Five minutes with…John Walsh, Group Head of Technology (CIO) at Finlays

3rd February 2023

In our latest edition of ‘Five minutes with…’, Fran Grant, Consultant in our IT Leadership Practice, talks with John Walsh, Group Head of Technology (CIO) at Finlays. Fran spoke with John about how his career first began, roles which have been pivotal to his success, and “seeing the space, not the trees”. John also discusses the exciting new role that Fran is supporting Finlays with, Head of Data Analytics. This newly created role will have an opportunity to both shape the strategy and help educate global business partners on the importance of good data governance.


Tell me a little bit about your career to date?

I have always been curious about the ever-evolving technological world, so I pursued a Bachelors in Information Technology and Telecommunications at University of Limerick in Ireland. I then went on to join Compaq Computers in Munich, Germany, where I was lucky enough to be involved in implementing various technology firsts. Since then, I have worked across multiple industries (high-tech, electronics, FMCG, Food & Beverages) and in various geographies (Germany, Netherlands, Ireland, and the UK) for both Fortune 100 companies as well as smaller privately held businesses.


Is there a role you look back on as being pivotal in your career?

At one point in my career, I was selected to act as a Business Relationship Manager (or BRM) which was a new concept to better connect business and IT strategy. This role gave me invaluable insights into the cross functional challenges and opportunities which business leaders face on a daily basis. This helped me enormously to develop my business acumen. I believe this [business acumen], coupled with a strong technology background, is an increasingly critical skillset for aspiring IT leaders.


What is the best piece of advice that you have received (And how has it shaped you both as a leader and person)?

“See the space, not the trees!” This is a well-known mantra in the snowboarding community and is the only way to travel through a heavily forested area at speed without meeting an unhappy ending. However, this overall mindset (seeing the opportunity, not the obstacles) is important both personally and professionally. When people are focused on their day-to-day work or are busy dealing with an issue, it is often easy to see the barriers to success, but never let that stop you from seeing the associated opportunities which also exist. For businesses, this can often mean remembering their raison d’etre instead of getting caught up in the services they provide. Irrespective of internal realities which a business may face, what opportunities exist to delight your customers?


What attracted you to Finlays?

There are very few companies in the world with the history, heritage, and longevity of Finlays. The fact that still today it is one of the leading B2B suppliers of tea, coffee, and botanical solutions with operations spanning 5 continents tells you they do a lot of great things as a company. Finlays aim is to act as trusted leaders in our industry, with a strong focus on sustainability, while constantly looking to bring the “next big thing in beverages” to market. As we like to say, Finlays is the future of beverages – since 1750!


What are the organisations’ main goals for the future?

Our primary goal for the future is to more seamlessly connect our passionate growers around the world with our customers – wherever they may be – as we bring the full breadth of Finlays expertise and experiences to bear, and offer a sustainable and equitable one-stop shop for beverage brand owners worldwide.


And main challenges?

As you might imagine, tea, coffee, and botanicals can involve global interconnected and often complex, supply chains. This of course leads to different technology maturity levels and associated data standards which are in use across different global locations. Seamlessly and digitally connecting that data to offer compelling customer solutions is one of the main challenges (or opportunity as I like to call it – remember to see the space, not the trees!)


You’ve got a fantastic opportunity for an experienced Head of Data Analytics to join your team. Tell me a little bit about this role.

Finlays processes an enormous volume of data across business functions and global locations on a daily basis. However much of that data exists in data silos – local systems, some of which are internal to Finlays, some of which are external, some running older technology, some on newer etc., but all with their own local data definitions and standards. The opportunity to extract more value from our data – both to delight our customers and to bring more actionable insights to our internal business functions – is truly vast and Finlays are in the process of framing up a multi-year data and analytics vision to ensure we treat our data as a strategic asset for the company. This newly created role is critical to leading that effort and will have an opportunity to both shape the strategy and help educate our global business partners on the importance of good data governance. From there, we will drive the implementation and execution of that multi-year capability build.


If you are interested in applying for the role mentioned above, please do contact Fran Grant. With 20 years’ experience in the field, Fran Grant is a Consultant in our IT & Digital Leadership Practice specialising in recruiting Senior Technology and Digital professionals in Retail, Consumer Leisure and Hospitality.

Categories: IT & Digital