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Who Is ...? Niall O’Connor, Group Managing Director, ALDI Ireland

Donna Ahern talks to Niall O'Connor, group managing director, Aldi Ireland.  

How would you describe your role?

As group managing director, I lead ALDI’s Irish team and business, which is dedicated to delivering the very best groceries, prices and value to Irish families. As anyone that works in the FMCG sector will tell you, no day is ever the same!

What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?

I was an avid golfer as a youngster and was fortunate enough to secure an apprenticeship to become a pro in the UK. I did a bit of coaching, which enabled me to fund my way through university.

I learned the importance and value of good preparation and hard work, which I carried with me into my career in retail. In my opinion, it is impossible to achieve real success without working hard.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

I am now in my 22nd year with ALDI, so I must enjoy it to have been around so long!

When I joined ALDI, we had five stores in Ireland and no supply base to speak of.

We now have a huge business, with 152 stores, and we work with over 330 Irish suppliers producing award-winning products for the hundreds of thousands of customers we serve each day.

It was ALDI’s promise of incredible quality and unbeatable prices that initially attracted me to the business.

I thought this was exactly what was needed in the country.

It was a chance to harness everything that was amazing about Ireland – our great food and great producers – and to deliver this through ALDI’s great prices.

It wasn’t easy at the start. We had to tell our story, build trust, and go against the grain, but if you look at the company now, the hard work and perseverance has paid off. I am proud to be able to say that ALDI is now a very significant Irish business.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Hopefully reflecting on ALDI’s continued success in Ireland, having opened more stores and made our unbeatable price proposition available to more shoppers.

While ALDI has brought real competition and value to the Irish grocery sector, our job is far from done.

There are still a lot of towns and villages where we are not represented – where people are still paying too much for their groceries – so we will be bringing ALDI to more families and making it more convenient for them to shop with us.

We are investing €320 million over the next three years in the opening of 30 new stores across the country.

What is your advice to people starting out in the industry?

You will have the greatest chance of a successful career if you have a genuine passion for retail and a willingness to continuously learn, adapt and embrace change.

The FMCG sector evolves at a rapid pace, so you need to constantly respond to changing shopper habits and preferences.

What was your worst job, and what was so bad about it?

I have always sought out roles that challenge me and I have been lucky to avoid anything that could be termed ‘my worst job’. After I graduated, I joined Marks and Spencer on their graduate scheme.

My first appointment was in Ladies-wear, as a buyer of skirts, no less! I can’t say it was exactly my forte, but it was a fantastic opportunity to learn my trade in one of the UK’s most successful retailers at the time.

What three businesspeople do you most admire, and why?

Michael Marks: A Belarusian immigrant, who demonstrated how hard work and perseverance pays off when he set up a market stall in Leeds. Not speaking a word of English, he hung a sign on his stall saying, “Don’t ask the price, it’s a penny,” and with the help of Thomas Spencer, he created one of the UK’s most successful retailers.

Michael O’Leary: CEO of Ryanair, who has transformed the low-cost airline offerings in Europe.
Rachael Blackmore: In what is a gruelling sport, Rachael has risen to the top, impressing everyone she interacts with along the way, and ultimately becoming the first female leading jockey at Cheltenham.

What advertising campaign have you most enjoyed in recent months?

My personal choice is Kevin the Carrot!

It has been tremendous fun watching this campaign develop every year, and seeing what Kevin gets up to, as he pays homage, in some instances, to other famous seasonal marketing campaigns and movies.

Last year, our Kevin the Carrot campaign reminded us that you do not need to spend a lot to give your family a little luxury at Christmas. Our customers will have to keep their eyes peeled to see if he returns this year!

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

Always keep things in perspective. If you can do that in moments when you feel overwhelmed or stressed, it will certainly make things easier!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have a real interest in equestrian sports. It is something that we pursue as a family most weekends.

How much time do you spend on social media in an average week?

I have been known to dabble in Facebook and Instagram, but I use Twitter for the latest news, and LinkedIn has emerged as an essential tool for building professional relationships.

Most likely to say?

“If you can keep your head when all those about you are losing theirs...”

Least likely to say?

“You never find anything good in the middle aisle!”

© 2022 Checkout – your source for the latest Irish retail news. Article by Donna Ahern. For more retail news, click here. Click subscribe to sign up for the Checkout print edition.

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