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Drover Foods finds recipe for success with Leadership 4 Growth programme

Stuck at a crossroads, Drover Foods managing director Anne Smyth knew she had to make changes to keep the company moving forward. Enterprise Ireland’s Leadership 4 Growth programme helped her make those changes, putting the business on track to reach a €25 million turnover. 

Wexford-based Drover Foods is a family-owned business specialising in pre-portioned food products. Employing 60 people, the B2B company has transformed operations and found four new international markets in recent years, turning over €25 million today. 

Anne Smyth, its managing director, attributes much of Drover Food’s success to her participation in Enterprise Ireland’s Leadership 4 Growth programme in 2017. 

Established in 2006, Leadership 4 Growth equips owners and managers with leadership skills and knowledge to scale their business at home and abroad. Participants gain expertise and hands-on experience through workshops, coaching, interactive learning and networking. 

Shifting to a data-driven model

Before she did the programme, Drover Foods lacked proper structure, according to Anne. The course, however, gave her the tools and skills to rebuild the management structure, change ways of working and define business goals. 

“One of the things I got out of doing the course was our management structure and how we formalised it,” she says. “My challenge at the beginning was that we were all over the place. The programme helped me implement changes.”

Drover Foods today is hugely data-driven. Proper structures and processes have helped Anne reposition the business.

“We're not basing decisions on emotion or what happened before,” she says. “Decisions are much more factual and data-driven now. There has been a huge shift.”

How the programme fuels ambition

Anne still recalls the programme launch day with striking clarity. Programme lead Prof Mike Rosenberg opened the event with one word on a whiteboard. 

“The word he wrote up on the board was ‘Ambition’,” says Anne. “I always remember it. A programme like this is about how far you think you want to grow, how hungry you are and if you really want to do this.”

With a strong academic background, the thoughts of another classroom setting initially lacked appeal for Anne. Leadership 4 Growth sessions, however, turned out to be anything but dull old-school lessons.

“It’s a programme I recommend to everybody now,” she says. “The structure is really good and you learn through case studies rather than theory. It’s all very interactive.”

A business is reborn

Since completing the programme, Anne has noticed a monumental shift in all areas of the business. 

“The business has changed hugely,” she says. “Now we have a strategic growth plan that’s achievable and written down. 

“Before, while we had a plan, it was in my head or, before me, it was in my Dad’s head. But those plans had no dates or accountability and if they didn’t work, we’d just put another plan in place.“

Inspiring that lightbulb moment

How to grow and diversify the business was a key challenge for Anne before completing the course. She understood Drover Foods could only go so far with its current offering, but was unsure what was missing.

“We were looking for another product because I knew we couldn't grow beyond the UK just making sausages,” she says. 

Leadership 4 Growth helped Anne change her mindset and think outside the box. In fact, a chance trip through East Midlands Airport in the UK and a first encounter with falafel proved to be the lightbulb moment that would change the face of the business.

“I was at the airport and spotted falafel,” she says. “I asked my colleague what it was and bought it. I was looking at it and thought, ‘We could make this’.”

That was the beginning of a new chapter for Drover Foods. Today, the business offers a range of meat and plant-based products and exports throughout Europe. 

“When I started the programme, we were a 100% meat-based business, but now our product range is 50% veggie and 50% meat,” adds Anne.

Leadership 4 Growth and the move to a wider range have opened up new markets for Drover Foods. Before the programme, the business only exported to the UK. 

Today, however, its products reach Germany, Austria, France and Sweden, with sales growing year-on-year. Moreover, 85% of its overall sales are UK-based. 

A network for life

As part of the Leadership 4 Growth programme, participants join small peer learning groups with members from different backgrounds and sectors to support each other throughout. For Anne, this was one of the highlights.

“I had a particularly good cohort group,” she says. “We helped each other and still do. I finished the course in 2017 and we still meet each other regularly. We’re friends with similar problems and we’re interested in helping each other. We make time for each other.

For anyone keen to hone their leadership skills and take their business up a notch, Leadership 4 Growth is the way forward, says Anne. 

“Don’t think about it, just do it,” she says. “It’s not your typical programme. It’s very engaging and you’ll get out what you put into it.”

Learn more about how Irish CEOs can benefit from Enterprise Ireland’s leadership talent development programme Leadership 4 Growth.



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