Degrees of success

Peter Clarke
Peter Clarke

On talking to students and recent graduates within the FMCG sector, Gillian Hamill learned many are knuckling down to studies for a diverse variety of reasons.



16 March 2011

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Qualification: Full-time MBS in Retail Management at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT)
Planned graduation: November 2011

After studying a general business degree – Business, Economics and Social Studies (BESS) at Trinity College Dublin – Peter Clarke felt he wanted to learn more about the specifics of the retail industry.

Learning the specifics

Finding his course advertised on, he says: “I felt the general degree didn’t give me the specific knowledge on how to run a retail organisation, and was delighted when I saw the subjects on offer through the MBS course. 

Store environment/atmospherics, location, retail supply management and retail performance management seemed to me to be much more of what I wanted to learn about.”

Clarke’s interest in retail was kick-started by his family operating Johnstown Garden Centre in Naas, Co.Kildare, where he says he “practically grew up in the business, working there throughout school and college holidays.”

Putting theory into practice

In his opinion, it’s important to combine theory with practical experience in the industry. He currently has 10 hours of class room tuition every week, but says he spends around 60 hours a week studying. Despite this, he says: “When I have time, I try to continue to work one day at the weekend, so I can continue to keep putting theory into practice.”

Looking towards the future, he says: “I hope to build a successful career in retailing, possibly in the department store or retail grocery sectors.

“I also have ambitions to develop my own retail business in the future, and this degree will give me the skills I need to turn this ambition into successful reality.”

Amy O'Hara

Amy O’Hara

Qualification: Full-time MBS in Retail Management at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT)
Graduation: November 2008

Retail is definitely in the blood for Amy O’Hara, whose father Gus owns Spar Clontarf in Dublin, and whose late uncle JJ O’Hara was another very well-known character within the trade. 

Youngest CSNA Executive member

At 25 years old, O’Hara is now the store manager of Spar Clontarf, and the youngest member to sit on the board of the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA) Executive. One might think being the youngest woman to sit on a board with 11 other men could prove an intimidating prospect, but not for this retailer. “Not at all. They always keep me informed and well aware of what’s going on.”

When O’Hara completed her Leaving Cert in 2004, her first CAO choice was actually general business studies, with retail management down in second place. “I’m so glad now that I got my second choice because I fell on my feet, I really did. I love the industry.”

First-hand experience

Experienced lecturers also made her realise that lecturing could be something she’d enjoy. “They’re not people that have just read out of a book and are repeating that to you, they’re people who’ve been in the industry.” Her ultimate goal is to complete her masters, and possibly teach others about retailing based on her experiences.  

She also believes studying helps you to become “more open-minded and knowledgeable of the industry.” Useful areas are covered on the course that you wouldn’t necessarily learn on-the-job such as consumer behaviour, category management and employment law.

Personality essential

While a degree is important however, she thinks “It will only bring you so far; you need personality and sometimes you need to know people to get that little bit further.”

Speaking about the future, she appears open-minded about her plans, which could potentially include travelling. “The way the economy is, I’m in convenience retailing now and I absolutely love it, but where is that going and what kind of money’s going to be in it in a few years? Can you build a family with the way that’s going? I don’t know…I’d love to work in buying or management. I’d try my hand at anything, and work as hard as I could, I’m very motivated and driven.”

Qualification: Full-time MSc in Supply Chain Management at DIT
Planned graduation:  November 2011

Shane O’Rourke is relatively confident that he and his classmates will be able to secure employment when their course ends – particularly for those planning on heading East. “A lot of my classmates are Chinese, and with China being the world’s fastest growing economy, the supply chain functionality is quite poor. Many of these graduates would be really sought after in China and many plan to go home to start a career in supply chain management.

“For the rest of the students I think they are quite confident about getting jobs. The industry has a huge demand for academics so fingers crossed we’ll all be ok.”

More employable

O’Rourke first heard about the MSc from his course co-ordinator while studying ‘Transport Operations and Technology’ at DIT. He candidly states his decision to study further was influenced by the fact his “search for employment was not going too well” and he “figured a masters programme would only be beneficial. The subject matter really interested me so I began to research what was actually involved.”

Going forwards, O’Rourke says: “My overall aim is to be successful in whatever path of supply chain I decide to go into. I believe my MSc will help me get a foot in the door and make me more employable.” 

Qualification: Part-time MSc in Supply Chain Management at DIT
Planned graduation: November 2013

Busy family man Cormac Durnin has worked as a transport line manager in Musgrave Retail Partners Ireland for the past six years and decided to study supply chain management with a view to advancing his career. 

Prior to his current position, he had a diverse CV – he drove artic trucks for two years, gained a CPC qualification in international transport management in 2006, and had also spent five years as a member of An Garda Síochána from 1996 to 2001.

Fitting it all in

Durnin currently enjoys attending the course modules, and “learning in informal, open forum style sessions. Two way conversation is excellent, and with the wide range of experiences and industries, different approaches and viewpoints are seen. It is also very beneficial to meet more people within the supply chain industry.  It makes an interesting change to the regularity of one’s own day job.”

“Without a doubt the biggest challenge is time management. With a full time demanding job, and a family of two boys aged nine months, and three years, and a passion for competitive cycling/triathlon, fitting in post module assignments is not easy. Let’s just say I don’t get to swim/cycle/run as much (at all) as I did prior to the commencement of the MSc!”

Looking at 2020

Durnin’s goals are twofold. “Firstly getting my MSc is a personal challenge. To complete this as a part time student is even more gratifying and an achievement to be proud of.

“The second is for career advancement. I am not looking at what job I want to be doing in 2011, but at where I want to be in 2015, 2020, and on.  When the recession lifts, which it will, I want to be better positioned to capitalise on the opportunities that present as business grow again. I have 30 years employment ahead of me yet!”

Qualification: Retail Management Degree with Lidl at Dublin Business School (DBS)
Graduation: May 2010

For Siobháin Shannon, a native of Co Clare and now store manager at Lidl’s Clifden store in Co Galway, it proved a “no brainer” deciding to study Lidl’s  retail management degree. After seeing the course advertised in a paper, it immediately appealed on the grounds that it offered an internationally recognised HETAC qualification, paid students a salary throughout their studies and offered successful graduates permanent employment at Lidl.

Shannon’s interest in retail had begun at secondary school where she worked part time in her local supermarket. “After school I embarked on an arts degree and worked in a hotel which didn’t really have the same appeal.  It was at this point that I decided retail was the way forward for me.”

Theory and practice

Shannon believes Lidl’s course offers a useful mix of both theory and practical experience. “Because this course is 50% theory in Dublin Business School (DBS) and 50% hands on practical experience in a Lidl store up to management level, it is very relevant and applicable to the real life working environment.”

She is currently really enjoying her role at Lidl, where she says, “It is a very exciting, fast paced environment, which I find very exhilarating.”   On graduation, Shannon’s hard work throughout her studies paid off and she was “delighted to be awarded with Lidl’s Outstanding Achievement Award.  My cohort of students were among the first to graduate from the course, which launched in 2007 so I was absolutely over the moon with the accolade.  

Qualification: Full-time MSc in Supply Chain Management at DIT
Planned Graduation: November 2012

Rain Pauming is currently a logistics operations manager at the dairies division of Golden Vale, part of the Kerry Group. Originally from Estonia, Pauming first came to Ireland eight years ago. In an illustration of how times have changed from the Celtic Tiger era, the Kerry Group had vacancies available and no-one to fill them, and so organised for staff to come over from Estonia, even organising their flights and accommodation.

Career progression

Pauming started off his career with the group as an order picker at its distribution centre in Ballymount, Dublin. Over the years, he worked his way up the career ladder to forklift driver, team leader, supervisor, and then transferred over to the dairies division, where he is currently responsible for the Tallagh site in Dublin.

Pursuing studies was an important part of Pauming’s career, as he constantly wanted to implement the best possible industry standards. Beginning in 2006, he gained an advanced certificate and diploma in logistics from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) before progressing on to study his current part-time degree course.  

Learning from fellow students

He looks upon his course as a “professional education,” which grants students the opportunity to examine the supply chain as a whole. And not only does Pauming learn from his lecturers, through debates and discussions, he also learns from the experiences of his fellow students.

Driving standards

Overall, Pauming strives to always deliver a high level of service for the customer.

“I’m that type of person if I know something new I’ll try to implement it right away and so far it’s been only for good; no pain.” 

The expert’s verdict

ShelfLife asked Barry Whelan, managing director of retail recruitment agency, Excel Recruitment, which has more impact on a CV: experience or a relevant degree?

It is all about experience at the moment in retail. A degree with experience is the winning combination. Having only one or the other I would weight far more on the side of experience.” 



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