In Profile: Aoife Beirne

Aoife Beirne

Aoife Beirne

MBA '08

Doing an MBA helped Aoife Beirne take her business improvement expertise from international manufacturing and Mergon, to the services industry and An Post where she ended up as chief of staff. However, her family connection to Mergon ultimately drew her back to the plastics engineering company where she’s now deputy CEO.

About Aoife Beirne

Tell us about your education and career path to date

I completed a Bachelor of Science Degree in Maynooth, graduating in 1997. I’m from Mullingar so not only was it a great course but it was close to home. From there I decided to do a Higher Diploma in quality assurance in NUI Galway and as part of that worked for four days a week in Boston Scientific in Tullamore. I learned so much during that time in relation to how to do things right and the importance of procedure and quality.
After that I took a couple of years out for a round-the-world trip – I spent time in Bali, Australia, New Zealand and the US and had some really good jobs and experiences. When I came back in 2004, I took an opportunity to work with Mergon. Mergon designs, develops, and manufactures plastic components for leading brands, such as Tesla, Abbott and Xerox. The company was established by my father in the early 1980s and he was CEO until he retired last year.
Back in 2004 Mergon was setting up a plant in the Czech Republic and I went there to support that – it was a very positive experience and highlighted how important cultural differences are in business. From that I went to the US, again with Mergon as a Project Manager. A position became available to be Production Manager, which I did for just over three and a half years. That was a very big jump for me from an experience point of view. I was managing a production team of around 100 people in a 24/7 three-shift operation supplying high profile customers like BMW and Honda. It was a baptism of fire, and I don’t think I appreciated how good it was at the time in terms of how much and how quickly I learnt.
At that stage I felt I had a lot of operations experience, but it was all very manufacturing focused, and I wanted to learn more about the business and finance side of things. That’s when I thought of doing an MBA.
I originally planned to do it in the US but then decided I’d like to come home. I talked to Nick Barniville, who was the MBA programme director in Smurfit at the time, and the UCD course just sounded right for me. I did the executive MBA and it helped build my confidence and showed me how I could bring the learnings I had in manufacturing and continuous improvement into other industries.
That’s how I decided to apply for the role of Business Performance Improvement Analyst at An Post. It was a great role, giving me exposure to HR, finance, mail centres, delivery service units – anything that needed continuous improvement.
However, because of the family connection I was always very involved with Mergon even when I wasn’t working there. After eight years with An Post I had decided that I would go back to support Mergon because we were looking at our growth strategy and where to get investment to scale up the business.
Interestingly, while I was working out my notice period the recently appointed An Post CEO, David McRedmond, offered me the newly created position of Chief of Staff. I could see there was so much opportunity to learn so I stayed with An Post for another three years, working with brilliant people and becoming the first female on the management board.
I worked in the role while also supporting Mergon, so it was a busy and exciting time. At the end of 2019 the timing was right to move full time into Mergon and that’s where I am now.

What is your current role?

I came to Mergon as Chief Transformation Officer at a very exciting time. Elysian, our private equity investors, were just joining and my role was very much focused on supporting Mergon with this change. Since then, the company has gone from strength to strength, with the acquisition of a business in the UK (March 2022) and also the opening of its fifth manufacturing operation, a greenfield facility in Mexico (December 2022). At the same time, I was appointed deputy CEO. The job is quite similar to the Chief of Staff role I had in An Post. It’s very much about developing the strategy for the organisation and ensuring that we have the right initiatives and strategic plans in place to support them. A significant part of my role continues to be future focused, as well as working as an advisor to the CEO.
Because we have plants in Ireland, the UK, Czech Republic, the US and Mexico I travel extensively, and every day is different. We’re growing quickly now and working with some very big customers. An important but subtle part of my role is ensuring that we retain our good qualities and that our values – care, curiosity and confidence – are tangible and evident in Mergon.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I aim to have a coaching and mentoring approach. I recently completed the Meyler Campbell Mastered course in executive coaching, which has really influenced my leadership style.
A lot of the work I do is related to change, so I believe that it’s important to bring people on the journey and set the context of why we’re doing what we’re doing. Being able to support people and help them find the answers themselves is a big part of my job.
I would describe my style as consultative. I don’t think any one of us has all the answers. So my leadership style involves bringing people together, making sure everyone’s voice is heard, assimilating where we’ve all come from into one direction and bringing everyone on the journey.

What motivates you?

Continuous improvement has been a big part of my career and my life – in everything I’ve done the focus has been on how we can do things better, whether it’s myself, my family, my team or the company. Being able to see progress and momentum in the right direction motivates me.
And I think having a group of people around who are energised by making things better makes it easier. I’m motivated by being around positive energy.

Is ongoing learning important to you?

Yes. It’s so important to gain new perspectives and stay up to speed on changes whether that’s through specific courses or just talking to people and learning about their view of what’s going on.
Curiosity is one of our values at Mergon and that’s definitely something I embrace. As well as my role in Mergon I’m a Non-executive Director in Eir and that’s part of me wanting to learn more. Although my job is busy, I want to make sure that I know what’s happening in the outside world. I believe that stands to my thinking as well.

What have been the defining moments in your career?

I’ve had a few. Taking on the An Post Chief of Staff job was definitely one. It was at a time when the company had realised it needed to make a change. It was an honour to be involved in An Post during this time and the successful transformation is great to see.
More recently, the opening of Mergon Mexico in Ramos Arizpe, near Saltillo, Mexico is a standout moment. The opening was the culmination of detailed planning and execution by the Mergon Team over the previous nine months. It was an extraordinary achievement in such a short period of time considering we were still managing the growth in existing operations and the integration of the newly acquired business in the UK. Mergon Mexico has already proved to be a huge success for the Mergon Group. Since the official opening the footprint of the operation has doubled to 100,000 square feet, there are now 10 machines in operation with more on order, and over 80 employees. Both moments show what is achievable when there is clarity and alignment among the people involved.

Who has influenced or inspired you?

It would be my parents, both for completely different reasons. My mam (Mar) started nursing when she was 17 and she was just 21 when she qualified as a Midwife. She went back to work after she got married, which was not considered the thing to do but she knew she wanted to continue her career. After 20 years of nursing my mother decided she wanted to do something different and went back to college to do a teaching degree, just as I was finishing secondary school. She’s shown me there are always opportunities and not to think you’ve carved a particular path and that’s it.
My dad was an integral part of the growth of Mergon. He’s ambitious and never thinks there are things you can’t do. He has vision and is always looking for solutions to problems.
Both of them inspired me in the jobs I do and also with my family.

What’s your best piece of career advice?

I think you have to believe in yourself. For me, I must not let my own thoughts hold me back. I think everybody feels a bit uncomfortable when they try new things. I would say go for it and then, once you do, really believe in yourself.
What is your biggest achievement to date?
It’s my girls. I have two daughters, Leah who is eight and Caoimhe who is ten, and they are by far my biggest achievement. They’re great girls and great fun.
I think my proudest achievement is the work I did in An Post in relation to diversity and inclusion. I was lucky in the role of chief of staff to be able to start conversations that ultimately led to very significant outcomes, including An Post’s first gender pay gap report, opening the Pride festival at the GPO and holding our first major International Women’s Day events. An Post is an exemplar in this area and I am very proud to know that these early conversations played a positive role.

Do you have future plans you’d like to share?

I always look for the opportunity to learn and grow and I love variety. At the minute Mergon is giving me all of that – it is global, it is ambitious, and it is growing.
Also, I have my executive coaching and my non-executive role at Eir. I want to continue to thrive in those areas and learn from them, and then keep my eyes open for what else is out there to learn and experience.

Insight Track

How has your MBA benefited your career?

It provided me with many opportunities that just would not have been there beforehand. It broadened my experiences, I even got to spend a semester in Shanghai, and my confidence improved significantly. 

What are your main interests outside work?

Family time keeps me busy but I always have some concerts or events booked for the year ahead.

What piece of technology can you not live without? 

It has to be my phone.

What is your pet hate? 
Rude people.

And what is your favourite band or musician? 
I currently have Soda Blonde and The National on repeat.

What’s the last gig you went to that you loved?  

What teams do you support? 
Westmeath and Dublin GAA.

Name three things on your bucket list

Visit Japan, climb Kilimanjaro and become a breathwork teacher.

What    charities    or    causes    are    closest    to    your    heart? 
ALONE, I have worked with them for a number of years and have seen firsthand the positive impact they have on the lives of people. 

January 2024