Belfast Telegraph

Moy Park's Janet makes history as first woman to helm Northern Ireland's biggest firm

BY MARGARET CANNING

The Belfast Telegraph Top 100 Companies - which is only available in today's paper - heralds the first time a woman has been in charge of our number one business.

Janet McCollum became managing director of Craigavon-based poultry processor Moy Park in January.

With 11,500 employees in the UK and Europe and turnover of £1.2bn, the business – part of Brazilian company Marfrig – easily eclipses the 8,700 headcount of the second-biggest company, Tesco.

But despite Ms McCollum's trailblazing, many have pointed out that much more progress needs to be made before women's presence in Northern Ireland boardrooms catches up with the rest of the UK.

In fact, just five of the top 100 firms in today's publication – compiled by John Simpson after close scrutiny of companies' accounts and headcounts – are led by women.

Roseann Kelly, who is chief executive of lobby group Women in Business in Northern Ireland, said: "I think it's fantastic what Janet has done, and she's a brilliant role model – and the more role models we can get the better when it comes to inspiring others."

The arrival of Ms McCollum in the Top 100 also coincides with the departure of another female CEO – former Translink boss Catherine Mason, who has been replaced by interim chief executive Gordon Milligan.

However, Northern Ireland Water is now headed up by Sarah Venning, another female newcomer.

Ms Kelly said the public sector was also lacking in women at the highest levels. "We don't have any female permanent secretaries (top civil servants in Government departments) since the departure of Aideen McGinley from the Department for Employment and Learning and Rosalie Flanagan from the Department for Culture, Arts and Leisure."

Women in Business is asking companies to support its 30:30 Vision campaign.

Ahead of the International Business Women's Conference next month, which is being held in Belfast for the first time, it wants firms to consider how they can develop a more diverse workplace.

Darina Armstrong, who has been a female business leader in the Top 100 as chief executive of the Progressive Building Society for the past four years, said: "Since I was appointed chief executive, the number of female entrepreneurs has grown in Northern Ireland with many women now leading large organisations and companies.

"It is great to see that Northern Ireland's number one company, Moy Park, has a woman at its helm.

"Integral to leading any successful company is cultivating relationships, building teams that release the energy and potential of others, developing flexible and fluid management systems and building an inclusive organisation.

"Some may see these as feminine qualities, I see them simply as a must for any good leader."

Kirsty McManus, assistant director of the CBI in Northern Ireland, said Ms McCollum had been a "trailblazer" whose presence at the top of the Top 100 chimed with the CBI's strong focus on diversity.

The other female leaders of the Top 100 are Ellvena Graham, head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, and Bernadette Lavery, regional manager at health and beauty retailer Alliance Boots.

Capable hands driving a massive concern

BECOMING the first woman to lead the number one company in Northern Ireland comes after two decades of hard graft in the food industry for Janet McCollum.

The Belfast-born managing director, who is married with children, boarded for a decade at Victoria College in Belfast.

After a BSc joint honours in Business Administration and French at the University of Aston in Birmingham, she joined the Coca-Cola and Schweppes' graduate management trainee programme.

Ms McCollum, who is in her forties, quickly climbed the ladder at Coca-Cola, and worked as systems coordinator and assistant management accountant.

But like many, the pull of home was strong for Ms McCollum, and she returned to Northern Ireland in 1989 to join aircraft insulation firm Insoleq, where she was employed as commercial manager.

Her Moy Park career began in May 1993 with the post of European accountant, responsible for financial reporting and administration of the company's European sales.

She led the financial reporting of Moy Park's joint venture in France, BMP.

After five years, she became deputy finance director and joined the executive board as finance director in 1999.

She was then appointed chief executive in January 2014.

There is no doubt that she has had a significant role in guiding Moy Park through some momentous events, including its acquisition by Brazilian-based Marfrig and their acquisition of rival O'Kane Poultry.

Her inside-out knowledge of the business has clearly helped her get the top job in the company, and she is obviously at the top of her game. But there's no doubt the pressure on her is huge. In the last 13 years the Moy Park business has grown sales revenue from £200m to more than £1.2bn sales turnover.

Maintaining that growth will be a challenge but one which, if her career so far is anything to go by, she is more than capable of.

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