the impact of Brexit on the office space in Ireland was already having a positive effect on business. We have benefited from new offices opening in Dublin, with new occupants seeking an in-house coffee offering. As many will eventually return to a hybrid model of working, they are looking at ways to offer safe, touch free & premium coffee offerings. We have also taken measures to safeguard ourselves from Brexit. We have no clients in the UK currently, but the land bridge is a vital element in the supply chain for goods.

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

Driving our culture and prioritising what we do helps us to deliver results. What drives me, and the team, is our passion to go further and deeper than anyone has before. From our service model and roasting procedures to our ethics and sustainable practices, our people want to deliver the best product.

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

Sometimes it’s as important to know when to stop doing the wrong things as it is doing the right things, i.e. focus on elements that drive your strategy; if it doesn’t contribute, don’t do it. My own advice to others is never be too proud to ask for help or advice; others will have gone through the pitfalls in business before and that learning is invaluable.

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

The last year has presented many changes in how we do business, yet, the commitment, loyalty, unwavering support and positive response from our entire team has been very rewarding.

In mid-2019, we partnered with Spanish coffee company Cafento, which came at the most opportune time. With Cafento, we look to focus on opportunities to expand into international markets.

What’s next for your company?

Our focus remains on recovery as the market reopens. We acquired our Distributor, The Island Beverage Company, last year which presented an opportunity to focus on an all-island commercial approach. This means delivering customers a superb coffee experience with a knowledgeable local focus.

From an international perspective, we are executing growth plans initially in Spain while exploring additional opportunities in other regions.

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

2021 is very much a year of recovery. We remain strong and as we look to 2022, we have identified several opportunities that will allow us to maintain the momentum of positioning Java Republic as a partner in the coffee industry for businesses striving to deliver the best coffee experience.