After a long and successful career at Deloitte – where she was a Senior Partner, gained extensive international experience and held a number of leadership roles, including Head of Audit and Assurance and Risk Advisory – Marguerite Larkin joined Kerry Group in 2018 as group Chief Financial Officer and Executive Director.
About Marguerite Larkin
Tell us a bit about your education and career to date
I’m originally from Galway and did a BComm in the late 1980s in UCG, or NUI Galway as it is now known. I’ve always had a strong interest in business and that extended to finance and accounting once I started my studies. I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by Deloitte to do a master’s degree in accounting in the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School. From there, I went on to qualify as a chartered accountant.
I spent many years in Deloitte, primarily based in the Dublin office but also in the Chicago office at an early stage in my career, as well as undertaking a number of international assignments over the years. I joined Kerry Group in 2018 as CFO and Executive Director.
My career is punctuated by a number of chapters. While I was in practice, I held many roles across different industries, with a strong specialism in consumer-facing industries. I was appointed Partner relatively early in my career – I was just 30 when I went through the process. I spent almost 16 years as a Partner and during that time, as a member of the Executive Leadership Team, I had the opportunity to lead clients and markets, various industry groups, cross-functional teams, and laterally I was Head of Audit and Assurance.
It came to that stage where I was evaluating whether I would continue in professional services or if there was another chapter to my career. The opportunity arose to become the CFO of Kerry Group, an organisation I had always admired.
I very much enjoyed my career at Deloitte and learned a huge amount and enjoyed immensely advising and working with clients. And now I’m thoroughly enjoying my time in Kerry. It’s truly a global business and the world’s leading taste and nutrition company with operations in over 150 countries, market cap of circa €20bn and upwards of 22,000 employees.
My role is very different in terms of directly influencing outcomes as opposed to advising on outcomes and being part of the executive team that sets strategy for the group. It’s been great to have had a taste of both.
What does your current role involve?
As group CFO, I lead the team that has responsibility for the overall financial management of the group and for strategic initiatives, such as investments and capital structure and allocation. And as a Member of the Executive Board and Group Executive I am part of the core team that has responsibility for operations across the Kerry organisation.
At the end of the day, my role is about leading people – success is achieved through your teams and your people. A key part of my role is around making sure I am influencing and devoting time where I can have the most impact.
A significant part of my role involves liaising with our investors and shareholders. Before Covid, that was very much an international role in the context of meeting our shareholders across various different markets. Since March 2020, it’s been much more of a virtual experience.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style throughout my career has been collaborative. In Deloitte, that meant collaborating across different services and advising clients. And part of the success of a global organisation like Kerry comes down to the teams and people collaborating across jurisdictions, functions and technologies on a daily basis. No one person has all of the answers; as a leader you have to make sure you’re open to views across diverse teams and different perspectives.
I’m a firm believer in surrounding myself with an excellent team – knowing that you’re only as good as the team you have with you. It’s important to build trust in the team and to ensure that priorities and areas of focus are aligned. I am hands on and I encourage open, constructive challenge – the best ideas and solutions come through good debate and discussion!
As part of my leadership style, I try to be personable and bring passion and enthusiasm to the role. That’s really important and probably never more so than in the environment over the last two years.
What motivates you?
One of the things that motivates me is being part of a team of like-minded people. Since I’ve joined Kerry, I’ve been impressed by the talent right through the organisation. We have a clear vision and ambitious growth strategy. Being part of a high-performance environment and culture is a real motivator. It’s always been part of my career story to date and continues to be.
Reflecting more broadly, it’s also important to me to be part of an organisation that has a clear purpose. That was very clear in Deloitte. And Kerry is very much driven by its purpose. Collectively as an organisation we spent a lot of time articulating that as – ‘Inspiring Food and Nourishing Life’. A huge component of that is around sustainability and sustainable nutrition. It excites and motivates me to be part of an organisation that is a global leader in taste and nutrition and is also a leader in its ambition and strategy to influence the nutritional profile and sustainability of food.
A Kerry ingredient or Kerry product is consumed by approximately a billion people on a weekly basis right across the globe. Central to our Beyond the Horizon sustainability strategy are improving the nutritional profile and reaching over 2 billion people with sustainable nutrition solutions by 2030.
It motivates me to be part of something that has a meaningful contribution to society. It’s very inspiring when I reflect on everything our people have done in all of our operations and manufacturing plants around the world to help keep food on the shelves and protect the supply chain over the last two years. All of our people have made an enormous contribution and we’ve played a role in supporting the communities we operate in and directing investment into innovation around immunity, proactive health, reduction of food waste and improving the nutritional profile of food though our clean label technology capability and functional food technology.
On a more personal level, my family and my children are super important to me and motivate me on a daily basis!
Who or what has influenced or inspired you?
I take inspiration from many sources.
I’ve had numerous mentors throughout my career at various junctures and they’ve been a really an important part of my journey to date. They’ve been both personal and business mentors.
At a very early stage my father was a key influencer in my life. Sadly, he passed away very suddenly when I was in college. Through that whole time my mother demonstrated enormous resilience. I often reflect on that – and even more so now; I believe you learn so much through having to be resilient and overcoming a crisis.
I’ve also learnt from the different stages through my career and from company CEOs, CFOs and leaders I’ve worked with over the years. For me, it has been about building a portfolio of influences and looking at it all very holistically.
What are your tips and advice for success?
Rather than giving tips or advice I can just say what has worked for me.
I would always place value on having a mentor and it doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. To really benefit from a mentor you have to be open to alternative opinions and to taking input and advice along the way.
What has really helped me through my career is seeking out responsibility at an early stage. I encourage that as a part of the culture and, as an organisation, Kerry is known for that too. It’s another reason why Kerry is a good fit for me.
One thing I learned early is to get out of your comfort zone and to be comfortable operating in a little bit of grey where you don’t know the end destination or know all the answers. Life is not black and white so learning the skills to deal with ambiguity is a key leadership requirement for me.
Finally, I’ve always believed it’s important to love what you do and to be passionate about it. And to also surround yourself with the absolute best team possible.
What do you see as your biggest achievements date?
At a personal level, my biggest achievement is my family: my three children and my very supportive husband who has an equally successful career.
Professionally, having had a successful career as a Partner and leading the audit and risk practice of a big four firm was certainly a highlight. It was also good from a diversity perspective as at the time, I was the first female leader of a big four audit practice in Ireland.
And it’s great honour to be CFO of Kerry, which is a global business and one of our country’s most inspiring success stories.
Any plans for the future you want to share?
Kerry has a clear growth strategy and we’re hugely excited about the opportunity ahead: the company has a long track record of completing acquisitions and continuing to grow and deliver value for our shareholders – this is a key focus for the future.
From a personal perspective I have a lot yet to achieve in my role and that’s my focus in the short term.
What is your fondest memory from your time in UCD Smurfit School?
Making lifelong friends.
What are your main interests outside work?
Travel, gym, eating out with friends and family and spending many Saturdays and Sundays watching my kids play sports – hockey, soccer and rugby.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you
During lockdown we got a rescue dog (like many families) – Ozzie is now firmly part of the family!
What piece of technology can you not live without?
Predictably my iPhone!
What is your pet hate?
People who continuously complain rather than coming with a different perspective or solution.
Do you have a favourite band or musician?
I normally like to listen to chilled out music such as Tom Waits or Sam Smith.
What’s the last gig, play, film or exhibition you went to that you loved?
Given Covid the latest movie was probably a Marvel movie with one of my children.
What is your favourite dish to cook?
Cooking in our house is a family affair so I would have to call out a good warming curry or beef stroganoff where the tastes and flavours develop over time.
What teams do you support?
My daughter is a keen soccer player and has converted me to Man City. Otherwise, I would have to call out the Irish rugby team.
What is your favourite place in the world to visit and why?
I love to travel and have numerous places that I will return to but a place close to my heart is Connemara and the gorgeous Gurteen and Dogs Bay beaches.
Where is home?
In Dublin with my family.
Name three things on your bucket list
Visiting the Galapagos Islands when my youngest son is old enough; play golf (never have enough time or patience!); and return to Patagonia with our children.
What charities or causes are closest to your heart?
Charities that support children’s welfare – I spent a number of years as a Board Director of Irish Youth Foundation and was immensely impressed by the many children’s charities that IYF supports.