Bega Group boss encourages graduates to dream big

Honorary Fellow, Barry Irvin AM inspires next generation to embrace collaboration

“It is through the support of many that you can achieve your dreams. You should never hesitate to share with people what your dreams are, and indeed ask people to help to achieve those dreams,” Barry Irvin AM said.

Leading some of Australia’s most iconic brands, including Bega Cheese, Vegemite and Dairy Farmers, Barry Irvin AM is recognised globally for his extensive experience in the dairy industry as the Executive Chairman of Bega Group.

The University of Wollongong (UOW) Honorary Fellow delivered the occasional address to 30 students at the UOW Bega Valley graduation ceremony at the Bega Valley Commemorative Civic Centre on Tuesday (23 January) as the graduates celebrated the end of their studies.

Mr Irvin told the graduates they “have already been brave in following their dreams to study and they should continue to be brave.”

Mr Irvin’s family is a sixth-generation dairy farming family, based on the Far South Coast in the Bega Valley. Mr Irvin began a promising career in banking, before returning to his hometown of Bemboka to save the family farm. 

He joined the then Bega Cooperative Board in 1991, kick-starting its transformation from a small single manufacturing site into the multibillion-dollar global powerhouse known today as Bega Cheese.

Since becoming Chairman of Bega Cheese Limited in 2000, he has led the Bega Group to establish itself as one of the leading dairy and food companies in Australia. Its purpose is clear; it aims to create great food for a better future.

Under Irvin’s guidance, since 2001 the Bega Group has transformed from a dairy co-operative with a strong regional cheese brand into a diversified branded food and beverage business.

He began his occasional address by thanking UOW “for being present and physically present in the Bega Valley region.” 

“It was not that long ago that young people from regions, if they did not have external support, they did not have the opportunity to go to university,” Mr Irvin said.

“The fact that UOW has a campus in Bega, is extraordinarily important in creating that opportunity for the next stage of learning and opportunity.”  as

From its regional base, as Executive Chairman, Barry has guided Bega Group to become a major manufacturer, exporting massive volumes of diverse product to more than 40 countries around the world and taking its place among Australia’s largest ASX-listed food companies. 

“When I was young person growing up in the Bega Valley the opportunities to go to university locally were not there, but it did not prevent me from believing that Bega could be a business that went way beyond the Valley – as it has done,” Mr Irvin said.

“You have a wonderful foundation now with the additional education you have had from UOW and that foundation will allow you to pursue whatever it is that you might wish to pursue,” he told the graduates. 

Barry Irvin embodies the very purpose and values that UOW treasures. 

In 2022, he was conferred as a University Fellow in recognition of his tireless contributions to the University of Wollongong, to the Bega Valley Shire and his instrumental work in strengthening Australia’s leadership position in the global food manufacturing industry.

Barry Irvin AM portrait

Barry Irvin AM became an Honorary Fellow of UOW in October 2022

Mr Irvin works to ensure the sustainability of the region, partnering with UOW in both the Bega Circular Valley 2030 initiative and the Bega Valley Innovation Hub (BVIH) when it first launched in 2019.

UOW has created a vibrant innovation ecosystem in regional NSW. 

BVIH is one of the longest-running and most successful regional innovation hubs in Australia, offering access to iAccelerate’s programs. It is the result of a community effort to address the challenge of creating new jobs and opportunities in the region.

Mr Irvin has been a supporter since its inception, and often participates as a judge mentoring entrepreneurs during regional Pitch Final events. 

His passion and dedication to the Bega Valley has seen Bega Group lead the Bega Valley Circular Economy initiative, with Mr Irvin as chair of the Regional Circularity Co-operative (RCC).

A man is holding an award, standing in between a man and a woman Winner of the People's Choice: Bangalay Agroforestry, Scott Herring, pictured with Barry Irvin and Sam Avitaia

The vision is to establish the Bega Valley Shire as the most circular regional economy in Australia and show that this sort of change can be replicated by other regions globally.

“We are doing work around circularity, the accelerator and initiatives that will see the Bega Valley become more circular. UOW are helping us implement much of that program,” Mr Irvin said. 

“Our goal is to create a legacy for the future generations of the Bega Valley and be an example for other regions to follow as the most circular Valley in Australia.” 

UOW and Bega Group are both foundation members along with large businesses, corporates, financial institutions, the state government, local councils, universities and research organisations.

“The experts in circularity say that it is impossible to be circular on your own, you have to do it with many. The Bega Valley has all the components and parts in the region to execute this.” 

The initiative aims to deliver high-impact, transformational regional development, including the creation of new multi-purpose tourism, community and research hub, the National Circularity Centre (NCC). The NCC will also serve as a circularity education centre.

In February 2023, UOW was announced as a key research and technology partner of the new NCC. The NSW government has committed $14 million to the RCC for the development of the NCC. 

The $19 million Centre, which is expected to open in early 2026, will reflect sustainable, net-zero, circular design principles and will seek a Green Star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia.

A firm believer in community and social responsibility, Mr Irvin has embedded significant charitable giving into Bega Group’s operational model and volunteers his time to numerous boards and causes.

As Chair of Giant Steps Sydney, Giant Steps Melbourne and Stepping Stones Education Services, Mr Irvin supports hundreds of Australian children with autism and their families to access a better quality of life. 

Mr Irvin was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2008 for his service to the dairy industry and to children with disabilities. He was awarded the NAB Agribusiness Leader of the Year and the Rabobank Leadership Award. 

With an enduring legacy that will continue to enhance the Bega Valley region and society for years to come, Mr Irvin is adamant that community is key to success. 

“It is crucial to have the community on side. It cannot be achieved without it. We can achieve it in the Bega Valley, as the community has been integrated and to be resilient and successful, we have had to depend on one another.”