Interviews with the Experts: Mick Leahy, senior leader in the Glass Packaging industry

In this series, Interviews with the Experts, we’re sharing the stories and insights from the pioneers and leaders across Commodities, Consumer Markets and Industrial Markets that Proco Group speak to.

In this article Julia Murphy, Associate Partner in the Glass, Paper & Packaging industries within Industrial Markets, spoke to Mick Leahy, an outstanding and progressive leader within the Glass Packaging industry.


An introduction to Mick Leahy:

With more than 30 years of experience within the Glass Packaging industry, Mick is an accomplished senior leader with a track record of delivering multimillion-dollar improvements to organisations. He has undertaken key global operational leadership roles and has extensive worldwide experience with success in both the USA and Europe. Mick also does consultancy work, initially within Glass Packaging, but more recently also working within other packaging industries.


1. Tell us about your career journey:

Straight out of the army and aged 21, I joined the Glass Packaging industry in 1991 as a shopfloor worker, following in the footsteps of my dad who had worked in the industry for 35 years. Being completely honest, this wasn’t quite the role I envisioned for my future, so pretty early on, I started to explore other parts of the business and realised there were a lot more opportunities on offer.

My progression was swift, completing supervisor development training and then stepping up into an interim manager role. My perspective of the Glass Packaging industry really changed from that moment. I found that I enjoyed the responsibilities and challenges that came with being a manager – understanding new technologies, problem solving and developing people. My strengths were noticed by senior management, and I was selected to join the group management development program that would ultimately lead to me obtaining my MBA. This was a critical step in my own personal development journey and enhanced my ability to grow within the organisation.

My career then progressed at pace, with a move to Scotland to run my first plant in 2004. This is where I really started to learn how to become a leader. These skills became particularly important when I was the promoted to run a larger plant in Germany. Managing and leading in your own language is one thing, but learning to do it with a language barrier is something else. I learned how to lead in a different culture and in a different way from the UK. This international experience enhanced my ability to look at alternative methods of working, to understand different cultures practices, etc. and still motivate teams to deliver success.

As I moved through the organisation and into more senior roles, the next important phase of my development was to master how to lead leaders. This involved an ability to lead and inspire senior managers (many of whom had significantly more experience and expertise in the job than I had).

"It was important to develop an inclusive approach, building trust and ensuring strong communication flow to bring these key individuals with me."


3. How has glass manufacturing and operations changed over the span of your career?

Like most industries, Glass manufacturing has not been immune to radical change in the past two decades. If we consider a basic PEST analysis: 


The world’s political arena has changed so much over the last 10-15 years. Brexit has caused major challenges for the UK and EU glass industry. In addition, the war in Ukraine. Global supply chain challenges have impacted the industry’s cost base, efficiency, production, speed and quality. This has created inertia and therefore the sector’s confidence in long-term strategic planning. 


Financial markets have also changed dramatically. Post-Covid inflationary pressures have hit hard with energy price fluctuations beyond anything we have seen before. This has been a difficult backdrop for the industry and has encouraged even more focus on cost reduction and efficiency improvement.  


The world has changed in terms of people’s thoughts and social behaviour. We are more environmentally conscious with recycling and climate being high on the agenda. Furthermore, new entrants to the workforce are looking for a better work/life balance, which is a challenge when the Glass Packaging industry is very much a 24/7, on-site job. A particular passion of mine is how do we hire and retain young people in the industry. This challenge is real: while the salary and benefits are good, the role is physically demanding and the flexibility that’s often sought today can’t be matched in this industry. 

Management style needs to appreciate these changes. I have always been aware that I need to adapt my approach to get the best out of people, this is more important now than ever. 


Technology advancements have been a priority for the industry recently, with a lot of focus on how innovation, automation and digitalisation can make positive changes to processes. 

4. What skills are needed to work in today’s Glass Packaging industry?

The industry is more technologically led now, which has dramatically changed the responsibilities and skills needed by our mechanical and electronic engineers. There’s a lot more competition in the hiring process and finding these technical skills can be difficult. It is imperative that we have a robust training programme in place to ensure a pipeline of skilled employees to feed all areas of the business.

This might involve a two-tier development plan with a graduate programme running alongside an apprenticeship programme. Organisations need to teach new recruits about the business, take time and introduce them to each area with a clear plan and mentoring process. This will ensure a flow of talent into the business that can then be nurtured and further developed. A culture of inclusion, understanding and reward will boost retention, which will be vital when we are asking for compromise in other areas such as flexibility and working hours.

Companies should assess their talent pool; I believe there are many future leaders out there on the shop floor. Sometimes the opportunity isn’t clear, so it’s important to help identify those who have that drive and ability and give them a chance to grow, excel and fulfil their potential.


5. How was the global focus on sustainability impact the Glass Packaging industry?

The glass industry has made great strides reducing CO2 and, as a whole, is on track to get where it needs to be. However, the industry needs to continue to invest in tools and technologies to reduce costs and improve energy efficiency and waste. A lot of effort is already going into this, and centralised bodies exist to promote the industry as being world leading in terms of sustainability impact. For clarity, I don’t believe there’s a product around that could be classed as environmentally friendly as glass is, it’s 100% recyclable – one of the purest materials.

Clearly, glass used to be the material of choice for a lot of products, where other materials have now taken a massive market share. If you consider the amount of different beers you can now buy in cans compared to 20 years ago, that growth is considerable and has contributed to glass volume decline in use and popularity. There needs to be a campaign to reenergise the image of glass and reverse this downward trend.


6. What makes a great leader in the Glass Packaging industry?

Leadership styles have evolved significantly during my time in the glass industry, mirroring the changing nature of the business in general. In the past, leadership was primarily autocratic, focusing on central decision-making. Over time, this has shifted towards a more inclusive and adaptive approach.

My mantra is always that “we need to bring people with us”. People are the life blood of every business and glass is no exception.

People focus is what we need to manage our industry. I am passionate about the need to be a mentor, to coach and develop team members. Management should be about fostering and developing a common vision, linking your team’s local vision to the organisation’s vision. I find it is good to rely on the old saying, “a rising tide lifts all boats” – if we are all working with a common purpose we will all succeed. Inclusion and respect are key.

You need to communicate effectively and with integrity. You need to champion change and manage it, whilst always encouraging new ways of thinking. Foster collaboration and ultimately build a great place to work.

My background has been in Operational Excellence. This is about setting up the right process correctly the first time, so we get it right from the get-go. I feel it is important to create, analyse and improve methods used across all areas of the business regularly. Performance looks at elements such as productivity, quality and waste, as these impact profitability and should be measured with effective KPIs.

Everyone in the business needs to understand that success comes through data-driven decision making – using facts and data to guide strategic choices. These decisions must align with the company’s goals and objectives which need to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Finally, you need to lead courageously. Once you have all the information and data you need, you need to be able to confidently make decisions, communicate them clearly and drive success.

Thank you to Mick for sharing his career, insights and expertise with us. To learn more about Mick’s experience, please visit his website. To learn about Proco Group’s work within the Glass Packaging industry, please get in touch Julia Murphy who leads our glass packaging practice globally. 

Julia Murphy

Associate Partner | Industrial Markets | EMEA

With a core focus in the Industrials industry, Julia Murphy brings over a decade of experience in executive search and advisory solutions to clients in the Packaging, Glass, Construction & Machinery industries. Her deep expertise in these sectors equips her with a keen understanding of the challenges and opportunities they present.

Julia specialises in placing business-critical positions and forging long-term partnerships with renowned international organisations such as O-I, Schott and Sidel.

T: +44 12 7364 8080 E:

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