Donna Ahern talks to Aisling Cullen, CEO of Thanks Plants.
How would you describe your role?
I wear a lot of different hats, but my main role would be that of creating the strategy and implementing my vision, although some days you might find me packing boxes.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
I worked in a news agency in Killiney Shopping Centre when I was 16 years old.
It was a customer-facing job. I really came out of my shell in that role and became a people person.
What do you enjoy most about your current job?
My current job is very challenging, but I’m always up to the challenge. I like problem-solving and seeing the sales build on a monthly basis. I also get a kick out of the feedback from our customers, who are our superfans! It is so nice to hear that something I made in my kitchen three years ago is now in someone’s fridge in Ireland, and they really like the products.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I hope I am still growing Thanks Plants, and that we are an internationally recognised brand. Otherwise, if I’ve sold the company at that stage, then I expect to be on to my next food project. I don’t want to rest, anyway!
What is your advice to people starting out in the industry?
It is hard to survive as an artisan producer because the margins are so thin. That is why it is very important to always think about volume and how you can achieve your goals.
What was your worst job, and what was so bad about it?
I worked for an international property company in Malaysia for a year. While the role as a leasing manager was fine, I was stuck in an office with no windows that was based in an empty, failed shopping mall. It was depressing coming to work every day.
What do you think that the government could do to help business in the current climate?
Subsidise plant-based foods! We already get great support from Enterprise Ireland, but I’d love to make our products cheaper on the shelves. Eating more plant-based foods is the future if we want to create a sustainable environment.
What three business people do you most admire, and why?
Sam Dennigan from Strong Roots, for growing his business at a remarkable speed and cracking the US; Reese Witherspoon, for creating her own movie production company when she couldn’t find any strong female roles in films; and Jane Fonda, who created a fitness empire to fund her activism.
What advertising campaign have you most enjoyed in recent months?
I love Oatly’s slogan, ‘It’s like milk, but made for humans.’ They totally nailed it!
If you could bring back one product that is no longer available in Ireland, what would it be?
There is so much choice these days that I don’t really miss anything.
What was your favourite grocery brand when you were growing up?
As a student, I loved Koka noodles.
Who would come to your ideal dinner party (living or dead)?
American actress Jennifer Coolidge, as she seems like a lot of fun; Joaquin Phoenix, as he’s passionate about animal welfare and maybe I could get him to invest in Thanks Plants; Jane Fonda, as I find her life fascinating, especially when it comes to activism; David Bowie and Aretha Franklin, as they could provide some musical entertainment throughout the night.
What is the best piece of advice that you’ve received?
This advice wasn’t given to me personally, but I recently heard Elon Musk advising entrepreneurs that their product has to be better than everyone else’s on the market and to seek negative feedback. I think that is very true because once people try a product, they will keep coming back if it is good, and they will spread the word about it.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to go to the gym, but carving out ‘me time’ seems to be getting rarer these days! At the weekends, I like to go for walks with the kids around Massy’s Estate and the Hellfire Club, followed by lunch in Timbertrove.
How much time do you spend on social media in an average week?
Not enough! I don’t really spend a lot of time on my personal social media, but I’d like to give more focus to the Thanks Plants socials.
Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn?
If I had to choose from those three, LinkedIn would be the best. Otherwise, I’m more of an Instagram person.
With which fictional character do you most identify?
I’m going to go with Elle Woods. Although I am not pink and girlie, like Elle, I do like to research and present my facts, so no one else can argue the opposite.
Most likely to say?
If I can just get through this week, then everything will be OK – I say it at the start of every week!
Least likely to say?
Let’s fry up a juicy steak.