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Contents 12 News

67 Top 50 Employers

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The latest news and exclusives from across the world of Northern Ireland business and beyond

We take a look at the biggest employers in Northern Ireland

In another busy month we have fresh jobs, new offices, promotions and an eco hotel

36 In Focus

72 Flashback to 2009

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We speak to the man at the helm of Thompson Aero Seating about doubling sales

Ulster Business editor John Mulgrew takes a look at the Top 100 from a decade ago

In a bumper edition, Pat Burns takes a spin in a small Italian number and Toyota’s new Proace

38 Top 100 Analysis

152 Interview

190 Technology

Analyst Jonathan Cushley breaks down all the key data in this year’s Top 100

We speak to ex jobs minister Simon Hamilton about leaving politics and joining business

Adrian Weckler accesses the firm at the centre of a war of words between east and west

43 Top 100

164 Business Breakfast

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Now in its 31st year, the Top 100 showcases the biggest businesses in Northern Ireland

This time it’s the turn of IoD chairman Gordon Milligan in the breakfast hot seat

Cormac Bourke discovers there’s something for everyone in Lake Garda

News in Brief

Motoring

Travel

Ulster Business is a part of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). If you believe you have been unfairly treated, you can contact IPSO in writing via its website for guidance on what to do. The service is free. IPSO can then advise on whether it’s likely you have grounds for a complaint and what to do about it. The normal procedure is for the complainant to then contact the publication’s editor directly. If no agreement is reached, the complainant can go back to IPSO to look for an adjudication, or for it to take over the complaint. Full details are available at www.ipso.co.uk. Alternatively, email complaints@ipso.co.uk, or inquiries@ipso.co.uk, or telephone 0300 123 2220, or the out-of-hours emergency number: 07659 152 656. Or write to: IPSO, c/o Halton House, 20-23 Holborn, London EC1N 2JD

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EDITOR’S COMMENTS

Top 100 shows resilience of firms W

elcome to the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2019 edition with A&L Goodbody. I’ll normally start the magazine with something of an attempt at wit, but the weight of this edition is such – both literally and figuratively – that we’re diving straight in at the deep end.

I’ll not spoil any sort of surprise as to what’s within the figures – there’s plenty of detailed analysis from our expert Jonathan Cushley, our top commentators and yours truly – but the big private sector firms are performing very well, with sales up, despite having to deal with an ever-present, extremely infuriating, politically juvenile and irresponsible landscape, which is mostly outside their control.

It goes without saying that the Top 100 is full to the brim with the list, analysis, profiles and comment on the largest and leading businesses across Northern Ireland.

There are some amazing success stories within the numbers, and you can have a closer look at the news and profiles to read about those.

There’s also exclusive news, discussion, interviews, our Top 50 Employers list, motoring, travel, and technology, crammed in to almost 200 pages.

The Top 100 is now in its 31st year, and in that time the list has changed and evolved immensely. Even just 10 years ago, there are companies on the list which are now

Publisher Ulster Business c/o Independent News & Media Ltd Belfast Telegraph House 33 Clarendon Road, Clarendon Dock, Belfast BT1 3BG

no longer with us and those which have since been acquired by bigger rivals. This year’s list, more so than any list before, is a reflection of the performance of firms in the wake of post-referendum uncertainty. But one thing that still stands out, is how few women hold the top roles. Roseann Kelly of Women in Business raised the issue in this magazine last year, but it’s nonetheless still shocking to see just two female chief executives on the list. Let’s hope it’s a number which will rise in the coming years. With that, I hope you enjoy this edition of the magazine. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, but it’s been worth it. ■ John Mulgrew

Editor John Mulgrew Senior advertising manager Jackie Reid Sales executive Sarah-Ann Gamble Production manager Irene Fitzsimmons Graphic design Susan McClean, INM Design Studio

Printer W&G Baird Greystone Press, Caulside Drive, Antrim BT41 2RS www.wgbaird.com

Contact: 028 90 264260 www.ulsterbusiness.com

@ulsterbusiness

Ulster Business Magazine

Independent News & Media Ltd © 2019. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission of Independent News & Media Ltd.

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TOP 100 FOREWORD

Progress amid uncertainty By Michael Neill, head of office, A&L Goodbody Belfast

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he publication of the Ulster Business Top 100 Companies is now firmly established in the Northern Ireland business diary. It has become somewhat of an annual reference point for A&L Goodbody as we take time to reflect on the significant achievements of the region’s leading companies. We are proud to be sponsoring the publication for a fourth consecutive year.

without. Either way, what has become most apparent to us is that, no matter which road we are taken, we can rely on firms in Northern Ireland to do what they do best: getting on with business.

Since we first partnered with Ulster Business on this initiative in 2016, Brexit has remained a constant theme. Then, just weeks after the EU Referendum, the Northern Ireland business community was understandably searching for answers. Three years later it seems that we still don’t have those answers and the sense of uncertainty continues to linger.

While many companies are long-standing players and remain unchallenged at the top end of the rankings, it is positive to see businesses continue to rise up the ranks, year on year. As always, it is also encouraging to note a number of new entrants to this year’s Top 100, including Thompson Aero, TW Scott & Sons and McBurney Transport.

We are fast approaching the ultimate fork in the road on our Brexit journey – with one road taking us to an exit with a deal, and the other

As an international law firm with offices in Belfast, Dublin, London and the US, we are proud to work with many of the Top 100

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The results of this resilience and determination speak for themselves in this year’s Top 100 rankings, with collective turnover increasing by 9.4% in the 12 months to £24.8bn.

Companies in the local market and further afield, advising on both domestic and international matters. In different ways and across many different sectors, each of the companies listed has made their own significant contribution to the Northern Ireland economy over the past 12 months. Some have created hundreds of new jobs, others have underpinned many thousands more. Many have dominated in their markets at home and abroad, and others have proven the significant value that export and innovation can bring to any business. On behalf of all at A&L Goodbody, congratulations to each of this year’s Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies – we very much look forward to seeing your businesses continue to thrive over the next 12 months. ■

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NEWS

summer IN numbers A

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The businesses making up the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2019 list, showcasing the biggest firms from across the sectors.

£24.8bn The total turnover of companies making this year’s Top 100 list. That figure marks a rise of more than 9%, based on the business performance a year earlier.

£434m

The deal which will see Mitsubishi Heavy Industries pay Bombardier in cash and assume liabilities amounting to around $200m (£157m) for its CRJ jet business.

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The date in October by which the UK is still scheduled to leave the EU. At the time of writing, a clear exit plan had yet to be agreed.

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Michael Neill, head of office at Top 100 sponsor A&L Goodbody in Belfast, Moy Park chief financial officer Flavio Malnarcic and Ulster Business editor, John Mulgrew

Top 100 sales rise by more than 9%

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orthern Ireland’s largest businesses have seen sales rise by 9.4% to more £24.8bn, the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list 2019 has revealed. The list, sponsored by A&L Goodbody, showcases the successes of the biggest firms from right across Northern Ireland. And poultry giant Moy Park has also retained the top spot on the list for the eighth year running, posting sales of more than £1.5bn. However, across the list pre-tax profits fell overall, dropping from £1.05bn to £894.7m, when comparing the previous year’s accounts for the Top 100. New entrants to the list this year include Thompson Aero Seating – which shot up to number 69 – along with McBurney Transport, while others saw their positions increase substantially.

Michael Neill, head of office, A&L Goodbody Belfast, said: “The results of this resilience and determination speak for themselves in this year’s Top 100 rankings, with collective turnover increasing by 9.4% in the 12 months to £24.8bn. “While many companies are long-standing players and remain unchallenged at the top end of the rankings, it is positive to see businesses continue to rise up the ranks, yearon-year.” And Chris Kirke, Moy Park president, said: “We are honoured to be named Northern Ireland’s top company once again and to help shine a light on NI’s proud agri-food heritage and strong manufacturing credentials. “It’s the people in Moy Park that make the company what it is, and I am extraordinarily proud of our great team, and of all our growers and partners who continually go above and beyond to make it the successful business it is today.”


NEWS

Desire for ‘orderly Brexit’: Hamilton

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ormer jobs minister Simon Hamilton says there is a strong desire to achieve “an orderly Brexit” to avoid long term damage to the economy, as he takes up his new role as head of Belfast Chamber.

Mr Hamilton, a former DUP MLA who held several ministerial posts at Stormont – including as Economy Minister – said 78% of its members backed the initial Withdrawal Agreement, and he will work with them to support a soft exit from the EU. “There’s a desire to make sure there wasn’t a cliff edge, and it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on business,” he said. “Belfast Chamber members say they support an orderly Brexit – it’s a common sense place to be.” “… they are pragmatic. The referendum was held and the result should be respected, but in a way that doesn’t do long term damage to the economy.” Mr Hamilton has taken up his new role as chief executive of the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, which currently counts hotelier Rajesh Rana as its president.

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Simon Hamilton

Read the full interview with Simon Hamilton on page 152-153

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NEWS

Quotes OF THE summer “Now in its 31st year, the region’s longest established listing of companies provides insight on the performance of Northern Ireland based businesses, either Northern Ireland registered or where a significant proportion of their business is transacted in the province.” Jonathan Cushley speaking about the Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2019 list.

“The severity or otherwise of that downturn will depend on a range of factors. The kind of Brexit that we see will of course be a major factor. But what is in no doubt is that the private sector overall is currently in a weaker state.” Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey speaking as the latest PMI report pointed to the possible beginnings of an economic downturn in NI.

£40m digestion plant plans under way

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major £40m anaerobic digestion plant could soon be built in Belfast, Ulster Business can reveal.

Plans are now under way for the ‘centralised anaerobic digestion’ plant, which would be based at Giant’s Park close to Dargan Road in north Belfast, and form part of the overall £140m scheme. “Diversification of trade has been a long-standing feature of the Belfast Harbour business model. This has helped protect the business from cyclical trends in specific sectors and the long-term decline of others, such as liquid hydro carbon fuels and coal import.” Joe O’Neill, chief executive of Belfast Harbour speaking as its turnover grew by 11% to £68.8m.

It’s thought more than 350 direct and indirect jobs could be created during its construction, with around 22 when the plant becomes operational. It’s being developed by Dargan Road Biogas, which is owned by energy giant Viridian. The plant will include a bunded tank farm, biogas holder, biogas conditioning system, temperature control system and a waste-water treatment plant. A full planning application has now been submitted for the scheme. Those behind it

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say the “significant benefit of the proposed development is that it will contribute to the redevelopment of this former landfill site”. “The development of the centralised anaerobic digestion facility at this location also has the potential to attract other industrial/business uses to the North Foreshore who seek to avail of the renewable energy (electricity and heat) sources that the facility will generate”. It says “the project represents a significant capital investment in the local economy (estimated construction cost of £40m) and the creation of around 354 indirect/direct jobs during construction and around 22 operational jobs”. The overall plan for the £140m development of Giant’s Park was awarded planning permission last year. The new anaerobic digestion scheme will accompany a proposed ‘clean tech’ business hub and the existing Belfast Harbour Film Studios.


NEWS

Thompson Aero ‘to double sales to £220m’

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orthern Ireland aircraft seat maker Thompson Aero Seating is on course to double sales to more than £220m amid plans to build a major new facility in Portadown by 2021, Ulster Business can reveal.

The Portadown-based firm, which produces business and first class seats for major airlines such as Lufthansa and Delta, is also investing millions in a new 350,000 sq ft facility, which centralise all of its operations on one site. In an interview with Ulster Business, chief executive Andres Budo said the firm is expected to crack the £220m mark in its new full set of accounts. This year it posted turnover of £105m – up from £55m a year earlier – which brought it in to the Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list for the first time. The company is also expected to grow its headcount to between 1,600 and 1,700 by the end of the year. “We are reaching the limits of what we can do industrially. We will have around 1,600 to 1,700 employees

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Andres Budo

by the end of the year, roughly. This is basically extracting every benefit we have from the current facilities,” he said. “In 2021, we are going to be moving to a new facility in Portadown, which is a consolidation of the five facilities we currently operate.”

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NEWS What the new Students’ Union could look like

Newry firm to build Queen’s Students’ Union

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truly world class, in particular, to create an emotional heart of Queen’s and a symbol of the ambition that this university has for every student”.

Felix O’Hare has won the tender to build the new union at the site of the current development, which sits across from the main Lanyon Building on University Road.

“Students want to be enriched with a full programme of academic, co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and services that will enable them to be the best graduate possible and gain quality employment opportunities,” it says.

Newry construction firm has landed the contract to build the new multi-million pound Students’ Union building at Queen’s University in Belfast, Ulster Business can reveal.

The new Students’ Union will replace the original building which was opened in 1967, and went through major refurbishment in 2005. In a design statement from RPP Architects and Hawkins/Brown, it says the building is part of a long-term vision to develop top end facilities across the university “that are

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“The purpose of the building is to provide facilities to support student life, including the SU (Students’ Union), student guidance, generous open and flexible entrance space, informal learning zones, club rooms, supporting offices, multi-purpose hall, SU Bar, catering and retail outlets”. Felix O’Hare, which will build the scheme,

has already been involved with major Queen’s University projects. That includes building the new School of Law, a development which forms a key part of the university’s £350m investment to transform the campus into world-class facilities for staff and pupils. A spokesman for Queen’s University told Ulster Business: “Queen’s University Belfast has appointed Felix O’Hare as construction partner on the development of a new student centre and Students’ Union. The new centre, which will be completed in the 2021/2022 academic year, is part of the university’s strategic priority to create world class facilities for students. The project is a two stage construction process. In the first stage, Felix O’Hare will assist the university and its design teams in the development of technical proposals. The second stage will see the development and construction of the main project.”


NEWS

Centra to open at River House

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ozens of jobs could be created amid plans to open a new Centra store in the heart of Belfast city centre, Ulster Business can reveal.

It’s understood the new store will be located at the ground floor of the recently refurbished River House office development on High Street in Belfast city centre.

The view from River House overlooking the city

The new shop is the latest Centra to open up in some of the city’s grade A office developments. At the end of May it launched its City Quays 2 store, as part of an almost £800,000 investment, creating 15 jobs.

area, which is currently home to over 5,000 workers. The store is owned by the Gracey family, a well-known family business based in Belfast

That Centra is the first convenience store to open in the City Quays and Clarendon Dock

“Building on the experience of two decades in retail, we are proud to be opening the

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doors to our new store, which will bring a contemporary and vibrant new convenience offering to people working in Belfast Harbour estate,” Anna McErlean said. “We are delighted with the prime location of our new store and feel that Centra City Quays will be a fantastic addition to the area.”

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NEWS

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orthern Ireland faces losing 40,000 jobs in a ‘no deal’ Brexit which could have “immediate and severe consequences” for its position as an allisland and UK economy, a government paper has warned.

The paper, which examines the negative impact of a ‘no deal’ EU exit, warns the “Northern Ireland Civil Service’s assessment remains that a ‘no deal’ would have a profound and longlasting impact on NI’s economy and society”.

No deal Brexit ‘could cost NI 40,000 jobs’

Among its key points, it says a ‘no deal’ “could lead to a sharp increase in unemployment, with at least 40,000 jobs at risk, based on EU export exposure”.

– one of the big business buzzwords here over the last few years – it says “under a ‘no deal’ exit, NI’s FDI attractiveness would be negatively impacted”.

“The impact of EU tariffs could reduce NI’s exports to Ireland by 11% and the inclusion of non-tariff barriers could see a decline of 19%,” it says.

“A ‘no deal’ would see losses in the medium to long run of 6% per annum in the case of the number of FDI projects and of 7.6% for FDI-related new jobs.”

Once again, it raises serious concerns over the agri-sector, meat in particular, and beef especially, in regards to “increased vulnerability to low cost non-EU imports in the GB or NI market”.

Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) director Aodhán Connolly said the report “makes for some stark reading, but it should come as no surprise”.

It’s not just the physical goods, as it says Northern Ireland’s IT sector is facing the cost of exporting services increasing, by an average of 14.5%. And regarding foreign direct investment (FDI)

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“The NIRC, Manufacturing NI and Freight NI have for many months now said that a no-deal would be a disaster. It is the biggest threat to our economy since the Troubles. “With at least 40,000 jobs at risk or 5% of the employees in NI, it is clearer than ever that

we need a deal. It is hugely unhelpful that people still are wasting time on promising implementation periods that can’t happen without a deal or technology that has not be proven to work.” And aside from exports, of which the biggest concerns centre around, the paper says businesses selling internally and consumer purchases within Northern Ireland could also be negatively impacted. Sales by Northern Ireland businesses within NI accounted for 68% of total sales – £45.2bn in 2017, while purchases by NI businesses within NI accounted for 54% of the total. “These businesses will be impacted by changes in competitiveness within the local economy in the same way as sales to GB,” the paper says. “The wholesale and retail sector in particular will also be impacted by any change in consumer spending.” ■


NEWS

Spanish firm ‘could buy Bombardier NI base’

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Spanish firm has emerged as a likely buyer for Bombardier’s Northern Ireland operations following the sale of its regional jet programme. Reports have suggested aircraft parts-maker Aernnova has emerged as a possible buyer for the Canadian-owned aerospace giant’s Northern Ireland arm. The aerospace group is among a number of companies to express interest in the aerostructures division, according to the Financial Times.

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Bombardier put its operations in Morocco and Northern Ireland up for sale in May. Largely based on the former Short Brothers site in Belfast, the operation also includes plants in Newtownabbey, Dunmurry and Newtownards, employing around 3,500 people. A number of firms have all been linked to the potential acquisition, including US-based Spirit Aerosystems, UK group GKN and Airbus. The Financial Times cited two sources familiar with the sale process, stating

that Aernnova had submitted an expression of interest after reviewing an offer document from Bombardier. Bombardier also announced that it had agreed a deal to sell the CRJ programme to Japanese group Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The central fuselage of the commercial aircraft series is designed and manufactured within Bombardier’s Northern Ireland operation. The company has said it’s still reviewing the impact the sale – expected to close early next year – will have on its Belfast workforce. Products for Bombardier’s commercial aircraft were worth £160m for its Northern Ireland business last year.

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NEWS

Steve Heyman, co-founder of Dynamic Signal with Alastair Hamilton, chief executive of Invest NI

Silicon Valley firm creating 100 Belfast jobs

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US tech firm is creating up to 100 well-paid jobs as it sets up a new technology centre in Belfast city

centre.

Dynamic Signal, which creates software for large employers to communicate with staff, said the positions will attract an average salary of around £35,000. Its customers include around one-third of companies listed on the Fortune 500. The Silicon Valley-based firm is planning to establish a technology centre in Belfast focused on software development work and customer success roles, and up to 100 staff will be recruited over the next three to four years. Based in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco, Dynamic Signal currently employs around 300 people. Invest NI has offered £650,000 in support and said the 100 roles could eventually be worth £3.4m in wages. Dynamic Signal is currently based at River House and has seven staff already in place. Steve Heyman, the firm’s co-founder and chief operating officer, said: “Dynamic Signal’s

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platform serves companies with upwards of 500 employees, and in particular, those with a high number of deskless or dispersed employees see the greatest benefit from our innovative solution. “Our software allows company communication, HR, and marketing teams to segment staff and tailor different messages to different user groups, which we see as a real strength of our offering. “This new centre in Northern Ireland will play an important role as we expand our products and services, and look to grow our global customer base. Invest NI provided invaluable insights into the region, its talent and the academic centres of excellence.” He said Northern Ireland’s skills base in the sector and “quality of students graduating from third level education, makes this the right location for this new centre”. Outgoing Invest NI chief executive, Alastair Hamilton, said: “Managing employee communications across dispersed teams can be a challenge for large organisations. Dynamic Signal has taken an innovative social media approach to enable large businesses

to effectively connect with employees and to allow them to effectively communicate with their peers. “The company has identified growth potential and this new technology centre in Belfast will provide the team needed to develop new products and services, while also targeting developing markets in Europe and the UK. “With a mix of software engineering and customer service roles, and an average salary in the mid-£30,000 range, this investment is another welcome addition to our growing ICT sector.” Samantha Kirk, who is the site lead for Belfast, said the firm is “committed to improving the employee experience at the world’s largest organisations by offering the most robust, intuitive, and sophisticated employee communication and engagement platform”. “Hiring candidates from the outstanding talent pool that we have here in Belfast will allow us to meet our ambitious growth plans. This new technology centre brings exciting opportunities to work with cutting edge technology, an inspiring team and the future in employee communication and engagement.”■


NEWS

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uxury jewellers Lunn’s has unveiled Ireland’s first stand-alone Tag Heuer store as part of a £2.5m investment in the heart of Belfast city centre.

The Tag Heuer store joins a new Rolex store at Queen’s Arcade, where the existing flagship Lunn’s store is located. The opening has created four new jobs and will offer customers access to exclusive Tag Heuer timepieces only available in its boutiques. “Lunn’s is delighted to open Tag Heuer’s first stand-alone boutique in Ireland,” Suzanne Lunn, marketing director of Lunn’s the Jewellers said. “We are especially proud to locate it in Queen’s Arcade where my grandfather, John Lunn, established our business nearly 70 years ago. “We are confident in the future of retail in Belfast city centre and are excited that we can now offer a totally immersive Tag Heuer experience.”

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Suzanne Lunn with Nick Callegari of Tag Heuer

Tag Heuer opens new Belfast boutique Rob Diver, Tag Heuer, managing director Europe, said: “We are very proud to be partnering with Lunn’s to open a new Tag Heuer boutique in Ireland in Belfast’s Queen’s Arcade. We believe that the opening of this

new boutique will take Tag Heuer to new heights in Northern Ireland and allow clients to experience our exceptional timepieces and strong brand DNA in a 360-degree environment.”

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NEWS David Ferguson and Colin McClean with Gemma Jordan, Ulster Bank

Bob & Berts creating 175 jobs amid eight cafe roll-out

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Northern Ireland coffee shop chain is creating 175 new jobs as its expands it reach across the UK with eight new stores. Bob & Berts is opening five new cafes in Northern Ireland and a further three in Scotland. Founded in Portstewart in 2013, the business, headed by Colin McClean and David Ferguson, has expanded to 20 locations, employing 400 staff.

It has undergone its latest expansion plans with assistance from BGF and Ulster Bank. It’s opening a new Portrush store in the coming weeks, and has announced Cookstown, Newry and Ballymena as the next towns to get Bob & Berts coffee shops. David Ferguson said that the new funding from Ulster Bank will allow the company to continue its roll out, as well as seeking opportunities in England over the next 12 to 18 months. “We have identified an opportunity to go faster and open more sites than originally

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planned, and therefore sought additional investment through the banks for the first time,” he said. “Selecting the correct bank that we felt understood our strategy and ethos was very important, just like during the equity fundraising process, and we felt that Ulster Bank can provide Bob & Berts with this support moving forward. “We’re passionate about the service we provide and the communities we serve. Our brand is dynamic and distinctive and we’re breathing new life the high streets up and down the country by driving footfall for the benefit of our neighbouring local retailers.” And Colin McClean has said that rising demand is fuelling the company’s fast growth. “We are very excited to announce the opening of our new stores in Northern Ireland and Scotland over the coming weeks and months. Our distinctive style and quality food and drink offering is driving significant demand and making Bob & Berts a highly

sought-after addition to the local high street.” The investment is part of a wider growth strategy to operate 35 stores throughout the UK by 2020. Gemma Jordan, senior relationship manager, commercial banking NI at Ulster Bank, said: “Ulster Bank is pleased to provide finance to Bob & Berts to extend its reach into new and growing markets. “We look forward to working alongside the team at BGF, who, back in 2017, invested in Colin and David’s vision to grow the Bob & Berts brand and who have been an important part of their growth story in recent years.” Girvan Gault, commercial banking director at Ulster Bank, said: “We have access to a wide network of support and expertise through our relationship with sister brands NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland throughout the UK to help Colin and David realise the growth potential of their unique brand.” ■


TOP 100

Top 100 showcasing changing business landscape Ulster Business editor John Mulgrew looks at the changing sectoral landscape of this year’s Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies and pulls out some of the interesting stories of the business list

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t’s hard to believe a year has gone by since the last Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list was put to bed. It’s the flagship 200-page double-edition of the magazine, and it’s something which takes the efforts of both the magazine team, contributors, the businesses involved and those who continue to support the magazine, to make it happen.

This year marks another significant uplift in the performance of the Top 100 businesses across Northern Ireland, with the sales barrier to entry up by around £12m. In the last year, turnover among this year’s Top 100 has risen by more than 9% to £24.8bn. However, unlike last year, overall pre-tax profits fell, when considering all of those making this year’s list. That was in part due to large flips from some of the larger companies, including Bombardier – which posted a big profit in the 2018 list, but had losses of almost £40m a year later. In the last 10 years or so, I’ve come into contact with many of the companies making the list, written about them, and met chief executives and managing directors. Last year, one of the stand out performances was from W&R Barnett – a Belfast-based company which operates commodities businesses across the UK and beyond. The magazine profiled boss William Barnett last

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year, and snapped him outside the firm’s head office – which belies the scale and size of the firm – just a short distance from our offices at Clarendon Dock. It remains Northern Ireland’s second largest company, and since last year has grown its turnover to £1.23bn. In fact, the Clarendon Dock area is home to a raft of Northern Ireland’s biggest firms. Standing at one corner of the development, you can spot three firms with a combined turnover well into 10 figures. That includes Devenish Nutrition. In the last year, aside from the accolades bestowed on boss Owen Brennan – including an OBE and a lifetime achievement gong at the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards – the company has grown turnover by 20% to hit £227.2m, while pre-tax profits have increased to £1.66m. Among those making the list for the first time in 2019 are construction firm Henry Brothers, Actavo (Northern Ireland), McBurney Transport and TW Scott & Sons. Another huge success story in this year’s list, and a business which has not only joined it but surged to 69, is Thompson Aero Seating.

The Portadown firm, which produces top end aircraft seats, has increased its sales to £105m – up 90% from £55m a year earlier. Burgeoning giants of technology, such as Kainos and First Derivatives have increased their positions once again, but traditional industries are also seeing sales rise. The three largest car dealers in Northern Ireland – Charles Hurst, Donnelly Group and Issac Agnew – have each seen their sales rising, year-on-year. Meanwhile, food giants such as Dale Farm, Foyle Food Group, Lacpatrick and Linden Foods have also enjoyed turnover growth in the last year. Our analyst Jonathan Cushley delves into the details further on in the magazine and breaks down the key numbers, figures and metrics. It paints another extremely interesting picture of Northern Ireland’s diverse and evolving business landscape and you can clearly see – while stalwarts of industry remain in growth mode – the raft of firms within life sciences, technology and other emerging industries are beginning to rise up the list with burgeoning turnover. ■


ECONOMY

Brexit deadlock likely to continue hit on NI firms The latest report from Danske Bank paints another mixed picture for the Northern Ireland economy and expects to see a further extension of the Article 50 withdrawal process

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rexit deadlock will continue to hit Northern Ireland’s private sector and a further extension of the withdrawal from the EU is now the most likely outcome, it has been claimed.

“Once again, Brexit and political uncertainty unable to come to an agreement to restore remain the two biggest risks to economic the devolved institutions, with a number of growth in Northern Ireland,” Conor key issues still unresolved. There is also a Lambe, Danske Bank chief possibility that these talks could be economist said. “If the UK put on hold over the summer. Government was to pursue a Until an agreement is reached, The latest Northern Ireland Quarterly Sectoral ‘no deal’ Brexit it would likely the political stalemate will Forecasts report from Danske Bank says the face hefty parliamentary continue to act as a drag The slowing growth economy will grow by 1% this year – rising to opposition but while it is an on business investment and 1.3% in 2020, remaining unchanged from unlikely outcome, consumer confidence.” in job creation by previous forecasts leaving without 2020 a deal still Across the outlook, Mr Lambe But while jobs growth is predicted remains a said that “consumer spending is at 1.3% this year, the report possibility. projected to pick up, boosted by rising Predicted expects this to fall to just 0.5% wages and a moderation of inflationary economic growth in 2020. “Between now and October, pressures… but Brexit-related uncertainty in NI during time constraints alone make is likely to continue to drag on business 2019 Looking at the economy by sectors, a renegotiation of the current investment and the slower pace of global services output fell over the quarter, deal very difficult and the EU has economic growth is expected to weigh on and while production activity increased, the made clear that it does not want to exports.” bank says it “was likely related to stockpiling in renegotiate the draft withdrawal agreement. anticipation of the original Brexit deadline”. Given the lack of a clear way forward, we “However, two positives from the first quarter think a further extension of the Article 50 of the year are that local consumer confidence The report says information and process appears to be, just about, the most levels increased and jobs growth remained communication, administration and support, likely outcome at this stage. strong. As a result of the strong employment along with professional services, are expected data, we have revised our forecast for jobs to be the fastest growing industries over the “Despite the start of a new talks process growth up to 1.3% in 2019 but then expect it next two years. in May, the local political parties have been to slow to 0.5% in 2020.” ■

1%

26

0.5%


SURVEY

Fewer manufacturers hiring as Brexit bites T

he number of Northern Ireland manufacturers hiring new staff has halved in the last year as an increasing number of firms say Brexit uncertainty remains the biggest issue affecting business.

That’s according to the latest survey from Manufacturing NI and law firm Tughans, which shows that 76% of respondents cite Brexit uncertainty as the main business issue they face – up from 67% in December 2018. However, since the last survey in December last year, the number of manufacturers who are hiring new staff has halved, from 89% to just 47% during May and June this year, when the latest research was carried out. “Brexit continues to be a major issue with 60% of respondents believing it will have a negative impact on business,” the report says. “This is our third survey alongside Tughans and we are now clearly seeing trends develop,” Stephen Kelly, chief executive, Manufacturing NI, said.

Stephen Kelly, Manufacturing NI with Maureen Treacy, Perceptive Insight and James Donnelly, Tughans

the potential crash out in March 2019. With the next deadline of October 31, at a time when storage is already under stress as retailers stock up for Christmas, we will have significant challenges to try to continue business as usual,” Mr Kelly said.

“Of concern is that confidence is declining due to political uncertainty, particularly in regard to the UK’s exit from the EU.”

transportation expenses”.

James Donnelly, head of corporate, Tughans, said while “not quite so positive as the December 2018 survey, the survey findings indicate that most manufacturing businesses The companies which locally are remaining cite Brexit as their optimistic”.

76%

“Indeed, now 60% of firms believe Brexit will have a main concern negative impact on their Two thirds of those surveyed described business up from 41% “This is encouraging despite their business as being in a this time last year. The the ongoing challenges presented position of growth, while costs of doing business by political uncertainty, the rising 47% said they expected that are rising significantly too cost of doing business and the shortage of growth to continue in the with three quarters of firms appropriate skills,” he said. next 12 months, and 87% feeling the impact of rising The number of firms described their companies as energy cost and four out of “While the sector has embraced a stoical recruiting staff in having realised profits in the five seeing transportation approach of just getting on with it, there is no the last year last year. costs rising.” doubt that if our local politicians could resolve the impasse that the local economy would “For the first time, the degree of “The rising costs of doing business benefit hugely.” stockpiling by manufacturers has been continue to be challenging with 75% revealed with almost half of firms saying experiencing increased energy costs,” the The Manufacturing NI and Tughans they’ve invested significant sums of working report said, while “94% reporting increased manufacturing survey was carried out in May/ capital in an effort to insulate them from labour costs and 81% accounting rises in June 2019 by Perceptive Insight. ■

47%

28


CEO SURVEY

Embrace the fast fail culture to smooth the path to success

John Hansen, partner in charge of KPMG in Northern Ireland and Angela McGowan, director CBI Northern Ireland

The KPMG Global CEO Outlook shows Northern Ireland leaders are embracing the ‘fast fail’ culture to hone innovative edge

N

orthern Ireland’s company bosses are leading the way when it comes to embracing the ‘fast fail’ culture in an effort to make their companies as innovative as possible, according to the Northern Ireland edition of the KPMG Global CEO Outlook.

It found that the majority of Northern Ireland CEOs (chief executives) it surveyed want their employees to feel empowered to innovate without worrying about negative consequences if the initiative fails, higher than the result returned from their global peers. That culture is also more embedded in Northern Ireland

30

with most CEOs surveyed reporting that their companies have a culture in which ‘fastfailing’ unsuccessful innovation initiatives are celebrated, significantly higher than the global survey. It is an attitude which will help companies sharpen their innovative edge, said John Hansen, partner in charge of KPMG in Northern Ireland. “Successful CEOs know they need their companies to be as innovative as possible and it’s clear that the right environment is being created in Northern Ireland to do just that. Our

leaders aren’t afraid to give their teams the scope to try new ideas which may have a risk of failure and that opens up a world of potential. “This level of freedom will no doubt make sure that Northern Ireland companies are at the cutting edge of innovation in the years to come.” The survey also revealed a group of Northern Ireland leaders exploring new markets, tackling disruption head on and ensuring their businesses are resilient enough to deal with cyber threat by investing in technology and talent.


CEO SURVEY

SHARPENING THE INNOVATIVE EDGE CEOs who want their employees to feel empowered to innovate NI 92% Globally 84% CEOs who run companies where a culture of ‘fast failing’ is celebrated NI 84% Globally 56% CEOs who say they need to improve their innovation processes and execution NI 92% Globally 62% The majority of those surveyed in Northern Ireland agree or strongly agree that they need to improve their innovation processes and execution, a sharp increase on last year’s report and more than the global average. Meanwhile, two thirds of Northern Ireland CEOs said they are transforming their leadership team to build resilience. EXPLORING NEW MARKETS CEOs exploring emerging markets to grow their exports NI 84% Globally 63% CEOs who see Brexit as the greatest threat to growth NI 67% Globally 44% To achieve growth, emerging markets are likely to play a big part in exporting with most of those surveyed planning to target less developed economies, higher than the global average and an increase on last year’s report where 68% of Northern Ireland leaders said they were looking to emerging markets. TECHNOLOGICAL RESILIENCE IS KEY CEOs who believe in a strong cyber security strategy to build trust with stakeholders NI 72% Globally 68% CEOs who have implemented implemented artificial intelligence (AI) in automating their processes NI 12% Globally 16%

AUGUST 2019

The CBI Perspective By Angela McGowan, CBI director, Northern Ireland KPMG’s 2019 Global CEO Outlook gives business leaders some great insights into what is on the radar for chief executives across the globe and raises some important and interesting ideas around what leaders should doing to maintain competitive advantage despite the uncertainty. When global leaders were asked by KPMG to name the big-ticket risks on the horizon, they identified climate change, disruptive technology and economic nationalism. It is interesting that while Brexit risk dominates locally, it is not relevant in the Global CEO outlook. Indeed, it is environmental and climate change that tops the international risk agenda. A global economic slowdown is also a cause for concern and so too is the threat to traditional business models from disruptive technologies.

In 2019, a majority of Northern Ireland CEOs say that a strong cyber strategy is critical to build trust with key stakeholders, up sharply from 16% in 2018. When it comes to automation, only a small fraction of Northern Ireland CEOs have implemented artificial intelligence in automating some of their processes.

So how do global leaders plan to maintain company growth and competitiveness with unpredictable and fast changing risks? It appears that in 2019 the key to success will be a combination of: agility; utilising disruptive technology; transformation of operating models; resilience; skills and customer focus. We see that agile CEOs now need to expand their senior management team and enhance the skills of their workforce. In 2019, agile leaders will increasingly support their organisations to use artificial intelligence (AI) to unearth insights from the vast amounts of data that the company has traditionally stored. This will allow for faster and better decision-making and help to ramp up company performance.

The report also revealed that Northern Ireland’s leaders continue to lead the way when it comes to disruption. Most said they are actively disrupting the sectors within which they operate, rather than waiting to be disrupted, compared to just two thirds on a global basis. Although still strong, the reading is slightly lower than last year’s at 92%.

PERSONAL AGILITY AND RESILIENCE ALSO PLAYS A PART CEOs who believe the need to be agile has increased NI 84% Globally 67%

ECONOMIC CONFIDENCE CEOs who expect top line revenue growth over the next three years NI 100% Globally 100%

CEOs who had a significant misstep in their early career they were able to overcome NI 56% Globally 74%

CEOs who expect to increase headcount in the next three years of more than 5% NI 4% Globally 36%

A majority of Northern Ireland CEOs say that, with an average CEO tenure of five years, the need to act with agility has increased.

All of those surveyed expect top line revenue growth over the next three years. There was a similar robust showing from headcount expectations with all those surveyed expecting to increase employee number over the next three years, although only a small fraction in NI see it increasing by more than 5% compared to around one third globally. ■

KEEPING AHEAD OF DISRUPTION CEOs whose companies are actively disrupting NI 84% Globally 63%

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Chris Ritchie, a Litigation and Dispute Resolution partner at law firm Arthur Cox, explains why the reform of Northern Ireland’s defamation laws will be one of the growing number of items on the intray of any future Northern Ireland Executive

Reform of defamation laws still on agenda for future Executive

T

he deadlock at Stormont has resulted in a backlog of political decision making that has gained widespread media and public attention, particularly around planning for major infrastructure projects.

However, a less-publicised matter that will be on the agenda of future devolved government ministers will be considering whether to address the disparity of defamation laws that currently exists between the legal jurisdiction of Northern Ireland and that of England and Wales. The divergence occurred when England and Wales adopted The Defamation Act 2013, which was not subsequently extended to Northern Ireland.

both jurisdictions in relation to defamation proceedings. Recently, this has included advising multinational corporations, particularly those with a strong internet presence, on how they should safeguard against the risks posed by legislative differences between Northern Ireland, and England and Wales. A consultation launched by the Northern Ireland Law Commission (NILC) in 2014 sought to determine whether the defamation reforms introduced in England and Wales should be extended to Northern Ireland, thereby removing the disparity between the two jurisdictions.

The Act brought forward several notable reforms, in a bid to prevent trivial cases arriving in court, including an obligation on claimants to prove ‘serious harm’ before suing.

It was just one of many proposals for local law reform made by the now defunct NILC over the course of its existence. Speaking in 2012, the body’s then chairman Mr Justice Bernard McCloskey emphasised that such stated proposed reforms must “not be allowed to gather dust in the corridors of Stormont”.

A new defence of public interest was introduced, as was another that sought to offer additional protection to operators of online platforms, particularly those that include user-generated content, by allowing those operators to show they are not responsible for defamatory statements published by users on their platform.

Unfortunately, that is effectively what has happened to a subsequent report on defamation reform. It broadly recommended Northern Ireland should adopt measures equivalent to those introduced in England and Wales and was presented to the then Finance Minister, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who promised to take it into consideration.

Over the course of many years, Arthur Cox has advised individuals and organisations in

But within months of this, the Executive collapsed. As a result the laws in the two

32

jurisdictions remain diverged. It is always unfortunate when the law in one area of the UK differs from that of other regions, particularly when there has been a consolidation enacted in another area to codify the relevant provisions in one place rather than (as is currently the case in NI) dotted in various enactments, some of quite some vintage. This renders the law in this jurisdiction more and more arcane and increasingly the standard textbooks on defamation (published in England and Wales) become less relevant and reliable. The obvious solution would be for a new Executive (if and when appointed) to approve the extension of the Defamation Act 2013 to Northern Ireland but given the volume of documentation in that particular in tray, the dust on this proposal seems likely to accumulate for some time yet. With expertise and knowledge of both jurisdictions, the litigation team at Arthur Cox is ideally placed to advise on cases under the existing law in Northern Ireland while also being fully prepared should a future Northern Ireland Executive move forward with defamation law reform. ■ The Litigation and Dispute Resolution team at Arthur Cox can advise on all matters relating to defamation proceedings for both claimants and defendants. Please call 028 9023 0007 for further information from Chris or your regular Arthur Cox contact.


ACCOUNTANCY

Steven Carson, Jane Fyffe, Olivia Crowshaw, Joan Rice, Nora Tallon, David McAteer, Pamela Belshaw

Harbinson Mulholland team growing stronger as firm celebrates 21 years

T

here’s power in numbers. Harbinson Mulholland is a firm of 50, which is now led by six partners, in business since 1998.

Having recently celebrated its milestone 21st birthday, the partners announced a number of promotions across several departments. Joan Rice is now a director in corporate recovery and insolvency while Pamela Belshaw becomes assistant manager. Nora Tallon has now become a director in the forensic accounting personal injury team, while Steven Carson has been appointed to senior manager in tax, and the audit and advisory team has been strengthened by the promotion of Jane Fyffe, David McAteer and Olivia Crowshaw to managers. The team will be expanding in the coming

AUGUST 2019

months with a number of new graduate accounting trainees. Speaking about the latest promotions, partner Angela Craigan said that “the partners are delighted to celebrate our 21st year with the announcement of several promotions”. “The breadth of experience within the firm continues to grow from strength to strength. We would like to congratulate them all and thank them for their hard work and dedication to the firm. Our strong management team enables us to continue to offer excellent, professional and caring client service across our various service lines”. Earlier this year, Harbinson Mulholland launched its HM Homegrown initiative in partnership with Ulster University, aiming to shine a spotlight on Northern Ireland’s SME sector and their contribution to the economy.

Following a celebration lunch in Titanic Belfast and a special supplement in Ulster Business, the firm will be progressing with the Homegrown campaign throughout this year and in 2020. In addition, Harbinson Mulholland is also behind the NI Family Business Forum, creating a series of events for family businesses over the last three years helping them to connect share and learn from each other. The programme for the autumn and winter events will be launched in the next few weeks. ■ For more information on Harbinson Mulholland, the HM Homegrown Campaign or the NI Family Business Forum please visit harbinson-mulholland.com or to be notified of new events please email Treena Clarke at tclarke@harbinson-mulholland.com

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ANALYSIS

The changing face of the Top 100 The Ulster Business Top 100 listing is a great barometer on the changing face of our economy, writes Adrian Doran, NI head of corporate banking at Barclays with their further education colleges, to provide targeted training to produce the skilled workers they need.

A

decade ago back in 2009, we were in the grip of a global recession and growth was hard to come by. Fast forward to 2019 and many sectors are experiencing significant growth, none more so than the technology and manufacturing sectors.

Looking ahead to the future shape of the Top 100, one of the key challenges will be workforce planning and avoiding ‘brain drain’. As well as providing more capacity in our universities, we need to get better at inspiring our young people about the great businesses and careers available in Northern Ireland.

Featuring in 2009’s list, companies such as Kainos and First Derivatives are now well on their way to becoming £1bn market cap businesses – a remarkable achievement for such relatively young companies. Likewise, we have seen a number of new IPOs for remarkable biotech companies, such as Diaceutics and Fusion Antibodies, which also look well set for exponential growth.

Earlier this year, Barclays undertook a major piece of research on our local manufacturing sector, which revealed that the sector suffers from a huge image problem with Generation Z – our 16-to 25-year old future employees.

At our Barclays Eagle Lab business incubator in Ormeau Baths, we see first-hand that Northern Ireland has a rich vein of start-up technology companies. This sector appears to have a sustainable bright future, and we look forward to seeing some of these exciting newcomers featuring in the Top 100 before too long.

As we head rapidly towards 2020, the imminent launch of 5G is something to get excited about. Barclays research shows that the Northern Ireland economy will be a particular beneficiary of this new technology, which will help unlock productivity gains in manufacturing and technology businesses through huge advances in AI and automation.

Looking at the list’s manufacturing businesses, this sector is also undergoing something of a ‘changing of the guard’. The growth of Mid Ulster’s cluster of heavy manufacturing and engineering businesses has been well documented, and this region has recently topped HMRC’s table for ‘most innovative’, based on its R&D activity.

The changing face of the Top 100 is increasingly influencing the banking market here. We have seen our own digital banking platform becoming an important differentiator, with local companies demanding advanced banking technology to make their lives easier. Likewise, NI exporters are increasingly requiring access to the global network and industry knowledge that an international bank can offer.

The main thing that could impede this sector’s continued growth is the lack of skilled workers, a constant headache for local chief executives. We’re now seeing innovative clusters of firms forging close partnerships

The past decade has been period of significant growth for Barclays in Northern Ireland, and we stand ready to support the growth of our leading companies as our economy continues to evolve. ■

34


IN FOCUS

Andr

The Co Armagh manufacturer doubling turnover with bigger plans for growth Ulster Business editor John Mulgrew sits down with Thompson Aero Seating chief executive Andres Budo to discuss doubling sales in the space of a year, expanding its headcount to 1,700 and starting work on a new 350,000 sq ft top-end production facility 36

A

ndres Budo has only been in the job at the helm of Thompson Aero Seating since January, but in those few months he’s been able to share some impressive news about the ongoing success of the aircraft seat maker. The firm, which produces business and first


IN FOCUS

One of the key successes to the company is we have a very good product which is very well recognised in the industry

“We work with some of the larger airlines in the industry, such as Lufthansa, Delta and Latam. We have provided seats to about 20 to 23 airlines, which is quite a significant portfolio. “Typically, they are repeat customers, meaning when they go through a retro-fit or line-fit, they typically come back to us for additional business… this year we are projected to break the £220m mark.”

res Budo (second from left) and senior members of the production team

class seating for airline giants such as Delta and Lufthansa, is on course to double its turnover to more than £220m, grow its workforce to between 1,600 and 1,700 by the end of the year, and also break ground on a new 350,000 sq ft production facility which would rationalise the current five sites in one new space.

support us. They will have the ability to land on our industrial park.” And speaking about the story behind the growth in sales, he says: “First of all, it’s a team effort. As a chief executive you set the direction of the company but you need a very strong team to execute that, and that is what we are putting in with Thompson. I think the company grew too fast, and too quick without allowing the system to grow at the same pace, but we are putting together a very fast team to deliver in 2019 and in to 2020.” Andres says the company is focusing in the Asia-Pacific markets for fresh growth opportunities. “… 41% of the growth is coming from that area,” he says.

I speak to Andres in the firm’s boardroom at its main base in Portadown, a few feet away from one of the firm’s business class seats on display – and where he was sitting just a few moments ago for his Top 100 profile, which is featured further on in the magazine.

“We have a first in many categories in terms of offering types of features. It relates to the features on the product, the low cost of maintenance on the product. There is a lot of ingenuity, and we have a fantastic design team. Those are the guys coming up with the ideas that are making it attractive for the industry.

The firm has jumped up to join this year’s Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list, with turnover rising from £55m to £105m in the space of one year, bringing the firm in at number 69.

“Coming from a company as large as Airbus, there are policies and procedures in place to support even a couple of percentage points of growth, and here we are talking about 86% between 2018 and 2019.

“One of the key successes to the company is we have a very good product which is very well recognised in the industry,” the former Airbus man says. “Part of the element of the success is the ability to remain quite flexible, with reasonably short lead times for the product.

“I’m quite encouraged about the level of commitment from the workforce and talent we are able to hire externally to help growth.”

“We are reaching the limits of what we can do industrially. We will have around 1,600 to 1,700 employees by the end of the year, roughly. This is basically extracting every benefit we have from the current facilities.

“It’s definitely challenging, and it’s not easy. But one of the things we are developing is a training centre specifically for the needs of Thompson.

But, as with many specialised manufacturers here, it’s having to address a shortage of skilled workers with its own in-house training.

“Currently, Thompson Aero employs about 1,500 people. This year we are going to have a record sales year – 2018 represents an 86% increase in throughput,” he said.

“In 2021, we are going to be moving to a new facility in Portadown, which is a consolidation of the five facilities we currently operate.

“We have the ability to hire people who are not completely coming from the aerospace industry, but through a four or five week period during training we get them closer to what we need internally.”

“It’s very challenging in any kind of industry to achieve that and 2018 was quite challenging for us, and we had to see a 30% increase over 2017 (in seat sales).”

“We are going to have additional internal capabilities. That will be roughly 350,000 sq ft with the possibility of having an industrial park where key suppliers can set up to

It’s progressing quickly with its expansion into its new proposed site, with planning expected by September and work hopefully due to start by the end of the year. ■

AUGUST 2019

37


TOP 100

Sales surge for Top 100 companies Risk management consultant Jonathan Cushley breaks down the key numbers and metrics, in conjunction with Dun & Bradstreet, in the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2019 and discovers some interesting trends and success stories

T

REVENUE/SALES Sales revenue is the income received by a company from its sales of goods or the provision of services.

Now in its 31st year, the region’s longest established listing of company performance provides insight on the accomplishments of Northern Ireland based companies, either Northern Ireland registered or where a significant proportion of their business is transacted in the province.

The performance of the Top 100 showing a 9.4% sales growth to £24.8bn is exceptional in what is a difficult trading environment and period of uncertainty for the provinces businesses. The Brexit question came to the fore on June 23, 2016 so all the financial figures shown in the listing have come post the referendum and in essence since the suspension of the Assembly in January 2017.

he latest Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list shows that the largest and leading businesses here saw sales rise by 9.4% in the last year – rising to £24.8bn of combined turnover.

The 2019 edition of the Top 100 incorporates analysis of figures filed at each companies year end and posted at Companies House and primarily relate to financial periods ending in late 2017, 2018 and 2019. SUMMARY Sales have grown to £24.8bn from £22.6bn (year-on-year comparison) which is a growth of 9.4%. While extremely encouraging this result needs to be tempered with the fact that profits for the top companies decreased by nearly 15% to £894.7m. Shareholder value for the Top 100 companies increased by 11.8%.

John Graham Holdings Ltd, which trades as Graham, is another privately owned company based in Hillsborough and specialising in building and civil engineering projects – Graham posted annual sales of £767.6m in its latest financial accounts up from £565.9m – an

Top 100 sales (£bn) 25 24.5 24 23.5 23 22.5 22 21.5 21 20.5 2014

38

Moy Park continues to hold sway with the highest turnover, currently £1.5bn, up from £1.4bn previously – snapping close at their heels is W&R Barnett Ltd (£1.23bn up from £1.11bn). Next in the listing are a number of high fliers, LCC Group Ltd and John Graham Holdings Ltd.

2015

2016

2017

2018


TOP 100 TOP 10 MOST PROFITABLE COMPANIES Rank

Company

Profits (m)

Profit margin (%)

Top 100 rank

1

Northern Ireland Water Ltd

94.5

21.9

16

2

Northern Ireland Electricity Networks Ltd

68

24.7

28

3

Moy Park Ltd

64.5

4.3

1

4

W&R Barnett Ltd

51.6

4.2

2

5

Schrader Electronics Ltd

50.4

15.1

22

6

Terex GB Ltd

45.9

14.3

24

7

Norbrook Holdings Ltd

45.1

16.4

30

8

Encirc Ltd

36.6

12.8

26

9

Power NI Energy Ltd

34.4

7.5

14

10

Almac Group Ltd

27.6

5

9

increase of some 35.6% year on year.

Ian Greer, Queen’s University

One of the perennial high performers of the Top 100 showed a significant decrease in sales dropping it from a position last year of 24 to a position this year of 54. Fane Valley Co-Operative‘s sales decreased from £314m to £135.8m – this is a result of their change in ownership of Linden Foods. Linden Foods is now a joint venture and has entered the list at number 40 with sales of £206.7m. Another indicator of strong performance within the listing is that turnover figure required to gain access to the Ulster Business Top 100 is at its highest ever, with Heron Bros Ltd posting year end sales results for 28/02/18 of £74.6m. Last year’s number 100 was Cranswick Country Foods (Ballymena) with sales of £63.9m. This represents a rise in sales required of 16.7%, to make the Top 100. Cranswick Country Foods (Ballymena) has risen

to 80 in the listing posting impressive sales growth of 45%. PROFITABILITY Since the Ulster Business Top 100’s inception in 1988, we have identified the top companies

Top 100 profit (£m) 1400

by measuring turnover, while also accepting that both profitability and tangible shareholder value are also key measures of performance. This year has seen a drop in profit margin for the Top 100 companies from a margin of 4.6% to 3.6% with total profits now sitting at £894.7m compared to £1.05bn for the corresponding companies in their prior year. Northern Ireland Water Ltd has retained its position as the most profitable business within the listing, posting pre tax profits of £94.5m on a turnover of £431.7m a margin of 21.9%. Northern Ireland Electricity Networks Ltd is second most profitable with pre tax figures of £68m against a turnover of £275.8m (24.7%).

1200 1000 800 600 400 200 0 2014

AUGUST 2019

2015

2016

2017

2018

While the reduction in profitability of the Top 100 is disappointing this can be tempered by the fact that a number of the companies made significant losses during the last filed figures

39


TOP 100 recorded for the compilation of the listing. Short Bros PLC after currency adjustments filed losses of £39.2m, Caterpillar (NI) Ltd posted losses of £20.9m, Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (the parent of Northern Ireland Railways, Ulsterbus and Metro (formerly Citybus)) filed losses of £13.3m, EP Kilroot Power losses of £92m and Dunnes Stores Bangor Ltd losses of £23m. The level of losses across the Top 100 listing is unprecedented with the 12 companies that posted losses amounting to £213.4m. TANGIBLE NET WORTH Tangible net worth is most commonly a calculation of the net worth of a company that excludes any value derived from intangible assets such as copyrights, patents, goodwill and intellectual property. Tangible net worth is a simple calculation of a company’s total

Nick Coburn, Ulster Carpets

tangible assets minus the company’s total liabilities.

Top 100 shareholder value (£m)

A business’s tangible net worth provides a snapshot of your financial situation at this point in time. The current tangible net worth of the Ulster Business Top 100 currently sits at £7.4bn – as the Top 100 listing is fluid with companies entering and leaving the list any comparison with previous listing can be distorted, however compared to the 2018 listing tangible net worth has increased by £800m.

8000 7000 6000 5000 4000

Six of the companies within the Top 100 have liabilities that outweigh their assets.

3000 2000 1000 0 2014

2015

2016

15.00%

2017

2018

Location

The higher the shareholder value, the better it is for the company and management.

Belfast

The shareholders return for the Ulster Business Top 100 equates to profit/tangible net worth and as a percentage sits at 12%

31.00% Co Armagh

9.00%

Increasing the tangible net worth/ shareholder value is of prime importance for the management of a company. So the management must have the interests of shareholders in mind while making decisions.

Co Antrim Co Down

3.00%

Co Fermanagh Co L’Derry Co Tyrone

11.00%

The sales to equity ratio defined as turnover/ tangible net worth provides an indicator of how much money are generated by the business with each pound invested, for the current Top 100 this amounts to 3.34.

10.00%

21.00%

40

EMPLOYEES A total of 85,774 people are employed by Northern Ireland’s Top 100 Companies, a


TOP 100 TOP 10 MOST VALUABLE COMPANIES Rank

Company

Tangible net worth (£m)

Top 100 rank

1

Northern Ireland Water Ltd

1,339.6

15

2

Queen’s University

565.7

20

3

Northern Ireland Electricity Networks Ltd

352.4

28

4

Encirc Ltd

338.4

26

5

Ulster University

308.7

39

6

W&R Barnett Ltd

299.9

2

7

Moy Park Ltd

291.4

1

8

Almac Group Ltd

285.7

9

9

Schrader Electronics Ltd

223.5

22

10

Donnelly Bros Garages (Dungannon) Ltd

179.1

23

decrease from 91,600 employed by the companies in the 2018 listing. Moy Park Ltd (8,473), Almac Group (4,798), Short Brothers PLC (4,071), Queen’s University (3,949), and Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company (3,821) make up the top five employers within the listing. Each employee within the Top 100 accounted for £288,650 turnover – sales/employee and accounted for £10,432 profit – profit/ employee. LOCATION Since the inception of the Top 100 we have periodically looked at the geographic location of the companies within Northern Ireland – historically the east of the province has held sway over the west – however, we are beginning to see a shift with currently 63

businesses based in Belfast, Co Antrim and Co Down, with Co Tyrone being a major recipient of Top 100 activity. BREAKING DOWN THE SECTORS As would be expected when looking at the line of business/activity of the Top 100, both the wholesale/retail and manufacturing sectors dominate, accounting for some 68 of the companies. NOTES A date of the June 24, 2019 has been used as the cut-off for the filing of accounts for the inclusion in this year’s Ulster Business Top 100. The listing has been compiled by using a combination of data sourced from both Dun & Bradstreet’s information database and Companies House.

1.92%

Industry Sector

1. Short Brothers files in dollars, while KN Networks Ltd and Lakeland Dairies Ltd files in euros. To allow for fair comparison their financial results have been amended to reflect the currency value at their financial year-end. 2. Isaac Agnew Ltd and Agnew Commercials Ltd have differing parent companies and are treated separately. 3. James E McCabe Ltd & Philip Russell Ltd are both owned by Golf Holdings Ltd, a company registered in Northern Ireland. Golf Holdings Ltd does not file a consolidated turnover figure. 4. Musgrave Retail Partners Ltd and Musgrave Distribution Ltd are both subsidiaries of Musgrave Investments Ltd, a company registered in Northern Ireland. Musgrave Investments Ltd does not file a consolidated turnover figure. Ultimate ownership resides with Musgrave Group Ltd, a company registered in the Republic of Ireland.

Manufacturing Construction

8.65% 29.81%

6.73%

Whl & Retail Energy Transport/Logistics Services

8.65%

Education

8.65% 35.58%

AUGUST 2019

5. Both Dunbia Ltd and CIMC Vehicles UK Ltd have both filed accounts for a nine month fiscal period, no adjustments have been made. EP Kilroot Ltd and EP Ballylumford Ltd are separate legal entities, on 12/06/19 EP UK Investments Ltd, a UK registered company was listed as “a person of significant control” for both businesses. 6. Charts and comparisons made within the Top 100 for benchmarking purposes can due to the fluid nature of the listing include results for companies which no longer appear.

41


TOP 1OO NORTHERN IRELAND COMPANIES 2019

Profiles by John Mulgrew Photography by Elaine Hill/Press Eye

Sponsored by


TOP 1OO Rank

Rank

Company

2019

2018

Activity

1

1

2

2

3

3

4

5

5

6

6

4

7

7

8

8

9

9

10

12

11

10

12

11

13

13

14

15

15

14

16

16

17

18

18

22

19

19

20

21

Moy Park Ltd Poultry processing

W & R Barnett Ltd Grain importer

LCC Group Fuel wholesaler

John Graham Construction

John Henderson (Holdings) Ltd Food wholesale and retail

Dunbia Ltd Meat processor

Short Brothers (Bombardier) Aerospace

Ballyvesey Holdings Ltd Commercial vehicles

Almac Group Ltd Pharmaceutical manufacturer

SHS Group Ltd Wholesaler

Dale Farm Ltd Dairy processor

Charles Hurst Ltd Motor retailer

McLaughlin & Harvey Construction

Power NI Energy Ltd Electricity supplier

Caterpillar (NI) Ltd Generator manufacturers

Northern Ireland Water Ltd Utility

P & O Ferrymasters Ltd Freight transporters

McAleer & Rushe Contracts UK Ltd Construction

Northstone (NI) Ltd Building materials

Queen’s University University

1-20 Year ending

Turnover £000s Latest sales

Previous sales

Profit/Loss

Prev profit Net worth

£000s

£000s

£000s

31/12/2017

1,506,485 1,400,717

64,531

59,709

291,379

31/07/2018

1,231,621 1,113,398

51,615

46,832

299,883

30/09/2017

852,807

584,707

19,863

20,815

114,444

31/03/2018

767,636

565,921

13,117

16,056

56,224

31/12/2017

759,066

699,321

20,040

20,346

149,328

31/12/2017

676,626

768,259

7,208

11,779

130,793

31/12/2017

650,693

644,962

-39,186

56,458

-33,687

30/09/2017

609,592

621,351

4,412

6,895

114,634

30/09/2018

548,887

531,421,

27,611

33,031

285,652

29/12/2017

545,697

467,715

24,448

24,812

69,591

31/03/2018

482,375

388,920

12,071

9,768

61,047

31/12/2017

478,985

455,954

7,028

7,726

63,822

31/12/2017

465,789

427,095

11,068

5,537

46,771

31/03/2018

461,400

445,800

34,400

30,900

83,900

31/12/2017

445,716

455,268

-20,935

10,098

159,446

31/03/2018

431,772

422,412

94,478

102,912

1,339,558

31/12/2017

409,552

377,816

3,076

-827

3,309

31/12/2018

395,167

334,072

16,777

13,386

44,828

31/12/2017

375,226

374,983

-231

4,342

85,926

31/07/2018

358,197

338,349

22,132

13,031

565,755

Data provided by Dun & Bradstreet T: 0800 001 234

44


21-40 Rank

Rank

Company

2019

2018

Activity

21

25

22

20

23

23

24

17

25

26

26

28

27

34

28

30

29

40

30

27

31

31

32

36

33

53

34

29

35

42

36

45

37

38

38

34

39

39

40

-

Foyle Food Group Holdings Ltd Meat processor

Schrader Electronics Ltd Tyre pressure gauge manufacturer

Donnelly Bros Garages (Dungannon) Ltd Motor retailer

Terex GB Ltd Engineering

Isaac Agnew Ltd Motor retailer

Encirc Ltd Glass manufacturer

Nicholl Oils Fuel distributor

NI Electricity Networks Ltd Electricity generation

Kn Networks Group Ltd Infrastructure

Norbrook Holdings Ltd Pharmaceutical manufacturer

Musgrave Retail Partners NI Ltd Food wholesaler

FP McCann Group Ltd Concrete engineers

Energia Customer Solutions NI Ltd Electricity utility

Wrightbus (Cornerstone Group) Bus manufacturer

Devenish NI Animal nutrition manufacturer

Lacpatrick Dairies (NI) Ltd Dairy processor

Northern Ireland Transport Holding Co Public transport

Greenfields Ireland Holdings Ltd Dairy produce wholesaler

Ulster University University

Linden Foods Ltd Food producer

Year ending

Turnover £000s Latest sales

Previous sales

Profit/Loss

Prev profit Net worth

£000s

£000s

£000s

31/12/2017

351,998

306,103

3,953

4,106

20,008

31/12/2017

333,566

339,839

50,374

56,322

223,470

31/12/2017

330,765

277,036

1,891

1,884

179,121

31/12/2017

320,072

394,982

45,897

28,272

-376

31/12/2017

291,513

282,158

6,323

6,284

7,256

31/12/2017

285,582

265,889

36,613

-3,102

338,371

31/05/2018

283,108

231,556

1,211

931

71,174

31/12/2018

275,800

261,100

68,000

52,800

352,400

28/02/2018

275,072

196,799

13,152

9,217

50,221

03/08/2018

275,052

271,961

45,056

49,238

145,157

30/12/2017

271,110

261,001

918

253

14,476

31/12/2018

255,026

215,798

17,898

19,470

158,187

31/03/2018

240,213

148,895

10,293

8,788

35,466

31/12/2017

227,157

264,386

-1,728

10,864

46,653

31/05/2018

224,627

186,796

1,660

1,520

11,111

31/12/2017

223,841

175,835

2,210

283

7,386

25/03/2018

220,509

205,235

-13,252

-673

-92,871

31/12/2018

216,153

242,290

257

592

3,924

31/07/2018

209,957

205,064

14,248

14,381

308,681

30/09/2018

206,705

199,327

1,508

19

18,408

Data provided by Dun & Bradstreet T: 0800 001 234

AUGUST 2019

45


TOP 1OO Rank

Rank

Company

2019

2018

Activity

41

37

42

-

43

55

44

44

45

50

46

48

47

43

48

46

49

52

50

54

51

51

52

69

53

59

54

24

55

78

56

58

57

52

58

60

59

47

60

-

SSE Airtricity Energy Supply NI Electricity generation

Trench Holdings Ltd Construction

Lakeland Dairies (NI) Ltd Dairy processor

Coca-Cola HBC NI Drinks manufacturer

Lamex Foods Europe NI Food distributor

Maxol Oil Ltd Fuel distributor

First Derivatives plc Financial services software

Tayto Group Snack manufacturer

DCC Energy Ltd Petroleum wholesaler

Ards Holdings Ltd (Gilbert Ash) Construction

Brett Martin Holdings Ltd Construction supplier

Kainos Group plc Digital services

SONI Electricity distributor

Fane Valley Co-Operative Society Dairy processor

A H Fuel Oils Fuel distributor

Westland Horticulture Ltd Horticulture

Coolkeeragh ESB Ltd Power generator

Lynas Foodservice Frozen food distributor

Chain Reaction Cycles Cycle retailer

CIMC Vehicles UK Ltd (SDC) Manufacturer

41-60 Year ending

Turnover £000s

Profit/Loss

Prev profit

Net worth

Latest sales

Previous sales

£000s

£000s

£000s

31/03/2018

205,571

206,418

6,876

17,696

32,632

31/12/2017

198,937

179,871

6,944

2,878

20,436

30/12/2017

198,820

145,076

224

-1,437

-9,166

31/12/2017

189,169

176,561

8,086

4,180

63,295

31/03/2018

188,699

153,374

3,417

2,193

11,095

31/12/2017

186,508

164,878

2,659

2,025

16,852

28/02/2018

186,042

151,697

12,097

12,498

-11,645

30/06/2018

185,276

173,982

704

1,866

57,824

31/03/2018

169,674

150,240

4,846

2,850

16,720

31/12/2017

165,547

148,003

2,079

1,401

11,220

31/12/2017

155,536

152,409

7,198

7,349

46,073

31/03/2019

151,294

96,680

21,125

14,251

48,167

30/09/2018

151,002

117,669

6,403

3,405

9,978

30/09/2018

135,793

314,013

11,578

8,967

85,411

31/12/2018

134,951

103,897

751

408

3,178

31/08/2018

132,407

130,512

6,204

5,010

39,768

31/12/2017

131,867

130,917

4,354

24,190

5,441

31/10/2017

131,551

115,909

1,823

1,858

10,565

31/12/2017

127,485

167,936

8,069

5,703

38,751

31/12/2017

122,578

133,139

1,887

447

3,012

Data provided by Dun & Bradstreet T: 0800 001 234

46


61-80 Rank

Rank

Company

2019

2018

Activity

61

63

62

82

63

62

64

77

65

66

66

-

67

74

68

62

69

-

70

65

71

64

72

68

73

85

74

73

75

-

76

96

77

75

78

72

79

71

80

100

EP Ballylumford Ltd Power station

Clearway Holdings Ltd Waste and scrap recycling

Stena Line Irish Sea Ferries Ltd Freight and passenger ferries

Allstate Northern Ireland Software development

Dunnes Stores (Bangor) Ltd Retailer

McCloskey International Ltd Engineering

Haldane Shiells and Company Ltd Building product distributor

EP Kilroot Ltd Power station

Thompson Aero Seating Ltd Aircraft seat manufacturer

Randox Holdings Ltd Pharmaceutical manufacturer

Capita Managed IT Solutions Ltd IT systems

Kingspan Water & Energy Ltd Building supplier

Gardrum Holdings Ltd Auctions

Agnew Commercials Ltd Commercial motor distributor

Ohmg (Holdings) Ltd Builder

Savage & Whitten Holdings Ltd Wholesaler

James E McCabe Ltd Drinks distributor

Mac-Interiors Ltd Fit-out

Musgrave Distribution Ltd Grocery wholesaler

Cranswick Country Foods (Ballymena) Meat processor

Year ending

Turnover £000s

Profit/Loss

Prev profit

Net worth

Latest sales

Previous sales

£000s

£000s

£000s

31/12/2017

122,245

103,821

15,667

4,810

85,449

31/12/2017

118,915

81,225

15,795

8,919

93,639

31/12/2017

116,026

106,930

23,444

19,346

55,059

31/12/2017

113,568

76,758

18,123

-5,809

45,464

29/12/2017

113,430

99,851

-23,047

-5,128

48,037

30/09/2018

111,847

69,109

8,860

2,681

26,253

31/12/2017

111,743

93,442

4,437

4,034

31,651

31/12/2017

107,259

112,179

-92,027

11,381

26,266

31/12/2017

105,087

55,132

10,664

4,525

47,891

31/12/2017

104,507

100,039

-11,192

12,331

32,488

31/12/2017

101,890

103,491

12,103

16,564

53,709

31/12/2017

100,488

98,081

4,435

6,141

40,850

31/12/2017

100,169

78,424

15,329

13,700

74,040

31/12/2017

99,194

93,706

4,739

3,710

7,835

31/12/2017

95,809

23,982

1,463

-2,428

7,924

31/12/2018

95,088

85,130

3,244

1,567

3,047

31/12/2017

94,795

92,671

2,923

2,545

48,408

31/12/2017

94,724

56,552

6,098

3,387

12,603

30/12/2017

93,298

94,751

-448

-262

286

31/03/2018

92,725

63,907

3,454

2,900

8,119

Data provided by Dun & Bradstreet T: 0800 001 234

AUGUST 2019

47


TOP 1OO Rank

Rank

Company

2019

2018

Activity

81

-

82

87

83

-

84

79

85

-

86

84

87

81

88

76

89

89

90

90

91

-

92

94

93

88

94

99

95

91

96

86

97

98

98

-

99

92

100

70

Actavo (Northern Ireland) Ltd Services

Severfield (NI) Ltd Engineering

Henry Group (NI) Ltd Construction

Macnaughton Blair Ltd Construction machine distributor

TW Scott & Sons (Fuels) Ltd Fuel distributor

Montupet (UK) Ltd Motor parts manufacturer

N & R Gordon Ltd Pharmacy

Firmus Energy Energy supplier

Balcas Timber Ltd Timber manufacturer

Agro Merchants Lurgan Transport Freight transport

McBurney Transport Group Ltd Freight

D&W Carlisle Ltd Trade and retailing

Philip Russell Ltd Drinks distributor

Strathroy Dairy Ltd Dairy processor

Ryobi Aluminium Casting (UK) Ltd Motor parts manufacturer

Magir Ltd Pharmacy

Ulster Carpet Mills (Holdings) Ltd Carpet manufacturer

Seatruck Ferries Ltd Ferries

McKibbin Holdings Ltd Holdings company

Heron Bros Ltd Construction

81-100 Year ending

Turnover £000s

Profit/Loss

Prev profit

Net worth

Latest sales

Previous sales

£000s

£000s

£000s

31/12/2017

92,018

44,563

4,839

2,979

8,582

31/03/2018

89,849

77,540

14,811

11,032

25,994

31/03/2019

88,560

81,830

2,540

1,675

19,916

31/12/2017

88,219

83,876

4,730

3,524

16,583

31/12/2018

87,339

56,048

650

34

2,440

31/12/2017

87,268

78,866

12,692

13,283

59,316

30/04/2018

86,940

81,333

5,882

5,166

9,315

31/12/2017

85,105

90,057

272

1,460

9,930

31/12/2017

84,738

76,290

2,295

-924

8,371

31/12/2017

83,178

75,593

359

2,042

15,258

31/12/2017

83,030

49,558

2,868

3,026

21,022

31/07/2018

80,323

72,920

-209

144

3,202

31/12/2017

77,643

77,407

2,061

1,585

17,039

31/07/2018

77,441

66,247

531

471

6,973

31/12/2017

76,866

75,187

-683

-4,163

18,177

31/08/2018

76,732

77,888

-10,494

890

-38,516

31/03/2018

76,284

68,403

10,702

6,717

52,303

31/12/2017

75,244

74,024

9,441

14,823

7,314

31/12/2017

74,723

82,013

1,522

1,197

3,932

28/02/2018

74,586

94,819

8,552

12,797

77,196

Data provided by Dun & Bradstreet T: 0800 001 234

48


TOP 100

Companies weathering an uncertain and tricky environment

Markus Kuger

50


TOP 100

Ulster Business has once again worked with global data and analytics company Dun & Bradstreet to bring you the Top 100. Its lead economist Markus Kuger examines the state of play here, the wider economic landscape and the road ahead

C

ontinuing negotiations around the UK’s departure from the EU, coupled with wider political turbulence is having an inevitable impact on business activity across all UK regions, not least Northern Ireland where the backstop issue continues to be debated.

Dun & Bradstreet’s latest UK country risk rating is set at ‘deteriorating’ and the latest UK-wide statistics from the Office for National Statistics showed the economy has expanded by just 0.3% in the three months to May. Although the economy is in better shape that initially expected, growth is sluggish and Dun & Bradstreet data indicated that sectors such retail and construction are seeing a rise in the number of business failures.

average of 49.2 points. Output in Northern Ireland’s private sector fell by the sharpest rate since November 2012 and for the fourth month running, outpacing all other 11 regions in the country.

of wholesale and manufacturing companies with a decrease in the number of financial and insurance organisations, and an increase in professional, scientific and technical activities between 2015 and 2018.

New order inflow contracted for the fifth month in a row with export orders dropping significantly. Simultaneously, employment levels also fell with the PMI sub-index reaching a very low 48.3 points.

Those on the listing are general wellestablished businesses, although there are several newer entrants. Around 12% of those in the 600 businesses analysed are less than five years old, with over half over 20 years old.

Around 12% of those “ in the 600 businesses analysed are less than five years old, with over half over 20 years old

Forward-looking indicators in Northern Ireland leave little room for optimism. The purchasing managers’ Index in the region has dropped to 44. I points in June (down from 46 in May), far below the neutral 50-points line that divides sectoral expansion from contraction.

Analysis of the top 500 businesses in Northern Ireland unsurprisingly shows the majority are larger business, with a much smaller percentage made up of ‘micro’, for example sole trader or small businesses.

This also compares unfavourably with the UK

There continues to be a significant proportion

AUGUST 2019

There are over 150,000 people employed in the organisations analysed, increasing 3% since 2018 and 24% over the past four years. This is in line with latest figures from the Department for the Economy which show 71.3% employment figures that are up year on year. Tangible assets of Northern Ireland firms have increased from 2015 to 2018 with the highest increased between 2017 and 2018. Net worth has also increased year or year with sales increasing across sectors with sales up the most in construction, wholesale and retail. ■

51


Flavio Malnarcic

52


01 Moy Park F

rom a purely editorial perspective it would be refreshing to have a different company head up the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list. But Moy Park has now made it to the top for eight consecutive years, as the poultry processing giant continues to expand both its workforce, global sales and pre-tax profit – firmly setting its place at Northern Ireland’s biggest business, with a workforce of more than 6,000 here alone.

In the last year, it has grown turnover to just over £1.5bn, up from £1.4bn a year earlier, while pre-tax profits have surged by 8% – rising to £64.5m in its latest set of accounts, ending December 2017. The business supplies Moy Park branded and own label chicken products to leading retailers and foodservice providers throughout the UK, Ireland and Europe. In numbers, Moy Park processes six million fresh chickens each week, 600,000 turkeys a year, along with 200,000 tonnes of other ‘added value products’.

AUGUST 2019

London-born Chris Kirke replaced long-serving boss Janet McCollum in 2018, less than a year after Craigavon-based Moy Park was taken over by new US owners Pilgrim’s. And around a year ago, Flavio Malnarcic (pictured) joined the business – then as executive business director – before taking over as the firm’s chief financial officer. He was formerly business director at JBS Global, and has a senior leadership background as executive director of the poultry and export business in Seara, also as chief financial officer and chief executive at Tyson do Brazil and finance roles in Cargill. “There has been a consistence in the performance. We have been growing volumes… we got to six million birds each week, which is about a third of the UK market. For the UK, it is a significantly big company. “Looking year-over-year, our performance was very consistent in the last few years.” “For people working there, working for a company which is the largest employer in a country, the top company, it is a source of

pride for us. “But I don’t think that drives the behaviour of the team. We are more interested in making sure that our performance is sustainable in terms of margins. “It is nice that we are (the biggest firm) but that is not our main goal. We are making sure that we are sustainable, work on quality, safety. There are lots of other things. It’s making sure that we fit our customer needs. “We have a lot focus on that, and we need to be competitive.” And as for growth, expanding turnover isn’t necessarily the main focus, according to Flavio “A lot of the efforts in the last year have been to consolidate the management tools they have in Pilgrim’s. They are very keen on efficiency, so that’s one of their strategies. “(There is) a lot of focus in improving our performance, it’s how we can be more efficient, focusing on a portfolio that feeds our customer base, how we deal with our customers.” ■

53


TOP 100

Top performance but challenges remain for our businesses CBI Northern Ireland director Angela McGowan assesses the landscape for our top companies and the areas which look set to bloom in the coming years

W

ith Brexit yet to be defined, chief executives across Northern Ireland remain adamant that they need a UK/EU deal that delivers frictionless trade for goods, maintains regulatory alignment and provides a good deal for services. One thing is for sure; the prevailing political uncertainty will not go away anytime soon.

Despite the political turmoil, local businesses remain committed to growing their businesses, and the 2019 Top 100 companies list is a testament to their tenacity. Companies from a wide variety of sectors across Northern Ireland are continuing to compete and win in global markets. Many of our SMEs are also expanding their operations and have ambitions to scale up even further. I am lucky because in my job I get to talk regularly with many of the chief executives of Northern Ireland’s Top 100 companies. When I reflect on what makes these firms so successful, there are a four common themes I believe puts them in that ‘highly successful’ category. Firstly, agility is often identified as a characteristic of the most successful firms. Companies that are well prepared for potential changes looming on the horizon fare best. Strategic intelligence and horizon planning is part of their everyday operations. These companies are tuned into changing customer preferences, developments in new technologies and even potential legislative changes. The best firms are also agile enough

54

to rapidly respond to unpredictable events, including changing geopolitical developments, trade wars or extreme weather events. It should be noted however that mobility is a big part of the agility solution for firms, with companies choosing to relocate their operations and move to another jurisdiction if they have difficulty with access to customers, skills or if their ability to strategically plan is hindered by a poor policy environment. Data is the second emerging theme for the most successful companies in 2019. In CBI’s recent report ‘The Changing Nature of R&D’, we found that the most effective firms are today deriving insight and value from the data they traditionally had stored but did not use. Successful companies, regardless of their sector, are now using data as a key raw material in their R&D. Smart firms working in construction, manufacturing or indeed any sector, are today employing data analysts and software

engineers to exploit data for a competitive edge. A third common theme is technology adoption. Disruptive tech such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and 3D printing are no longer for the tech geeks in Silicon Valley. Firms across Northern Ireland are now using disruptive technologies to create new and better products and services, to improve productivity, gather intelligence and to lower costs. Finally, collaboration. This arises time and time again when I talk with successful firms. Great bosses value building relationships and networks, encouraging everyone in their company to do the same. All companies listed in the Top 100 will be actively building good relationships with customers, suppliers, universities, local further education colleges and the wider community. This collaboration gives them the opportunity to learn, problem solve and inspire innovative solutions. ■


BREXIT

UK-Irish food zone mooted to tackle Brexit concerns A second advisory group has been set up to examine the alternative arrangements surrounding Brexit. Ulster Business takes a look at the key elements of the Alternative Arrangements for the Irish Border report

A

report examining alternative arrangements to solve the issue of the Irish border following Brexit has suggested the UK and Republic of Ireland could form a new trading zone for food standards – one of the most difficult hurdles in the EU exit negotiations so far.

The Alternative Arrangements for the Irish Border report examines the key areas and potential solutions to deal with trade and movements between Northern Ireland and the Republic following the exit from the EU, which could happen later this year. Among its findings, it says any proposed alternative arrangements must satisfy some specific constraints, including the “supremacy” of the Belfast Agreement, preservation of the Common Travel Area and the need for a UK independent trade and regulatory policy. “All future proposals must be based on the principle of consent. Second, and derivative of this, there can be no physical infrastructure at the border and no related procedures and controls at the border,” it says.

“Third, all stakeholders should understand the need for an executable and real UK independent trade and regulatory policy.” The report suggests the UK would require a backstop on the Irish border, contained in the withdrawal agreement until 2022, if work on arrangements began straight away.

A second advisory panel is now advising the Government on the alternative arrangements, including trade body members and business leaders from Northern Ireland and the Republic.

It says a “one size fits all solution should be avoided”. Among its recommendations are Special Economic Zones, based on relevant WTO exemptions covering frontier traffic and national security, a multi-tier trusted trader programme for large and medium sized companies.

Responding to the report, Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium – and one of those on the second advisory panel – said the response from the report highlighted that the commission is “now much more aware of the challenges that a border will bring to business and communities and it is commendable that they are working to prevent the disaster of ‘no deal’.

It also says key sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) checks should be carried out by mobile units, away from the border using the existing EU Union Customs Code or a common area for SPS measures.

“However, as this is an interim report, the Northern Ireland business community looks forward to seeing how there assertion that currently used technology can solve the particular problems on the border.

“New technology has a role to support policy, but any technology suggested for deployment in the first instance should already be in use elsewhere,” the report says.

“Even with the emphasis on mobile checks it does not fulfil the UK Government’s commitment in the December 2017 joint statement with the EU to ‘the avoidance of a hard border, including any infrastructure or related checks and controls’. “The solutions proffered add complexity and costs that will make business in NI less competitive and in some cases unviable. But with all that said this is a step forward and it provides some much needed informed debate on the issue.” ■

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07 Bombardier I

t’s never far from the headlines – and it’s a giant of Northern Ireland industry which has had its fair share of turbulence in recent years. Canadian-owned Bombardier, formerly Shorts in Northern Ireland, employs around 3,600 workers and produces many of the parts for business and larger commercial passenger jets. The business was under state ownership for many years but then privatised to the Canadian firm in 1989. Now, Bombardier has been responsible for partmaking aircraft including the Q400 turbo-prop and the former C Series passenger jets. The latter has since been renamed and rebranded the A220, following Airbus’s majority stake in the aircraft series. Coming in at seventh on this year’s list, turnover has remained relatively flat, sitting at £650m. It’s a business with a workforce which is prided for its skills and remains a stalwart of the manufacturing sector right across the island. Headed by Michael Ryan in Northern Ireland,

AUGUST 2019

the company has had to deal with the tricky ebbs and flows of an increasingly competitive international aviation market – going up against a handful of the biggest players, globally. It has cut the size of its workforce in the last few years, starting with the loss of 1,080 jobs as part of a huge headcount reduction, announced in 2016 – with 7,000 going across the firm’s global operations – followed by several smaller cuts. One of Bombardier’s biggest challenges came from US rival Boeing, which challenged the fellow aircraft maker, citing its selling off of the planes at a low cost in the US as unfair, especially given its assistance from governments, including chunky assistance from Canada. It was facing a 292% tariff on the sale of its planes to the US. It looked like it was going Boeing’s way, but the US International Trade Commission finally ruled in Bombardier’s favour. The next step in the journey was French aerospace giant Airbus taking a majority stake

in the C Series production, which also brought an end to that brand name, with Airbus fitting the newly acquired lines in as the A220. On paper, it has had some positive news for its flagship aircraft lines. US airline Delta has ordered five more Airbus A220 planes, bringing its total order to 95. The American carrier had a standing order for 50 of the larger A220-300 jets and 40 of the smaller A220-100s. It has now increased its A220-100 order by five. Meanwhile, also revealed at the Paris Air Show, Los Angeles-based Air Lease Corporation announced a letter of intent for 100 Airbus aircraft. While the workforce size is far from the largest it has been, Bombardier’s legacy in Northern Ireland remains strong – its ability to produce some of the best aircraft, used globally, and expertise in specialised areas such as wing production putting it out in front on the international aerospace market. ■

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BUSINESS FORUM

Saffron Business Forum brings together top NI companies

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ery few sports at an elite level exist without large amounts of financial support. And when you build in a ground up underage structure across two major sports and maintain coaching, medical support, transport, pitch infrastructure, player monitoring and nutrition management, you start to get into major financial commitments. That is the way the still-amateur Gaelic Athletic Association has now moved, and all counties have major challenges in supporting their teams. One of those counties is Antrim which, unlike many other counties in Ulster, sustains both hurling and football teams in equal measure. In October 2016, the Antrim County Board alongside a number of businesspeople with a deep interest in Gaelic games in Antrim decided to take an innovative approach to county fundraising and create a new business network at the same time. Thus began the work of the Saffron Business Forum (the Saffron name comes from the traditional county colour of Antrim). The Saffron Business Forum is a membership organisation which co-promotes business between its members and others through networking, business referrals and social media. The forum facilitates a fantastic network of nearly 100 businesses and currently meets for very popular and well attended networking events at least four times a year. Since its inception the Saffron Business Forum has raised over £350,000 for Antrim county funds raised through membership, fundraising events, sponsorship and its business members. The money raised has gone towards the management of all underage development squads, support for senior football and hurling teams and purchase of a much needed mobile ticket van. The Forum secured sponsorship for Kitvans for the senior hurling and football teams kindly supplied by Trustford and Donnelly Group. Money raised also provided

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Tyrone GAA star and Sky Sports analyst Peter Canavan and John McGuckian, partner at Tughans

much needed finance to the car park at the Antrim training facility in Dunsilly On Friday, May 17, the Saffron Business Forum also hosted its third annual Sport Lunch at the Crowne Plaza Belfast, kindly supported by Tughans. Following two very successful and memorable events in 2017 and 2018, which featured Sir AP McCoy and hurling legend, Henry Shefflin respectively, this year’s guest speaker was Tyrone GAA legend and current Sky Sports analyst, Peter Canavan – perhaps the greatest forward to come out of Ulster and captained Tyrone to its first All-Ireland win in 2003. Over 500 guests packed out the venue for a lively all-afternoon lunch adding to the growing reputation of the Saffron Business Forum’s events and the value of the network.

“We are delighted to continue to support this great event, bringing together over 500 members of the local business and sporting community. The Saffron Business Forum goes from strength to strength giving individuals and businesses a great network and networking opportunities all the while promoting sport and culture.” John McGuckian, partner, Tughans, said. ■ For more information on how to become a business member of the Saffron Business Forum please contact anna@mcepublicrelations.com


FINANCIAL PLANNING

Independence key to Belfast financial planning advice firm success Just three years ago, David White, Paul McMullan and Janet Barnes established the independent financial planning advisory firm White McMullan Barnes Ltd (WMB). Now, they have since expanded both their team and client base

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I

ndependence was a key driver for the three founders of White McMullan Barnes (WMB) and remains at the core of the services provided by the financial planning advice firm. David White, Paul McMullan and Janet Barnes established Belfast-based White McMullan Barnes in 2016 – a business born from three individuals who have been working together and advising clients for more than 20 years. The firm provides holistic financial advice for individuals, businesses and trusts and includes advice on investments, savings, retirement planning and protection planning.

When the three directors decided to set up the new firm they wanted to maintain their independent financial advice status to allow them to continue their relationships with clients who have remained loyal to them. In keeping with a key objective of maintaining good client relationships, the firm has grown steadily since May 2016 to a team of 10, with further growth likely. The success of the firm is built on a solid foundation of experienced and professional staff coupled with a commitment to provide a personalised service to clients, in all areas of financial planning and the recent addition to the team of Paul Taggart, now allows WMB to


FINANCIAL PLANNING

Paul Taggart

understanding of how financial advice can add value to their circumstances. In recent years, increased regulation including greater transparency in the area of fees and charges have helped to restore confidence in the industry and WMB welcome the increased transparency and aims to help guide clients through the many options available both at the initial stage of the advice process and on an on going basis. ■

David White, Janet Barnes and Paul McMullan

offer its services to the corporate market. Paul, a former colleague, who has over 25 years of experience in financial services, is a Chartered Financial Planner and specialises in corporate benefits and has provided advice to several companies in the Top 100 as well as individuals within these companies. The firm has secured Corporate Chartered Financial Planner status, one of just a dozen or so firms in Northern Ireland who hold Chartered status, further enhancing the firm’s professional standing. As Chartered Financial Planners, WMB is publicly committed to a customer-first approach

AUGUST 2019

and values that align with a professional code of ethics. WMB provides solutions relevant to a client’s needs and will maintain their knowledge through qualifications and ongoing professional development.

White McMullan Barnes Limited can be contacted on 02890 730175 or by email: info@ wmbifa.co.uk. The company is located at The Mount Business & Conference Centre, 2 Woodstock Link, Belfast, BT6 8DD and can be found online at www.wmbifa.co.uk. White McMullan Barnes Ltd is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

This title, which is granted by the Chartered Insurance Institute, the professional body for personal finance, will assist WMB further in building trust and confidence with clients. While most people recognise the need for financial advice at various stages throughout their life, some are reluctant to engage the services of a financial adviser due to a lack of trust in financial services and a lack of

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10 SHS H

ow has the company performed in the last year? SHS Group has evolved from a traditional family-run sales and marketing company into a multinational operation that now employs more than 1,000 people with a turnover in excess of £545m. The Group’s growth has been driven by innovation, new business, brand investment and acquisitions. Both the condiments & sauces and sales & marketing divisions in the UK and Ireland have attracted significant new business and SHS Group is growing its international business presence through a two-tiered approach which centres on developing market relevant new product development and new market entry. In 2018, the SHS Group acquired a majority shareholding in the 3V Group, owners of the Meridian and Rocks brands. Meridian is the leading brand of nut butter across the UK & Ireland, while Rocks is the leading brand of organic squashes in the UK. In 2017 the Group acquired Standard Brands, the world leader in ignition products, strengthening their household offering.

What are the main products the company produces? SHS Group operates in the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector in the UK, Ireland and internationally. The company owns brands such as WKD, Shloer, bottlegreen, Merrydown Cider, Meridian nut butters, Rocks squash drinks, Zip firelighters and Maguire & Paterson matches and it also distributes a portfolio of well-known brands including Jordans, Ryvita, Pot Noodle, Finish, Mars Drinks and Colgate. SHS Group is also a market leader in the supply of own label herbs and spices in the UK, and manufactures a range of branded and private label condiments and sauces.

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Elaine Birchall

Investment in innovation has increased and hence a number of new products have launched in 2019. Consumers in the non-alcoholic drinks market can now enjoy two new variants of Shloer; Spritzed (a light and dry ready-mixed spritzer) and Pressed (a sparkling fruit blend inspired by flavoured ciders) and bottlegreen’s Light Infusions range. In addition, Zip’s new coconut charcoals reflect consumer’s appetite for more environmentally friendly products. What is the current market/trading environment like at the moment, and

what does the future hold for SHS? Given the prevailing economic and market conditions the Group is performing well and the prospects for the future are positive. Along with robust organic growth, acquisitions are an important part of the company’s overall business strategy of marketing quality FMCG brands to a wide range of channels and geographies. In 2018, the business made significant progress in identifying brands and channels that will provide future growth in the British, Irish and international FMCG markets. ■


REPORT

Majority of process manufacturers ‘preparing for growth’

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he latest Sage research reveals 99% of process manufacturers preparing for growth despite challenging market conditions A majority of UK manufacturers say regulatory change is impacting business but are responding by investing in new technologies and ‘Brand Britain’.

Sage UK, the market leader in cloud business management solutions, has released its global state of the nation report on process manufacturing, revealing a sector that’s taking charge of its own destiny despite growing change and uncertainty. As political uncertainty bites, almost two thirds of UK manufacturers (62%) say regulatory changes are affecting their business, with 82% revealing the threat of import-export shake-ups around Brexit having significant impact on strategic decision making. Despite those challenges, however, that same number (82%) are confident their UK homegrown industry will be considered a world leader by 2025, and an overwhelming 99% of all process manufacturers who took part in the research in the UK, US and Canada saying they are preparing for growth, suggesting a can-do attitude on both sides of the Atlantic. “Contrary to prevailing sentiments about the decline of manufacturing in the UK, our research reveals attitudes are anything but downbeat,” Sabby Gill, managing director UK & Ireland, Sage. “With the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ gathering pace, we see an industry taking the initiative to equip itself with the technologies and skills it needs to succeed. Half of UK manufacturers, for example, say uncertainty around Brexit is making them more likely to invest in technology as they prepare for possible changes. “In an increasingly digitised world, and with political and economic uncertainty a daily reality, manufacturers that prioritise digital transformation have the best chance of maintaining growth and riding the wave to success.”

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Siobhan Marley, business development director of Pinnacle with Gary Armstrong, finance director of Mash Direct with the new book ‘Powering British Industry’

The report, entitled ‘Riding the wave of uncertainty: How process manufacturers are planning for a brighter future in 2019’, provides a detailed picture of a sector poised for change in areas of technology, services, skills and, in the UK particularly, where goods and materials are sourced. ‘Powering British Industry’ To coincide with the research, Sage has also been celebrating its customers in the manufacturing sector by publishing a book called ‘Powering British Industry’. The book includes Northern Ireland food manufacturer and household brand, Mash Direct. Mash Direct is a family run business who grow and produce convenient ‘field to fork’ dishes and use Sage 200cloud from local partner Pinnacle for high level functionality and reporting flexibility. Siobhan Marley, business development director of Pinnacle, said: “This book is a great testament to the manufacturing sector which plays a major role in the UK and Northern Irish economy. “It is wonderful to see so many of Pinnacle’s manufacturing customers feature, including Bremont Watch Company, Samurai International Sportswear, Westfield Autonomous Vehicles and Deltex Medical Group Plc.

We are particularly delighted to see Mash Direct’s business showcased, as they are not only a long standing Pinnacle and Sage customer, but also a great example of how over six generations of farming they have adapted to market changes. The company produce over 40 products which are sold throughout the UK, Ireland, Middle-East and beyond” Gary Armstrong, financial director of Mash Direct, said: ‘’We are delighted to be showcased in the Powering British Industry book as one of the top UK manufacturers in the industry. Mash Direct strive towards leading the market in producing innovative vegetable side accompaniments. “It is important that we continue to grow the business by using software to enable us to increase our processes and functionalities. “It has been a pleasure working with Sage 200cloud over the last number of years, this platform has allowed the business to grow and become more efficient in the day to day running off the business.” ■ To order your copy of ‘Riding the wave of uncertainty: How process manufacturers are planning for a brighter future in 2019’ and ‘Powering British Industry’ email: sage@pinnacle-online.com


TOP 5O EMPLOYERS

Sponsored by


TOP 5O Position

LARGEST EMPLOYERS

Company

Sector

1

Tesco

Retail

9,871

2

Moy Park

Poultry processor

4,918

3

Asda

Retail

4,111

4

Bombardier

Aerospace

4,069

5

Four Seasons

Nursing homes

3,440

6

Henderson Group

Retail

3,035

7

Teleperformance

Contact centres

2,873

8

Noonan

Support services

2,839

9

BT

Telecoms

2,701

10

Marks and Spencer

Retail

2,667

11

Sainsbury’s

Retail

2,468

12

Almac

Pharmaceuticals

2,411

13

Boots

Retailing

2,207

14

Convergys

Call centre

2,184

15

Allstate NI

IT

2,157

16

Citi

Financial services

2,146

17

Ulster Bank

Bank

2,036

18

Lloyds Banking Group

Financial services

1,937

19

Firstsource

Call centre

1,804

20

Norbrook Labs

Pharmaceuticals

1,662

21

Wrights Group

Bus assembly

1,560

22

Golf Holdings

Drinks distributor

1,518

23

Danske Bank

Bank

1,515

24

G4S

Support services

1,450

25

Schrader Electronics

Engineering

1,431

Information from the latest Equality Commission Monitoring report from 2017 data and published this year.

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1-25 Number of employees


26-50 Position

Company

Sector

26

Caterpillar (NI)

Engineering

1,366

27

PwC

Financial services

1,364

28

Seagate

IT equipment

1,336

29

N.I.E Networks

Electricity supply

1,288

30

Terex

Engineering

1,264

31

Santander

Financial services

1,245

32

Musgrave Group

Retailing

1,182

33

Robinson Services

Support services

1,160

34

Concentrix

Call centre

1,151

35

Graham

Construction

1,112

36

Primark

Retail

1,094

37

Dunnes Stores

Retail

1.057

38

Next

Retail

1,005

39

Charles Hurst

Vehicle distributor

976

40

B&M

Retailing

975

41

TJ Morris

Distribution

969

42

Iceland

Retail

950

43

McDonald’s

Fast food

938

44

Bank of Ireland

Bank

937

45

Randox

Pharmaceuticals

934

46

Dunbia

Meat processor

931

47

Karro Food

Meat processor

926

48

Mount Charles

Catering services

892

49

Northstone

Construction

874

50

Linden Foods

Food processor

811

AUGUST 2019

Number of employees

69


TOP 50 EMPLOYERS

How do you retain staff and keep them enjoying their job? By John Moore, managing director of Hays NI

W

ith such intense competition for talent, the challenge for employers isn’t just finding prospective candidates, it’s also keeping them. Astonishingly, almost half of professionals surveyed in the Hays What Workers Want Report said that they left at least one new job within the first 12 months because it didn’t match expectations formed during the application process.

A significant number of our employees at Hays have been with us for 10, 20, 30 and even 40 years, and we pride ourselves on growing our own talent and promoting from within. Although there are times when employees leave due to circumstances employers can’t control, organisations can create the right conditions to retain their staff for as long as possible. We believe there are three key areas. A sense of purpose Across ages, cultures and sectors, professionals need to get up in the morning knowing that they can make a difference. No matter how big or small, recognising a clear and meaningful purpose in your role is a huge driver for staff. Communication is key for employers. By prioritising employee progression, offering regular feedback and communicating the wider objectives of the business, employers can ensure their staff come to work each day with a strong purpose. Variety each day While not every task can be exciting, and some parts of a job will inevitably be more stimulating than others, if the mundane becomes the usual, employees will think about moving on. Injecting variety into each week and staying interested at work partly falls on employees themselves, who can proactively seize

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opportunities. But a good employer should also push their staff and encourage them to work outside of their comfort zones. This ensures professionals can keep growing and developing within an organisation rather than move elsewhere. A strong network The people we work with have a huge bearing on our happiness levels at work. You simply can’t stay in a role long-term if you don’t enjoy working with those around you, so the importance and impact of these relationships are not to be underrated.

Employers can help their staff develop a network of inspiring and admirable colleagues from their first day by making sure they receive proper introductions and support contacts. Workers who have these strong bonds feel a greater sense of belonging which keeps them wanting to work in their organisation. With these three points in mind, it’s important to consider how someone’s organisation and role makes them feel, rather than just how impactful their salary or bonus might be. After all, this is what can’t easily be replicated across organisations and can keep an employee with an organisation throughout their career. ■


TOP 100

Flashback to 2009: has it really been 10 years? The Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list was a very different one in 2009. Editor John Mulgrew looks at the numbers, the analysis and the once household names no longer with us

T

he tattered corner of the Ulster Business Top 100 list from 2009 probably isn’t the worst way to analogise the then state of the Northern Ireland economy, and a precursor to what was around the corner We’ve come a very long way in a decade, and while there are some big and familiar names on the 2009 Top 100 list, there are firms which have fallen off it entirely, and resigned to the history books post-recession.

In former editor David Elliott’s intro to the magazine, it references the fact that most of the accounting periods in the list were just as the downturn was starting to gather pace. Economist John Simpson, writing in the edition, says the “big recession of 2008 and 2009 did not impact evenly across the economy, and recovery will be best seen as a sequence of different proportions”. There are some positive things to take from it – including a large glowing image of Victoria Square, which in the more than 11 years since it opened in the heart of Belfast has become part of the retail fabric of the city. Topping the list at the time was Viridian Group, which owned Northern Ireland Electricity and now includes Power NI as a subsidiary, with turnover of £1.45bn. However, it made a loss of £122m during that period. Second on the list is a business familiar to many. Quinn Group, headed by Co Fermanagh businessman Sean Quinn, posted turnover of £1.15bn for the year ending 31/12/2007 but incurred a loss of more than £259m during the same period. There have

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been enough column inches written about the business in the years since then to fill many a book – and they have. Among those no longer on the list is developer David Patton & Sons (NI) Ltd, Armaghdown Creameries Ltd and Ballyrogan Holdings. Many others on the list have since been acquired by some of the now giants in their respective industries. Moy Park is an interesting one. Back then it was still a large player in the poultry sector with turnover of £651m. Those fortunes have evidently changed dramatically since then, as the company has held the top spot on the list for the last eight years, and now posts big profits and turnover of £1.5bn. Meanwhile, W&R Barnett is on the 2009 list in position 45, with a turnover of £122m and pre-tax profits of £12m. In the last 10 years, it has climbed the list to comfortably take the number two spot with

sales of almost 10 times that of those a decade earlier. As far as employment goes, it was Tesco topping the list in 2009, followed by Bombardier – which at the time had a workforce of around 5,000 people – with Royal Mail and Queen’s University following in third and fourth position. A lot has happened in the years since that list. The economy has slowly but surely gotten back on its feet. Growth has been gradual, and in the last year or so has been sitting at around 1%, while employment levels and unemployment levels are at their respective positive record levels. However, we are amid the most challenging time for business in a generation and some of the signs, and whispered conversations, are far from positive. As I write this, we still sit on the precipice of whether we secure an agreement on Brexit, or shuffle off the edge without a parachute. Let’s hope it’s the former. ■


20 Queen’s University

Professor Ian Greer

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I

t’s one of Northern Ireland’s primary educators, but it’s also a business.

Queen’s University Belfast is ranked number 173 in the QS World Rankings 2020, and a member of the Russell Group of UK research intensive universities.

It’s an organisation which has a turnover of more than £350m, growing by around £20m year-on-year, and has placed at number 20 on this year’s Top 100 list. The university has been headed by vice-chancellor, Professor Ian Greer, since January last year. In terms of the other numbers, it has around 24,000 students and employs more than 4,000 staff – which is more than manufacturing giants such as Bombardier. “I am delighted that Queen’s University has been included in the Top 100 companies in Northern Ireland,” Professor Ian Greer told Ulster Business. “The university has a worldrenowned reputation for research, education and innovation and plays a major leadership role in the economic, social and cultural development of Northern Ireland.” Founded by Queen Victoria in 1845, as one of three Queen’s Colleges in Ireland, it became

AUGUST 2019

an independent university in its own right in 1908 and combines its international academic reputation with its standing as a leader in innovation and education. It’s also the ninth oldest university in the UK. Queen’s was highlighted in a commissioned report conducted by London Economics. Looking at the organisation’s overall economic impact, a report from London Economics – focusing on 2015 to 2016 – said the university contributed £1.9bn to the UK economy. According to the university, it showed that for every £1m invested in research activity at Queen’s, an additional £3.9m is generated across the UK economy. While the Queen’s estate is made up of more than 250 buildings, it’s the main Lanyon Building which is what it’s known for. It opened in 1849 and is named after its architect Sir Charles Lanyon. Commercially, the university operates QUBIS, which has created more than 80 spinout companies resulting in around 2,200 knowledge-based jobs. Some of those firms include Kainos – now the only Northern Ireland company listed on the FTSE 250 – and other

listed firms such as Fusion Antibodies. QUBIS Ltd has been placed first in the UK for ‘income generated’, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Queen’s commercialisation activity has generated more return than any other UK university, according to the organisation. It is also a leader in gender equality and diversity. It is one of the UK’s most successful universities in the Athena SWAN initiative which promotes gender equality and career progression. “The economy in Northern Ireland depends on high quality graduates equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills required to meet the future needs of industry,” Professor Greer said. “We are committed to working in collaboration with partners to ensure that we collectively deliver the growth in skills agenda needed to fuel our economy. A key project is the Belfast Region City Deal which we are working on with Ulster University and partners to maximise the potential to boost economic growth for the benefit of everyone in the region.” ■

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TOP 100

Top 100 firms achieving success with modest economic backdrop It’s been a mixed picture for the economy here, and the forecast is mixed throughout 2019. But Conor Lambe, chief economist at Danske Bank, says the Top 100 list shows firms are still making it work

T

he economic environment in which this year’s Top 100 companies have achieved their success has not been an easy one to navigate. Economic growth in Northern Ireland has remained modest as Brexit-related uncertainty, the lack of an Executive and the cooling global economy have all taken their toll.

For consumers, 2018 and the first part of 2019 saw some recovery in household spending power as inflation fell back towards its 2% target and wage growth increased. At the start of this year, the Danske Bank Northern Ireland Consumer Confidence Index showed that more than a quarter of people identified rising wages as the factor that had the largest positive impact on how they were feeling. For businesses, Brexit-related uncertainty has acted as a drag on capital spending. While some investment has occurred, perhaps in new technologies or more efficient machinery, longer-term strategic investments such as starting to export to a new market, or building a new factory are likely to have been postponed until more clarity emerges around how the UK and EU will interact in the future. Looking at the three headline sectors of the Northern Ireland economy in 2018, services output increased by 2.2%, with the rate of annual growth particularly strong in the transport, storage, information and communication sector. Output in the

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production sector also expanded in 2018, but at a much slower rate. And, according to the Northern Ireland Composite Economic Index data, construction activity fell over the year. In the first quarter of 2019, services output fell when compared with the last quarter of 2018 but increased relative to the first quarter of last year. The sector that had the strongest start to the year was business services and finance, with output rising both over the quarter and the year. Production output increased over the quarter and the year to Q1 2019, with the manufacturing sector starting the year in good shape. However, like in the wider UK economy, this was partly fuelled by businesses stockpiling and bringing forward planned purchases due to the potential risk of a no-deal Brexit occurring at the end of March. Despite the challenges the economy has faced, there have been a few bright spots that are worthy of note. The labour market here has proved remarkably resilient to the high degree of economic and political uncertainty. The employment rate during the February-April 2019 period was at a

joint series high while the unemployment rate remained low by historical standards. And in the first quarter of the year, the number of employee jobs in Northern Ireland hit another record high with the human health and social work, manufacturing and professional services sectors adding the most jobs over the 12 months to March 2019. The tourism industry has continued to go from strength to strength. The number of overnight trips taken in Northern Ireland increased in 2018 to just under five million, and the amount of expenditure associated with these trips rose to £968m. With, for example, Northern Ireland hosting the 148th Open championship at Royal Portrush in July, there’s every reason to believe that this will be another good year for tourism. As we move through the rest of 2019 and into 2020, uncertainty – particularly around Brexit – is likely to remain a key factor influencing the performance of the Northern Ireland economy. But as this year’s Top 100 companies have shown, even against such a turbulent backdrop, good businesses can still increase their revenue, hire more employees and turn a healthy profit. Let’s hope they can do it all again next year. ■


TITLE

24 Terex F

or a global manufacturing giant such as Terex, the US-owned specialist in material processing products and services counts Northern Ireland’s as one of the key strands of its overall business.

Terex GB operates within the Terex Materials Processing (MP) segment of Terex Corporation, and operates nine sites across Northern Ireland. It’s now sitting at the number 24 spot on the Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies 2019 list, with turnover of £320m – down from £395m a year earlier. But the firm has seen its pre-tax profits rise by more than 60% last year, making it one of Northern Ireland’s most profitable firms. The business also bought back its expansive sites in Omagh and Dungannon in February this year. “We’re well positioned to support the strong global demand from our customers, driven by construction activity, aggregate consumption and robust demand for scrap steel,” Kieran Hegarty, president Terex MP, told Ulster Business. “We expect strong results to continue, fueled by innovations that will continue to differentiate our businesses and geographic expansion that will enable us to serve more customers globally.”

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The company’s NI-based businesses, which includes crushing and screening, environmental, washing and conveying equipment, incorporates brand names such as Powerscreen and Finlay, both of which have been in business between 50 and 60 years in their own right before being acquired by Terex in 1999. Terex currently operates from nine sites in Northern Ireland, including Dungannon, Omagh, Ballymoney, Lurgan, Londonderry and one in GB, employing more than 1,800 people. New product development has continued to differentiate Terex in the marketplace, and its latest innovations were showcased earlier this year to the world at Bauma – the world’s biggest exhibition for the industry held every three years in Munich, Germany. And earlier this year, Terex announced a new facility in Campsie, as part of a £12m investment. The new facility will manufacture product lines for its Terex Ecotec, which deals in waste management and recycling, and Terex Conveying Systems, mobile conveying, businesses. The firm says the facility will initially create approximately 100 new jobs that include

production operative roles, management and support roles in HR, operations and finance, as well as a team that will be trained to deal with the company’s engineering capabilities and lead the development of Terex Ecotec and Terex Conveying Systems product portfolios. “As part of our growth strategy, we continually review markets to identify potential opportunities. The waste management, recycling and mobile conveying sectors are areas of significant growth and our objective is to be recognised as a leading global manufacturer in these areas. Our Terex Campsie facility will enable us to realise this ambition.” In addition to the new facility at Campsie, Terex is also expanding capacity at many of its current locations in response to global demand for its products, including Omagh. “Our manufacturing strategy includes expanding capacity in the UK, India and China and utilising our Oklahoma City facility in the North America,” Kieran said. “These investments will support our ongoing growth and development as we seek to build on the momentum of increased demand for our products globally.” ■


Kieran Hegarty

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SOCIAL PURPOSE AND SUSTAINABILITY

A change in mentality and thinking from the ground up What do we do to make sure business and society is thinking long-term about social responsibility and their own footprint? Ulster Bank brought together businesses, politicians and leaders for its latest DSE dinner to discuss the big issues facing our society

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invited leaders from the private, public and third sectors to come together to talk green issues, climate change, social purpose and inclusivity.

That was something of the consensus at the latest Ulster Bank DSE dinner in Belfast, which

Seemingly, it’s about a change in mentality – businesses working together with the world of politics and employees making their employers aware of how key it is to them.

f business and society as a whole is going to think differently about its purpose and sustainability, then it requires an entire change of mentality, and the next generation is going to get on with it, regardless.

It’s about collective action and personal responsibility, whether that be at a company or an individual level. But, how do you get businesses to take action, especially smaller companies with day-to-day concerns about keeping costs down and their eye on their bottom lines? Discussing the long-term sustainability challenges ahead for the world, and Northern Ireland in particular, it’s clear there are a few passionate opinions. Green issues and sustainability are key elements to the majority of our largest employers. But there must also be a focus on the well-being, inclusion and overall happiness of workforces here – right across Northern Ireland. Areas such as a mental health are becoming ever more important and thrust to the front of the conversation, as an increasing number of people are speaking openly about it and spending as much time examining their mental health as their physical health.

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SOCIAL PURPOSE AND SUSTAINABILITY

Guests attending the Ulster Bank DSE dinner in Belfast

Organisations such as Business in the Community are championing sustainability and a long-term approach to areas such as social inclusion and ensuring every company involved has a social purpose that runs through its core, rather than being stuck on at the last minute. And one of the keys to businesses ensuring their footprint on the global landscape leaves as little trace as possible and contributes positively, from the ground up, is setting aside the ego, and ensuring it doesn’t merely become something of a marketing exercise. During the discussion, business leaders suggested that the younger generation is helping to lead the way in this regard – on board to assist, volunteer or work towards positive goals, whether they be green or otherwise. Looking at the wider green issues as a whole, the EU is aiming to hit an optimistic target of reaching zero net carbon emissions by 2050. And it’s something that every business in Northern Ireland, no matter what size, can be a part of – regardless of how small the contribution is to the overall global goal. One of those joining other guests on this

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occasion was Rishi Madlani, RBS sustainable finance lead. Among his other roles, he’s co-chairman of the bank’s Rainbow Network – which is open to all RBS employees, and is one of the largest LGBT networks in the banking sector, established in 2005. Overall, employee engagement at RBS is extremely high, sitting at 86% with staff volunteering more than 100,000 hours of their own time. And while Ulster Bank and the wider RBS are companies at the forefront of inclusivity in the workplace, there still remains work to be done elsewhere. So, looking at the big picture, what do we all need to do as a community, locally, and globally? The discussion suggests moving away from traditional carbon industries, making sure businesses manage their own footprint, pushing and leading the renewables sectors and promoting sustainable finance, and social lending. Of course, while global warming and climate change are huge macro issues, Northern Ireland is facing its own

challenges and problems – not helped with the ongoing lack of an Executive. The big one raising its head during the discussion is the significant investment required in the water and sewage system here – modernisation and expansion needed to ensure further city development, and so housing projects can continue to be built. That lack of political leadership is something which is beginning to show through the cracks, with Republic of Ireland ahead of the game, publishing its own in-depth action plan to tackle emissions, in line with the EU targets. But there’s a consensus that a joined-up plan is what is needed to ensure all the chatter between leading businesses, groups, politicians and the public sector turns into something meaningful. And there is also agreement that businesses also have a responsibility to sell the message to our politicians. Overall, it’s about finding where the pipe is broken, and we aren’t quite there yet. Do we have the political and societal will or maturity to incorporate social responsibility and longterm green thinking into our everyday lives? Only time will tell. ■

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37 Translink T

he volume of people in Northern Ireland using public transport is on the up – reaching a 20-year high in

2019.

And it’s Chris Conway’s role, as chief executive of Translink, to ensure that number goes up, alongside revenue and investment. Northern Ireland Transport Holding Co, which trades as Translink, posted turnover of £220.5m in its set of accounts ending March 2018, putting it at the number 37 spot on the Top 100 list. Since the cut off for accounts to make the list this year, Chris Conway says that has now grown to around £240m, up around 8%, with profits of around £1m. Transink is Northern Ireland’s public transport operator, with services across train, bus and the new Glider system which connects east and west Belfast. In 2018/19, the organisation saw 84.5 million journeys across it network, up around 4% – the highest level in 20 years and the third year of growth. “That really shows the investment, the promotion and passengers, as well as (people) being more aware of climate change and congestion – looking to public transport,” Chris told Ulster Business. “We have had good support from the Department for Infrastructure as well as our own efficiency helping drive costs down and support business strength.” A piece of research carried out by Grant Thornton for Bus and Train Week showed Translink’s overall contribution to the wider Northern Ireland economy is worth around £190m a year.

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Translink’s recent successes have been helped along by rising tourism levels, and an increasing number of major events requiring a solid public transport system to make sure they work. The organisation is undergoing two major investments in its infrastructure – the Belfast Transport Hub and North West Transport Hub in Londonderry. Work could soon begin on the Belfast scheme, after planning was approved, while a phased scheme in Derry means sections of the hub could be open as early as this year. “We will be putting out the enabling contract and we have finished the tender,” Chris said. That means Translink could be on site with the scheme next year. “The North West Transport Hub is well under way... it will be phased opening later this year, then (further) phases over the next 12 months.”

It also unveiled its new station at Portrush – timed to deal with the tens of thousands who descended on the Co Antrim coastal town for The Open. Tranlink will also roll out the second phase of its Glider bus network, this time connecting north and south Belfast. That’s likely to take another four to five years. There is also further investment in the Metro bus network, including refreshed halts and additional frequency, while the Urby bus fleet will be extended to areas such as Carryduff, Ballyclare and Hillsborough. It’s also signed a £50m deal for 21 new train carriages. Chris says long term, Translink – like other major public transport operators – has to look towards a greener and sustainable fleet. It’s set to trial hybrid buses and will also take on three hydrogen vehicles next year. ■


Chris Conway

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TOP 100

David Fry of the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) assesses the triumph of some of Northern Ireland’s biggest construction firms making the Top 100 while observing the challenges ahead for the industry

Construction: an industry at a crossroads

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he publication of this year’s Top 100 comes at a time when Northern Ireland’s construction industry is at something of a crossroads.

While the mid-point of 2019 bears little resemblance, thankfully, to the economic maelstrom of 2008-12, it is a point at which the industry is increasingly facing in one of two directions over the medium term. The first direction is that which those contractors included in the Top 100, and well beyond this, have been working towards since they successfully recovered from the recession. This direction has seen contractors such as Graham, McAleer & Rushe, McLaughlin & Harvey, Northstone/Farrans and Gilbert-Ash delivers projects across the UK, Ireland and beyond which are making a massive social, economic and cultural contribution. Taking these five contractors in isolation, you can see daily the contribution of they, their staff and their extensive supply chains in enhancing Northern Ireland’s competitiveness and attractiveness as a region to do business and invest in. Projects such as the A6 RandalstownCastledawson dualling, the new transport hub in Derry, the refurbishment of the Ulster Hospital, the new wave of hotel development in Belfast, the expansion of student accommodation schemes and the new leisure centres in places like Craigavon and are significant economic drivers in a multitude of ways.

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A new era of development that is geared towards building on Northern Ireland’s peace has unquestionably begun. However, the challenges in making that era sustainable are growing. That lack of sustainability, which could lead many contractors down an altogether different path, has its root in an array of interconnected factors. Chief among these is the lack of strategic political leadership which continues to prevail. Yes, recent months have seen planning progress on a number of major projects such as the Belfast Transport Hub which have, to at least some extent, had their hold-ups due to a lack of a Northern Ireland Executive. This progress is unquestionably welcome, however without strategic political oversight we are faced with a series of challenges which are holding the growth potential of contractors and, consequently, the growth of their workforces back. These challenges are, chiefly: ■ The continual underfunding and sub-optimal governance model of Northern Ireland Water which is now stalling otherwise shovel ready housing projects across the country and will increasingly impact on other forms of infrastructure ■ The need for further focus on our underperforming planning system and the role of statutory consultees within it ■ The agreement of multi-year budgets for delivery areas such as social housing and

road maintenance to increase efficiency and provide certainty to the market ■ The need for a long-term solution to address the issues with the Housing Executive’s stock maintenance ■ The necessity for government to widen its capital purse strings through innovative and de-risking partnerships with contractors, local councils and other potential funders ■ The need for government to work collaboratively with industry to fix our skills crisis ■ The further roll-out of successful pilot approaches in dealing with abnormally low tenders on public contracts What we find most notable about the above is that its not as if we’re calling for radical change which is not present elsewhere in these islands. The rest of the UK and Ireland have either faced or are facing the same challenges as we – but the appetite and political will exist elsewhere to do something about it. The construction industry is one which, through its own diversification and innovation, can inspire. However, to make that vision sustainable, there needs to be direction. There need to be tough choices made. When the Northern Ireland Executive is restored, it needs to choose the sustainable path for our industry – and that will involve not kicking the can down the road as it too often has done before. ■


44 Coca-Cola HBC nternational purveyor of soft drinks, Coca-Cola HBC is celebrating 80 years of bottling operations here in Northern Ireland.

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facility since opening its doors in 2010,” it says. “Approximately £5m was invested in the facility over the last year, and the business has plans for further capital investments in 2019.”

“We are also accelerating our World Without Waste strategy; investing in areas that we know will make a credible reduction in the environmental footprint of our packaging.

It boasts a huge site just outside Lisburn, which produces household names such as a Coke, Diet Coke and Fanta – among a raft of other sub-brands – for the island of Ireland.

The facility is a sight to behold – a rabbit’s warren of branded corridors and visitor sections, looking down on a vast expanse of production floor.

In this year’s Top 100, the firm came in at number 44 – the same position as in 2018 – however its turnover has increased by around £15m in that time.

“This year marks Coca-Cola’s 80th year of bottling operations in Northern Ireland; a milestone we don’t take lightly,” Matthieu said.

“We are supporting the ambitions of a circular economy by integrating more recycled plastic into our packaging. We are also continuing to work our stakeholders, customers and consumers to encourage recycling and behavioural change with respect of littering.”

The business has a strong heritage here, and employs 740 people across the island, with more than 450 people employed in Northern Ireland through its manufacturing and office facility in Knockmore Hill, Lisburn. The Lisburn plant serves the island of Ireland market, with 93% of all product sold produced in Northern Ireland.

“Coca-Cola HBC’s history and legacy in the region is built on an unwavering commitment to create and share value. As one of Northern Ireland’s Top 100 businesses, we are immensely proud of the contribution we make to the local economy, through the employment we create and the products and services we provide.

The company, now headed by general manager Matthieu Seguin, says it contributes £27m to the economy here through direct, indirect and induced wages and £59m GVA (gross value added).

“I also attribute Coca-Cola HBC’s long-lasting success here to the positive role we play in communities we serve. This extends from the evolution of our portfolio in response to changing consumers needs, to our work with communities through programmes like Clean Coasts, #YouthEmpowered and the Thank You Fund scheme.

“Following an initial £93.5m investment, Coca-Cola HBC has continued to invest in the

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Coca-Cola HBC continues to enjoy market leadership across the island of Ireland, and it’s a brand, like others, which has had to evolve alongside changing market habits and tastes, and the move towards lower sugar products. It says that “following a sugar reduction programme, more than 60% of Coca-Cola HBC’s volume sales now comprise of drinks containing less than 5g of sugar per 100ml”. “The company also continues to promote its low and no sugar variants. In 2018, 65% of all cola sold by Coca-Cola HBC had no sugar. Diet Coke is now the number one soft drink brand in Northern Ireland, while Coca-Cola Zero Sugar continues to drive the growth of the sparkling soft drink category overall.” ■


Matthieu Seguin

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Terry Rice, contract sales manager

ENERGY

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irmus energy currently supplies natural gas to around 2,500 businesses across Northern Ireland. These customers benefit from support mechanisms firmus energy has in place to assist industrial and commercial customers make informed decisions about their energy usage.

Contract sales manager at firmus energy, Terry Rice, outlines how business customers benefit from connecting to the natural gas network, how to budget their energy costs and improve their organisation’s energy efficiency. firmus energy also supplies more than 95,000 domestic customers across Northern Ireland, and has recently secured significant contracts in the newly built ‘Gas to the West’ network, as Terry explains: “firmus energy supplies natural gas to Moy Park’s Craigavon and Ballymena processing sites. In recent months we have been assisting Moy Park to understand what is required to switch to natural gas and to help build a business case to convert its primary poultry facility in Dungannon from LPG. “As Northern Ireland’s largest private sector business, Moy Park is committed to operating a sustainable business and is actively managing and reducing its environmental impact. This natural gas conversion will see a further reduction of more than 2,000 tonnes of CO2 every year which is equivalent to taking 720 cars off the roads.” Another customer in the ‘Gas to the West’ network, Linergy, based in Dungannon operates an organic waste energy facility and has a high energy demand. We have further assisted Linergy to make the decision to convert to natural gas. “Each company has its own motivation for connecting to natural gas. Some want to improve their carbon footprint with a cleaner fuel, others change for budgeting purposes but the vast majority enjoy not having to store the fuel on site. Cleaner energy “Natural gas offers significant environmental

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Natural gas is good for business benefits. Businesses can see a reduction between 13-30% in their carbon emissions depending on the fuel being displaced. To date, natural gas conversions within firmus energy’s network have displaced over one million tonnes of CO2, equivalent to removing 40,000 cars off our roads every year. Energy efficient “Natural gas customers can also use more energy efficient appliances. Burning less fuel means more money to reinvest in the business, whether that be a natural gas cooker for the hospitality sector or a comprehensive natural gas heating system for a manufacturing process. Greater plant efficiency also means lower maintenance costs and less downtime. Financial benefits “Business customers receive a detailed cost analysis and projection to illustrate financial and environmental benefits prior to converting to natural gas. The firmus energy commercial sales team is City and Guilds qualified in specialist energy efficiency advice provided by National Energy Action (NEA). This can

help improve our customer’s environmental credentials and maximise the efficiency of their natural gas supply. “firmus energy’s team of experienced account managers along with the natural gas purchasing team work closely with customers on a daily basis advising them of purchasing options and providing market data. firmus energy’s online account service allows businesses to track and compare energy usage and bills 24/7. Support from firmus energy also allows customers to manage budgets for up to 36 months ahead. Convenience “The convenience of having the fuel piped directly into the premises without having to place an order or risk running out means that businesses are only paying for the fuel they use.” ■ To discuss your energy requirements and to see if your business can connect, contact firmus energy’s account managers on 0330 024 9000 or email furtherinfo@firmusenergy.co.uk


ANALYSIS

Investing in IT gives Top 100 competitive advantage By Patrick McAliskey, managing director of Novosco

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s always, the Top 100 includes a run-down of some of the very best companies in Northern Ireland, across sectors including food and drink, technology, manufacturing, hospitality, pharmaceuticals and finance. At Novosco, we have the privilege of counting many of them as clients.

For some, it has been a more challenging year, whilst others, particularly those exposed to export markets or in growth sectors, seem to go from strength to strength. In my experience, what they have in common though, almost without exception, is a recognition of the importance of investing in IT for competitive advantage. Whether it’s Moy Park, W&R Barnett, Westland Horticulture, or many others, we have worked with them to help ensure their IT is supporting their objectives, driving value in their business, and is future-proofed to meet their changing needs. For some companies, this means migrating to the cloud and availing of the scalability, flexibility and potential value that this can bring. For others, it means availing of our managed services. IT systems managed in-house can become a burden, tying up resources and incurring additional costs. There may not even be the in-house resources and expertise in the first place to manage the tasks themselves. In either scenario, outsourcing all or some of a company’s IT management eases the burden on IT resources, allowing greater flexibility for staff to focus on delivering core business services to customers. We work closely with all of our Northern Ireland customers to build strong relationships

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with them that ensure they get the IT support and investment they need.

Football Club to expand its IT infrastructure as it moved to its new headquarters.

As Novosco’s business has grown across the UK and Ireland, we have invested significantly in our headquarters centre of excellence in Belfast, and this is to the advantage of our Northern Ireland customers. Our team has also continued to further develop its expertise working for world-class organisations.

Working on contracts like this exposes our teams to the very latest technologies and to highly complex systems. Our Northern Ireland customers then benefit from this additional experience.

Last year, we won our biggest-ever piece of business – a £100m deal with Cambridge University Hospitals Trust, one of the largest NHS Trusts in England and a digital exemplar in the public sector. We have also worked with some of the UK’s best-known private sector businesses and with the likes of Everton

As we move further into 2019 and beyond, Novosco remains committed to supporting our clients in the Top 100, and all of our customers, to continue to avail of the best service and technologies to meet their business needs. As always, I have no doubt that those who continue to invest in their IT systems will continue to be at the forefront of their sectors and the business community. ■


50 Gilbert-Ash I

f you’re one of the region’s largest construction businesses, then who better to build your new, shiny Belfast headquarters. Gilbert-Ash, which files parent accounts as Ards Holdings, is headed by managing director Ray Hutchinson, and works across UK and Ireland in the construction and fit-out sector. In the last year, it has seen its position on the Top 100 list rise from 54, to 50 in 2019 – with turnover now sitting at £165.5m, up from £148m in the previous year. And in that time, pre-tax profits have cracked the £2m mark, for the year ending December 2017, up from £1.4m a year earlier. As with others in the field, it counts GB as its bread and butter, when it comes to major projects, having worked on a variety of highprofile scenes, from the £19.5m Cambridge Mosque project, to completing works in a total of 43 countries from Poland and Bahrain to China, Japan and Australia on behalf of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

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Employing around 180 staff at offices in Belfast and across the UK, closer to home it has recently completed the £21.5m build of the AC Hotel in Belfast – part of Belfast Harbour’s City Quays development. “While market conditions remain highly competitive, we are continuing to drive our strategy forward and succeed, focusing on our strengths by investing in national and international markets to deliver landmark buildings,” Ray Hutchinson told Ulster Business. “Gilbert-Ash is an employee owned company which certainly leads to a unique working culture and family environment. Our success is in no small part down to this environment and the hands on attitude of our dedicated team- punching above our weight to confidently face challenges. “We have had the privilege of working with excellent clients, partners and suppliers, and we really do work as one to deliver innovative, bespoke buildings across the world.

“We are honoured to be part of the Top 100 again this year. We are very much looking forward to the year ahead, which will see the completion of a four-storey development of our new head office at Boucher Road in Belfast. “We are really excited to bring the vision of our new workplace to life and look forward to the continued support of our project partners in making it a reality.” At home, and pictured, the firm is building its new offices on the Boucher Road – directly behind its current base. The award-winning business has completed a broad portfolio of successful construction projects across sectors including arts and culture, workplace, hotels and leisure, science and technology, retail and residential. Some of its other schemes include City of London Freemen’s School swimming pool. In 2018, the company also completed a £20.5m new build of the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, which counts Dame Judi Dench as its president. ■


Ray Hutchinson

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63 Stena Line S

tena Line is a household name which appears to have weathered the choppy business seas for the last few years.

The Swedish-owned company is Europe’s largest ferry company, with 7,200 employees carrying 7.6 million people each year, along with 1.7 million cars and 2.1 million freight units. Its Northern Ireland business, Stena Line Irish Sea Ferries, has increased it turnover from £106.9m to £116m in the last year, with pretax profits of £23.4m – up more than 20% on the previous year – resulting in coming in at number 63 on this year’s Top 100. Across the entire business, the company owns six ports and operates a fleet of 38 vessels on 20 ferry routes providing a choice of more than 29,000 sailing a year, generating a turnover of more than £1.4bn. On the Irish Sea, Stena Line operates three routes from its Belfast hub to Cairnryan,

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Liverpool and Heysham and employs 950 people in the region. Each year the company carries around 1.5 million people, 539,000 freight units and 359,000 cars. Stena Line operates seven vessels on its Irish Sea North routes delivering around 7,300 sailings each year. It has also recently announced a £200m investment programme which will see two new ships, Stena Edda and Stena Embla, being added to the fleet – which are currently under construction. They will be introduced on the Belfast to Liverpool service in 2020 and 2021. The next-generation ships will be the largest and most spacious ferries to sail between Belfast and Liverpool. Paul Grant has headed the firm’s Irish links for several years, and has now been appointed as chief commercial officer. “As Stena Line’s newly appointed chief commercial officer, my area of responsibility has been extended to include all Irish Sea and North Sea routes, however, I will be carrying out my new role

from our Belfast base,” he told Ulster Business. “Over the next couple of years, we’ll be delivering a number of significant improvements on our Irish Sea routes including introducing a total of three new generation ships which amongst other things will provide a 20% increase in capacity on our Belfast to Liverpool service. “As market leader on the Irish Sea, Stena Line has consistently led the way in terms of service, sustainability and product innovation and with the continued support of our owners, Belfast has now evolved as Stena Line’s most important business hub outside of its native Sweden. “I’m delighted to see Stena Line feature so prominently in the Ulster Business Top 100. Over the last 30 years the company has played a very important role in the development of Belfast and Northern Ireland as mustsee destinations as well as providing and developing the crucial sea transportation links which are so important to our local businesses now and in the years ahead.“ ■


Paul Grant

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TOP 100

Is it a tale of two cities or passing turbulence? In a Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens says ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. While we haven’t quite reached these polar opposites this year, it has definitely been a year of turbulence, writes Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium

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ompetition for a place in the Top 100 has been, as usual, intense and it is great to see that retailers and those that supply us continue to perform highly. Our reputation across the world continues to grow and our producers, processors and retailers should be rightly proud of their products. That does not mean that our industries here have been resting on their laurels, rather the opposite. In this past year we have continued to tap into demand for our quality products and services by expanding our markets in the UK, the EU and globally.

continues to have a stranglehold on industry here and the longer it goes on the further we fall behind our neighbours to the east and to the south. While we are encouraged by the review of the business rates system announced by the ever enthusiastic Permanent Secretary, Sue Gray, the truth is we are late to the party.

Success for retailers is a good measure of a successful economy. We are the first industry to feel it when consumers tighten their belts and the conduit between shoppers and everyone from local farmers to global electronics manufacturers. While our households continue to have around half of the discretionary income of households in Great Britain, the good news is that is slowly but continuously on the rise.

But the biggest downside to this year has been mostly to do with the ‘B’ word. Although Brexit hasn’t happened yet, we have already seen 26% of our EU labour leave Northern Ireland since the referendum and we are not getting the influx of workers that we need to fulfil everything from picking, processing to the 20% of our logistics staff who are EU nationals.

On the negative side, the Stormont stalemate

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The same is true of the Apprenticeship Levy which for large business here is just another tax while in Scotland they have a flexible skills fund, a rebate and a looking at removing barriers to wider delivery of apprenticeships. Meanwhile we have no minister and no way to change a fiscal burden into a training stimulus.

The dates in March, April and June for leaving have now passed and millions of pounds have

been spent preparing for a Brexit outcome that is still unknown. If we get a deal, it will change how we do business across these islands and there will be costs. If we have no deal, we are looking at a fundamental breakdown of supply chains that will squeeze business and our consumers alike. But Brexit has also brought out the best in people here in Northern Ireland with industries, from farm to fork, working together in a way that would previously not have been thought possible. To us, the answer is not more stockpiling, front loading or whatever your organisation cares to call it. The answer is that we need a deal to make sure that we have access to the markets and consumers we need to survive, to thrive and to grow. From the largest multi-national retailer to the smallest farmer, we are all in this together. And so congratulations to the Top 100 in 2019 for rising to the top in a challenging environment. Keep doing what you’re doing. Your work makes a huge difference to our economy and our households. ■


Andres Budo

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69 Thompson Aero Seating S

ometimes a change is sales figures at a Northern Ireland company can even set this editor back in his seat a touch.

One of those doing such this year was Portadown-based Thompson Aero Seating. In the last 12 months, turnover has almost doubled – rising from £55.1m to £105m. That shot it in to the 69 spot on the Top 100. The company specialises in aircraft seating, primarily higher-end business and first class units, working with some of the world’s biggest airlines, such as Delta and Lufthansa. Thompson Aero is now headed by chief executive Andres Budo, who took up the post in January after joining the business as deputy in June 2018. His background is working in cabin and interiors with the world’s second largest aerospace firm, Airbus. And before joining Airbus, Andres held a number of senior roles in business development and marketing, business transformation, production development and

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M&A activity in the US and Europe, primarily in the aerospace and defence sectors. While the surge to £105m is something impressive, you may have already read earlier in the magazine that Andres says the firm is on course to double those sales further still – cracking the £220m mark in the next set of published accounts. It’s also planning a major consolidation of its existing five sites to a new top-end 350,000 sq ft development which will ensure the company has the ability to expand comfortably and organically. He says much of the success of the company is the strength of repeat business, with major firms returning to Thompson Aero. “Currently, Thompson Aero employs about 1,500 people. This year we are going to have a record sales year – 2018 represents an 86% increase throughput,” he told Ulster Business. “It’s very challenging in any kind of industry

to achieve that and 2018 was quite challenging for us, and we had to see a 30% increase over 2017 (in seat sales).” The company’s three main products include the Vantage, Vantage XL and then the Vantage XL with suite doors, which provides a full enclosure for the passenger. It also produces specialised mini-suites which are traditionally used in first class. Malaysia Airlines has adopted the Vantage XL on some of its Airbus 350ss. They are also used by Qantas on its Airbus A330 and Boeing 787 business class. That growth in sales – and with a burgeoning headcount – means it’s aiming to be on its new site by 2021. And it’s also just begun a new system of training staff from the ground up through its own inhouse academy. “We are reaching the limit of what we can do. By the end of the year we will end up with around 1,600 to 1,700 employees. This is extracting every possible benefit we can get from our existing facilities.” ■

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TOP 100

Who will make the Top 100 in 2030? Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts assesses the successes of 2019 and what’s needed to bolster the top firms of the future

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ooking at this year’s Top 100, it’s fair to say that there are no major surprises. Many of the 100 companies are battle worn veterans who have seen off multiple recessions, downturns and political instability. I have no doubt that even with the huge threat of Brexit; they will find a way forward.

Reinvention and innovation are their bottom line in an ever-uncertain world economy. If there is one group of people we need more of in Northern Ireland that is entrepreneurs. We need to be thinking of how we help create the conditions for the next generation of Top 100. So how do we do that? Firstly let’s realise the huge economic potential of our six further education colleges and our universities. As a former chairman of Colleges NI, I know firsthand of the amazing job they do in developing entrepreneurial skills and creating the next generation of small business owners. We need a new 14-19 strategy, which provides a new vocational route, running parallel to academic, from school right through to university. We have heard in recent years about creating a Northern powerhouse in England – so how

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do we create a Northern Ireland economic powerhouse? How do we achieve a 5% growth rate instead of bumping along at less than 1%? How do we make Northern Ireland the best place in the UK and Ireland to shop, socialise, locate and to start a business? What do we need to do to make Northern Ireland an ecosystem of innovation? Fundamentally, what should our region have achieved economically, socially and politically by 2030? Big questions like these require big answers from our political leaders. These are challenging times for our retail sector, as 2019 will be the year of reinvention for our sector and for our high streets and town centres. We are now seeing the creation of more confident and dynamic independent retailers. Far from being the past, independent retailers are now the future of our sector. Consumer behaviour is rapidly changing and people want something different from their high streets and I believe that smaller, more agile and techsavvy retailers who can adapt to this tidal wave of change will be the ones who will claim the future.

The high street is not dying; it is instead going through a reconstruction process, which will result in very different retail sector. For Retail NI members it is not in any way about managing decline; it is instead about managing the future. There are lessons to be learned for businesses across the board from the retail industry. Our retailers have shown how readily they can adapt to change and how being malleable is crucial to survival. What’s more, the resilient nature of retail is an admirable quality other business sectors should seek to replicate. With the unprecedented challenges facing businesses and uncertainty continuing to mount, it’s clear that all companies, regardless of sector, can no longer rely on the status quo if they are to stay ahead. And if they can embrace change and new trends with the same vivacity as our retailers, then I’m confident Northern Ireland business will continue to prosper. Lastly, now more than ever we need our political leaders to lead the way with big bold solutions and to take the difficult decisions. Real leaders do not see problems – they seek solutions. ■


Do you have the ‘Mark of Progress’?

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iversity Mark is Northern Ireland’s only independent not-for-profit organisation enabling and supporting companies in achieving a Charter Mark to recognise commitment to Diversity in the workplace.

Founded in 2017 by Women in Business NI with the help of Allstate, Queen’s University, Gilbert-Ash and the Northern Ireland Civil Service the organisation now have 50 progressive companies signed up for a Diversity Charter Mark from a variety of sectors, and they have applied for charity status. Christine White, head of business at Diversity Mark, said: “The ‘Mark of Progress’ demonstrates that organisations are committed to building a positive and inclusive workplace culture to benefit everyone and make them much more attractive to future talent. Millennials & Generation Z care more about equality and diversity than any other generation. “We support and encourage our members by

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Diversity Mark independent assessors Judith Gillespie CBE, Equality Commissioner, with Dianne Foster, Baker McKenzie with Kieran Harding, Business in the Community, and Deborah Lange, Invest NI and Belfast Harbour

providing valuable feedback from the independent assessment panel on an annual basis along with sharing best practice and enabling people to network & learn from each other. “The Charter is effective with commitment from the very top of the organisation and requires sign off from the chairperson or chief executive." To find out how your business could benefit from Diversity Mark membership visit www.diversity-mark-ni.co.uk or contact Christine White christine@diversity-mark-ni.co.uk.

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Nick Coburn

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97 Ulster Carpets T

hey might be created on the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, but the lavish products coming out of the Ulster Carpets factory have found their way into homes and businesses right around the world. Ulster Carpets was founded by George Walter Wilson in Portadown in 1938 and is still privately owned today by the founder’s family.

In 2019, chairman Edward Wilson, son of the company founder, retired after 58 years. However, the Wilson family remains at the helm of Ulster Carpets, with Edward’s nephews, Nick Coburn and John Wilson, as group managing director and chairman, respectively. It has come in at number 97 on this year’s Ulster Business Top 100 list, with turnover increasing from £68m to £76m in the last year, according to its latest accounts ending March 2018.

Since then, it has embarked on the first phase of a £40m investment in its Portadown base, which includes a newly opened dyehouse. The business employs almost 700 people, and still has its headquarters in Portadown, with further offices in the US, Dubai, Paris and London. “While last year we looked to the past as we marked our 80th anniversary, our focus very much remains on the future,” Nick Coburn told Ulster Business. “We have completed the initial phase of our £40m capital investment and regeneration programme with the opening of our new dyehouse and energy centre in Portadown. This will act as a template for our future plans, which will further increase the levels of innovation and efficiency in our manufacturing processes. “Ulster Carpets remains popular within the residential sector, but our growth in recent years has been in bespoke contract work. Today, over 75% of our carpet is exported outside of the UK as we continue to successfully work within the hospitality, gaming and marine industries across the world.

“These sectors require high quality, luxury carpet and our ability to combine that with bespoke designs and colours mean that our products, manufactured here in Northern Ireland, now adorn some of the leading hotels, casinos and cruise ships across the world.” In addition to the main production plant at Castleisland in Portadown, the Ulster Carpets Group also includes wool processing company, Ulster Yarns Ltd, based in Dewbury, Danish carpet manufacturer, Danfloor, Griffith Textile Machines and Roger Oates Design, designers and makers of unique stripe runners and rugs, based in London. Ulster Carpets controls every aspect of the manufacturing process – from sourcing the wool and spinning and dyeing the yarn through to the bespoke design and weaving of the finest Axminster and Wilton carpets. Among its customers, some of which it can’t identify by name, it has designed and manufactured carpets for hotels across the world. These range from the Grand Central Hotel, Belfast and the Savoy in London through to the Intercontinental Paris, Hotel South Beach in Miami and the Sofitel Dubai. It’s also big in the gaming sector, supplying carpet to leading casinos across the US, including the MGM Grand and the Bellagio in Las Vegas, and in the marine industry, with custom carpets having been supplied to many well-known cruise lines around the world. ■

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PROFILE

Diageo: helping to

make a positive impact along the way

Pictured at Diageo’s beer packaging facility in Belfast with its new packaging is manufacturing excellence manager Graeme Pollock and quality manager Mary Devlin

Global drinks giant Diageo may be best known for its wide range of leading brands, including Guinness, Harp and Baileys, but the company is also making sure it’s helping society along the way and making a positive impact here in Northern Ireland

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iageo is a global leader in beverage alcohol bringing consumers a collection of brands including Guinness, Harp, Baileys, Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Tanqueray. In Northern Ireland, Diageo is part of the community with over 330 employees across three sites including the Baileys global facility at Mallusk, a bottling and packaging plant in east Belfast and the corporate HQ in Belfast city centre.


people graduate, progressing into careers in the UK hospitality industry. Diageo is one of the first FTSE 100 companies to offer fully paid 26-week equal parental leave for all UK and Ireland employees regardless of gender, sexual orientation or whether they become parents biologically, through surrogacy, or adopt. The move is part of Diageo’s leading work to support gender equality and to create a fully inclusive and diverse workforce.

Claire Hutchinson, corporate relations manager, Diageo Northern Ireland, said: “Diageo’s ambition is to be one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer products companies in the world and sustainability are core to that ambition.

Diageo is also a corporate sponsor of the PSNI funded RADAR facility (Risk Avoidance Danger Awareness Resource) in Belfast Harbour estate which helps young people become more aware of the risks associated with underage drinking and antisocial behaviour.

Diageo’s charity partner in NI is Orchardville, a registered charity and social enterprise committed to changing the lives of people with learning disability and autism. While fundraising is a crucial element of the partnership, creating shared value through placement opportunities, mock interviews and autism awareness training is also key and there are currently two Orchardville service users in part-time paid employment in Diageo’s head office.

“In Northern Ireland, we play our part in achieving this through our corporate responsibility agenda which focuses on providing leadership in alcohol in society; helping to build thriving communities and reducing our environmental impact.

BUILDING THRIVING COMMUNITIES

REDUCING ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

The Diageo Learning for Life: Hospitality Elevator programme is aimed at over 18s currently working in the industry in Northern Ireland who are looking to increase their hours, level of responsibility and develop skills to aid career development.

Diageo Ireland holds Bord Bia Origin Green status and both supply sites in Northern Ireland adhere to high level of governance, helping to minimise environmental impact across its operations.

Marc Eccles, The Northern Whig with Tara Meyler, John Creighton, and Holly Devine, The Morning Star who took part in the Diageo Learning for Life: Hospitality Elevator programme

“It is through our work in these areas that Diageo NI has achieved gold level CORE, Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Standard and Northern Ireland’s only corporate responsibility accreditation.”

LEADERSHIP IN ALCOHOL IN SOCIETY The company is working to help reduce alcohol related harm in society through dedicated programmes and partnership and collaboration with others. ‘Smashed’ is Diageo’s global programme dedicated to preventing underage drinking around the world. The programme looks to empower young people by equipping them with the information, awareness and confidence to make responsible choices around alcohol. It has been delivered to over 28,000 post-primary students across Northern Ireland since 2016 and a further month-long tour will begin in autumn 2019. The programme combines a live theatre production presented by professional actors accompanied by interactive workshops, evaluation and teaching resources for schools, which have been endorsed by The Council for the Curriculum, Examinations, and Assessment in Northern Ireland.

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It’s creating shared value by empowering employees and the communities in which Diageo operates. Free to attend, the programme comprises of three one-day modules and includes Diageo Bar Academy and nationally recognised qualifications in food safety and customer service. The initial cohort of 30 participants completed the programme in May 2019. The Hospitality Elevator programme is delivered by The Springboard Charity and operates alongside Diageo’s award-winning Learning for Life: Bartending and Hospitality programme which has seen more than 1,200 unemployed

Diageo’s ambition is “ to be the one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer products companies in the world and responsibility and sustainability are core to that ambition

Strategically each business is committed to reduce greenhouse gases by 30% and to reduce water consumption by 50% by 2020. Zero waste to landfill has also successfully been in place in Northern Ireland for six years. Recently, Diageo announced an investment of £16m to reduce the amount of plastics used in its beer packaging by removing the plastic ring carriers and shrink wrap from its multipacks of Guinness, Harp, Rockshore and Smithwick’s. The company’s bottling and packaging plant in Northern Ireland will be the first site that will be up and running with the new packs, with the business investing £8m in its facility in east Belfast. Currently under 5% of Diageo’s total packaging is plastic and this change will reduce Diageo’s plastic usage by over 400 tonnes annually. Oliver Loomes, country director of Diageo Ireland, said: “Managing our environmental impact is important for the planet and the financial sustainability of our business. We already have one of the most sustainable breweries in the world at St James’s Gate and we are now leading the way in sustainable packaging. This is good news for the environment and for our brands.” ■

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PROFILE

Noel Brady: a busy year in the life of a business consultant

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t’s been another busy year for Noel Brady – a man celebrating 15 years with his own firm and with more than four decades under his belt as a business leader in Northern Ireland. The Belfast man is the founder of Consult Nb1, which specialises in a range of both public and private business. “I will celebrate 15 years in business as Consult Nb1 in July,” Noel says. “In that time, I’ve helped a range of local, national and international companies build their businesses in Northern Ireland. The company is all about people who want to do business in the province, and I have a strong network here to support that.” His lengthy CV includes a variety of work across the business sector here, helping indigenous firms build their companies, attract specialist talent, secure partners and successfully bid for valuable government contracts. Speaking of the latter, Noel is very proud that he has helped clients secure more than £500m worth of government tenders in the last year alone. And his experience also leads him to assisting companies from outside Northern Ireland who wish to tap into the market here, they may need help taking their initial steps or being in contact with the right people to help them establish and grow their business. “A perfect client is someone who is not familiar with the NI market place and has few contacts here. I can help them meet the right people, partners and assist them in applying for tenders or other opportunities.” Some of the firms he’s worked with, including many which originate from outside these shores, include US-based companies such as Olenick and Chatalytic and Dublin’s Codec-Dss, T-Pro and SureSkills. “In many cases I have helped them to get established, find partners to work with, search for opportunities and tenders, as well as

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getting some of the best people to work for them,” he says. And among the many Northern Ireland success stories with which Noel has been involved with include Sentel, Neueda, Continu, Civica, 5NINES and CTS Projects. “We help our clients to network in both the public and private sectors – and, in addition, bring other companies together which they can collaborate with.” For Noel, it’s very much about “the skill of networking”. “I’m a serial networker,” he says. “That’s exceptionally important, and that’s where I meet new clients. It’s about getting the right conversation going.”

One of his major talents is writing tenders – ensuring businesses are best placed to securing multi-million pound government contracts. “I’ve been on both sides of the tender table for around 35 years. I know how to write winning tenders,” he says. Aside from his own Consult Nb1 business, he wears several other hats. These include his role as joint chairman of the digital services forum created by CPD, chairman of the Continu Group of companies, member of the Board of the Northern Ireland Assembly Business Trust and financial non-executive director of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.

Whether it’s public sector, business leaders or politicians, Noel’s ability to put clients in the room with the right people is key to his success.

He says that while the lack of an Executive has slowed down the flow of the larger tenders coming to market, small and medium tenders appear to still be raising their heads and there is a strong flow of opportunities at present for a wide range of business sectors.

“It’s about my experience and knowledge – I’ve been working in business here for the last 42 years. Nothing really phases me, I just feel very comfortable working with people.”

And while Brexit is around the corner he says “business is changing but is still strong” as are the demands for his various roles and expertise. ■


WORKPLACE Nial Borthistle and Andrew Trimble

Glandore bringing positive and green energy to staff and members Flexible office company Glandore is focusing on not only growing its business and members, but keeping a close eye on wellness and its green credentials

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family-run business, founded in 2001, Glandore’s aim is to create environments that encourage, inspire and support the growth of the companies and individuals they house.

and innovative services, including on-site nutritionists, yoga classes, on-site barbers, hairdressers and on-site masseuses, to create a greener, healthier workplace and enhance productivity.

Under the guidance of Glandore director, Clare Kelly, the complimentary Glandore Wellness Programme delivers a range of modern

Operating in the high-end serviced office space for so many years, Glandore has a deep understanding of how difficult a task it can be

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for companies to get set up in Ireland and then to attract and retain staff, there is so much expected of businesses now in terms of what their employees expect back, and they have a right to expect as much, a businesses people are its most valuable commodity. Glandore understands that every business and its employees need the right environment to achieve their full potential and without content and motivated staff, no company can strive for success. Glandore believe that focusing on wellbeing in the workplace can assist with the growth


its Green Initiative in an effort to make a difference to the wellness of the world around them as well the business’ internal environment. The Glandore Green initiative, led by an internal ‘Green Team’, seeks to make Glandore the most sustainable and green serviced office and flexible workspace provider in Ireland. Speaking about the initiative, Clare Kelly said: “Co-working and flexible workspace by their very definition are green. It’s not just a sharing of ideas but of space, heat, light and other resources.

Claire Clerkin, Clare Kelly, Nial Borthistle, Valerie McConville, Kathy Bell

of the companies that they work with and that genuine care for the mental and physical wellbeing of staff and member businesses is essential to the success of any company in their industry.

the true nature of their wellness initiatives, what they are hoping to achieve and buy in from employees.

The workplace is not just about clocking in and clocking out anymore, it’s about bringing a sense of achievement and support to people’s lives. After all, people spend more than eight hours a day in their place of work and alongside their colleagues so it’s important to ensure that they are feeling positive, motivated and ‘well’.

“Wellness is not just a tick box for Glandore, it is about really getting to know what our members and employees need at a deeper level, knowing what they need to be comfortable, motivated and productive in the workplace and knowing what will keep a smile on their faces on a day to day basis,” Clare Kelly says. “Staff retention is key in our business and making sure people are bought in and have shared goals is essential.”

Glandore has seen that businesses, including itself, that adopt and administer thought out wellness programs are guaranteed to see an increase in productivity from staff and in turn, an increase in revenue, what’s the old saying ‘invest in your staff and your staff will invest time in you’.

Following the panel discussion, Andrew Trimble, ex-Irish international rugby player and now business owner (Kairos) and podcaster (House of Rugby), chatted through his journey from focusing on health and wellbeing as a professional athlete to managing it alongside a business.

As part of Glandore’s Wellness Program and International Wellbeing Week they recently hosted a panel discussion in the Belfast offices on ‘Workplace Wellbeing’, which featured Kathy Bell, talent acquisition manager at FinTrU, Valerie McConville, head of business development at Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Claire Clerkin, nutritional therapist and Glandore’s own Clare Kelly.

“Going from having every meal and move thought out for me by a team of people to having to do it for myself and my team in Kairos was difficult, a lot of it was new to me and very personal in terms of needs,” Andrew said.

Nial Borthistle, business development manager at Glandore, guided the panel through a very insightful discussion on workplace wellbeing and posed some tough questions to them on

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“But I now understand that the over all wellness of my team is essential to their productivity and buy-in, they need to be enjoying what they do and to feel valued.” Glandore doesn’t just focus on the wellbeing of its staff without considering the environment too. It has recently launched

“Applying techniques such as smart light sensors and solar panels, Glandore is Ireland’s first flexible workspace and co-working company to state their commitment to using 100% renewable energy. Often companies and individuals believe recycling is enough but as an organization, we believe it’s important to take it a step further. Naturally we want to increase recycling rates, but the priority is to reduce waste entirely.” As part of the Glandore Green Initiative, the business is using 100% renewable energy across all of their locations in Ireland and has also expanded its recycling and composting facilities across its nine locations, with the aim of reducing the contamination of recyclables and waste overall. The company has also begun installing electric car charging ports in some of their locations and will be holding a number of ‘green’ focused talks with industry experts for their members and the general public throughout the rest of 2019 and in to 2020. In 2019 Glandore also declared its newest office space location in Cork city as its first plastic-free, flexible office space in Ireland. Glandore provide reusable amenities across all their facilities, including their Belfast offices and have worked with their suppliers to ensure that deliveries are plastic-free and that other packaging coming on-site is reduced. Glandore are looking forward to extending this ban on plastic within their offices across the nine locations in Ireland throughout the remainder of 2019. Glandore is now fully committed to seeking positive change in the communities where their offices are based and embraces the opportunity and responsibility to increase green initiatives with staff, members and the wider community in Belfast. ■

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NEWS

Travel firm ‘to grow turnover to £50m’

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Northern Ireland Ireland business travel company is to open an office in Dublin as part of an ambitious expansion plan to grow turnover to £50m.

Beyond Business Travel, founded by Edel Doherty, aims to grow revenue from £16m to £50m in the next four years, with opportunities in the Republic expected to play a significant role in that growth plan. Ms Doherty set up the company in 2010 in the midst of the recession. The business offers offline travel management service, where an account manager handles all of a company’s travel arrangements, from flights to visas and meeting room requirements. It also offers a technology solution to customers which allows staff to make their own booking arrangements with parameters set by the employer. “We are excited to open an office in Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2 as part of our ambitious growth plans,” she said.

Edel Doherty

Digital DNA attracts record crowd

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ore than 3,000 top tech talents have turned out for this year’s Digital DNA event in Belfast.

The two-day tech festival, held at St George’s Market, attracted a record crowd which heard from experts from the cream of the global digital world. Among those firms taking to the stage was Signifyd. Those gathered heard that Belfast’s tech sector is showing some of the same characteristics as Silicon Valley in its willingness to take risks. Guests heard from Signifyd, one of the newest foreign direct investors to set up in the city. The company makes software which can eliminate the dangers of fraud in e-commerce.

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Simon Bailie, chief executive of Digital DNA, and Lord Mayor of Belfast, John Finucane

Founder and chief executive Raj Ramanand said that the company ultimately hopes to have 200 staff in Belfast It’s currently based in flexible offices at River House in High Street, but he said he expected there would be room there for a 200-strong workforce. Simon Bailie, chief executive of Digital DNA, said that the momentum behind the event has been growing year-on-year.

“It is now seen as a global meeting place for the best of the tech community, drawn by the quality of the speakers and the chance to meet and share ideas with their peers. “The energy in the room in palpable: deals are being done, new contacts made and minds are being expanded. This is what Digital DNA is all about and we want to thank our sponsors for helping make it all happen.”


RECRUITMENT

Learning and development: the heartbeat of an organisation

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ome of the biggest challenges companies are faced with are the ongoing pressures of devising innovative ways of attracting talent or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ when it comes to employee engagement, staff perks and retention. The career landscape in Northern Ireland is ever evolving and options for job seekers are greater. Organisations that can demonstrate they actively invest in their people are going to elevate their status as an employer of choice. This is supported by the recent Abacus Careers Salary Survey, where almost a quarter of respondents valued learning and development (L&D) as a key benefit. With this in mind, employers that have a focused and clear L&D strategy are more likely to not only attract but retain top talent. Here’s my thoughts on a plan-do-review approach. A clear L&D plan means better results Have a clearly defined learning and development strategy for the business. Each of your employees should have the same vision as you. Work with them to build their own plan. Most organisations hire staff with various levels of experience and competencies and therefore progress at different paces. Development plans should reflect this along with being future proof to amplify your employees’ potential. Organisations who are actively identifying skills gaps, individual development plans, and succession planning, find that employees are better equipped when it comes to career progression. Who is responsible for creating a culture of L&D? HR? L&D executive? Directors? Everyone? Actually, all of the aforementioned. Companies have moved away from ‘classroom-based’ L&D activities and now promote a culture where learning is shared, continuous, supportive and collegiate across all levels of the organisation.

An environment that empowers employees to take onus and responsibility to drive their own

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Stuart John

development, share knowledge and inspire others will see an increase in productivity. Better never stops – how are you measuring progress? The usual monthly and quarterly performance reviews will more than likely be a popular choice for several years to come. However, measuring progress in your organisation doesn’t need to be so rigid. Establish some easy to measure goals, KPIs and milestones and commit to having more frequent employee ‘check-ins’. Empower some trusted personnel in the business to help the organisation identify coaching or training needs and encourage those ‘water cooler’ chats. Leaders who frequently review their development plans of the wider team will have their fingers on the pulse when it comes to change and will see quicker results.

In closing, as cliche as it may sound, continued learning, professional development and encouraging new skills can be motivational and ‘fun’, creating a lightbulb moment of being consciously competent as you achieve against a goal or target. Organisations that can demonstrate that they invest in their personnel will see a reciprocal higher level of buy-in, engagement and productivity and retention. Stuart John is joint managing director of Abacus Careers. Contact stuart@abacus.careers

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AUDIT

Emma Murray:

meet PwC’s latest equity partner Professional services giant PwC is developing and expanding, and that includes appointing its latest equity partner Emma Murray, moving in to the firm’s new Audit line of service

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AUDIT

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nspired by the region’s entrepreneurs and proudly rooted in Dungannon, Emma Murray is now an equity partner in PwC’s new Audit line of service.

“When I left Dublin after gaining an actuarial degree to return home to become an accountant, I was the black sheep of the actuary family,” Emma says. “Most stayed to work with big city firms, but I wanted to work with local entrepreneurs. My family weren’t all professionals, many had a trade and owned their own businesses, so I’m very comfortable in that environment. I have a massive respect for them and their achievements. “I’ve supported companies which are booming and expanding into new markets, but I’ve also been there with owners who’ve been on the cusp of failure. It’s really tough when things aren’t going well, but that entrepreneurial passion kicks in. The sheer resilience from someone who gives it their all is incredible.” And they will need that resilience with the complex challenges of Brexit. “The next twelve months will bring its challenges to most businesses – some more than others. Sectors such as high street retail seem to be really struggling in a competitive environment with the inexorable march of the online retailers. “While it sometimes feels like it’s all doom and gloom while we await the outcome of Brexit, the Northern Irish cohort are a resilient bunch. Most businesses I speak to about the dreaded ‘B’ word will say ‘There’s a limit to how much we can prepare, so we’ll take it as it comes.’ They’ve faced and navigated challenges in the past and they’ll do it again. “Those who prepare well, who are flexible and agile enough to make changes and find ways to innovate, will be the ones who come out of this best. They’ve got to do it – we’ve got the border situation, the lack of an Assembly, we’re facing a growing skills shortage. It’s essential to always be in turn-around mode, never complacent but continually reinventing ourselves.” A skills shortage is one of the biggest problems for NI businesses, and a recent survey from the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry reported that half of their members couldn’t get suitable people for

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jobs, with almost two-thirds revealing that the skills gap was impacting on businesses. Urging businesses to stand up and apply collective pressure, Emma said they’ve got to be the leaders in the absence of a functioning Assembly. “Organisations like the IoD and CBI are encouraging businesses to stand together and be reckoned with. There are so many doing their own thing, but I believe we’d be better off working together. “Take the skills shortage for example – we need to educate society about what is really needed. Parents need to know that it’s OK if your daughter or son wants to be a mechanic, to gain a trade, that’s the type of skill that put us on the map to start with. It’s the same with the likes of accountancy – you don’t need to go to university. Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to achieve your qualifications – without the debt.” For Emma, it’s the genuine commitment to doing the right thing for its people and the community, that makes PwC stand out. For example the PwC Challenge has seen it work with organisations in west Belfast to raise suicide prevention awareness. “We’ve been doing so much around mental health. It’s frightening how much more young people are being impacted by worries than the previous generation. It’s really important to me that those who can, do support their people. Take us with 2,300 people – if PwC helps its people with flexible working hours, time off to volunteer, a genuine commitment to well-being – we’re going to be more mentally-resilient. If every business did the same, ensuring a good environment for their people, that passes down into their families and society. “The difference our purpose makes for clients is massive. If a business is considering who to work with, what matters at the end of the day is the person they’ll be working with. If they see you’re working with a firm that’s more socially aware and more minded to respect and give time to others, that plays to the values of the person standing in front of you.” Emma is also looking forward to the move to new headquarters in Belfast city centre, the £70m Merchant Square development. It’ll be

one of the most tech-enabled spaces in the city, accommodating 3,000 people. “I am very excited about the move to Merchant Square,” Emma says.“There’s a lot of innovation around design and clientengagement. The firm has changed so much since I joined, from being a series of small sector-specific services to now being strategically linked right across PwC’s global network. We’re focused on bringing the best of the global firm’s experience to our clients – regardless of size and location.”

While it sometimes feels like it’s all doom and gloom while we await the outcome of Brexit, the Northern Irish cohort is a resilient bunch. Most businesses I speak to about the dreaded ‘B’ word say ‘There’s a limit to how much we can prepare, so we’ll take it as it comes.’ They’ve faced and navigated challenges in the past and they’ll do it again

Emma’s admission as partner is somewhat overshadowed by an even bigger life change – expecting her first child. “This is genuinely my biggest achievement to date and I’m very grateful for the support I have received from PwC and my new colleagues in the partnership. Some family wondered if my pending maternity leave would impact my promotion, but it didn’t which shows how far we have come in developing and nurturing a diverse workforce. “This is a real step-change for women and sends a positive message about how things should be. A career goal doesn’t mean you have to give up on your personal dreams – it just means you need to find an employer that respects you enough to want both for you too. I’ve found that in PwC.” ■

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BREXIT

Brexit deal protecting Northern Ireland could bring an economic boost

We have now endured three years of turbulence since the Brexit referendum and clearly we need this resulting uncertainty to be removed as a matter of urgency, writes Neil McShane, founder and director of commercial property investment firm In Prio

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Ps voted, by a margin of just one, to amend the Northern Ireland Bill to stop a future Prime Minister from forcing through a ‘no deal’ Brexit by suspending Parliament. While not impossible, this does make it much harder for the incoming PM to suspend Parliament in order to leave without a deal on the current deadline of October 31.

reopened, it seems securing a completely new deal, on or before the deadline, is ambitious to say the least. I believe that both candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party have bee fully aware of the catastrophic nature of a nodeal Brexit and neither would want to preside over such an unprecedented act of economic and political self-harm.

What would that mean for the property industry? Well, the removal of Brexit uncertainty, combined with a potentially uniquely-attractive positioning for NI, could transform the currently constrained property market: potential sellers become active sellers and potential buyers become actual buyers.

This amendment is a welcome development, particularly for us in Northern Ireland because of the catastrophic nature of a no-deal scenario. Department for the Economy research indicates that no-deal could put 40,000 jobs at risk – while findings by the Ulster Bank in its purchasing managers’ index indicate that Northern Ireland’s economy may have entered into a downturn.

There is still a multitude of potential outcomes, including a second referendum and/or a general election, but ultimately it looks like we will either vote to revoke Article 50 in order to remain or, more likely, a deal is secured which looks distinctly similar to existing withdrawal agreement.

We could see a wealth of opportunities come to the market, thereby satisfying the pent-up demand for product. Furthermore, while a boost in the market can drive prices, it is likely that the wealth of opportunities will temper any potential capital growth, and result in a more sustainable market situation.

Both candidates have promised to remove the backstop but neither seem to have credible plans to replace it. In any event, the EU has been clear regarding the importance of protecting the already-fragile position of Northern Ireland, so whatever deal is done should represent a good result for this region,

And this may be only a fraction of the positive transformational possibilities for NI should we get the deal we so desperately need.

So what can we expect on October 31? Well, given that both candidates for Number 10 say they will negotiate a completely new deal, in spite of the EU making it abundantly clear that the withdrawal agreement will not be

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so much so that we could experience an overnight economic boost.

The prospect is exciting, however, unless and until a deal is secured, the ongoing uncertainty will hold us back. ■


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NEWS

Colin Neill, Hospitality Ulster, Stephen Kelly, Manufacturing NI and Glyn Roberts, Retail NI

New Northern Ireland trade alliance formed

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orthern Ireland’s newest trade body alliance will take its message to Westminster later this year amid the ongoing political vacuum at home and with Brexit on the horizon.

Trade NI is an alliance between Hospitality Ulster, headed by Colin Neill, Manufacturing NI, Stephen Kelly, and Retail NI, Glyn Roberts, and aims to represent a wider swathe of Northern Ireland’s private sector amid the “paralysis” surrounding a lack of Executive and therefore a local political voice on the UK’s exit from the EU. The group will take its message to London on September 11, hosting an event to once again bring together politicians, businesses, stakeholders and the media to raise awareness of the issues and challenges facing companies here. The alliance, which has been supported by Heathrow Airport, Danske Bank and Flybe, outlined its aims at its launch in the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast, to an audience of business leaders from across Northern Ireland.

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“Northern Ireland is facing huge economic and political challenges ahead with Brexit, no Assembly, and a rapidly changing global economy,” the group said. “Trade NI will seek to give leadership on behalf of our three sectors and provide new policy solutions to creating a modern local economy. “The paralysis that has been created with the lack of an Assembly and Executive has developed a situation where very little has been done to address the needs of our sectors or the economy at large. “The shift of power from Stormont to Westminster means that we must press decision makers there to implement policies and make legislative changes that will help grow Northern Ireland. Our local economy and businesses have taken a back seat and we simply cannot afford that situation any longer. “Our three organisations represent most of the businesses that make up private sector

jobs in Northern Ireland. Therefore, a louder voice needs to be heard on their behalf so that they don’t suffer in the wake of the local political issues. We want a reboot of the economic policy of Northern Ireland, in order to benefit our economy and safeguard our growing business community.” Kevin Kingston, chief executive of Danske Bank, the main sponsor of Trade NI’s forthcoming Westminster reception, said that “Northern Ireland has a strong business community and should be considered across the UK as a thriving business hub for the global market”. “The vitality of the private sector is imperative to the strength of the Northern Ireland economy. We must ensure Northern Ireland businesses are well positioned to be able to compete in the post-Brexit environment. We will continue to work alongside the Trade NI alliance and other key influencers to make sure that Northern Ireland, as a constituent part of the United Kingdom, remains a key priority at Westminster.” ■


ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

The NI workplace: dynamic and evolving Northern Ireland’s economy faces tough and uncertain times, with a rapidly changing workforce make-up. John Mulgrew takes a deeper look at research from Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre about the evolving economic landscape

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he headline figures are what tends to grab a news journalist’s eye or ear when it comes to economic surveys, predictions and outlooks.

The latest Ulster University Economic Policy Centre: Summer 2019 Outlook highlights that Northern Ireland’s economic output, employment and house price growth are expected to stall in the next three years – slowing at a greater rate than the UK as a whole, according to fresh predictions. The research, carried out by the team including director Gareth Hetherington and deputy

director Richard Johnston, predicts overall GVA (gross value added) will fall to 1.3% in 2019, dropping further to 0.9% by 2022. Employment growth could also fall to as little 0.5% by 2022, and house price growth to 2.2%. But we can look deeper at the research, the current evolving nature of Northern Ireland’s workforce in the last few years, and where it could be headed in the future.

PUBLIC SECTOR As for the public sector, of which accounts for close to a third of the workforce here, in the last six years, The predicted NI Pulling out a few areas employment levels have economic growth shows a gradual, but fallen by around 5,000. Those in 2022 nonetheless stark shift in the numbers are also predicted to breakdown and dynamics of retract further, according to Ulster Northern Ireland’s private and public University’s outlook, but at a slower pace. sectors – between 2012 and 2018.

0.9%

MANUFACTURING Take manufacturing, for example. In the last six years, there has been a surge of more than 15,000 roles here. The key factor here is that the bulk of those have been in full-time roles. Across the board, there has been a 78,000 net increase in jobs here – with around 51,000 full-time roles and 27,000 part-time posts.

Gareth Hetherington

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health and social work, as Northern Ireland – and the UK as a whole – sees an overall ageing population

Looking forward, manufacturing is predicted to be the second fastest growing areas of employment over the next decade – adding around 5,000 posts. It’s predicted to sit behind

HOSPITALITY Northern Ireland’s hotel, restaurant and bar sector is an increasingly important part of an economy which is trying, and successfully, growing its tourism offering. And in the last six years there’s been a shift and a surge in job creation – around 10,000. But the majority of those posts are part-time roles, which vastly outnumbered full-time jobs. RETAIL AND WHOLESALE Now, take the high street and beyond. There has been an increase of around 4,000 posts


ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

here between 2012 and 2018. But the vast majority of those roles have been part-time jobs. Looking forward, the retail sector is expected to see a small uplift in jobs, overall, but the number is dwarfed by the expansion of emerging sectors.

PART TIME OR FULL TIME? Those in part-time employment make up 25% of total employment in Northern Ireland. This varies across council areas. Belfast City Council has the highest proportion of parttime workers at 30% (large numbers of retail and hospitality jobs) compared to the lowest, Causeway Coast & Glens at 22%.

finance, while the agri sector is predicted to see a reduction in employment numbers. Speaking generally, the research says the data is “reasonably positive, the overall outlook remains cautious… locally the employment rate is at a record high as the economy continues to create jobs, and real wages are starting to rise after an extended period of stagnation.”

HEALTH AND SOCIAL WORK It appears that with an ever-aging population, and a population UNDER-EMPLOYMENT which is living longer, the An under-employed worker demand and need for roles is a person in employment “However, broader global concerns and within health and social care working fewer hours than geo-political tensions create an environment Jobs that were will burgeon in the next they wish. This is also less of greater uncertainty which is likely to result created in NI decade, according to the latest of an issue in NI, where only in lower economic growth over the medium outlook. The university predicts 6.5% of people in employment term,” it says. during 2018 these roles will see the biggest would want to work more increase here, with more than 6,000 hours, compared to an Meanwhile, Gareth new jobs being created by 2028. average of over 10% across Hetherington also says that the UK. “it seems, economically, PROFESSIONAL AND SCIENTIFIC that we are in a And just behind health roles and a growing Some of the other permanent state of manufacturing sector, jobs in the professional biggest areas of predicted anticipation”. The number of new and scientific sectors look set to see and uplift employment growth jobs added between in the coming years. include administration, “Both locally and 2012 and 2018 information and internationally, we have According to the university’s outlook, more communications, construction spent the last few years than 5,000 new roles are forecast to be and accommodation. Slower areas waiting for something to created over the next decade. of growth include education, transport and happen.” ■

8,000

78,000

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RETAIL

SPAR announces global sales of €35.8bn in 2018 A

s part of the world’s largest voluntary food retail chain, Henderson Group is one of over 100 global retail partners which generated global sales of €35.8bn (£32.2bn) in 2018.

Last year saw an increase of 335 additional stores, bringing the total to 13,112 SPAR stores in 48 countries worldwide, enabling their retailers to reap the benefits of SPAR International’s Better Together strategy. Launched in 2016, the five-year strategy allows partners to harness the brand’s international scale, delivering results in each community it operates in. When SPAR NI retailer Peter McBride was appointed to the InterSPAR Executive Committee, it provided the opportunity for even further collaboration. Recently, the Henderson Group announced plans to expand their retail estate by investing £17m into nine new stores. Six of these are past the planning stages, and one, SPAR Sunnyside Street, Belfast, opened in June, creating 30 new jobs in a £2m development. Henderson Group also intends to push an extra £9m into extensions and refurbishments to some of their landmark sites, including EUROSPAR Wallace Village in Lisburn. The plans for the future reflect the past year of business, when the group focused on investing back into their network of stores, whilst strengthening links with local food producers. Paddy Doody, sales and marketing Director, says: “Northern Ireland has some of the finest produce in the world, and whilst we can benefit from our international colleagues, we are also sharing our local credentials as best practice on the worldwide symbol outlet stage too.“ Using this knowledge, Henderson Group has opened 19 new outlets in the past year. In 2018

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SPAR Fortfield opened as a flagship store for Fresh, housing the first ever Barista Bar Cafe, a progression of the Baristra Bar Coffee brand. The store has recently been shortlisted for Small Store of the Year in the 2019 IGD Awards, a marker of excellence in the industry. Paddy says that responding to consumer demand will continue to be of critical importance. “Shopping has changed and it is up to us to ensure we’re responding to these changes. With that in mind, we have enhanced our food-to-go offering and developed various versions of our daily deli counters to suit the local area; there is no one-size-fits-all and we’re proud that we can provide those points of difference.” The group’s Fresh team has invested £100,000 in a new range, created with local farmers and growers. Made up of over 110 products, The Greengrocers comes from a full category review by the team in 2018 to

refresh the company’s offering. Sales of the new enjoy local Bakery range; a line of 20 products created with family businesses Graham’s Bakery, Daily Bake and Scott’s Bakery, are already projected to exceed £1.3m over the next 12 months. “Our focus on enhancing the shopper experience extends beyond bricks and mortar,” Paddy said. “We are also heavily investing in new technology. Many of our stores have adopted a self-service checkout option and we’re trialling a new app which helps retailers with stock control.” Henderson Group has pledged to continue to invest locally throughout their network of company owned and independent stores. Paddy said: “We’re delighted to see the investment bring success to our hardworking retail partners and deliver even better products and services.” ■


INTERVIEW

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INTERVIEW

Kainos: joining the big leagues Belfast IT firm Kainos has grown its turnover yet again, has shot up the Ulster Business Top 100 and landed a market capitalisation of £750m after becoming the first Northern Ireland business promoted to the FTSE 250. John Mulgrew speaks to chief executive Brendan Mooney

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ince joining what has become one of Northern Ireland’s fastest growing firms, 30 years ago, Co Antrim man Brendan Mooney has helped steer the burgeoning business towards huge sales and headcount growth.

It was also one of just a handful of firms Northern Ireland to become listed. But it’s now gone one step further, with its latest market cap of more than £760m seeing it join giants of industry and household names such as Aston Martin, Sports Direct and William Hill, on the FTSE 250. In its latest accounts, revenues are up 56% to £151.3m, while adjusted pre-tax profits have shot up around 50%. It’s a business which has offices across the globe, boasts a workforce of almost 1,500 staff, and will soon break ground at a new flagship headquarters in the heart of Belfast city centre. “There are a number of factors (for the growth). The biggest in size and quantity is the digital transformation for government,” Brendan told Ulster Business. That includes the development and digitisation of a range of areas, including passports and registering to vote. “That has been a strong area of growth, around 70% year-on-year.” The Workday arm of the company has also seen comparable expansion, with growth of around 60% in the last year. “It’s been really strong there and that is partly to do with increased demand in the market and winning market share. Geographically, we have strong revenue internationally.” Kainos counts contracts with the NHS as a major part of its business. But Brendan says that area has slowed while the public health

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in the UK as a whole suffers its own funding crisis, with the digitisation and technology end not currently the priority, with staff and front line services the key. “We can’t change that market. We have tried a few things around payment terms… they are coming back and saying ‘this isn’t a burning issue for me’.” “It’s frustrating for us in terms of great demand there. The NHS is still the biggest user of fax machines in the world. The demand is still there, but it’s taking longer to get there.” Kainos is also planning a major new head office in Belfast, at the site of the current Movie House Cinema on the Dublin Road. Originally due to become a 12-storey office, Kainos has now taken over the scheme, and will build a smaller development of around 110,000 to 115,000 sq ft. And it’s something which appears to be required as the headcount in the city is up around 100 to 700 in the last year alone. “We are on track, and nothing has changed since we made the announcement,” Brendan says. “It is purpose built to accommodate 1,400 to 1,500 staff, and we are very excited about that.” He said there will be various options in dealing with the excess capacity, which could be offered out to the market. The target is getting the building out of the ground and open by summer 2021. Brendan joined Belfast-based Kainos back in 1989, when it employed little more than a dozen members of staff. It is now one of Northern Ireland’s biggest success stories, boasting a workforce of almost 1,500.

Speaking generally about the latest result for the year ending March 31, Brendan says: “In what is our ninth consecutive year of growth, I am pleased to report the strongest annual performance in that period, with significant increases in the number of people working in Kainos and in sales, revenue and adjusted pre-tax profit growth. “Within Workday Implementation we continue to be the European partner of choice for forward-thinking organisations that are choosing Workday’s innovative software-as-a-service platform to support their people and finance requirements. To support our growing international client base, we have opened offices in Paris and Toronto in 2019, alongside existing offices in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Gdansk and Atlanta. “Smart, our market-leading software as a service (SaaS) platform for automated testing of the Workday suite, continues to win global brands as customers, adding Home Depot, Prudential and Vassar College during the year. “As a group, our healthcare-related revenues have grown strongly, however Evolve, our market-leading electronic medical records (EMR) solution for the NHS continues to experience the headwinds within the NHS funding landscape. “As a group, we remain focused on providing exceptional careers for our staff and exceptional digital products and services for our customers. The group’s pipeline of prospects continues to strengthen, and the Board believes that the group is wellpositioned for growth both in the short term and in the coming years.” ■

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COMMERCIAL PROPERTY

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he commercial property market across the UK and particularly in Northern Ireland remains difficult due to a number of factors but primarily the uncertainty that Brexit causes.

The first half of 2019 has experienced limited transactional evidence which perhaps unsurprisingly has been led by local investors with any larger transactions being special purchasers. While the first half of the year has seen approximately £75m to £80m of investment transaction the same period last year was approximately £55m. There have been a number of notable deals which have continued to focus around the office sector. Donegall House, one of Belfast’s prominent office buildings, changed hands for the first time in over 40 years for around £10m, James House, The Gasworks, for a reported £16m and The Gateway Offices, Titanic Quarter were acquired by Citibank (the tenant) for around £34m. Outside Belfast the office investment market remains limited, however, Timber Quay, Strand Road, Londonderry, is agreed for in excess of £5m. Office rents remain stable and are now accepted at around £20 – £22 per sq ft for new office accommodation typically in Belfast’s central business district. Refurbished office accommodation is achieving £17 – £18 per sq ft with typical rents outside Belfast city centre around £12 – £15 per sq ft. In respect of yields, office investments are trading at between 6% – 7.5% net initial yield subject to covenant strength and passing rents. The effects of the uncertainty in the market have most clearly been identified within the retail sector and particularly the retail investment market which has experienced few, if any, transactions this year. A number of company voluntary arrangements (CVA), administrations and insolvencies, have resulted in limited demand for this sector from an investment perspective. Nevertheless, locally the retail sector has begun to show some positive signs in the aftermath of the Primark fire.

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Property and uncertainty? Not a good combination By Gavin Clarke, director at Osborne King Occupationally there are a few more active requirements and retailers seeking second city centre stores and confirmation that House of Fraser has committed to a new long term lease in Victoria Square can only be positive. Discount retailers remain one of the most active occupiers with B&M Bargains, Home Bargains and Lidl all acquiring new stores across Northern Ireland. Most notably The Range has acquired 65,000 sq ft at the former B&Q store on Boucher Road and Home Bargains have recently purchased the Homebase box in Longwood Retail Park and Castlebawn Retail Park. The food sector also remains positive with Iceland, Greggs, Spar and Marks & Spencer all committing to new stores throughout Northern Ireland. The effect of future CVAs and administrations will no doubt make the remainder of 2019 challenging but there are signs that normality may be returning albeit at rebased rental levels but also a realisation that the ‘15-year leases to well-known retailers’ have effectively gone and replaced with shorter more flexible leases on a percentage of turnover basis

may become the norm in the future. On the industrial and warehousing front the first half of 2019 has remained relatively steady. There remains good occupational demand but limited quality of stock has resulted in rental levels beginning to increase slightly. Unfortunately the cost of a new build, unless for occupational or on a pre-let basis, are scarce. Transactionally the sale of Antrim Business Park, the Bunzl facility and Portview House, Edgewater have been the highlights this year totalling around £20m. The outlook for the market is difficult to determine due to the impact of external factors and the lack of quality investment supply. Of course the above could all change if uncertainty can be removed from the market as Northern Ireland has a unique opportunity for the future but as ever it depends on others. n Gavin Clarke MRICS is director with Osborne King. He can be contacted on 028 90 270000, email gavin.clarke@osborneking.com or follow us on Twitter @OsborneKingNI


MOTORING

Agnew Volkswagen: providing business and fleet services

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gnew Volkswagen is offering a range of tailored business fleets across its Belfast and Mallusk showrooms.

seven-seat sister Tiguan all-space and the flagship Touareg. Complementing the SUV range is an extensive choice of ever-popular models including the Golf, Polo, Arteon, and newly refreshed Passat which has been updated inside and out with a wide range of efficient engines – this is now available to order in Northern Ireland.

The specialist business services team is led by John O’Reilly, Agnew Volkswagen fleet sales manager. “Whether you are a fleet manager, a small or medium business owner, or company car driver the Agnew Volkswagen business services team can help you through every step of the contract hire process,” he said. “There are numerous benefits to dealing with us directly to manage your business vehicle needs.” He said that includes: •

Dedicated local business team based in Belfast and Mallusk providing a specialist, personal and tailored service for our customers.

John O’Reilly

knowledge and can provide immediate test drives and product demonstrations. •

We are entirely flexible and mobile and can meet your needs whether this is in our showroom or out on location at your business, we ensure our service is always high quality and seamless.

At Agnew Volkswagen we have unique access to the very latest and best Volkswagen contract hire offers and provide tailored quotes.

“Volkswagen has invested extensively in their model range in recent years,” John says. “The Volkswagen SUV range has been recently updated with refreshed models and completely new additions, so there is now an SUV to suit any need.

As we are based in the dealership we have unrivalled Volkswagen product

“The range includes our latest compact edition, the T-Cross, the T-Roc, Tiguan, its

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“The future looks very exciting as a full range of electric vehicles are soon to be launched. We have already welcomed the e-Golf, a fully electric version of this iconic hatchback, and brand-new electric models will soon be released under the iD model range. We look forward to sharing these with you soon.” ■ For more information or to discuss your business and fleet requirements please contact Agnew Volkswagen Belfast on 028 9023 4477 or Mallusk on 028 9034 2111 or see our latest business contract hire offers at www.agnewcars.com/ volkswagen


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TOURISM

Record visitors from Republic to NI

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here has been a breaking number of visitors from the Republic to Northern Ireland, new figures show.

Around 591,000 overnight trips were taken by residents from the Republic, which is an increase of nearly a quarter. Spending from visitors from the Republic rose by 20% to over £108m, while holiday trips increased by 7%. Around 2.8 million people visited Northern Ireland from outside the region for an overnight stay in 2018. It is estimated that those visitors spent £669m as part of their trip. There were around 1.425 million visitors from Britain, while 794,000 of visitors for an overnight stay came from outside the UK and Ireland. Over the year there were an estimated five million overnight trips in Northern Ireland, with spending estimated at £968m. The main reasons cited for overnight trips to Northern were holiday/pleasure/leisure,

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followed by visiting friends or elatives. This figure includes people from Northern Ireland making overnight stays in the region. Trips increased by a total of 3% from 2017, while revenue increased by 5%. Overall, hotel room occupancy was estimated to be 70% in 2018, with an estimated 2.2 million hotel rooms nights sold. The new figures come from the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency’s (NISRA) 2018 Annual Tourism Statistics. The top three tourist attractions for the year were the Giant’s Causeway, Titanic Belfast and the Ulster Museum. The number of cruise ships increased to 128 from 112 the previous year. The report said there was an “upward trend in overall tourism activity in Northern Ireland between 2013 and 2018”. Trips and spend are the highest estimates on record, but there has been no statistically significant change between 2017 and 2018.

Tourism NI boss, John McGrillen, said that the figures showed growth driven by visitors from the elsewhere in the UK and the Republic. “The partnership marketing approach with visitor attractions and accommodation providers that Tourism NI has taken in the Republic of Ireland market, implemented as part of a recent taskforce review, has contributed to those visitors spending significantly more,” he said. “At the same time we are attracting increasing numbers of visitors from Great Britain and overseas, creating more opportunities for our local industry to grow and invest in the tourism sector.” He said Tourism NI’s target was to double revenue to £2bn a year by 2030. “This will require us to have a laser like focus on key markets and market segments. It will also require further investment in new attractions and experiences and in developing the skills which the industry needs to succeed in the future,” he said. ■


TECHNOLOGY

Daniel Crawford and the axial3D team

axial3D: from start-up seed to a global business Medical 3D printing firm axial3D has shone as one of the major success stories to emerge from leading technology hub Catalyst. We speak to founder Daniel Crawford and his team about the journey so far

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spark in the mind of Daniel Crawford as he studied for his masters degree in Glasgow just a few years ago has grown into a business at the sharp end of technology.

axial3D is tasked with turning the complicated and laborious process of converting 2D medical

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scans into 3D models – and producing them for use by surgeons and medical professionals. It’s an ever-growing business, spun out of Ulster University, which is expanding its reach across the UK, Ireland and now into the US where it’s targeting a burgeoning fresh marketplace. The company has been involved with Catalyst since 2015, been directly involved with a host of its programmes, and is participating in the EU INTERREG funded North West Centre for Advanced Manufacturing (NW CAM), managed by the Special European Union Programmes Body (SEUPB). Catalyst is Northern Ireland’s leading technology hub, home to 174 companies and around 2,700 staff. Daniel has a strong team around him – growing to 16 staff based in Belfast city centre,

including Niall Haslam, chief technology officer, Katie McKinley, head of new business and strategic partnerships and Cathy Coomber as operations manager. While studying medical visualisation and human anatomy in Glasgow, Daniel was exposed to the raft of imaging available – including CT, MRI and ultrasound, and began examining how the crucial data could be better used. The biomedical physics undergraduate grew the idea into his thesis – looking at converting 2D data sets and converting them into fully 3D printable files. “That allows us to turn images into 3D models to allow surgeons or registrars, to understand digital pathologies, before going in to theatre,” he said. “But we discovered it wasn’t just good for that


and surgeons also wanted to get their hands on the 3D models.”

TECHNOLOGY

That gave Daniel greater scope for developing the concept. In one early case, a surgeon was able to use one of the 3D prints to identify small fractures in a patient who had suffered a motorcycle crash, that weren’t initially apparent using more traditional methods. The company was thrust into Catalyst’s Springboard programme in 2015 – a 16 week scheme which allowed a would-be entrepreneur, fresh out of university, access to business training and development, which included working with PathXL’s Stuart Harvey. From there, it was into the Halo programme – bringing axial3D together with angel investors in order to get the start-up off the ground. It landed £300,000 through Techstart and private investors, which allowed the company to get the ball rolling. Through Catalyst, Daniel also got the opportunity to visit MIT and the entrepreneurial development programme, Way to Scale, bringing axial3D to Massachusetts and the Boston area – the global heart of the health technology sector. Niall Haslam is axial3D’s chief technical officer. He said a Belfast and Boston partnership has helped strengthen the links between the cities, bringing firms from Northern Ireland to the US for both networking and scoping out the potential for setting up shop across the Atlantic. “The Way to Scale program brings entrepreneurs together. It’s a great networking opportunity,” Niall says. axial3D is now a partner in the EU INTERREGfunded NW CAM, which brings together a network of research institutes, universities and enterprises to carry out research in advanced manufacturing. It is working with Ulster University on a number of projects, including looking at developing custom designed jigs for hospitals to produce 3D models.

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Cathy Coomber has been with axial3D for three years. “What we have done in that time is looking at standardising the processes,” she says. “Biomedical engineers from Ulster University and those across the UK are producing data, manually segmenting thousands of medical images in order to help them develop an algorithm. “That allows us to massively improve our standardised process and reduce the time involved in producing those files.” That could mean reducing the time down from up to five hours, to as little as an hour. “When the company started, Daniel was able to get those early users excited in Glasgow, and then setting up in Belfast there were key surgeons which helped set the pace,” Katie McKinley, head of new business and strategic partnerships said. The company has since been involved with NHS frameworks as a means to help remove as many bottlenecks as possible. This involves developing and marketing the products to the NHS and HSC in the Republic – helping them to learn about the product, the process and what area of specialism it can be used in. “In the last 18 months with the development

When the company “ started, Daniel was able to get those early users excited in Glasgow, and then setting up in Belfast there were key surgeons which helped set the pace

of the algorithms, we are moving in to the US,” Katie said. “We’re seeing a lot of growth in the US.” And the axial3D team is also growing fast. “We have 16 staff at the moment but are looking to expand in 12 months,” Daniel said. “That includes new staff in the US to help grow and manage that market as we further expand our software team back home.” The success of axial3D mirrors the overall success of Catalyst, since its inception 20 years ago. It’s an independent not-for-profit organisation across its four sites – including its largest base at the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, alongside its Londonderry hub, Ballymena, along with the Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub at Danske Bank in Belfast city centre. ■

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TRANSPORT

Economic impact of public transport ‘worth £185m a year to NI’

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ublic transport in Northern Ireland has a major direct economic and social enabling impact, helping to support the environment, enable active living and reduce social isolation.

An Economic Impact report by Grant Thornton shows the value of public transport and highlights the many positive impacts that bus and train travel can bring, including business efficiency via travel time savings; stimulation of investment and innovation; improvement of labour market efficiency; access to new markets; providing citizens with access to services and employment; and supporting a greener environment. Directly and indirectly, Translink accounts for over 6,000 jobs locally, resulting in a total GVA impact of over £185m annually. The research also details other positive economic impacts including tackling congestion, attracting inward investment, supporting social inclusion and enabling widespread health, education, tourism and environmental benefits. The research reinforces existing findings from the International Association of Public Transport, finding that for every £1 invested in public transport, a further £4 is generated for the local economy. This is a positive economic result for Northern Ireland in a challenging operating environment – public spending on public transport per head of population remains less than half the UK average, despite a much higher network density. The findings also show that public transport supports key business sectors within the economy and acts as a supporter of city centre vitality. The retail sector is a major beneficiary of public transport provision, with results showing an average spend of £46 per journey, using public transport. Meanwhile, Translink’s role in supporting the local hospitality and leisure sector was clear, with 36% of respondents reporting their primary use of

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John Kelpie, Derry City and Strabane District Council, Katrina Godfrey, Department for Infrastructure, Suzanne Wylie, Belfast City Council, Chris Conway, Translink, Andrew Webb, Grant Thornton and Stephen Edwards of Urban Transport Group, pictured at the launch of the report

public transport was for leisure or socialising, accounting for an average spend of £50 a trip. In a society where 22% of households have no access to a car, public transport fulfils a vital social role, while 53% of respondents to a survey conducted as part of the wider study identified public transport as an important means of accessing employment An effective public transport service is key to the draft Programme for Government, helping to meet objectives to tackle disadvantage and drive economic growth, as well as promote social inclusion. The last years have witnessed considerable growth in sustainable travel, with Translink delighted to record 84.5 million passenger journeys during 2018/19, the highest such figure in over 20 years. Translink is investing in additional capacity in our network, including in 21 new carriages to accommodate ever-growing passenger numbers on the railway network, as well as

undertaking major infrastructure projects, such as the forthcoming Belfast Transport Hub and North-West Multi-Modal Transport Hub in Derry/Londonderry and the recently completed Portrush train station. Other areas of focus for Translink will include the extension of park and ride capacity and a major programme of track relay works in Lurgan. Chris Conway, Translink group chief executive, said: ‘‘This report provides concrete evidence of the vital role public transport plays in Northern Ireland. As the research acknowledges, the draft Programme for Government already recognises the important role of public transport in supporting the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of the region.” ‘‘Delivering on the outcomes of the draft Programme for Government will require sustained investment in public transport infrastructure. Translink will continue to work with partners and stakeholders to deliver the required investment, ensuring that Northern Ireland continues to develop and prosper.” ■


HARBOUR

Belfast Harbour planning £50m buy-to-let development Belfast Harbour has said it plans to invest up to £50m in a high-rise, buy-to-let residential scheme next to the M3 at its City Quays site as it hits record turnover and profit, writes Ryan McAleer

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elfast Harbour is set to build a £50m buy-to-let apartment scheme as part of its ongoing development of City Quays. A planning application for the project, which could feature up to 200 units, could be submitted by the end of the year. It comes as work begins on City Quays 3 – a 16-storey office building. The new residential project was among a series of major investments confirmed by senior officials at Belfast Harbour, as they reported a 24% increase in spending to £52m during 2018 and committed £137m in future projects.

Among the new ventures in the pipeline is an expansion of the 45-berth mooring marina next to the Odyssey, which will soon double in size. Water taxis and a new pedestrian and cycle bridge next to the AC Hotel are also being considered as part of efforts to increase the connectivity between the Titanic and City Quays areas. Releasing its annual report, the harbour said

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turnover grew by 11% to £68.8m during 2018, while operating profits increased by 6% to £36m.

Chief executive Joe O’Neill said: “Despite our strong financial performance, Belfast Harbour is operating in a changing environment.

During 2018, 5,788 ships arrived at Belfast Harbour. Trade increased by 900,000 tonnes to 24.6 million tonnes, while freight vehicle traffic to and from Great Britain rose by 3% to 532,000 vehicles.

“Diversification of trade has been a longstanding feature of the Belfast Harbour business model. This has helped protect the business from cyclical trends in specific sectors and the long-term decline of others, such as coal imports.

More than 1.5 million passengers passed through the port for the second year running. The impact of weather on NI’s agriculture sector saw demand for animal and grain feed tonnage rise by 7% to 2.3 million tonnes.

“We have a very significant array of investment projects coming ahead in the next two to three years.”

Exports of aggregates increased by 100,000 tonnes to over 1.5 million tonnes at the Belfast port, on the back of demand from the UK construction sector..

David Dobbin, chairman of Belfast Harbour, said: “As a trust port we have to fund our own development. Every penny of our net earnings is reinvested into improving and developing our facilities for the benefit of port users and the wider economy.

Belfast Harbour’s diversifying interests saw it benefit from income generated from its new film studio project and its expanding City Quays development, which added the AC Hotel and a new 900-space car park over the year.

“At a time when the sector is facing considerable change it is encouraging that our financial performance is generating the funds needed to respond to new challenges and opportunities.” ■


and, as such, our 2018/19 accounts are hugely positive,” Nick Whelan, chief executive of Dale Farm said.

Dale Farm sales and profits soar

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airy co-operative giant Dale Farm has seen its pre-tax profits soar to £12m with sales cracking the £500m mark. The company says overall group turnover rose

Name: Tara Martin Business: FinTrU Position: Executive director

What service do you use? NI Railways What ticket? Monthly Why do you choose public transport? I love the convenience of it. I live in Bangor and travel from Bangor West to Botanic, with less than 10 minute walk at each end of the journey. I work in FinTrU, and with our main office being at the Gasworks, it is so convenient to walk to. If the weather is good I may walk to Lanyon Place for the home journey, along the Lagan Towpath, which can be a relaxing and peaceful way to unwind after a busy day. The train journey itself is only around half an hour, which is great for a commute. How do you spend your time on board the service? I try to stay away from my phone although may

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5.6% to £509m, for the year ending March 2019. The company has witnessed consistent growth over the last four years. “Our financial performance is measured by our ability to best support our farmer owners

“Our consistent profitable growth is the result of our people working together on an ambitious strategy in a culture of continuous improvement, a focus on product and process innovation and building partnerships with major customers across the UK, EU and beyond. “I am delighted to be able to report that Dale Farm has paid the leading milk price as per the 12-month rolling milk price league in Northern Ireland throughout this past financial year. “A vital ingredient in our success is the capability of our people, so we also invest heavily in developing talent to support the delivery of our growth trajectory. In addition, we have a fundamental belief in the evolution of the ‘Lean’ culture across our group, which is a vital tool in helping us manage both significant ongoing cost inflation and address the impact of potential challenges, such as Brexit.”

The Smart Commuter check the news first thing. I have my Kindle with me for a read, or use the time to plan out my day. I’m a ‘list maker’ and 30 minutes of peace and quiet on the train first thing in the morning is great for this. I always have a pen and notebook with me and could end up planning the weekly family dinners, the next DIY project or running through my work diary and prepping for the day. What’s your go-to breakfast ‘on the move’? I would love to say something healthy but my colleagues would call me out. An almond croissant or a sausage butty. Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone considering switching from car to public transport? As I use the train daily I cannot imagine travelling any other way. It gives me time to gently start my day, without worrying about traffic or parking and then I have the pleasure of a further 30 mins ‘me time’ on the way home.


DEVELOPMENT

What the new plans around North Street could look like

Belfast’s North Street Arcade ‘to be redeveloped’ After sitting derelict for 15 years following a major blaze, North Street Arcade could be brought back to life amid revised plans as part of Tribeca Belfast

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former Belfast shopping arcade left derelict after being gutted in a blaze more than a decade ago could be brought back to life amid fresh development plans.

Garfield Street and High Street. Castlebrooke Investments says it is now committed to bringing North Street Arcade back into use in a new format, with space designed for independent retailers.

a “productive meeting with Castlebrooke Investments and their new architects” the group was “cautiously optimistic that both are listening and some real progress is being made”.

North Street Arcade was destroyed in a fire in 2004, which caused severe damage to the floor and glass roof. It’s been sitting empty for 15 years, but once played host to a range of popular Belfast stores, including DJ and local punk pioneer Terri Hooley’s record shop, Good Vibrations.

It has also been announced that architectural design firm Squire & Partners has been appointed to work on the amended proposals. The team from Squire & Partners will work alongside conservation architects from Belfastbased Consarc Design Group.

“Both Castlebrooke and their new architects have responded positively to us in terms of the local economy, housing, heritage, public space and accessibility, however sufficient arts and culture provision within the proposed redevelopment remains a real concern. We look forward to examining and analysing the new plans in great detail and would encourage Castlebrooke Investments to make the forthcoming public consultation period as accessible and comprehensive as possible, to ensure that the people of Belfast have the maximum opportunity to contribute to the future of their city.”

The plans to redevelop the arcade are included in a revised scheme called Tribeca Belfast – formerly Royal Exchange. UK developer Castlebrooke is planning to redevelop much of the north side of the city centre as part of a £500m scheme. It’s made a number of amendments and changes to the development, most notably revising back from a formerly retail-led scheme to one with fewer shops. Tribeca Belfast includes development around Royal Avenue, Donegall Street, North Street,

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Neil Young, chief executive of Castlebrooke Investments, said: “We are very pleased to be able to reveal our proposed amendments to our outline planning application for Tribeca Belfast, changes which we feel demonstrate that we have listened to feedback from the city. “We will continue to listen and today we have launched a voluntary public consultation process into these planned changes ahead of the submission of our application.” Agustina Martire, of the Save CQ campaign – which has raised some concerns over the Tribeca Belfast development – said following

Murray Levinson, partner at Squire & Partners, said: “The mix of uses across the site – designed to attract a variety of retail, restaurant, cultural and workplace tenants – and the creation of new public realm, will ensure this part of Belfast will be active throughout the day and into the evening.” ■


Joanne McAuley, Sophie Breadon, Ciaran Sheehan, Emma Kieran and Claire McKee

RECRUITMENT

This year shaping up to be a stellar one for Clarendon Executive Given the political chaos around Brexit and a lack of Executive, it might be expected that the NI recruitment sector would be in the midst of a downturn. But it’s not the experience for Claire McKee and her colleagues at Clarendon Executive, tasked with filling the top position at Invest NI among other high profile appointments

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t’s almost 20 years since Clarendon Executive first opened its doors under the leadership and direction of Ciaran Sheehan and so much has changed in that time. Nobody could have predicted either the scale of the recession that hit in 2007 or the length of the economy’s subsequent recovery and, more recently, the seemingly unending chaos – political and economic – that has ensued following the Brexit referendum.

It is a strategy that has served us well, allowing us to consolidate our market leading position and grow our portfolio particularly in the public and third sectors. In the first half of this year alone, we have delivered on a record number of assignments and were awarded status of preferred supplier for leading public sector contracts.

Not immune to these challenges and common to most businesses, the team at Clarendon Executive has, over the years, had to adapt and be agile to market conditions and the changing requirements of clients in order to survive and grow.

At the time of writing, we are excited and privileged to be trusted to manage an extremely prominent role, important in the context of economic development and impact in our region – that of chief executive at Invest NI. This is a business-critical position that promotes Belfast and Northern Ireland on the regional and international stage and contributes to its long-term success.

To that end, in addition to growing our core executive search and selection offering, and, in response to strong demand, we have invested in and significantly stepped up our focus on non-executive board appointments and executive coaching.

For 20 years we have been building our international networks, allowing us to tap into and attract a pool of exceptional talent both locally and from beyond these shores to deliver on a range of client briefs for critical leadership roles.

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Perhaps one of the biggest drivers of our success, however, is the most obvious – our team. We are fortunate to have one of the, if not the, most experienced and skilled executive recruitment teams in Northern Ireland in Ciaran Sheehan, Joanne McAuley and Emma Kieran complemented by the expertise of Mairéad Regan and Hugh McPoland, experienced HR directors and skilled advisers to Boards in the private and public sectors respectively. We recognise that there will be more challenges to come for Clarendon Executive, its clients and the wider economy but if history teaches us one lesson it is that businesses and organisations are more robust and resilient than perhaps they are given credit for. ■ Claire McKee is a partner at Clarendon Executive, specialists in executive search, board appointments, the provision of interim management and executive coaching in Northern Ireland.


POLITICS

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orthern Ireland’s politicians “must not waste time” amid ongoing talks at restoring an Executive while business here should employ the “collaborative vision” that saw industries grow following the Good Friday Agreement. John Healy, president of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said “we should be heartened by the fact that our politicians are apparently talking” but after two years without movement of any kind “we shouldn’t expect results in a hurry”. “Nevertheless, they mustn’t waste time. So much is at stake if they don’t want history to look back on this period and say – they promised so much but delivered so little.

“My advice would be: Don’t give up. Don’t let a difficulty today ruin the vision for tomorrow. We in business and industry will give you all the encouragement you need.” He was speaking to more than 500 guests at the NI Chamber Annual President’s Lunch at Belfast City Hall. Mr Healy, who heads up Allstate in Northern Ireland, also said that if a fresh bid to host the World Chambers Congress is successful, it could be worth around £2m to the Northern Ireland economy. “We need action on the economy, on infrastructure, on health – addressing the drastic shortage of clinical nurses, for example – or on education,” he said. “The drift of our talented students to universities across the water or how we face issues like numeracy and literacy levels. “However, we should be heartened by the fact that our politicians are now talking. That’s a welcome step forward. But after two years without movement of any kind, we shouldn’t expect results in a hurry.” Speaking about the Chamber’s attempt to host the World Chambers Congress, he said: “NI Chamber along with the British Chamber of Commerce and Chambers Ireland were in Rio

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NI politicians ‘must not waste time’ amid restoration talks at the World Chambers Congress, showcasing Northern Ireland as a potential host for the conference in 2023. “Held every two years in a different region of the world, the World Chambers Congress provides unparalleled opportunities to connect and strengthen relations with a diverse and international group of individuals representing more than 100 countries. “The bid, if successful, could bring an estimated economic value of £1.92m to

Northern Ireland and we were joined in Rio by our strategic partners including Invest NI, Belfast City Council, Visit Belfast and ICC Belfast.” Those attending the lunch also heard from Eddie O’Sullivan, former head coach to the Irish national rugby team, and gaelic football legend Pat Spillane. The event was sponsored by BT, along with Cleaver Fulton Rankin, GMcG Chartered Accountants and Dell EMC. ■

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INTERVIEW

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he last time I spoke to former DUP MLA Simon Hamilton at length was not long after he took up his last ministerial role in charge of Northern Ireland’s economy. It came at an interesting time for someone in his position – taking up responsibility, in part, for dealing with our business landscape, in the run-up to the June 23 referendum on whether the UK should remain, or exit the EU. And during that lengthy interview at his Stormont office, he declined to reveal his own position on the matter, but said he backed Arlene Foster’s decision for the party to support Brexit. Now, and with more than two and a half years of political stasis behind us, he’s moved out of the world of politics, and taken up a newly-created role as chief executive of Belfast Chamber. “What attracted me to the role is it is a great opportunity in an organisation going places. We really saw that in a moment, in a crisis last

year, with the Primark fire. Belfast Chamber stepped forward and showed leadership. “We were all shocked, but Rajesh (Rana) and the team brought people together. It has been a long struggle, but it helped to keep the city going at a time when it looked like it would be a really damaging time.” So, why make the move now? Simon says it was a “good opportunity” and the “right time to do something I have a passion for, but in a different way”. “Undoubtedly it has been frustrating without a government. For me, I have been involved in politics for 20 years, and 14 of those on the front line. I have acquired a lot of skills and experience directed in this arena – growing the economy, and helping bring jobs into Northern Ireland. “Colleagues knew I had been thinking about my own future for a little while, but it wasn’t a massive shock.” He says the reaction from the DUP and across the political spectrum has been positive.

“I tried to be someone who reached out and worked with others, and tried to engage in a way which is respectful. “There is the potential to bring people together to do good things for city. It has a fantastic vision for growth of the whole city, not just the city centre. It is the economic engine room of the whole of the region’s economy.” He said he wants to “not just grow the organisation but grow its impact”, working alongside other chambers across areas of mutual interest. Simon says part of the reason for the louder voices being heard from our business groups has been down to the frustration over a lack of an Executive. He said: “It (Belfast Chamber) is the voice of business in Belfast. That’s something I would be working with Rajesh and members to make sure their voice is heard – some publicly, some private.” Now, over to Brexit, and Simon says the Chamber has “taken a very common sense approach to it”. “They respect the result, but

Simon Hamilton: from minister to the helm of business Before the collapse of the Executive in 2017, Simon Hamilton was in post as Economy Minister, and before that at the helm in health. Now, he’s leaving politics (of a sort) behind, having been appointed chief executive of Belfast Chamber. He speaks to John Mulgrew

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they are very clear, and rightly so, that the exit from EU should be orderly, and business friendly. I don’t want to see Brexit which harms jobs or economy.” Unfortunately, as I write this, we look like we could be heading to a push for hard exit, and if that fails, a possible general election if our new Prime Minister doesn’t have the votes to get his way though Parliament. Simon said 78% of members backed Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement – something which received the backing of the majority of Northern Ireland’s business groups. “There’s a desire to make sure there wasn’t a cliff edge, and it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on business,” he said. “Belfast Chamber members say they support an orderly Brexit – it’s a common sense place to be.” Asked whether he’d now say how he voted during the referendum, he said: “I’m pretty sure individual members, individual businesses who have members will share their own views on what their optimistic outcome would be. “They are pragmatic. The referendum was held and the result should be respected, but in a way that doesn’t do long term damage to the economy. “I am a democrat, I respect the result, but we should respect that result in a way that is not detrimental business to the economy.” n

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CITY DEVELOPMENT

What the Belfast Waterside scheme could look like

Major Belfast regeneration schemes get under way Belfast is undergoing a commercial rejuvenation with more than £1bn earmarked across just a handful of schemes. John Mulgrew looks at two of the developments which have reached the next hurdle

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wo major commercial development schemes in Belfast have cleared the next major hurdle – with work due to start on at least one by early next year.

In the north side of the city centre, Bywater Properties and Ashmour Developments have secured planning permission from for their 260,000 sq ft regeneration project. The multi-use scheme between Gresham Street and Winetavern Street in the Smithfield area of the city has the potential to sustain 650 construction jobs in the build phase of the project, and, once completed, the proposed office accommodation will have space for up to 1,500 people.

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It provides a more varied approach to commercial mixed-use space, whether it’s retail or office. The plans include 170,000 sq ft international standard office building providing contemporary office space over eight floors, while there will also be a smaller office building, providing single or half floors for established businesses. But it’s also allocating some of the development for smaller SMEs and start-ups, while the ‘The Butcher’s Building’ is aiming to “provide a vibrant mix of retail, makers and local traders and while be occupied in the interim by a local social enterprise business”. Developers say work could begin early next year.

“It was imperative that we took on board the feedback and input from the people that know this area best, and we believe this has been a vital factor in our successful planning application,” Patrick O’Gorman, of Bywater Properties, said. “Having gone through this process we are hopeful we will receive a similarly positive outcome from the Department for Infrastructure when they review the project. “The approved scheme will allow for a mix of independent, eclectic businesses at Smithfield, creating a community that will benefit the immediate area and Belfast as a whole. A number of the small businesses that are already


CITY DEVELOPMENT

create new opportunities for local employment and skills development.” he says. “We are creating a new place to eat, live, relax and connect by growing new relationships with the existing community and developing a new vibrant residential community in the heart of the city, with a mix of affordable and social, private for sale, and private rental homes.

Bywater’s development plans for Belfast

well established here are very successful and unique and add real soul to this part of the city. It is essential we keep them here.”

Larsen. Chris Kane – the man behind the BBC’s move to Salford – is helping to push the scheme forward.

On the other side of the city, the ambitious Belfast Waterside – formerly Sirocco – scheme has taken another step forward, being granted planning permission for its overall masterplan.

He told Ulster Business last year that he wants the grand Belfast Waterside plan to be finished by 2023. It will see the 16-acre site include 250,000 sq ft of office space, hundreds of homes and a bridge – aiming to play host to more than 5,000 people when completed.

The scheme is a £400m masterplan aiming to regenerate the 1.7 million sq ft former Sirocco site, close to Short Strand. It’s being developed by Osborne+Co alongside architects Henning

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“The Waterside has the potential to make a profound difference to Belfast. We want to

“We see The Waterside delivering an exemplar of shared and mixed housing that provides a sense of place and community for all. With a project of this scale it is important that we continue to communicate the enormous benefits that The Waterside can bring, not just to the local area, but to Belfast and Northern Ireland as a whole. Construction alone will create more than 1,000 jobs.” Osborne+Co founding director, Conor Osborne, said: “We see The Waterside as a tool to help drive workplace and cultural evolution in Belfast. By bringing global benchmarks for ‘best in class’ property development, the city is establishing itself as an internationally attractive investment destination. We can attract multinational businesses to Belfast who are seeking the highest quality work environments and talent.” ■

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NEWS

Stena Line boss Niclas Martensson and UK Swedish Ambassador Torbjörn Sohlström during a visit to Belfast to help celebrate the National Day of Sweden

Stena ‘investing £200m in NI operations’

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he boss of Stena Line has said it will be investing another £200m into its Northern Ireland operation in the next two years, regardless of Brexit.

are no longer able to compete with China for new builds, he said: ”But they are essential for our operation for refits, repair and maintenance. I think it’s a must from our side to have the local shipyards.

Speaking during a visit to the city, chief executive Niclas Martensson said the Swedish family-owned shipping giant has invested £250m in its Belfast operation since 2011, adding that another £200m will be injected in the coming two years.

“Therefore we support them fully by utilising them as much as possible.”When it comes to shipping operators, the issue of Brexit is never far away.

The bulk of that investment will go into two new Chinese-built e-flexer ferries, the first of which is due to arrive next year. “We do believe in the future both before and after Brexit. Otherwise we wouldn’t have made those investments,” Mr Martensson said. “For Belfast, we have a £200m investment programme in the next two years and I think that says a lot about what we have built up since we came here in 1995 and the progress we’re expecting.” Stena Line operates sailings from Belfast to Liverpool, Heysham and Cairnryan. The Stena Line boss also described its relationship with Harland & Wolff as essential. While he admitted that European shipyards

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“… I think the most interesting thing is that nobody has the answer. I think we just need to be patient and see where it’s ending up. The most important thing for a company like Stena Line, being a part of the European infrastructure, being a part of the logistics flows, we are pro-free flow of people and goods, no matter if it’s a Brexit or not Brexit. “On a higher level, it’s important for a company like Stena Line to have a continuing free flow of goods and people. That’s how the whole set-up in Europe is now. We just want to continue having a lot of people and goods coming in and out of a part of the UK like Belfast. I think what’s interesting, and what says a lot about Stena Line’s position, if it’s Brexit or not, it’s that since 2011 we have invested £250m just for in and out of Belfast.” The visit to Belfast by the Stena Line boss was part of a promotional tour organised by the

Swedish embassy in London. Swedish Ambassador to the UK Torbjorn Sohlstrom, who pulled up in front of Belfast City Hall in a yellow tour bus emblazoned with the Swedish national flag, said: “I was keen to bring the embassy out of London to meet with the people, the companies and the institutions which make up the great relationship between Sweden and the UK. “The UK’s link to Sweden runs deep. Around 100,000 Swedes live in the UK, with some 1,000 Swedish companies in the UK directly employing more than 100,000 people. And Brexit is never far from the agenda. “Part of my job has been to try to support my government in understanding where Britain is going, to work with companies and make sure the Swedish government has an accurate picture of where our interests lie,” Mr Sohlstrom said. “Obviously our interest is that there will continue to be a relationship that is as close as possible between the UK and the rest of the European Union. “Given the closeness and richness of this relationship, we are obviously very keen that we can continue to co-operate in every possible way.” ■


RETAIL

Boots signs decade deal for flagship store

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ealth and beauty high street giant Boots looks set to stay in the heart of Belfast city centre after signing a 10-year lease.

The owners of the building, Bywater Properties, Ashmour and LRE Capital have confirmed that Boots will remain at its flagship store location at Donegall Place.

says Boots “has been a long-standing tenant” in the heart of Belfast city centre and “we are delighted to have agreed a deal which will see them continue to hold their position for the next 10 years”.

Meanwhile, refurbishment of the building will be going ahead, however Boots will remain be unaffected, and continue to operate on the ground and first floor.

“This announcement signals the retailer’s confidence in this area as the city’s main shopping street. The long-term deal with Boots gives us clarity to move ahead quickly with a very contemporary refurbishment of the space above Boots on Donegall Place which, on the first floor, has a fantastic 4.26m ceiling height and an opportunity for a really on-trend exposed fit out which we’ve not seen much of in the core Belfast market, but we know occupiers increasingly want.

Theo Michell, principal at Bywater Properties,

“This is an exciting time for this part of Belfast,

It comes as the company has revealed it will shut around 200 stores out of 2,400 around the UK over the next 18 months.

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with significant regeneration planned for the coming years. Our own projects, both on Donegall Place and Smithfield Market, are included in that. With increased city centre office space and prime retail positions in the pipeline, Boots recognises the value of the location it holds, with footfall set to increase as more people are encouraged to live, work and shop here.” Meanwhile, Ashley Stewart, director of Ashmour, said: “The Boots brand has been around for 170 years and it is still at the heart of the communities it serves. We are pleased to have secured such a recognisable name as our long-term retail tenant. We will adapt our original plans and proceed with a refurbishment of the top floors of the property, with the intention to attract a tenant to the commercial office space. “Belfast is experiencing a high level of redevelopment at the moment and we know the demand is there for top quality office space. The city offers an attractive proposition for ambitious companies who are hoping to grow their operations, whether they are locally grown or setting up in Northern Ireland for the first time, and we look forward to working with a new tenant to deliver space which will work for them.” n

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PROFILE

Entrepreneur OF THE month DANIEL McGLADE OROSON

How is business? Business is going well. We’re closing contracts on the SME side. We’re working on corporate contracts and closing another seed investment round (our second). We’re forward planning to having 16 employees on board within the next 12 months, from our current staff of nine. Recruitment is a focus right now and we’ve had around 200 CVs come in for our latest job listings. That’s a good sign that Oroson is already appealing to potential recruits. Oroson facilitates remote working, and since we want to be a global company, we’re open to hiring talented people across the UK and Ireland. How did you get started in the industry? Like with many businesses, Oroson started as a result of a problem that needed solving. While studying for a law degree, I experienced the difficultly of working online and the problems around effectively managing content and communication for various team projects. I founded Oroson as soon as I finished my degree. I was already designing the workspace while I was still studying. Originally the tool was aimed at the education market but we’ve pivoted to focus on the business market. I was lucky in that it was a good time to jump into business ownership because I didn’t have other commitments or distractions.

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Typically, who are your clients or customers? Some of our current customers include Mirror Media, the Irish Football Association, Boojum, Sport NI, and we’re in talks with a number of large organisations in the corporate sector. Because our workspaces are so visual, they’re valuable for creative industries or anyone working in design or development. However, the platform is really useful for any type of project work that requires a lot of team communication and collaboration. Do you enjoy what you do, and what in particular? I love it. I wouldn’t change it for anything. Every day is totally different. I get a chance to work with great people. Together we’re creating a supportive environment so that people can flourish. It’s really rewarding to look around and see a team of people who enjoy what they’re doing. I also like the challenge of going above and beyond expectations for our customers – I get a real kick out of that. What is the most difficult part of your job? I’ve had to think about that. I think it’s balance. Achieving balance between what to focus my energy and attention on, and what not to. I can’t waste time on things that

aren’t worth it. Also, it’s creating balance between work and personal life – just like any entrepreneur. Trying to maintain that balance is so important for the people around me – both my friends and family at home, and my team members at work. Because we fully embrace a remote working ethos, it can help achieve this balance, but it can still be a daily struggle. What are the challenges facing your sector, and the economy in general? On a micro level, in Northern Ireland, the tech sector as a whole is struggling from the high costs of labour. Particularly when it comes to software developers. This is challenging for startups especially, because there’s not a huge amount of capital around for them, and the available talent is quite expensive. This is difficult because we must compete on a global level. Northern Ireland has benefitted from a lot of large global conglomerates coming in as FDICs, but this has greatly increased salaries. Now that the cost of labour is being inflated, natively grown companies are being pushed out of the labour market. I find this frustrating and I see this happening all around the technology sector. A lot of tech companies are embracing remote working to counteract this, which is ultimately good, but it also means that companies often have to go abroad to find their development resources. ■


INTERVIEW

From Jamaica to Antrim with love Jamaican-born Dr Ava Brown left behind a tough childhood in her native home, before she fled to live in London. She’s now settled in Northern Ireland and has just launched her own handmade cosmetics range, and speaks to Ulster Business about the journey so far

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t’s been something of a long journey from Dr Ava Brown’s home of St Elizabeth in the warmer climate of Jamaica, both in terms of distance and where she has ended up today. Her entrepreneurial routes lie within her formative years – a struggle to make ends meet leading her to sell mangos in order to put food on the table. Now, she’s living in Antrim and has unveiled her new cosmetics business Chakai, after raising £4,000 from a new female-only crowd-funding platform, Back Her Business. But her recent successes began in a much darker place. She encountered abuse and the horror of being raped at gunpoint, before then fleeing to London in 2002. “I fled to England, and taught in the UK for a few years,” she told Ulster Business. “I realised I had a burning desire for entrepreneurship. I had sold mangos to survive, to feed my family.” Her connection to Ireland first started when she worked for telecoms firm Digicel – an Irishowned business which expanded rapidly in the Caribbean in the early 2000s. She had been living in London since 2002, but following the break up of a relationship and losing money on a business venture,

Ava moved to Northern Ireland with her two children. That led her to take up a passion to produce body butters from natural ingredients, as well as products catering for ethnic minorities – something she said wasn’t being done here. “I started making body butters and I noticed I couldn’t find any products for my skin. I thought, I have the skills, and I know I could do it,” she said. “We are creating handmade products, body butters, that really only have a maximum of five ingredients.” Ava says the products have now launched, and there is scope for demand both here, the UK as

a whole and across the Atlantic. She’s also keen to start using natural botanicals whcich are grown in Northern Ireland, rather than using those from overseas, and wants to open a factory in Antrim, with the long-term goal of helping those who have been victims of abuse. And while the parallels between Antrim and Jamaica may not be apparent for most, Ava says there’s some level of familiarity with the place in which she grew up. “It appealed to me. Antrim reminds me of Jamaica. It’s a small town and there are open spaces and the people are friendly. Apart from the weather, it’s as close as you could get to Jamaica.” ■

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Breakfast Business

BREAKFASTEER: GORDON MILLIGAN, IOD BREAKFASTING VENUE: AVOCA, ALFRED STREET, BELFAST

By John Mulgrew

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he relevance of industry bodies and leading business groups here has taken something of a leap forward in the last year or so, in particular.

And in that last year, Gordon Milligan has dealt with – and is dealing with – one of the most difficult business landscapes we’ve had face in a generation. He’s chairman of the IoD (Institute of Directors) in Northern Ireland, and a decade after the recession, he’s come on board in a post-Brexit vote environment which has meant groups like his shouting from the rooftops – or at least the Grand Central Hotel – about the grave industry concerns facing the region. “It’s been a real privilege – supporting some great businesses,” he says. “The first year has been really enjoyable, and it’s been an interesting one as you have had Brexit and the lack of a local Assembly. It’s been a unique period.” The lack of an Executive is something which is impacting public services in particular, according to Gordon, and a lack of strategic thinking around business and specific sectoral reform. “One of the objectives I set myself was going out to meet businesses, not just in Belfast but across Northern Ireland,” he says. “The one thing that is coming through is the talent agenda – the lack of skills in the workplace.” Gordon, who is deputy chief executive of Translink, is thinking positive, as those in his industry and others must, but aware of the issues and concerns among the IoD’s some 1,000 members – Brexit included. And he has already been through some of Northern Ireland’s biggest businesses, including those on this year’s Top 100 – such as Bombardier and Dunbia.

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On this occasion, it’s the warm embrace of Avoca on Alfred Street for breakfast. While downstairs is all freshly made food to go, it warrants a trek through a range of small soft furnishings and other higher-end household adornments before a saunter up the wide stairs towards the rear, and taking a left turn at the top towards the cafe and restaurant. I’ve often lamented that these breakfasts often turn in to a coffee fest – with little a carb or piece of fried pig in sight. Gordon and I appear to meet somewhere on the middle on this one, opting for toast while I go for a hefty bowl of porridge. Atop sits an array of fresh berries, honey, pollen and seeds. It’s all very hearty, especially on a typically damp Belfast morning during a week of rain which never appeared to let up – the weeds on my driveway can attest to the plentiful level of H2O. “What is unique at the moment is that all the business groups have gelled together (around Brexit),” Gordon says. “I think what the groups have done is filled that vacuum, that void, without a local government. There has been a lot of concern, especially around the agri-food sector. “There are difficulties in exporting, and concerns around the influx of imported meat and products from across the world without tariffs attached to them.”

out for the right skilled workers – whether it be welders, engineers or software developers. “Northern Ireland has a great reputation of the quality of its people, and a skilled workforce. We are losing around 5,000 kids to go and do their degrees in the Republic of Ireland or in GB,” Gordon says. “Some people say that’s a good thing… the issue is getting them back again.” Then there’s training, at an in-house level within companies in particular. Gordon says the strength of many of the top businesses here is bolstered by their ability to develop leadership and management from within. And a final word on Brexit? “The advice we have been giving is, we have to avoid crashing out of the EU without a deal,” he says. “The concern is people will take their eye off the ball because we have the extension to October. “We need to continue to prepare – not waiting until the back end of the summer. That is the message that the IoD has continually put into the minds of the politicians.”

The bill: Americano x 2 Porridge with berries

The issue of losing talent and skilled workers to other markets remains an issue, he says. Thousands of young people leave Northern Ireland to study each year, but a minority of those return to these shores. The reiteration of concerns around skills sends up another red flag for the private sector here, and it’s a major issue for Gordon. Northern Ireland manufacturers, in particular, and areas such as the burgeoning tech sector are crying

Toast Total:

£5.50 £4.95 £1.70 £12.15


INTERVIEW

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NEWS IN BRIEF

Lanyon Group expands into city centre Corporate communications firm Lanyon Group has expanded with a new office at one of Belfast’s top hotels.

Jonathan Ireland and Katie Doran, Lanyon Group

The company has set up shop at grade A offices at the Grand Central Hotel at Bedford Street in Belfast city centre. The firm says the move “paves the way for the future growth and expansion of the business”.

client expectations and setting new standards. Through the work we have delivered for our clients including KPMG, A&L Goodbody, CBRE, Belfast City Council, STATSports and many others, we have achieved that goal and are now planning for a new wave of growth.

The firm, which was set up by founders Katie Doran and Jonathan Ireland, has grown in to a team of eight over the last few months, including former Ulster Business editor David Elliott.

Jonathan Ireland said: “Since 2014 we have gradually added depth, breadth and unparalleled expertise to our team to meet continued growth in market demand for our services.

“Having been trading for almost five years now, we have entered a period of significant growth and are investing across all areas of our business,” Katie Doran said.

“With ambitious plans for further growth, our move to much larger premises at Grand Central will enable us to not only to further increase our headcount, but to continue expanding and diversifying our expertise and service offering to clients across the UK and Ireland and further afield.”

“From the outset, we set about being the best reputation advisors, always exceeding

‘Eco hotel’ launches for Open

Property developer and partner, Denis McHenry, said The Salthouse will bring economic benefits to the Co Antrim town.“With tourist numbers on the rise in the area, The Salthouse hotel makes perfect sense and we’re confident it will bring major benefits both to visitors and the local community, alike.

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Law firm A&L Goodbody (A&L) has appointed three new partners as part of the latest expansion of its Belfast office. Mark Stockdale and David Rowan have both been promoted to partner in the corporate and M&A department, while Sam Corbett has been made a partner in the restructuring and insolvency team, bringing the total number of partners at the firm’s Belfast office to 16. “These senior-level appointments come in response to the firm’s ongoing growth and success in Belfast and reflect our confidence that this will continue in the future,” Michael Neill, head of A&L Goodbody’s Belfast office, said. “As well as technical expertise, our clients demand energy, fresh thinking and innovative ideas from our solicitors, and Mark, David and Sam certainly adhere to this.

The Salthouse, a luxury 24 bedroom, eco hotel in Ballycastle with views of the Atlantic Ocean has opened ahead of the 148th Open Championship. Run by husband and wife team Nigel and Joann McGarrity and their son and daughter, Carl and Emma McGarrity, The Salthouse is one of the most sustainable and ‘smartest’ hotels in Ireland and Europe.

A&L appoints three new partners

“We are privileged to have such great talent across our team of over 120 high-quality lawyers and business support professionals in the Belfast office.” Nigel and Carl McGarrity, The Salthouse

“We would also like to thank Invest NI for their support.” Nigel McGarrity from The Salthouse said: “We are thrilled that The Salthouse is now open for business. We’re looking forward to welcoming a wide range of visitors from across Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Great Britain, Europe and the US.”

The company has also appointed three new associates at its Belfast office. Niamh Laverty and Richard McLean have both been promoted to associate in the property team, and Nikki Stewart has become an associate in the firm’s corporate and M&A department.


NEWS IN BRIEF

Asda to stock Jawbox gin liqueurs Two new Northern Ireland-made gin liqueurs will be sold across Asda stores here as part of a new deal. Jawbox Gin, which has been sold in Asda stores since 2017, will add its Pineapple & Ginger and Rhubarb & Ginger liqueurs to its range at the supermarket giant’s 16 Northern Ireland stores. Shane Donnelly, Ortus Secured Finance with Caroline McSorley, Glandore, Roger Flynn, Imperva and Nial Borthistle, Glandore

Glandore marks one year in Belfast Flexible workspace firm Glandore is marking one year of its Belfast operations following a £1m investment last summer. Since last year, Glandore has welcomed a variety of new members including Belfast Chamber, Ortus Secured Finance, ACA Compliance, US tech company SmashFly and one of the largest cyber security investments into Northern Ireland, Imperva. Eight new international companies have taken residence in Arthur House over the last 12 months.

“We take great pride in using traditional time-honoured methods to make award-winning brands that are loved and respected by local people,” Gerry White, founder of Jawbox said. “We’re really pleased this is recognised by Asda and are proud to support the supermarket’s drive to ensure great quality, local produce is on offer to its customers.” Emma Swan, Asda buying manager Northern Ireland, said: “The pace of growth in the gin market has been unparalleled and we’re delighted to support the Jawbox team by including these high quality and very distinctive brands on our shelves.” Gerry White of Jawbox Gin with Emma Swan, Asda

Michael Kelly, managing director of Glandore, said: “The last year at Glandore Belfast has been extremely successful with a number of local and international companies taking space. These businesses are attracting workers from across the UK to fill highly-skilled positions in Belfast. This year is looking extremely promising for Glandore Belfast with talks ongoing with a number of companies.”

Women in Business Awards entries open Northern Ireland’s leading female business leaders will be recognised for their top achievements at this year’s Women in Business Awards. Now in its ninth year, the awards – which are sponsored by Virgin Media Business – will be hosted at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Belfast on November 7, and showcase businesswomen from across the sectors. “The business world is full of talented and dedicated women who not only lead successful businesses but, in many cases, also juggle the needs of their families,” Roseann

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Kelly, Women in Business chief executive said. “Our business awards are designed to recognise the achievement of these women across a wide range of business categories.” The awards recognise businesswomen from a diverse range of disciplines through 11 categories. This year’s awards boast a number of high profile sponsors including title sponsor Virgin Media Business, media partner the Irish News along with Citi, Kaizen Print, Danske Bank, RSA Insurance and Ulster Bank.

Seamus McCorry, Virgin Media Business in Northern Ireland with Pamela Ballantine and Women in Business chief executive, Roseann Kelly

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ECONOMY

New orders hit a 7-year low (42.2)

Export orders fell at the fastest pace in 94 months (37.0)

T

he economic cycle may “have turned” following six years of growth, and perhaps somewhat inflated economic output stats being fuelled by stockpiling ahead of Brexit, it’s been claimed.

While the latest official stats point to muted and mixed levels of growth across most sectors – with many also predicting around 1% expansion throughout 2019 – the Ulster Bank purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for June paints the picture of an overall downturn in the economy. The PMI sat at 44.1 in June, where 50 represents no change. Falling output was registered across all four broad sectors, while there were steep declines seen in construction, retail and manufacturing, with the latter seeing the steepest contraction in production since April 2009. Ulster Bank chief economist, Richard Ramsey, says he believes while it was difficult to “get a true handle on where the Northern Ireland private sector was”, due to factors around Brexit – such as manufacturers stockpiling – now “we are perhaps getting a truer reflection of the real state of play”. “And what we are now seeing is that all of the PMI’s key indicators declined over the first half of the year, including output, employment, new orders and exports,” he said. “After six years of growth, it appears that the economic cycle has turned. The severity or otherwise

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Manufacturing output fell at its fastest pace in over a decade

Construction activity hit a 79-month low

NI saw output, orders & jobs fell faster than any other UK region

Mixed picture for NI with Brexit around corner While some of the data-driven official statistics are pointing to slow growth levels in Northern Ireland, one business barometer and economist’s analysis suggests we could be headed for a downturn of that downturn will depend on a range of factors. The kind of Brexit that we see will of course be a major factor. But what is in no doubt is that the private sector overall is currently in a weaker state. “Northern Ireland is not alone in seeing a marked deterioration in business conditions in June. The UK as a whole reported a slump in manufacturing and construction activity as well, while service sector activity slowed to near stagnation. Global manufacturing is also in a downturn with US/China trade wars having a dampening effect. However, Northern Ireland’s downturn is more pronounced than the UK’s. Indeed, Northern Ireland’s private sector posted the fastest rates of decline in output, new orders and employment of all the UK regions. “However, it needs to be remembered that the Northern Ireland labour market is cooling from record levels, and indeed many firms who were having difficulty recruiting may not see that as entirely a bad thing.” Looking at the jobs market, the number of

roles in Northern Ireland reached a record high of 778,240 in March, according to latest official figures. The increase represents a growth of 2% (15,580 jobs) compared to March last year. The publication of the Quarterly Employment Survey and Labour Market Report also showed private sector jobs at their highest ever level. Meanwhile, a separate survey, the Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES), shows the number of employee jobs has increased by 2% over the year, to September 2018. The survey showed that the total number of employee jobs in Northern Ireland in September 2018 was 771,379. It counts the number of jobs rather than the number of persons with a job. While construction jobs increased by 891 or 2.6% over the period, the largest proportional growth was experienced in the manufacturing industry (3.8% corresponding to 3,146 jobs). ■


Motoring By Pat Burns

Sponsored by

AUGUST 2019


MOTORING

Discover the Vauxhall van range at Donnelly Group

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onnelly Group, one of Northern Ireland’s largest vehicle retailers, is inviting business motorists across the province to experience the extensive Vauxhall van range.

The award-winning vehicles are available at Donnelly Vauxhall, Dungannon; Donnelly and Taggart Vauxhall, Eglinton, and Donnelly Vauxhall, Omagh. A Donnelly Vauxhall Service Centre is also conveniently located in Newtownabbey.

A VAN FOR ANY JOB The Vauxhall Combo, celebrated for its rugged exterior and outstanding strength, has been crowned International Van of the Year 2019. Stuart Pedlow, Vauxhall retail operator at Donnelly Vauxhall, said: “Described as a van ‘fit for any job’, the Vauxhall Combo boasts a load volume of up to 4.4m3 and a payload of up to 1,000kg, ensuring that its strength and versatility outshines any competitor. “Another excellent model is the Vauxhall Vivaro. An office on wheels, its spacious interior allows for the centre front seat to be conveniently folded into a desk, suitable for holding a laptop or work-related documents, meaning no time

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wasted – even while on the road.

locations.”

“The Vauxhall Movano, another popular choice amongst many business motorists. The cargo capacity on this model extends from eight to 22m3, with space for up to five europallets in the rear wheel drive version. This panel van is the ultimate worker’s car.”

Donnelly Group has showrooms in nine locations, including; Bangor, Ballymena, Belfast, Dungannon Moy Road, Dungannon M1, Eglinton, Enniskillen, Mallusk and Omagh.

EXCELLENT AFFORDABILITY AND COVER The Vauxhall van range is available with up to three years / 60,000 miles – 100,000 miles for Vivaro and Movano – from first registration which guarantees peace of mind business motoring. A range of finance options are available to facilitate your purchase. “At Donnelly Group we recognise that for business owners, the costs associated with leasing a vehicle for business use can often be a concern,” Stuart said. “Our customers have the opportunity to benefit from a range of finance and leasing options on the entire Vauxhall van range. “For example the ever popular Vauxhall Vivaro van is available with five years 0% APR Representative at Donnelly Group Vauxhall

UNBEATABLE SERVICE Dave Sheeran, managing director at Donnelly Group, said: “At Donnelly Group, our mission remains focused on providing motorists across Northern Ireland with the most superior customer experience. This experience begins as soon as the customer enters the showroom and continues even after the purchasing process is complete. “The entire Donnelly Vauxhall team is a credit to not only the brand, but the wider Donnelly Group, and business motorists can rest assured that we are always on hand for advice and support. “This desire to go the extra mile for our customers is something we are very proud of, and what has customers returning to us for their business needs year after year.” ■ For more information, visit www.donnellygroup.co.uk/vauxhall


MOTORING

It’s the Proace of spades

U

lster Business readers of a certain age will remember the days of the ‘people carrier.’ Cars like the Renault Espace that could carry up to eight people were very popular as was Toyota’s own people carrier, the Previa. Now Toyota has launched a new people carrier, the Proace Verso that can carry up to eight passengers in style and comfort.

The Proace Verso is available in three versions – Shuttle, Family and VIP – with a choice of three body and two wheelbase lengths. Power is from three turbodiesel engines, all with stop-start technology: 118bhp 1.5-litre with six-speed manual transmission, available for the Shuttle version only; 148bhp 2.0-litre with six-speed manual (Shuttle and Family grades); and 175bhp 2.0-litre with an eight speed automatic gearbox (Family and VIP models). Official CO2 emissions and fuel economy (1.5 diesel) are from 127g/km and from 40.07 to 47.08mpg (WLTP data). High specification levels include user-friendly equipment such as rail-mounted sliding seats, opening rear tailgate glass, automatic sliding side doors and a multi-function roof. The Proace Verso has been awarded five stars in the Euro NCAP crash test programme and is

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available with Toyota Safety Sense advanced active safety and driver assistance features. Its turning circle is just 11.3 metres, making it a highly manoeuvrable vehicle for use around town. The driver enjoys excellent allround visibility from the elevated, SUV-like driving position and use of a short-throw gear lever mounted close to the flat-bottom steering wheel. Versions equipped with automatic transmission have a stylish rotary gear selector on the centre console. The cabin environment is light and spacious, qualities enhanced by the two-section multifunction roof available for Family and VIP models. There is a wealth of storage points around the cabin, including door boxes, dashboard and sliding door cubbies, and cupholders, with a combined capacity of 58.5 litres. Although the Proace Verso has been developed alongside Toyota’s Proace Van, careful attention has been paid to delivering the levels of quietness and refinement expected of an MPV. The extensive measures include generous soundproofing in strategic locations, thicker window glass and a multilayer acoustic windscreen.

Standard equipment features include power windows, dark-tinted rear windows, dusk sensing headlights, front fog lights, cornering lights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, removable seats, electrically adjustable heated door mirrors. In the cabin there are curtain airbags, a multifunction roof and automatic (front/rear) air conditioning. The Toyota Pro-Touch seveninch touchscreen is the hub for the vehicle’s infotainment system, giving clear and simple control of the eight speaker audio with DAB tuner and satellite navigation system. The Family grade focuses on space, modularity and comfort for leisure users. Its eight-seat layout features rail-mounted, sliding and removable rear seats, with 60:40 split second and third rows, giving an extra dimension of flexibility and practicality. The VIP is designed for use as executive transport and comes with appropriately high equipment specification and comfort levels. It accommodates seven, with heated seats for the driver and front passenger. Whether your company needs a people carrier or your family is becoming too large for an SUV, the Toyota Proace Verso offers the ideal solution. ■


MOTORING

Agnew Belfast Volvo: there’s more to come in 2019 L ast year was a milestone year for Agnew Belfast Volvo and Volvo UK.

And this month marks just over a year since the company’s move to a new top of the line showroom on at Boucher Way, Belfast and the rebranding of the business. Sandra Roberts, Agnew Belfast Volvo new car sales controller, said: “We are delighted with the new premises which reflects Scandinavian design values, effortless luxury, and the unique culture that has made Volvo so popular in Northern Ireland and across the globe in recent years. “Our first year in the new showroom culminated in the prestigious award of ‘regional retailer of the year’ from Volvo UK where key performance indicators including sales, servicing and customer satisfaction scores are evaluated.” Last year was a record year of growth for Volvo in the UK, over 50,000 new cars were sold, up 9% on the previous year with business and fleet sales delivering a spike in growth.

AUGUST 2019

The reason for this success has been the culmination of many years of investment in the Volvo range and provides a genuine alternative in the local luxury car marketplace.

“This improved range has resulted in 43 UK awards in the past year, and we’ve not stopped there as we are delighted to announce that the XC40 is the first ever SUV to be awarded ‘New Company Car of the Year’ at the Fleet News Awards 2019,” Sandra said. “From a business view the new Volvo range has something for everyone. The ever popular XC60 mid-sized SUV now comes with a front wheel drive diesel option, creating an even more attractive package. The recently launched S60 saloon stands apart in a segment filled with traditional fleet cars, as it combines the thrill of performance driving with its unique Scandinavian heritage.

Sandra Roberts

“At Agnew Belfast Volvo we understand that businesses require specialist knowledge and expertise to understand your mobility needs.” Sandra is a dedicated fleet and business specialist – with nearly 20 years’ experience to help navigate through the model and financial options available. “And 2019 and beyond promises to be another exciting chapter for Volvo on a local and national level,” she says. Further product innovations are in the pipeline that have electrification at its heart. Volvo has recently introduced mild hybrid powertrains on XC60 and XC90 models designed to deliver a 15% improvement in economy. In addition, the plug-in hybrid range has been upgraded with new models added, plus looking further head we look forward to the first pure electric vehicle launch from Volvo. ■ To discuss your business and fleet requirements from Volvo in Northern Ireland please contact Sandra Roberts on 028 9068 6000 or view our latest offers on www.agnewcars.com/volvo.

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MOTORING

500 miles ahead of the opposition

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iat’s massively popular small car, the 500, recently sold its three millionth model. The 500, the best selling city car in Europe has two new additions to the range, the 500 Star and Rockstar. Keen to build on the impressive success achieved by the Lounge version, Fiat has decided to create an even richer, more elegant trim: the 500 Star. One of the main features of the new version is the brand new metallic White Stella finish, matched to chromed detailing, 16-inch alloy wheels and Skydome glass roof, all offered as standard equipment. The exclusivity of the exteriors is also mirrored inside, with brand new interiors for the Star version. The dashboard fascia, which until now was supplied in the same colour as the bodywork, can now be chosen in one of two new shades; White Sand with a pearly finish or matt Bordeaux. In the centre of the dashboard, the digital instruments include a seven-inch TFT screen, the largest in the category.

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The Fiat 500 Star is available as a hatchback or convertible with a choice of a 1.2-litre 69hp petrol engine, with manual or Dualogic automatic transmission, or the 0.9-litre 85hp petrol Twin Air engine with six-speed manual transmission. For customers who want a vehicle with a bolder personality, the new 500 Rockstar version stands out from the pack with a style that combines the rugged aesthetic features of the Sport. These include the more aggressively styled front and rear bumpers and the side sills, with style details such as the fixed glass roof, 16-inch alloy wheels and the details on the bodywork in satin finish chrome. In addition, to enhance the sophisticated, dynamic soul of the new Rockstar version, a new colour for the exterior with a matt finish has been introduced: Green Portofino. The interiors also mirror the elegant sporty feel of the exteriors and, as in the Star

version, here too they are brand new. The 500 Rockstar can be had in hatchback or cabriolet guise with a choice of petrol engines; 1.2-litre 69hp, with manual or Dualogic automatic transmission, or the 0.9-litre 85hp Twin Air with five-speed manual transmission. Pricing for the revised Fiat 500 range starts at £12,165 OTR for a 500 1.2 69hp POP, £15,395 OTR for a 500 1.2 69hp Star and £15,565 OTR for a 500 1.2 69hp Rockstar. The versatile range includes the 500L, ideal for young families, and the 500X, the all-Italian crossover as well as the high performance Abarth version. The success of the 500 family is international. Interestingly, 62% of all sales are outside Italy, which is still the largest market followed by Great Britain, France, Germany and Spain. The success of the 500, thanks to its styling and personality, looks set to run and run. ■


MOTORING

Nick Gordon

B

elfast and Portadown Audi dealerships have enjoyed the busiest 12 months in their history.

The official Audi centres in Northern Ireland offer the full Audi product range and comprehensive services that include a dedicated local business development manager for both business and fleet needs, large or small. “The past 12 months have been the busiest in our history at a local and national level, with numerous launches in addition to all-new model upgrades that use the latest Audi design language and smart and intuitive technologies,” Nick Gordon, Belfast and Portadown Audi local business development manager said. “The new range is more comprehensive than ever before, with a core model mix that has universal appeal to business and fleet customers and drivers. This is due to our next generation engines which are cleaner and more efficient, married with advancements in interior design and luxury, including the latest

AUGUST 2019

Belfast and Portadown Audi: a premium experience for company car drivers driver safety assist options and infotainment at your fingertips.”

available to guide you through the Audi range, and tailor financial options to your needs.

Some of the latest launches include the all-new Audi A6 executive saloon which has proved extremely popular since its introduction and shaken up the executive saloon marketplace.

“Dealing directly with Belfast and Portadown Audi ensures you receive the very best and most recent offers available and can fully experience Audi with test drives and vehicle demonstrations directly by your local team.”

More recently the A1 has seen a complete upgrade inside and out, alongside the Q3 midsized SUV which provides space and flexibility in a sleek and sporty design. The ever-popular Audi A4 business saloon is undergoing a refresh and will be available to our Northern Ireland customers from September. The new model has a raft of updates including a changed front-end design, LED lights as standard and a new range of efficient engines which is likely to continue the appeal of this timeless model.

“The future is very exciting, with electrification at the heart of the brand. The Audi e-tron, our first ever electric model has successfully launched, providing all the benefits of a large stylish SUV powered purely by electric. The e-tron range will grow further in the future, alongside plug-in hybrid options for many existing models.” ■ To discuss your business and fleet requirements please contact Nick Gordon at Belfast and Portadown Audi on 07899 876 653 or view our latest offers at www.agnewcars.com/audi.

“At Belfast and Portadown Audi we know that business and fleet customers require a specialist, knowledgeable, and dedicated service,” Nick says. “Therefore, our team of local business development managers are

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MOTORING

A Swift with Attitude

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uzuki has added a new model to its Swift range – the Attitude. The 1.2-litre Attitude Special Edition model is based on the popular SZ-T model and offers unique exterior design from its numerous styling upgrades. It also offers good affordability with low running costs and is one of the most powerful and economical cars amongst its direct competitors. The Attitude is available on a very attractive PCP scheme of £179 a month with no deposit required.

In addition to the comprehensive SZ-T standard specification, the Attitude adds mesh front grille with chrome trim, rear upper spoiler, front, side and rear carbon effect skirts and 16-inch alloy wheels. The Attitude is powered by Suzuki’s K12C 1.2-litre Dualjet four-cylinder engine with an output of 90PS and is equipped with five speed manual transmission. It has a CO2 emissions figure of 108g/km (NEDC tested) and combined fuel consumption when tested under WLTP regulation is 51.4 mpg. With its unique to model styling upgrades

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and 1.2-litre Dualjet engine, the Attitude offers a stand out sporting design and is an ideal model for younger buyers who may perhaps look to aspire to the 1.4-litre Boosterjet Sport model in the future. Suzuki’s all new Jimny has proved such a hit with such a cult following that the current waiting time for the new model is approaching 18 months, though the Swift range also includes a 4WD model and a mild hybrid so that every taste can be catered for. The Hybrid system (known as Smart Hybrid Vehicle by Suzuki or SHVS) is a compact and lightweight system that incorporates an Integrated Starter Generator (known as ISG) which acts as both a generator and starter motor, the ISG is belt driven and assists the engine during vehicle take off and acceleration and also generates electricity through regenerative braking. The system also uses a compact high performance 12V lithium-ion battery placed under the front passenger seat to store energy and incorporates an idle stop function operated via the ISG. The SHVS system only uses its conventional engine starter motor when first started from cold, under all other

conditions it uses the ISG unit to allow smooth and quiet engine restarts. In situations that require higher fuel use, such as when starting from a standstill or accelerating, SHVS helps suppress fuel consumption by providing electric motor assist using electricity generated through regenerative braking. Because the ISG uses a belt drive rather than a conventional starter motor to restart the engine after an automatic engine stop it allows for a quiet and smooth start. The Swift range also includes an Allgrip four-wheel drive system and is available as an option on the SZ5 model with 1.2-litre engine. This incorporates a well proven and simple fully automatic and permanent four-wheel drive layout which transfers additional torque to the rear wheels when required via a viscous coupling. Ulster Business tested this Allgrip model off road and it really does offer very impressive off road traction, more than capable of handling the worst that our weather can throw at us. Prices for the Swift Attitude start at £14,595 while the Hybrid 4x4 is £16,950. ■


MOTORING

Evergreen 3 Series gets longer and wider

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hen the first BMW 3 Series was launched in 1975, it revolutionised the segment and became BMW’s most successful model. With revised styling, superior driving dynamics, exceptional efficiency and innovative features, this latest model opens another chapter in the 3 Series progression.

Precision, clean lines and bold contours are the hallmarks of the new 3 Series saloon, which has had its proportions radically revised. The new car is 85mm longer than its predecessor, 16mm wider and just 1mm taller. Added to that, its wheelbase has been extended by 41mm, as has its track widths (front: by 43mm, and rear by 21mm). Inside, the newly-designed instrument cluster and control display form a large surfaced screen grouping, while the controls not included in these units are arranged into clearly structured function panels. The range of standard and optional interior trim elements available for the instrument panel and centre console is almost entirely new. As well as open-pore fine wood options, customers

AUGUST 2019

can choose from a variety of aluminium trims including a new aluminium ‘mesh effect’ interior trim. The entry level SE model features substantially increased standard specification. It includes adaptive LED headlights with cornering light and eyebrow indicators, BMW welcome light carpet, interior ambient lighting with up to 11 colour settings, Parking assistant with reversing camera and latest generation reversing assistant, electric folding mirrors, three-zone air conditioning and enhanced acoustic glazing. All 3 Series models benefit from 40:20:40 split folding rear seats and folding rear headrests as standard. The entry model features a leather Sport steering wheel and BMW Live Cockpit plus, with its 8.8-inch central instrument cluster. The Sport model comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, Vernasca leather seats and heated front seats. The top-selling M Sport model features particularly large air intakes as well as a different design for the front bumper, side skirts and rear apron. The M Sport model also features as standard the new BMW Live Cockpit Professional with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, 10.3-inch central instrument

cluster and BMWs new Operating System 7.0 with the intelligent personal assistant. The upgraded four-cylinder engines from the BMW group’s EfficientDynamics family are used in the 330i and the 320d. The 3 Series has also been treated to a new- generation six-speed manual gearbox and the eight-speed Steptronic transmission. As an alternative to rear-wheel drive, the BMW xDrive all-wheel-drive system is also available in the new 320d. Upgrades have been made to the TwinPower Turbo technology for the two-litre, fourcylinder diesel engines in the 320d and 320d xDrive models. It now includes multi-stage turbocharging, which brings increased efficiency across all engine speeds. The revised diesel has a maximum output of 190hp and a peak torque of 400Nm enabling the 320d to accelerate from zero to 62 mph in 7.1 seconds while the 320d xDrive can get from zero to 62mph in 6.9 seconds. Average fuel consumption is around 55mpg for the 320d and 51mpg for the 320d xDrive. The 320d’s CO2 emissions are 115g/km while the 320d xDrive’s CO2 emissions are 118g/km. Prices start at £32,450. ■

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APPOINTMENTS

Almac Sciences, a member of the Almac Group, has appointed Dr Sheryl Foster to the position of vice-president of quality, reporting to managing director and president, Dr Stephen Barr. Law firm Tughans has announced the appointment of a new senior partner, Michael McCord. He has taken over the responsibilities of the role as senior partner from John-George Willis, who will remain with firm as a consultant in the corporate team. James Donnelly is now taking over the leadership of the corporate department at Belfast law firm Tughans. He was appointed as a partner in 2010 and has more than 12 years’ experience of advising on corporate transactions

Hannon Travel has appointed Regina Gregan as head of sales and account management. She has more than 20 years in the travel industry, primarily across the business travel sector. Jack Walker has been appointed agency sales executive at Bauer Media Northern Ireland. He will be working with some of the leading agencies in Belfast and Dublin to provide creative and innovative campaigns. Oonagh Murdock has been appointed as a solicitor with O’Reilly Stewart Solicitors. Working within the property department, Oonagh will be responsible for advising clients in relation to residential purchases and sales, remortgages, wills and the administration of estates.

Arthur Cox has appointed Mark Jameson as a partner. He is a commercial property lawyer who has experience across a broad spectrum of property matters, with an emphasis on retail, development and investment. David Black has been appointed as a partner at law firm Arthur Cox. A litigation and dispute resolution lawyer, he acts on behalf of local and international organisations on a wide range of litigation matters. Chris Milligan is now a partner with law firm Arthur Cox. He advises a wide range of clients on acquisitions and disposals, land assembly and development, investment and financing and management of property assets.

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APPOINTMENTS

Pinnacle has appointed David Currie to its marketing team. He joins the company’s customer marketing team to ensure customer retention, customer service, as well as providing sales support. Taylor Stronge, a marketing graduate from Ulster University, has joined Pinnacle’s Sage acquisition team. She will oversee the development of fresh and innovative marketing campaigns to target markets. Cahal Carvill is now a partner at Arthur Cox and is a member of the infrastructure, construction and utilities team, and is involved in a full range of construction and engineering projects.

Annette Small is now a communications director at Morrow Communications. She is responsible for creating impactful communications strategies and managing delivery across account teams, with more than 11 years’ experience. Morrow Communications has appointed Michael Magill as communications manager. Working across corporate, consumer and digital accounts, he manages integrated communications campaigns for clients such as Moy Park and InterTradeIreland. Robyn McMurray has been appointed senior communications manager at Morrow Communications. She delivers integrated campaigns for a broad range of clients such as The Lost City Adventure Golf, Asda and Flahavan’s Porridge.

Jayne McKee has been appointed senior finance manager at The Momentum Group. Managing the finance team at the firm, she will ensure all aspects of R&D costs, capital allowances and patent box initiatives are fully optimised. Henry Daly has been appointed head of marketing at Glandore. He brings a wealth of marketing experience to the role from his time as head of brand and marketing for Dublin-based Aura Holohan Group. Audrey McStraw is now associate director and RICS registered valuer at CBRE. With more than 25 years’ experience as a chartered surveyor, she has worked predominantly providing valuation advice and services.

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PHOTOCALL

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1. Volunteers from 21 M&S stores across Northern Ireland have taken part in a volunteering drive, committing over 800 hours to 16 projects. Pictured are M&S Lisburn store colleagues Olivia Oghenegweke, JP McShane and Alan Kilgore. 2. Stephen Bogle, SuperValu brand manager and Michael Anderson, butcher at SuperValu Kings Road, reveal the new ‘Prepared by our Butcher’ summer range. 3. Store owners Stephen Gracey and Anna McErlean outside the new Centra City Quays. The new shop opened its doors at the end of May and is based on the ground floor of the City Quays 2 building. 4. Dublin’s Roe & Co Distillery has unveiled its new visitor experience. Pictured are Gráinne Wafer, global brand director, Roe & Co, Ivan Menezes, Diageo chief executive, and Nial Molloy, experience operations manager in the ‘flavours’ room.

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5. Katy Best, Belfast City Airport with John McGrillen of Tourism NI, Julie Wakley, Tourism Ireland and Niall Gibbons, of Tourism Ireland, at the launch of a new strategy to grow tourism from GB.

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PHOTOCALL 6. Corporate law firm A&L Goodbody has announced the appointment of three new partners at its Belfast office. Pictured are A&L Goodbody partners Sam Corbett, David Rowan, Michael Neill, head of A&L Goodbody’s Belfast office and Mark Stockdale. 7. More than 400 delegates gathered at the Crowne Plaza Belfast for the Digital Construction Live conference. Pictured is Jon Briggs along with Melanie Dawson of construction giant Graham. 8. Sarah Patterson and Louise McDowell help The Consumer Council launch their new online Advice Directory, available at www.consumercouncil.org.uk.

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9. Paul McGurnaghan, Shane McConnell and Natalie Chambers and from Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) with John McShane, Neueda following a skills programme delivered by the firm.

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10. Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF) is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Launching the search for ‘hotel heroes’ is NIHF president Gavin Carroll, Pamela Ballantine and Stephen Meldrum.

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PHOTOCALL

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11. Tughans new senior partner Michael McCord (right) pictured with consultant in corporate, John-George Willis, managing partner Patrick Brown, and James Donnelly, head of corporate. 12. Emer Murnaghan, head of responsible susstainable business at Co Down headquartered Graham, has been awarded a fellowship by Presidential Invitation from Engineers Ireland. She is pictured with Peter Quinn, former president of Engineers Ireland. 13. The Northern QTR, Belfast International Airport’s new collection of restaurants and bar has officially opened. Pictured at the launch is the airport’s Brian Carlin with Faye and Trevor Annon. 14. The Bayview Hotel in Portballintrae has achieved a four star grading from Tourism NI following a recent £350,000 revamp. Pictured is Samantha Corr, Tourism NI with owner Steven Kane of the Bayview Hotel.

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15. Mark Haslett and Paul Millar (front) of Hamilton Architects alongside the new partners Graeme Ogle and Michelle Canning who have now joined the award-winning practice.

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PHOTOCALL 16. Donnelly Group teamed up with the Northern Ireland Hospice to donate £100 for every Honda Jazz sold across all their Donnelly Honda showrooms between June 3 to 10. The NI Hospice’s David Rankin is pictured with members of the Donnelly Honda team. 17. Stena Line boss Niclas Martensson and UK Swedish Ambassador Torbjörn Sohlström during a visit to Belfast to help celebrate the National Day of Sweden. 18. Noel McGregor of Henderson Wholesale is pictured with Mark McKee from Fresh Fields, one of the 19 suppliers to the new fresh range of products under the new £100,000 The Greengrocer’s brand.

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19. The Deloitte Assured Skills Academy is offering 24 graduates the opportunity to gain the skills needed for a career in business, alongside Department for the Economy and Belfast Met. Pictured are Ann Williamson, Marie Claire McGovern and Ciaran Fitzpatrick.

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20. Garvan O’Doherty and Martin Lyons, managing director of Zenith Networks. The company has completed a project to upgrade the IT in all of the Garvan O’Doherty Group properties in the North West.

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PHOTOCALL

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21. Arthur Cox managing partner Catriona Gibson welcomes the appointment of four new partners to the law firm, from left, Chris Milligan, David Black, Mark Jameson, and Cahal Carvill. 22. Simon Warner-Bore of Music & Memory UK, is pictured with Kirk House manager Leona Larkham. The care home in east Belfast is the first in Northern Ireland to be officially accredited to deliver a ‘Music & Memory’ programme of dementia therapy. 23. Sheila Chambers has been recognised with an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. She founded Around Noon in 1989 and was recognised for providing much-needed part-time work for mothers seeking employment.

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24. Simon Bailie of Digital DNA, and John Healy, managing director of Allstate NI as the business was revealed as a sponsor of the technology event. 25. Canada offers significant potential for Northern Ireland tourism, according to new Tourism Ireland research. Pictured are Dana Welch, Siobhan McManamy and Alison Metcalfe of Tourism Ireland.

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PHOTOCALL 26. Tayto has launched its new ‘The Big Yella’ slide as the latest high adrenaline outdoor activity at Todd’s Leap in Dungannon. Pictured at the opening is Elly Hunter with Mr Tayto and Benny O’Hanlon, owner of Todd’s Leap. 27. Clare McCarty, chief executive of Clanmil Housing, Jean McMahon St Mary’s Community Group, resident Cathy Smith and Carol McTaggart of Clanmil Housing as it marks the creation of its 5,000th home. 28. VoIP system byphone has been shortlisted in two categories at the Comms Business Awards in London. Pictured is David Whelan of Belfast-based Clarity Telecom and James Wells from Voxbit.

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29. Scott Higginson and Brian Clarke of Four Star Pizza celebrate the pizza chain’s 20th year in Northern Ireland. The first Four Star Pizza store in NI was opened on Belfast’s Beersbridge Road in 1999. 30. Kernel Capital and Par Equity have led a £1.2m investment in Datactics. Pictured are Allen Martin, partner Kernel Capital, Stuart Harvey and Mick Foster, Datactics with William McCulla, Invest NI and Gavin Kennedy of Bank of Ireland UK.

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THE CHAIRMAN

The Chairman A day at the tracks, serious business at City Hall, top tech, buildings, and a touch of red, white and bubbly along the way

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hether it’s a floral and woody Aussie or a rich, robust and funky Rioja, there’s a time and a place for the odd suitably grape-based beverage.

On this occasion, the Chairman spent a sun-drenched evening in the class-clad surroundings of JN Wine in Crossgar for the launch of its new JN Wine Academy. Showing us the ropes was the talented team of Sean Hamill and Aidan McGrory, ensuring the aromas and nuances of each of the wines were brought out. Turning out was the Jago Communications team, including Shona Jago-Curtis, Lydia Stevenson and Fiona Hanna. And others making the trip for a touch of vino included Chrissie Russell, Dr Lynsey Hollywood and Robert Ainley.

It was on to Belfast City Hall – on another surprisingly sticky, hot summer’s day – for the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s

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Annual Lunch. It brings together a selection of the Northern Ireland corporate world over lunch and discussion. Allstate boss John Healy, who is currently NI Chamber president, was joined by GAA legend Pat Spillane, BT’s Paul Murnaghan and former Irish national rugby team head coach, Eddie O’Sullivan. Also turning out were PR duo Arlene O’Connor and Chris Brown, alongside the face of the high street – and the man putting the hat back on the fashion agenda – Aodhán Connolly, and Foyle Port’s Brian McGrath and Bonnie Anley.

It was on to The MAC on another bright day in the city for a showcase of some of the best building achievements from Belfast’s Gilbert-Ash. The As One exhibition has been designed to represent how Gilbert-Ash has grown significantly, as a result of its unique collaborative approach working with its team, partners and clients to create landmark buildings around the world. Turning out was the man himself, boss Ray Hutchinson – as dapper as ever – alongside Anne McReynolds, chief executive of The MAC, alongside some other familiar faces. That included Belfast Telegraph business editor Margaret Canning, policy magnate David Fry of the Construction Employers Federation and James Greer of Greer Publications.

And arguably the three biggest characters of NI industry groups,

Stephen Kelly, Colin Neill and Glyn Roberts, held the launch of their new alliance, Trade NI, at the Sea Holly Gallery – the latest venture from Belfast pub stalwart Willie Jack. They are set to bring a major event to the House of Commons in September to highlight the priorities for the Northern Ireland economy, especially with Brexit potentially weeks away and an ongoing local political stasis.

It was off to the races on a bright Friday afternoon at Down Royal, with the Pinsent Masons team. Turning out in all the glad rags was Retail NI chief Glyn Roberts, BDO managing partner Brian Murphy and the man with the plan, John Hart, of Pinsent Masons. The Chairman hasn’t enjoyed any sort of success on the racecourse since he accidentally stuck a fiver on an outsider to place, and picked it to win instead – and win it did, at 40-1. But the last pony of the day came in on this occasion, which was good news for this Chairman.

The beginning of the summer brought the tech savvy to Belfast city centre’s St George’s Market once again. Digital DNA saw more than 3,000 of the world’s tech community gathering together in a show of strength, on the first day alone. And ensuring things ran smoothly was the Lanyon Group team, including David Elliott and Gavin Williamson, with others in the world of PR including Jackie Logan, Grainne McGarvey, Symon Ross and Andrew Kelly, while photographer Elaine Hill ensured everything was captured on film (SD card). Some of local tech talent showing up included Ailis Mone and Carol Rossborough, behind Belfast-based charitable start-up company Esther. It’s a pocket-to-pocket giving app which allows a user to give directly to an individual living in poverty. ■


THE CHAIRMAN

Sean Hamill and Aidan McGrory

Dr Lynsey Hollywood and Robert Ainley at the JN Wine tasting

Chrissie Russell Shona Jago-Curtis

Anne McReynolds and Ray Hutchinson at Gilbert-Ash’s event in The MAC

John Healy, Pat Spillane, Paul Murnaghan and Eddie O’Sullivan at the NI Chamber lunch

Guests gathered at the Gilbert-Ash As One exhibition

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Stephen Kelly, Colin Neill and Glyn Roberts at the launch of Trade NI

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Ailís Mone and Carol Rossborough at Digital DNA in Belfast

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INTERVIEW

Tobermore: building a £50m business 188


INTERVIEW

David Henderson, managing director of Tobermore talks to Ryan McAleer about following in his father Sam’s footsteps to build a £50m-a-year paving business

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n 1946, David Henderson’s D-Day veteran father Sam returned from fighting in France to find his mother had saved £500 to give her son his start in business.

Sam then invested in a fledgling sand and gravel company which had been set up five years earlier by his brothers. By the time his son graduated from Queen’s University in 1976, Sam had helped build a significant concrete company in Tobermore – and David was ready to follow in his father’s footsteps. David originally joined as a production manager, but the engineering graduate became managing director in 1987. The second eldest of four siblings, David was the only one to enter the family business. “I always worked here during the summer when at school, driving forklift trucks and shovelling concrete,” he says. “It was always what I wanted to do, there was never any doubt. My dad was keen as well.” David and his father eventually bought his uncle out of the business around 35 years ago. That really left my father and myself to argue with each other,” he jokes. In the 43 years since joining the family firm, David admits to making many mistakes along the way. But learning from those mistakes has produced a world-leading £50m paving business which has set the standard for the industry. Getting there has been something of a rollercoaster ride. Now aged 65, David recalled a challenging era throughout the 1970s and 80s when competition in the concrete product industry was fierce and margins miniscule. Gradually the company began to diversify,

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developing its own range of higher value paving products. Although much more complex to produce, the margins were far greater. Like many firms involved in the construction trade on the island, Tobermore saw production heavily ramp up during the heady days of the Celtic Tiger building boom. While the credit crunch left many construction firms broken or on their knees, Tobermore’s decision to hold onto the considerable profit it made during the three-year height of the boom, left it better able to cope than others.

David is honest about what it has taken to get where the firm is today. “A lot of mistakes were made along the way.” But the lessons have been learnt. Waste has been trimmed back and Tobermore these days is an extremely efficient, well-run operation. The company now sends an average of 700 truckloads of product into Great Britain every month. Of those 700, just two on average miss the delivery target. “Normally the delivery accuracy from companies is 90%. Ours is 99.7%,” David says. “It’s that business excellence of doing things right.”

In the three years prior to the property bubble bursting, it reported £30m in profit over a 36-month period. “When the recession hit, we were sitting on a lot of cash and we were able to ride out the storm,” David says. “We didn’t do any of the stupid buying property stuff. We didn’t owe any banks. It was a painful process, but at least we didn’t have a bank manager or creditors banging at the door.”

Each delivery is checked three times before it’s allowed to leave Tobermore. The firm is now a well-known name in the paving industry.

The lucrative nature of the construction market on the island of Ireland meant Tobermore had somewhat neglected the market on the other side of the Irish Sea.

A new £7.5m brick factory is also at the planning stage, which is expected to create more employment.

Eventually Tobermore adapted its sales strategy and the deals started to trickle in. “It has been a massive learning curve for us as a business to manage it. The last five or six years have been about building our sales team into an effective unit. We now have 50 people over there on the road. We have a great general manager here, Glen Robinson, who has done an amazing job.” These days, Tobermore does 62% of its business in Great Britain. This year, it has passed £50m in turnover for the first time as a company, with profits topping £12m. Its workforce of 275 is now larger than it was at the height of the property boom.

In April it welcomed a series of international delegations from the US and Australia who, on their way to the world’s biggest building trade show in Germany, stopped off in Tobermore to view its operation.

“We think we can double our turnover in the next few years without any problem at all, if we just keep doing the right things and keep focused.” After fully recovering from the recession of 10 years ago, David said he’s not really concerned about the ramifications of the UK leaving the EU. “Personally I’m so tired of hearing the Brexit stuff,” he says. “The reality is, whatever happens with Brexit, people want to build houses, we’re still going to be building schools and hospitals. I’m going to be trading primarily in GB, so I’m not concerned about Brexit, not at all.” ■

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TECHNOLOGY

Inside HQ of Huawei: the most controversial tech giant in the world Adrian Weckler gets access to the company at the epicentre of a war of words between east and west

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TECHNOLOGY

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alking through Huawei’s test facilities and research and development centres in Shenzhen, southern China, there is a note of defiance among senior Huawei staff. “We’re not a cyber-security threat to anybody,” Joe Kelly, a Donegal expat who has risen to become one of the most senior western executives working in the Chinese headquarters, says.

“More than three billion people use our technology around the world. If Huawei was doing something bad, somebody would definitely collect evidence. But there is no evidence. In 32 years in business there have been no cyber-security incidents, never a backdoor found, even though everyone is constantly checking our technology.” Joe, a former journalist, is now Huawei’s vice president for corporate communications. He lists off numerous examples of how Huawei is tested and analysed by industry and security bodies to a level almost no one else is. But the problem facing Huawei is unlike that of almost any other tech company in modern times. Pitted against it is the lobbying apparatus of the world’s most powerful country. American officials are relentless in driving home their claim to allied governments and other big companies that Huawei is a ‘dangerous’ company that could jeopardise security interests through forced access or control from Chinese state authorities. It has had limited success, persuading a handful of allies (Japan, Australia and New Zealand) to block the rollout of critical Huawei telecoms networking equipment. But it hasn’t managed to persuade European countries. Even its closest ally, the UK, says that its own security agencies believe the Huawei threat may be overstated. Nevertheless, there is no question that the affair has produced damaging results for the Chinese company. The biggest blow has been the announcement that Google would cease providing Huawei with its App Store or crucial Google software apps. Walking through the recently built European-

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style research and development campus in Shenzhen, it becomes clear just how big and varied the company’s telecoms operations are. Huawei spends more on research into things like 5G mobile networks and backbone broadband infrastructure for operators than any other company. As such, Huawei is perceived both in and outside China as a symbol of Chinese industrial progress. From nothing 25 years ago, it now has revenues of almost €100bn (£89bn) and is winning key telecoms contracts in countries more used to their own companies dominating. This, Joe believes, may inform some of the animus behind the US moves against Huawei. “I think is because the company was born in China,” he says over coffee in one of the sprawling campus’s cafes. Part of that is a political difference. If you go back to the 20th century, the world of technology – whether processors or the internet or social media channels – were all American-headquartered companies. America owned the world of technology. Now, China as an economy is staking its own claim in the world of technology.” Critics of the company take a different line. They say that it is either naive or blinkered to think that Huawei stands completely apart from Chinese authorities. The company’s founder and chairman, Ren Zhengfei, is a former Chinese army engineer, a background that cannot be separated from his current position, critics claim. Even if there is no active exchange between the company and Chinese authorities, the US hawks’ position is that Huawei – like many large firms in the country – has little choice but to yield to Chinese government demands when the occasion demands, whether publicly or privately stated. There are also a handful of individual incidents which have occurred over the years which, while not conclusive, have raised eyebrows. Yet Huawei has always strenuously denied the thrust of accusations levied against it. Furthermore, US authorities have never actually presented any substantial hard evidence to

illustrate their claims. And so far, most western countries do not share US fears about the technology, despite their own security agencies testing the equipment. So could there be deeper trade issues at play? Joe says that there is a view within Huawei that the current escalation against the firm could be related to more extensive macro-economic issues. “I think that the competitiveness of China is a component, sure,” he says. “We’ve been getting market share. If you look at the markets in which we compete, whether it’s the carrier market, the enterprise market or even consumer devices [like smartphones], it’s very hard over the last five years to find a competitor that’s been doing well. But we’ve gone from a revenue of $35bn (£27bn) to $107bn (£78bn). We’ve done it by bringing real innovation and competition to those markets.” The view that Huawei’s security clearance hinges on other trade issues was given succour when US President Donald Trump suggested that the executive order banning US companies from dealing with Huawei could be rescinded if a successful outcome to America’s trade disputes with China was reached. In the meantime, telecoms operators and smartphone owners across Europe wait to see what will happen. Meanwhile, Huawei has risen to become the third-largest smartphone brand in the Irish market, based on the advanced technology the company brings to bear in the handsets, particularly with the devices’ camera systems. The company’s flagship P30 Pro handset is widely considered to be the best cameraphone on the market and sells for slightly less than Samsung’s top phone (and substantially less than the top iPhone). So far, the controversy over Huawei’s future has not dented its phone sales figures. It sold 58.4 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, doing particularly well in Europe, where its sales grew by 69%. (Samsung remains in top spot, with Apple in third place.) Furthermore, this growth has happened in a market where total global sales of smartphones has fallen 2.7%, to 373 million units. ■

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TRAVEL

Lake Garda: a family adventure in northern Italy Cormac Bourke discovers there’s something for everyone in Lake Garda, despite having to deal with a touch of thunder and lightning

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he lightning flashed. The thunder seemed to shake the air. Rain and hail fell in a deluge. In the darkness, behind the din, a noise slowly grew louder and more rhythmic. Like the sound of a tap dripping but much louder. And so it proved to be – somewhere between a drip and a downpour, water falling from the roof of our chalet on to the double bed in which the two boys slept. Not exactly the first night of the holiday we had expected as summer began in northern Italy. The coldest May in 60 years according to a local was one thing (separately, the esteemed Italy-based journalist Paddy Agnew apologised by email for the ‘very unseasonably cold May’). However, a storm the like of which the people of Peschiera del Garda had not experienced in over 25 years was something

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else. So freakish was the weather that, on that first storm-soaked Saturday night, a river of water and ice (from the hail) had poured down the central street of our excellent Bella Italia campsite. Holiday bungalows are not supposed to have to face weather like this. We had arrived late afternoon into a sunny Verona airport. When it’s your first time flying as a family of six, it is a pleasure having the friendly face of your in-resort manager welcome you at airport arrivals and help corral the four kids (after their first flights, ever) and your eight bags and get the whole lot into the transfer coach. Within half an hour we had driven through the outskirts of the city and arrived at our holiday house in Bella Italia, a beautiful resort near the aforementioned Peschiera on the Southern edge of Lake Garda.

The lake looked majestic when we first saw her – dark clouds starting to gather over her darkening waters, the Alps and the Dolomites forming the backdrop. Luckily, we managed to eat our first authentic Italian meal out on the terrace before the weather changed. The kids were bowled over by real Italian pizza and gelato. And the whole table was particularly impressed by the Italian waiter’s ‘Go raibh maith agat’ when we finished our order. It was little things like this that made us feel so welcome at Bella Italia, and at Lake Garda. We were staying in a bungalow, although the resort offers a wide range of accommodation types – mobile homes, apartments and a hotel. Because of the damp weather, we couldn’t check out the five swimming pools that first day – but we certainly made up for that later in the week. Even without the storm, the weather in May can be mixed, so we had


The view from Scaligero Castle

Scaligero Castle on Lake Garda

TRAVEL

It was a relaxed way to enjoy the theme park experience. You can book tickets online or buy them at the door but the key was to go on a school day in Italy, so the park was – relatively – quiet. The queues were no more than 10 minutes long and we got to go on what felt like dozens of rides, or maybe it was that we went on some rides dozens of times? In fact the longest queue was for a coffee, and that was mainly because the barista was putting a lot of effort into making sure the previous customer’s sandwich was toasted perfectly.

brought raincoats and wetsuits – day one gave us the chance to explore the site, stock up on supplies from the onsite supermarket and fruit and veg shop, eat a few crepes in the cafe and test some of the playgrounds dotted around the site. The next morning we woke to blue skies and took our first dip in the pool which has a range of pretty spectacular water slides and features to keep the little ones entertained. Given the ages of our co-travellers — nine, seven and twins aged five — it would have been remiss not to have taken the opportunity to visit Gardaland, the Italian equivalent of a mini Disneyland, at least after a fashion, owned by Merlin Entertainments, the same parent company that owns a string of Legolands and Alton Towers in the UK. Getting there was very straightforward. A free shuttle bus from the train station in Peschiera del Garda runs every 20 minutes and drops you at the entrance to the park.

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The rides are great – from full-on rollercoasters to traditional (and gentler) carousels for the smaller smallies – and are classified as either ‘fantasy’, ‘adventure’ or ‘adrenaline’. A note of caution, though, the underground pirate ride called I Corsari: la Vendetta del Fantasma was a little scary for the five-year-olds (one asked: ‘‘Why have you brought us here?’’). Then again, when I Google-translated its name for the writing of the piece, it’s a bit of a dead giveaway. It translates – at least roughly – as Revenge of the Ghost Pirates. There is also a separate Aquarium at Gardaland, we didn’t go in but it would be a good option if you did encounter bad weather.

would have left us away from the absolute centre of Verona (as we discovered when we had to walk out to it later), the bus dropped us by the old Roman amphitheatre, the Verona Arena, heart of the city’s most tourist-friendly area. Nowadays it’s used for opera events and historical tours, though you might spot the odd Roman with a plastic sword posing for pictures out front. Be warned, these centurions will want a few quid for the inevitable picture with the kids – even if it has not been agreed in advance. As you wander through the streets there are historic buildings on every corner, sculptures and fountains, markets and tourists to watch. Nearby was Piazza delle Erbe, one of the oldest squares in Verona, where we had lunch amid the tourist bustle. Verona is of course famous as the location for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. So we visited Juliet’s house and her famous balcony. You enter the courtyard via a small archway, covered in autographs and padlocks from lovers who have visited. From ground to ceiling you are surrounded by love messages. And the bronze statue of the young Juliet contemplates her sweet Romeo as she poses for picture after picture with the tourists.

Having tried planes, (road) trains and rollercoasters, it seemed fitting to take a bus to Verona. That was, being truthful, only after missing the real train by a matter of minutes. Crestfallen and frustrated and pretty much all having a fight at the same time in the wake of our transport disaster, we had spotted a bus with the number 164 and word Verona on it and run en masse to the next stop and managed to find a remarkably patient and understanding bus driver who happily transported us all the Verona for half nothing.

The luxury of it compared to standing on the swaying bus. I would have easily stayed on the whole way to Milan but alas the journey only took about 15 minutes. And that was pretty much our trip to Lake Garda. This time we didn’t actually go out on the lake – world famous and the largest in Italy.

But luck was on our side. While the train

But sure we’ll leave the boats to next time. ■

After all that, we trooped back through the city and up to the train station and travelled back on the train.

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Uncovering the 9-5 NAME: Becky Mercer

POSITION: Head of business consulting, Zymplify

6.30am I love to start the day off with a gym class and get the mind wakened. I’ll do a quick class at my local gym, normally it’s spin or Pilates. After class I’ll grab a coffee on the way home. I always try to have a good breakfast before I leave for work, so I’ll make sure to have food prepared the night before. I’ll normally listen to a podcast on my way to work, my favourite at the minute are the Guardian’s Today in Focus, or Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place. 8.30am I’ll arrive at Clockwise and catch up on emails. I’ll spend some time prioritising what needs to be addressed that day and catching up with our teams in Portstewart. I’ll probably grab another coffee and catch up with the Belfast team in the kitchen. We’ll chat about what we’ve got going on that day, and see what we can do to help each other. I’ll also spend some time looking at our analytics. Zymplify’s all-inone digital marketing software, allows me to check everything from the number of leads we have, sales and email statistics all in realtime. This is a great way for me the manage the leads that are coming into the platform, and reach out to prospects, all tracked in one place. 11am Typically by this time, I’ve either been out and met with a few clients or had a few oneto-one phone calls with prospective clients with regards to a marketing consultation. I love scheduling meetings first thing in the morning, so I can be as productive as possible. I also love meeting people face-to-face and really getting a feel for their business, while figuring out how I can help them. Marketing in 2019 needs to be personal, and that has to start from the offset. 1pm I’ll grab lunch in our cafe if I’m not meeting a client for a business lunch. I’ll spend this time catching up on our social media pages and reply to any queries.

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3pm Zymplify has a growing team with offices all over the UK and in the US. We normally have team or project catch-ups around this time to see what we’re working on collectively. I’ll catch up with the marketing team, sales team and services team to ensure we all have what we need to do our job. We might use this time to review our current marketing plan, discuss clients or look at the platform. I usually catch up with Steve Lesser around this time – he’s our vice president of sales, based in our Boston office. 6pm I normally finish up around this time, if I don’t have any networking events to attend in the city centre. Networking is a critical part of my position, and I love to meet fellow business men and women in Belfast and further afield. If there isn’t anything on, I’ll head home and take my dog a walk along the beach with my partner, Chris. This is such an important time to reflect on the day, figure out what went well and what could have been improved. 8pm I’ll just be finished dinner and spend some time prepping my food for the next day, before sitting down to have another quick look at emails and plan the following day. After that I’ll catch up on my favourite shows on Netflix and get an early night.


Profile for Ulster  Business

Ulster Business Top 100 2019  

Ulster Business

Ulster Business Top 100 2019  

Ulster Business

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