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May 27, 2010

Geoff Meagher interview: Staying competitive

The new CPA Ireland president plans to use his tenure to advocate ways Ireland can stay globally competitive. Geoff Meagher tells Carolyn Canham about the importance of lowering the cost of business in Ireland, ensuring credit is available for SMEs and promoting education

Geoff Meagher

Geoff Meagher has had a remarkably diverse career for a man who worked at a single company for 44 years. The new CPA Ireland president began his articles with a PricewaterhouseCoopers predecessor firm in the late 1960s in Kilkenny, but the accountancy background was only ever a means to an end.

“From a very early stage I wanted to be involved directly in business and involved in the core phase of making things happen in the business environment,” he says.

On completion of his articles, Meagher moved into industry and in 1975 joined the Avonmore Group, a large Irish dairy company.

Meagher worked his way up through the ranks and in 1992 was appointed group finance director.

Following a 1997 merger between Avonmore and fellow Irish dairy company Waterford, Meagher became group finance director of the merged entity, which became the dairy giant Glanbia Group. Meagher continued his corporate climb, becoming deputy group managing director in 2005. He officially retired in June 2009, but is currently advising Glanbia Co-operative Society on the possible purchase of Glanbia’s Irish business units, which have a €1bn ($1.2bn) turnover.

“I come from a farming background so when the opportunity arose to join the Avonmore Group, which is a very substantial food company in Ireland, it was an offer I couldn’t resist,” Meagher recalls. “I suppose I have been lucky in that during my time with the organisation it grew and developed in so many different ways. It was almost the same as changing jobs every four or five years except that in my case it happened with one company.”

Meagher’s work with Avonmore and then Glanbia covered a variety of high-profile and demanding events. He was involved in converting Avonmore from a co-operative into a public company and helped with about 30 acquisitions and disposals of overseas operations during a 10-year period. The merger between Avonmore and Waterford was also significant.

“That was probably the biggest merger in the Irish food industry and involved substantial rationalisation and change over the following five years,” he explains.

“It has been a period of enormous change. I have seen huge change and the opportunity to develop my career within the one organisation.”

 

Quote from Geoff Meagher, CPA IrelandKeeping up

Ireland’s Celtic Tiger period of rapid economic growth came to a crashing halt with the banking crisis of 2008 and the ensuing two years has seen the nation struggling to find its footing.

Meagher plans to use his year-long term as CPA Ireland president to advocate ways Ireland can regain and maintain its global competitiveness.

First, he is keen to advocate the importance of addressing the cost of doing business in Ireland.

“I am talking about energy, regulation, services. There is a significant infrastructure cost in doing business in Ireland,” Meagher explains. “The government has done some work on it, but needs to do a lot more.”

Second, Meagher wants to draw attention to the impact of the banking crisis on small and medium-sized enterprises, particularly regarding the availability of credit and working capital.

“We have accepted the logic of government in terms of the bailout of the banks and the input of capital to the banks, but I don’t think we have seen much in terms of a tangible return to our investment yet,” he says.

“I think a fairly major area for the government and the banks to tackle is ensuring that credit, which is the lifeblood of businesses, is actually available and available at competitive rates without an undue regulatory or administrative burden in terms of acquiring it.”

Meagher’s third priority is an area of personal interest.

“The education system in Ireland over the last 20 years has served very well, but I think we need to keep updating that to ensure our young people are fully trained in the type of needs and services that a modern Ireland in 2010 and going forward will actually need,” he explains.

“The world is more competitive and is going to become even more competitive – and unless we have the skill sets to meet that, particularly with our young people, we are going to lose out vis a vis other countries around the world.”

All three of Meagher’s priorities affect both CPA Ireland members and their clients. These issues have been addressed by CPA Ireland representations in the past, and will be addressed again in the year ahead.

The challenges can be solved, but Meagher and the wider Irish society certainly have their work cut out for them.

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