Home comforts for entrepreneur Richard as he awaits EY fate

Richard Kennedy, chief executive of Devenish
Richard Kennedy, chief executive of Devenish Richard Kennedy, chief executive of Devenish

RICHARD Kennedy should be basking in the playground of the rich and famous this morning, awaiting his fate in the global final of the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year.

But instead of Monaco, he'll be sitting in front of a computer screen on his farm in Aclare, a village set at the foot of the Ox mountains in west Sligo.

"I'll dress up reasonably smartly and I'll have my family all around me. And to be honest, there's nowhere I'd rather be when they announce the results on Thursday," he said.

"I'm actually quite humbled to be representing my country and my company from my own rural village. It underlines just how the small the world is."

Richard, as chief executive of Belfast-headquartered agri-technology company Devenish Nutrition, which supplies quality animal feeds, secured his passport to Monaco (subsequently Aclare) by winning the Ireland EY Entrepreneur of the Year competition last November.

He was only the fourth outright winner from the north, following in the illustrious footsteps of Dr Peter FitzGerald (Randox), Brendan Mooney (Kainos) and the late Brian Conlon (First Derivatives).

He is up against 40 rivals from around the world, an eclectic amalgam of unstoppable entrepreneurs who've each been on inspiring journeys of their own.

Under his watch, Richard (55) has steered Devenish from a modest animal feed company with just 20 employees in 1997 to a global player, one with a 700-strong international workforce, a presence in more than 40 countries, and group sales in the region of £230 million.

Devenish, which has an innovation centre in Dowth, Co Meath, and operations in the Middle East and India, makes premixed and speciality feed for pigs, poultry, cattle, sheep, horses and dogs.

And Richard, whose deep-rooted love for agriculture began at age seven, has taken a unique approach to how this is done, placing R&D and technology at the heart of what was a traditional feed business.

Devenish places a huge emphasis on leveraging technology and scientific research to create innovations which have been driving the group’s growth over the last to decades.

One of its breakthrough products was the world’s first chicken enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, demonstrating the company’s use of technology to improve nutrients in food.

"It's been another incredible year of growth for the company and I was pleased with the performance," he says matter-of-factly.

But then his incessant desire to keep aiming for the next level kicks in when he adds: "Of course, there are one or two things I'd liked to have done better, but it is what it is."

Richard's burning desire is to keep expanding internationally and make Devenish a truly globally-recognised name.

He took another giant step in that director in the autumn when he signed a £25 million tech and R&D agreement with Jamaica-based firm Caribbean Broilers.

The 10-year contract will mean Devenish's science and technology will be used in the production of sustainable chicken suited to a tropical climate and diet.

"We will build a performance house, identify challenges and use our combined knowledge and expertise to agree trial implementation," Richard said.

He believes consumer demand for authenticity and transparency in the food chain is driving huge disruption, and this is exactly the space the company plays in.

"And even in the midst of the current covid pandemic, we are seeing opportunities to grow the business," he adds.

"Ireland has an extremely strong and well-regarded position globally in terms of production and provision of quality food. This has been a hard-fought and well-deserved reputation, and something we have seen and found incredibly valuable as we have travelled throughout the world building our business.

"But it is a reputation now that we must fight to hold on to, and to do that we must step into the challenge of delivering sustainable, authentic and transparent food production. We must innovate and adapt to new demands that require change."

When he's not in his office, the board or the Devenish laboratories, Richard recharges his batteries on his family farm, on his bike, or at the side of a GAA pitch, where his home club is Tourlestrane, which lies in the parish of Kilmactigue.

The club, like his home village and indeed the whole county, have rallied behind Richard in his quest to become the first Irish winner of the international EoY (the last 10 winners have come from countries as diverse as China, Singapore, Brazil and Kenya).

His wife Jacqueline, sons Oisin and Rian, and daughter Molly, for now at least, have been denied their chance to jet off to Monaco, and instead will be alongside Richard when the outright winner is declared on Thursday afternoon.

But regardless of how he fares, it won't stop his unwavering passion to continue building the business.

“Devenish has flowed in my veins over the last 20 years, and it’s as much a part of me as I am part of it,” he says.