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The Experience in the Room – Sarah Murphy, Kerry Foods

Sarah Murphy
Sarah Murphy is the Operations Manager with Kerry Foods in Charleville and currently completing a >IMI Master of Business at IMI.  She recently moved into this role after a career of over 5 years as a manager in food production and Lean Coordinator throughout Ireland and the UK.  She began her journey at IMI in 2009 on the IMI Diploma in Management as a graduate recruit to Kerry, and went on to do the IMI Diploma in Leadership in 2011.  Sarah is currently on the final stage of the IMI Master of Business with a Business Research Project looking at the leadership behaviours necessary to deliver successful change implementation.

Tell us about your day job

My role is to manage the conversion process on site by applying the Kerry Production System. I look after the day to day operation of the plant – the 130 people and the manufacturing processes that go toward making our product. We manage it all through metrics that tell us how we’re doing across people, quality, service and waste.

How is the development you are doing at IMI relevant to you?

I started my learning at IMI as part of the Kerry graduate programme in 2009.  I continued on to do the Diploma in Leadership… and to build up a tool box that I go to full of different skills and techniques to help me deal with any situation – for example using coaching, influencing, or different leadership styles. I never wanted to do a masters where I felt it was purely academic and I wasn’t able to apply the learning.  The tools I have been introduced to here are part of my everyday working life.

The greatest benefit has been the self-awareness –  knowing more about myself, how I can work better with others, how to get the most out of people. I now know I don’t need to change who I am to be more effective I just need to know what aspects of my personality to dial up or down in certain situations to change the outcome.

I’ve also had a lot of opportunity to interact and network with people from all different functions – from within Kerry with the graduate programme and then with people from a multitude of different industries in the Diploma in Leadership and BRP.  I definitely feel it has broadened my knowledge base and needless to say there’s been a few good nights out along the way!

What about operations that you would like to share with other managers?


Great operations is about empowering people not controlling them – a lot of companies just see the tools – but no matter how good a tool is – it doesn’t work when you don’t have the culture to sustain it. Individuals can drive performance – but culture is a huge part of it.  So it’s critical to get buy in from everyone from the senior management all the way to the front line staff.   We have a senior manager at every site whose role is dedicated to the Kerry Production System, our lean implementation –  and every lean coordinator spent 2 weeks in Kentucky learning the ropes – it really embeds it into the culture

Also, a lot companies have good practices without realising it – when you look past the names of some of the methods that we use – things like 5S, they are really about are principles like – “a place for everything and every in its place” – so much of it is built on common sense – it is such an obvious way of working – that when you engage people and explain it in these terms – they get the advantage for them and their own role.   In this way you can let the need drive the change – at the basis, it’s about getting the root cause so that the same problems don’t come back again.  That means being able to stop firefighting.  What you’re always working towards is people ultimately solving their own problems in line with the business goals.

Tell us something people don’t know about your industry in Ireland.

The people who work on our production lines buy our food for their own families.  When you work in a food production environment everyone asks you “what do you put into the meals” – It’s funny … I think there tends to be a perception that just because we’re making food on a large scale that it falls into a different category… I always answer that I eat this food myself.

This type of food is just food but it’s on a larger scale (most of it is better than what I’d cook myself at home!)  –  there are staff shops on certain sites and the people who work on the assembly lines are proud to take our meals home and feed their families – I think that’s a pretty good quality metric.

What are you excited about?

We’re just now starting to see the results of the lean initiatives we began six years ago across the pilot sites – it’s a long game making such cultural and operation changes to the way we work – but we’re now getting to reap the benefits in terms of performance improvements.  That’s very satisfying.

Read more posts on the theme of operationsmanagement skills or leadership or to read more on people’s experiences at IMI see the whole The Experience in the Room series.

For more information on the IMI Master of Business and Diplomas click here or speak to one of our programme advisors on programmeadvisors@imi.ie or 1800 22 33 88. 

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