Donna Ahern talks to Deirdre O’Neill, future food offer director, Compass Group.
Compass Group Ireland’s foodservice solutions include full restaurant operations, café and coffee dock facilities, and self-service ‘grab & go’ offerings, as well as bespoke catering for events and meetings.
The business has adapted in the past year to new ways of employee working, and now also supports clients in providing pre-order and collect meal services, home delivery of food, and delivered meal options for offices and other workplaces.
How would you describe your role?
Ultimately, I’m responsible for ensuring that Compass Ireland stays one step ahead of the pack. It is my job to determine what ‘food in the workplace’ will look like in say, 12 months’ time, and to adopt the necessary resources and infrastructure to best meet that vision.
That could mean rolling out new technology to augment the customer experience in one of our restaurants and/or building central production kitchens and delivery hubs to service the growth in home working.
What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
My first taste of work came at a very young age, when I helped out my mum in her bridal dress and guesthouse businesses. She was so passionate about what she did.
I learned just how much one person could accomplish if their heart was in it.
Outside of the family, I worked as a waitress in a busy restaurant in my hometown, Athlone.
It became clear that service was just as important as the food in determining the quality of a customer’s experience. It is something I’ve carried with me into my current role.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love bringing new ideas to life. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to do so almost every day alongside a host of talented people and with the backing of a multi-national business.
We can positively shape working lives in many ways as we bring a lot more than just food to the equation. Seeing those ‘extra-curricular’ initiatives come to fruition is so rewarding.
Most recently, I’ve been busy commissioning and acquiring a number of tech-based solutions, which are especially exciting.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
Hopefully, still not working from home! From a business perspective, I’m looking forward to overseeing the continued evolution of our Copper Pan Kitchen (CPK).
We only launched in November 2020, but the response from our clients has been phenomenal. I can see Ireland paving the way for the other territories and markets to embrace the CPK and in five years’ time, who knows, it could be a global proposition.
Beyond the CPK, I’d like to see Compass Ireland solidified as the aspirational ‘go-to’ business for enhancing the employee work experience.
What is your advice to people starting out in the industry?
Love your job. Take pride in it. Make it your objective to learn everything about it and to keep learning every day. Most of the executives and CEOs in our business started off life back of house or peeling spuds, but nine times out of ten they had a passion for food. It is much easier to excel at a job you love.
What was your worst job, and what was so bad about it?
Selling sight-seeing tours of Boston! I travelled to the US with two friends and we all got jobs with the same company. I fell asleep on our induction sightseeing trip around Boston, which meant I hadn’t a clue what we were selling for the first few weeks.
I just blindly recited what I’d hear the other sellers saying. Needless to say, I wasn’t the top seller.
Who are the three businesspeople you most admire, and why?
First, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern.
There are so many facets of her leadership that I admire, from her approach to motherhood to her multi-tasking abilities and passion for climate change. She is a warm and empathetic leader, but one that is also quick to implement change.
Next, former Nike CEO Phil Knight. I’m currently reading his memoir, Shoe Dog, and I respect his take on marketing and growth: “When you see only problems, you’re not seeing clearly.”
Finally, my mother. She raised three children while running two successful businesses. What’s not to admire!
What advertising campaign have you most enjoyed in recent months?
One that stood out was the recent ad from Heineken. It’s humorous, relatable and does a great job of positioning Heineken as a bridge between rivals. Add Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ to the mix and you’ve got yourself a winner.
If you could bring back one product that is no longer available in Ireland, what would it be?
I’ll go with Woppa Bars. The Cola flavour was a winner for me.
What was your favourite grocery brand when you were growing up?
Wexford fresh strawberries with HB ice cream. That really takes me back to summer days in my youth.
Who would come to your ideal dinner party (living or dead)?
I’d have to start with a chef personality to help with the cooking, maybe Gordon Ramsay – a culinary legend and a bit of a character. Brendan Grace would bring the laughs and I’d spend most of the evening picking Jacinda Ardern’s brain.