Farm Ireland

Friday 20 July 2018

Kerry Co-op taps experienced trade executive for new role

Thomas Hunter McGowan, Kerry Co-op
Thomas Hunter McGowan, Kerry Co-op
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Farmers at Kerry Co-op have moved to appoint a company secretary as they work to solve the long-running row with the multi-billion-euro Kerry Group over the milk price paid to dairy producers.

Thomas Hunter McGowan, who was previously CEO of InterTrade Ireland, was ratified by the farmers' board to take on the roll at a critical time for the co-op.

Mr Hunter McGowan, whose prior job saw him support small businesses across the entire island to seek out trade opportunities, said he was looking forward to joining the co-op.

"I am delighted to join Kerry Co-Op and am looking forward to the challenges that the role will present during the transfer from the Kerry Group," he said.

"I would like to thank the Kerry Group for the excellent service they have provided to the co-op for the past 30 years.

"I look forward to a smooth transition as we move our company secretarial and financial functions into the co-op in the course of the next few months."

The Irish Independent understands that the salary agreed for the role is in the "ballpark" of €150,000, plus benefits.

An outside headhunting firm was used to identify an experienced executive to take up the role.

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Co-op board chairman Mundy Hayes said of Mr Hunter McGowan: "His particular set of skills and experience will be invaluable to the co-op and its board in dealing with the challenges facing us and providing us with valuable assistance in formulating our corporate strategy in the months ahead."

He will be working to establish the executive functions for the co-op and will assist in developing a strategy for the co-op which supports milk suppliers members.

The co-op still holds a 13.7pc stake of around 24m shares in the Kerry Group PLC which is valued at €1.8bn, while farmer shareholders are estimated to hold an additional 30pc of the shares in the group following number of spin-outs.

The appointment follows the former boss of Kerry Group Stan McCarthy stepping down last year as chief executive of the founding co-op and the conclusion of services to the co-op by Kerry PLC company secretary Brian Durran.

The Kerry Group had previously maintained secretarial services to the co-op in-house, which it is understood to have valued at close to €1m a year.

Relations between both sides have been strained as they have both entered an arbitration process over milk price after no resolution could be found.

Farmers feel management have rowed back on a promise they stress was given to pay the "leading milk price" and a "13th payment" was needed to top up the 2015 price for the 3,300 farmer suppliers.

This appointment means there will be new faces in senior management on both sides as the arbitration continues, as Edmond Scanlon was recently appointed chief executive at the Kerry Group after Mr McCarthy retired.

However, eagerness has been shown on both sides to resolve the issue.

In August, the then outgoing chief executive Mr McCarthy said he would "love" to see the stalemate over the '13th' milk price payment resolved.

At the co-op AGM earlier this year chairman Mr Hayes stressed that the issue needed to be addressed and resolved.

Kerry Co-op are also awaiting the outcome of a test case that is being taken to the Tax Appeals Commission after Revenue issued tax demands to 400 Kerry farmers in respect of patronage shares issued in recent years.

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