Food and Drink Show NI

James Mathers in the Hot Seat

James Mathers is Operations Manager of local cereal processor White’s. White’s portfolio of brands includes the products Toasted Oats, Only Oats and Speedicook. He is based at the White’s Mill in Tandragee, which is one of Ireland’s oldest operating oat mills.

Briefly outline your career to date

I graduated with a BA Hons Degree in Agriculture from Queen’s University Belfast in 1999. I went on to study for a post graduate diploma in
Entrepreneurial Studies at Glasgow Caledonian University and then took part in the Premier Graduate Management Programme. My first position was with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development within the Supply Chain Development Branch. In 2004 I moved to Finnebrogue Venison as Supply Chain Officer and joined White’s last year to take up the position of Operations Manager.

What does your current role involve and what is a typical working day for you?

I have full responsibility for all operations undertaken at White’s state-of-the-art oats mill in Tandragee which includes production, engineering, technical and quality control and logistics. I have an early start each morning and always begin my day with a bowl of porridge – that way I know that no matter what hits me I’m powered up and ready to go until lunchtime!

Typically my day starts at 7.15am when I walk round the production floor and check on the night shift to see if anything has occurred during the evening that requires attention. I also schedule work for the production lines for the day and make sure that everyone knows what needs to be completed. White’s has proved extremely successful in a variety of export markets and our products can now be seen on the shelves of supermarkets in such far away places as Spain, Dubai and Hong Kong, so, as you can imagine, our production has increased along with this, which makes my job a challenging one. The rest of my day is then spent organising customer orders or managing stock levels and planning for any special promotions White’s is undertaking. I like to walk round the production floor regularly throughout the day to make sure I am on top of all aspects of production at the Mill. The rest of the day is spent planning and implementing various company-wide projects.

What professional and personal qualities does it take to do your job effectively?

As with any managerial role I would say organisation and an ability to bring order to the work that needs to be completed. I also believe that managers need to invest time in developing staff so that they can fulfil their potential.

What has been your greatest career accomplishment to date?

Probably being selected as one of the participants to take part in the ‘Leaders for Tomorrow’ study programme when I worked for DARD. The programme enabled me to spend three weeks in Boston USA, where I completed two weeks of academic study at Harvard University and one week of seminars and visits in the Boston area. It provided me with a unique opportunity to enhance my leadership and management skills in an American context and share ideas. It really was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

If you have a negative outlook and attitude you will not succeed and life will always appear like it is an uphill struggle.

Whom do you most admire and why?

No particular individual comes to mind but I do admire great entrepreneurs like Richard Branson or modern explorers like Ranulph Fiennes for their sheer determination to succeed in the face of the most challenging conditions.

Where is your favourite place and why?

New Zealand. It is such a beautiful country with such variety and its people have a very strong work hard play hard attitude. I have managed to visit the country twice already and I definitely have plans to go back again. Anywhere around Strangford Lough comes a close second!

What makes you laugh & and cry?

A funny film makes me laugh – anything with Will Ferrall, Owen Wilson, Mike Myers, Ben Stiller or Vince Vaughn. My mortgage still makes me cry.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

All of the above – I like my dinner party guests to be amusing, interesting and have real comedy value. I’d also make sure my wife and close friends were there too to share in the experience.

Your biggest fault is? and your redeeming feature?

My biggest fault is trying to do too many projects at the one time rather than completing one and moving on to the next and my redeeming feature is managing to get everything done anyway!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Working in White’s Oats Mill in Tandragee and understanding its historic value for the area. Many of our staff come from families that have worked in the Mill for many generations, so there is a real sense of family spirit and of loyalty for the company. A close second would be having the chance to taste the different types of porridge (I really do actually enjoy porridge!) and the sheer variety of jobs and people you are involved with.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

A farmer or a vet.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

Exercising as much as my mind thinks I should.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Probably eating in a good restaurant. I don’t do it often but really enjoy the experience of having a top quality meal in nice surroundings.

What trait do you most deplore in others?

Negativity

Your food vice is?

I would say porridge, as I eat so much of it, but by now everyone realises the health benefits of eating oats so it’s hardly a vice. Probably eating too much butter!

How do you relax?

Hill walking, exercising and spending time with my wife.

What are your all-time top five grocery brands?

White’s of course, it’s such a household and trusted brand in Ireland; Carman Muesli bars, Finnebrogue Venison; Innocent; Heinz Baked Beans; and Green & Blacks.

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