Ulster Business - January 2019

Page 1

JANUARY 2019 Price £2.30 (€2.60)

Generation C

Catalyst Inc’s Steve Orr on his plans for growth and making NI a tech stalwart


We speak to the company bosses helping lead the way here







Contents 08 News

69 Ones to Watch

108 Photocall

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

We take a look at everything from a rum maker to a top cartoon production studio

Everything from fresh investment, job creation, deals and key company anniversaries

18 Cover Story

87 Venture Capital & Private Equity

114 The Chairman

Catalyst Inc chief executive Steve Orr on his ambitious plans for the organisation

The changing investment landscape in NI

The man in the black tie rounds off another busy year in the NI social calendar

23 Outlook for 2019

94 Round-table

118 Lifestyle

Ulster Business gathers industry experts to take a look at what’s around the corner this year

Bank of Ireland UK and Ulster Business sat down to discuss the future of leadership

Is Tudor the Rolex for the next generation? John Mulgrew goes hands on

43 Leaders in Business

99 Motoring

120 Business Breakfast

John Mulgrew speaks to some of the company bosses leading the way across NI

Pat Burns gets up close and personal with three leading SUVs

We take Gordon Carson of 4c Executive for a bite and chat about top-end recruitment

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




A New Year and outlook for NI


ook, let’s try and keep this introduction positive, given that it’s the start of a New Year in business and everyone is probably renewing their gym memberships with the same level of urgency we’d like to see our political ‘leaders’ directing towards restoring a government.

OK, that’s the only time I’m going to mentioned it. Or Brexit. Probably. On that note, a deal appeared to collapse in front of our very eyes, and following the vote this month, attention will move to what happens next. No deal? Revoking or delaying Article 50? A fresh referendum? Pushing all that aside, welcome to the January edition, and first Ulster Business of 2019. This month we focus on eight

Leaders in Business, look at the Ones to Watch in the coming years, and speak to Steve Orr, who is now at the helm of Catalyst Inc. It’s also an opportunity to thank all of our reader and supporters of the magazine. It’s been another great year for stories, analysis, features and news about some of the leading large companies and SMEs across Northern Ireland. Your support is key, and I look forward to speaking to and working with you all in the near future. As you’ll see further in the edition, a host of top economists have delivered their Outlook for 2019. There’s a recurring theme, and that’s that it’s going to be a tough year to predict. I’m sure we’d all hoped that by this time, we’d at least be

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

on a level playing field, and at least know how smooth, or rough, the business landscape would be. According to EY chief economist, Neil Gibson, 2019 is the toughest prediction he’s made in his lengthy career as one of the leading experts in his field. But hopefully, and with an air of optimism, 2019 turns into a positive year which sees NI’s economy flout some of the more conservative predictions around GVA growth. On that note, enjoy this edition and a Happy New Year from all of us at Ulster Business. ■ John Mulgrew

Editor John Mulgrew Manager Sonia Armstrong Deputy manager Sylvie Brando Sales executive Sarah-Ann Gamble Production manager Irene Fitzsimmons

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

Graphic design Susan McClean, INM Design Studio Cover photo Elaine Hill Contact: 028 90 264260 www.ulsterbusiness.com


Ulster Business Magazine

Independent News & Media Ltd © 2018. 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.




month IN numbers A


The number of Tory MPs backing Theresa May in Parliament. She won the no confidence against 117, who voted to oust the party leader and Prime Minister.


A seemingly small number, yes. But this is the number of years that Northern Ireland has operated in a political vacuum, without a devolved government at Stormont.


The jobs being created by US cybersecurity firm Imperva. The company is expanding its operations with a new office in Belfast, and aims to add the posts over the next three to five years.


The number of Leaders in Business and future Ones to Watch in this edition of Ulster Business. The top company bosses and entrepreneurs cover a wide-range of sectors, from creative, to legal, manufacturing, agri-food and hospitality.

Tech firms setting up in city centre


wo UK tech firms are setting up shop in one of Belfast’s newly revamped city centre buildings, Ulster Business can reveal.

Tech firms CYTI and Firemelon, which are both owned by David Corney, will take on the fourth and fifth floors of Moneda House, at Wellington Place. Osborne King delivered the lettings on behalf of the landlord. CYTI provides technology solutions for insurance comparison sites, while Firemelon develops software and systems for the insurance sector. The firms join Starbucks in the development which was fully refurbished by Co Tyronebased developers McAleer & Rushe as part of a £5m investment. Osborne King’s Richard McCaig said: “We are delighted to welcome Firemelon and CYTI as our first office tenants in the building so soon after our launch. “The quality of the scheme is exceptionally high and given its central location we have received a number of enquiries from other tenants.” David Corney told Ulster Business: “We are extremely excited to be moving our two


businesses into this prestigious development in such a fantastic city centre location “It further extends our already decade long commitment to Belfast as our software development hub and will help us retain our highly skilled workforce as well as attract the best talent the city has to offer to work on our products.” There are now three floors remaining within the building, covering around 10,000 sq ft, with a show floor available for viewings. Elsewhere in the city, one of Belfast’s most prominent office blocks has gone on the market for £24m. Great Northern Tower, on Great Victoria Street, beside the Europa Buscentre and Great Victoria Street Rail Station, transformed the landscape in the city centre when it was completed in 1992. It’s a 13-storey office building with its main tenant, The Department for Communities’ family support division, due to stay until March 2027. The property is being marketed by Osborne King. At the end of last year, the commercial property firm sold The Metro Building on Donegall Square South for well over its £21m asking price.


Year ahead ‘hardest to forecast’


op economists say forecasting the state of Northern Ireland’s economy has never been harder due to ongoing political uncertainty and turmoil, Ulster Business can reveal. Writing in Ulster Business as part of the Outlook for 2019, EY’s chief economist, Neil Gibson, says “in 20 years as a professional economist, I have never had less confidence in predicting the year ahead than I do now”. “At the time of writing, the nature of the UK’s departure from the EU remains unclear,” he said.

“Estimates of the economic impact of various exit scenarios ranged from 5-8% in a catastrophic exit (by 2023)” He said that “Brexit is far from the only uncertainty ahead. Trade wars are continuing,


oil prices are slumping and stock markets are incredibly volatile. “The Northern Ireland economy’s labour market has surprised me over the past 18 months. I hope that it continues to outperform expectations in 2019. “Hopefully, there will be a transition period in place with a clear roadmap to a future free trade agreement between the EU and UK which may prevent the scale of slow-down I worry may be coming. While on the subject of wish-casting, let us hope that the Executive is back and operating too in 2019. If all these pieces fall into place then next year’s outlook for 2020 will be much easier to write.” See the Outlook for 2019 staring at page 23 for more detailed analysis

Neil Gibson



Quotes OF THE month

“Niall revelled in a self-penned, playful reputation of ‘cautious when it comes to the money’, but the truth was he was enormously generous to many groups and causes and particularly in sharing his experience, time and considerable wisdom.” Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly paying tribute to treasurer and businessman Niall Irwin, who passed away following an illness.

£500m Belfast scheme ‘moving away from retail’ By John Mulgrew

“The early weeks and months of 2019 pose more difficult prospects for managing the economy and maintaining and boosting business continuity than key decision makers would either wish for or normally expect.” Economist John Simpson writing in this edition of the magazine. He’s expecting a tough and uncertain time ahead for some Northern Ireland sectors.

“Avoiding ‘no deal’ is only possible if we can reach an agreement or if we abandon Brexit entirely.” Prime Minister Theresa May addressing Parliament and outlining that she would present her withdrawal agreement during the week starting January 14.


planned £500m transformation of Belfast city centre has significantly moved away from a major retailled scheme towards office space and residential.

Formerly called Royal Exchange, the Tribeca scheme by UK developer Castlebrooke Investments will see a 12-acre site close bordering Royal Avenue, Donegall Street, Lower Garfield Street and Rosemary Street being redeveloped. It will include 1,500,000 sq ft of residential space, office units as well as retail and hospitality elements. The first phase has already been given planning permission. However, the initial scheme was to include a major retail tenant, and around 700,000

sq ft of shops. That’s now been reduced significantly, with a move towards grade A offices and apartments. A previous recent masterplan had also included a 27-storey building, which could have ended up as the second tallest building in the city. But it’s understood that may also be revised by the developer, as plans progress with the newly rebranded scheme – which is an acronym that is also used for a neighbourhood in New York City, Tribeca. It reflects a description of the development as the ‘triangle beside the cathedral’. The investment would be the single largest regeneration project in Belfast city centre. The first phase will also include 24 apartments and ground floor retail and hospitality units to encourage city centre living. Work is already underway on the development in and around the Lower Garfield Street area. Elsewhere, the Belfast Waterside scheme – formerly Sirocco – will see a 16-acre site on the banks of the River Lagan 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.



Responsible Business Awards launched


orthern Ireland’s leading responsible businesses will have the chance to highlight and celebrate their achievements with the launch of Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Awards in Northern Ireland.

The awards, which are in partnership with Ulster Business, seek to recognise and celebrate firms in Northern Ireland that are making a difference by taking practical action to address pressing social and environmental issues. They are open to firms of all sizes and from


Pictured at the launch of the awards are Sonia Armstrong, Ulster Business, Alan Taylor, Arthur Cox, Noel Mullan, Heron Bros, Judith Marrs, Survitec, Kieran Harding, Business in the Community and Jenni Barkley, Belfast Harbour

all sectors, with 10 categories up for grabs in 2019. These are supported by a range of sponsors including Allen & Overy, Arthur Cox, Belfast Harbour, JP Corry, Heron Bros and Survitec. Moya Johnston, chairman of Business in the Community NI and managing director of Survitec, said: “The Responsible Business

Awards are our annual celebration and recognition of responsible business, helping to encourage new ways of thinking and inspiring others to take action. “They are free to enter and the range of categories available are designed to highlight particular areas of responsible business practice.”



Belfast law firm boss stepping down


he head of Belfast law firm Carson McDowell will step down from the role in May after eight years at the


Michael Johnston, who has acted as managing partner since 2011, will be replaced by Roger McMillan. Mr McMillan will have a primary focus on the internal running of the firm and core operational matters such as finance, staffing and IT, while Neasa Quigley will assume a parallel role as senior partner, leading the firm’s overall strategic direction. “The firm has grown significantly in terms of people and practice areas since I first became managing partner in 2011, and the partners agreed it now makes sense to split the managing partner role into two,” Mr Johnston said. “This will enable both Roger and Neasa to

Carson McDowell’s Michael Johnston, Roger McMillan and Neasa Quigley

continue to undertake valuable client work while also driving the growth of the firm.

Mr Johnston will continue to act as a consultant to the firm after stepping down.

‘Unprecedented upheaval’ for NI business in 2019


he next 12 months will see an “unprecedented upheaval for businesses” across Northern Ireland, according to the new president of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

Foyle Port chief executive Brian McGrath was speaking after he was elected to the role, replacing outgoing president, Jennifer McKeever. “I would like to pay tribute to our outgoing president, Jennifer McKeever, who has done a tremendous job in representing our membership over the last year,” Mr McGrath said. “The next 12 months will bring unprecedented upheaval for businesses right across Northern Ireland and it is hugely important that they have a strong voice during these uncertain times. “We will be listening intently to the membership during this time. Over the next year, I would like to ensure that the Chamber continues to provide strong guidance, leadership and support to its members.” Jennifer McKeever said: “It has been a privilege to serve as the president of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce over the last year. I have had the opportunity to represent businesses across the North West during some of the most challenging and exciting times.”


Brian McGrath


High street suffers 6.2% footfall drop


ootfall across Northern Ireland’s high streets has fallen 6.2% in the last year, figures have warned.

In a tough landscape for retail, Menswear chain Blue Inc, has closed five stores here in the last few weeks. The chain, which entered administration last month, has said its five remaining Northern Ireland stores will stay open as discussions take place about its future. Elsewhere, interiors and clothing firm Laura Ashley is also to close 40 of its 160 stores. It has four here — Belfast, Omagh, Bangor and Coleraine. The company said at the time of print there is no timetable for closures and no list has been prepared.


A walkway which has opened following the Primark fire

Meanwhile, online retailer ASOS warned its full-year profits will be lower, blaming a “significant deterioration” in November trading. And according to Springboard, bad weather at the start of December brought a 6.2% decline

in footfall on NI’s high streets year-on-year. That’s compared to a fall of just 0.1% UKwide. Belfast was also hit with a drop in footfall of around a third, after a fire gutted Primark’s Bank Buildings.



NI exports to Republic up By John Mulgrew


orthern Ireland’s exports to the Republic have shot up by more than 16% in the space of the year while sales to elsewhere in the UK dropped dramatically due to the collapse of one of our biggest manufacturers.

Overall, the total value of external sales by Northern Ireland companies was estimated to be worth £21.4bn in 2017, according to the figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA).

However, it’s thought the loss of Ballymena cigarette maker JTI Gallaher contributed heavily to a more than 20% fall in exports to elsewhere in the UK. The £2.9bn slide in sales to Great Britain was the first recorded decline since the survey began in 2011.

substantial fall in sales” in the manufacturing sub sector of food, beverages and tobacco. Ulster Bank’s chief economist, Richard Ramsey, speaking about the figures and the impact of the closure of JTI Gallaher, said:


The drop in NI

“Going forward we now have no tobacco industry whatsoever. Food and drink in my view during 2017 will show growth, so most of that slump must be attributed to JTI.”

Export sales to EU sales to the rest countries apart of the UK from the Republic fell by £269m (12.1%) to £2bn. Meanwhile, separate fresh figures show that Northern Ireland’s services sector has recorded Total sales by companies annual growth every quarter since quarter four The total sales by in Northern of 2014. companies in Northern This represents a Ireland were Ireland in 201 decrease of 10.1% over estimated That’s in contrast to the the year. Breaking down to be worth production sector where annual where the sales are going, £66.6bn in decreases have been reported exports to the Republic increased 2017, which was in six of the last ten quarters. by £540m or 16.2% over the year to a record down £1.1bn on 2016. The rise in NI exports £3.9bn. Overall, output in the services to the Republic And within Northern sector decreased in real terms of Ireland Ireland, sales increased by (by 0.6%) over the third quarter £1.3bn to £45.2bn, up 2.9% of 2018, from its highest point in the over the year. last 10 years, while production sector output increased in real terms to its highest point NISRA said the slump was driven by “a since quarter one 2017.





Former police station to become apartments


former south Belfast police station is set to be turned into a new apartment development this


Work to demolish the former Ballynafeigh PSNI Station on Belfast’s Ormeau Road is expected to begin in May 2019. Co Tyrone developer Knockburn Ltd received planning approval to knock down the derelict structure and build 57 new apartments on the site. The £12m project is expected to create 50 jobs during the construction phase, with plans to have the apartments ready by the summer of 2020.

The full proposal includes two apartment blocks, three retail units with frontage onto the Ormeau Road, a communal court yard and underground car parking.

The project has been designed by Like Architects. The firm’s director has said the apartments would deliver much-needed homes on one of Belfast’s main arterial routes.

YEARBOOK 2018 Last year was another busy one, with Brexit, ongoing political uncertainty and job losses. But there was also some good news. We take a snapshot of the year that was 2018  JANUARY

 MAY

Bombardier landed a massive victory against Boeing in the US. Thousands of workers here breathed a sigh of relief when the US International Trade Commission ruled in its favour amid a challenge by Boeing.

Unemployment in Northern Ireland hits a record low of 3.1%, with a 2.1% fall over the last year. The unemployment rate for January to March was the lowest since records began in 1995. However, the rate of economic inactivity remained the highest of all UK regions.



Job losses hit the headlines. That included Williams Industrial Services (WIS), which employed 145 people in Mallusk, and was put into administration. Elsewhere, it was revealed French oil services firm Schlumberger would be going ahead with the closure of its site, which employed 205 people in Newtownabbey.

While still a relatively new player in Northern Ireland, Belfast financial services firm FinTrU revealed it would create 600 jobs and open a new hub in Londonderry, in one of the largest single jobs announcements in the last few years.

 MARCH In what could become one of the single largest residential announcements since the housing crash, it was announced that Fraser Homes Limited had entered into an agreement with Gardrum Holdings Ltd, part of the EuroAuctions group, to deliver 1,000 homes over the next 10 years.

 APRIL Ulster Business revealed fresh plans are now under way to develop the Sprucefield site. The site has long been linked to John Lewis, but has undergone years of hold-ups and legal challenges.


 JULY Staffline Group, led by Tina McKenzie, acquired Grafton, one of the best-known names in recruitment in Ireland. She said the deal for an undisclosed sum made it the second-biggest recruitment firm on the island with 10,000 workers on its books.

 AUGUST The Ulster Business Top 100 Companies 2018 edition, with A&L Goodbody, revealed that Northern Ireland’s biggest companies have boosted their profits by almost 80% in the space of a year. Moy Park also retained the top spot on the leading Northern Ireland business list, for the seventh year running, with turnover of £1.4bn. However, Belfast retailing took a

massive hit, after a fire gutted Primark’s Bank Buildings, leading to a more than 30% drop in footfall.

 SEPTEMBER There were two very large job announcements made during the month. That included consultancy firm, PA Consulting, which revealed it would create up to 400 jobs. Meanwhile, Newry-based tech firm First Derivatives revealed it is planning to hire 1,000 additional staff.

 OCTOBER Lisburn-based engineering business Camlin reveals it’s creating 298 jobs. The new £28m expansion includes a £5m contribution from Invest NI.

 NOVEMBER Brexit was in the headlines throughout the course of the year, but it was in November when a withdrawal deal was put on the table. The vast majority of Northern Ireland business groups rallied together to back the transition agreement.

 DECEMBER There’s was a lot of scratching of heads as to what’s next on the Brexit agenda. A leadership challenge against the Prime Minister led to a House of Commons vote on the withdrawal deal being delayed until the New Year.


Ulster Business speaks to Catalyst Inc chief executive Steve Orr about his hugely ambitious plans for growth, expansion and moulding Northern Ireland into a world-leader in tech



The Catalyst to putting Northern Ireland on the global map


e aren’t going to follow anyone else, and we need to return to becoming leaders in the world.’

It’s immediately clear that Steve Orr has big ambitions for Catalyst Inc. He’s just taken over at the helm of the internationally renowned next generation science park which is home to 220 innovative knowledge based companies, who are employing more than 3,000 engineers, researchers, entrepreneurs and executives, across four locations – and has his sights firmly set on making Northern Ireland a leader in two key innovative areas of tech business. Taking on the role as chief executive of Catalyst from stalwart Professor Norman Apsley OBE, just two months ago, plans are under way to build on the foundations of an organisation which has an estate of 350,000 sq ft of agile workspace filled with innovative companies. Catalyst leads the way in innovation and entrepreneurship by supporting the creation and growth of innovation companies in Northern Ireland. “We have a rightful place in leading the world. We aren’t going to follow anybody. Let’s get back to leading the world,” Steve tells Ulster Business. “I am going to take the foundation that Norman left and look at how we leverage that by a significant factor – in terms of economic activity and dynamism for Northern Ireland. “We need deeper, more strategic partnerships with key institutions. It is through collaboration we can do something to scale and put Northern Ireland on a world map.” Catalyst is the thriving, beating heart of Northern Ireland’s booming technology sector and leading the way in educating and preparing companies and young people for the changing world of work through the impact of the


‘Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is seeing the impact of new technologies impacting on life, work and society. Formerly known as the Northern Ireland Science Park, Catalyst is an independent not-for-profit organisation operating across the region. It provides agile workspace across four locations – the main site in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, the Innovation centres in Londonderry, and Ballymena and most recently opened Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub, a co-working space dedicated to the fintech sector in Belfast city centre, which is a partnership with Danske Bank. “The business model we have had for the first 17 years was the perfect model for that period. We need a new model for the next. We are identifying a simple, but ambitious strategy – building on the existing foundation.” Part of the strength of Catalyst is in attracting big international firms, such as Citi, in close proximity to businesses at the very birth of existence. Steve says as a result, “accidental encounters” lead to relationships and outcomes which otherwise, would not have happened. It also plays host to Queen’s University’s leading research body, ECIT (Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology) which itself is home to CSIT (Centre for Secure Information Technologies). Some of the leading thinkers based at the site include ECIT’s Professor Maire O’Neill – one of the youngest ever engineering professors at Queen’s, one-time UK Female Inventor of the Year and a leading researcher. “You have US companies looking at why would they want to move to Northern Ireland – they want to meet Professor O’Neill. She’s amazing,” Steve says. “Then there are cyber companies, like B-Secur. The firm specialises in technology which

can read your ECG/heartbeat as a unique biometric identify verification. “There are other indigenous companies, like Titan IC in cyber-security, Displaynote and ProAxsis. We have great companies that are now making a dent in the world.” And pushing forward with what his predecessor Norman Apsley built, plans are under way to expand and redevelop Catalyst further still. That includes another new building, Pierpont 1 – which will provide another 100,000 sq ft of space – and a revamp and refurbishment of Catalyst’s Innovation Centre, as part of an addition £14m investment. “We want to make this the best place to work – improving the environment, the flow around the campus, the accessibility, and the experience, so that you love being here. “We want to refresh some of the buildings on the site. The Innovation Centre will be modernised by March and we will freshen-up our identity.” His big goal is to lead the way in two areas of technology and business at Catalyst – putting Northern Ireland front and centre. “We want to help to incubate two clusters where Northern Ireland leads the world. “How do we build on what ECIT is doing? We take the start-up capability, and ecosystem we have in Northern Ireland and leverage that further. “We want to make it easier for corporations to set up in Belfast and Northern Ireland in order to access amazing research talent. They want to define what the next big breakthrough is. >


Caption Grainne McGarvey, Trudy Parry, Steve Orr, Laura McCarry and Mervyn Watley


“We can develop something for global companies that they can’t find elsewhere in the world. We want to create clusters, that will act as a magnet to attract hundreds of companies.” One of the unique elements of Catalyst is Connect – a network of experienced entrepreneurs, business professionals, top research talent and potential investors who provide their time and experience pro bono to help foster and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs. “It’s helping entrepreneurs to figure out how to build a company around their product idea and providing the support to validate and access the marketplace, capital, investment and/or talent,” Steve says. “With the Connect network, we had 820 early stage companies or entrepreneurs engaged in our programmes last year. There is a lot of exciting and vibrant activity going on at the moment.” And it was Connect, which Steve founded and developed at Catalyst, which first drew him back home to his native Northern Ireland, following years of running and founding tech firms in the West Coast of the US. “I was an entrepreneur in California for a number of years, in San Francisco and San Diego. I was there for the peak of the dot coms,” he said. That included his own start-up business, Kineticom, as well as other tech companies. It was his time in San Diego which resonated strongly with Steve.


“Personally, I became obsessed with the San Diego story and the parallels to Northern Ireland. When they started on their journey in 1985, San Diego had a population of 1.8 million people, 60% of their economy was dependent on the public sector. They have an ocean to one side, a mountain range around them and another country to the bottom of them.” San Diego went from the bottom of every league table to the top – with the collaboration of top universities, research and development and entrepreneurship, building the city into the tech stalwart it is now. The Connect platform emanated from San Diego – a concept which help shaped the programme in Northern Ireland. “Meeting Norman Apsley at the Science Park was just the most beautiful thing ever,” Steve says. The financial and economic impact and contribution that Catalyst has is hard to ignore. It’s estimated the businesses which operate there contribute around £125m in GVA each year. “Everything we do is based on the simple belief that innovation has the power to transform our economy. People around the world are all innovating quickly, adapting new technologies, artificial intelligence, for example. In Northern Ireland, if people are producing goods and services, but are behind in adopting those new technologies, our economy is going to be in trouble as we will not be competitive. “The question is, how does innovation become the foundation on which everything is based?”

And as a result of Catalyst’s research into the NI Knowledge Economy, an annual report published later this month, which acknowledges the huge changes to the workplace in the coming year, Catalyst is hosting their second Future of Work summit in May 2019 – aimed at demystifying how roles and traditional jobs are changing, right across the Knowledge Economy sectors. Of course, Brexit is still on the horizon. For Steve, the main concern is around the availability of talent. “The tech sector is hungry for talent, but with the uncertainty in the last couple of years, fewer people have been willing to consider moving to Northern Ireland. That places a lot of pressure on the existing employees in the sector.” “Long-term, we have to be optimistic and look at the opportunities which can come out of Brexit. The businesses within the Knowledge Economy are export driven, representing over 35% of all NI exports. With 70% of these exports outside the EU, the Knowledge Economy is the sector least dependent on Europe and should be the key for driving growth at this time of uncertainty.” So, for Steve, his level of optimism and dynamism is clear in his new role, one which he says he is “very fortunate” to have. “It’s a position which comes around so rarely, and whoever gets the opportunity is so blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to lead. We have a talented team of people who are all passionate about what is possible. It’s so exciting. The opportunities and possibilities are endless.” ■


Immigration tips for employers Due to the impact of Brexit, immigration law in the UK is set to substantially change. Facing this prospect, which key areas should employers be aware of, asks Philip McNally from KPMG Legal Services?


If there is no deal, it is unclear when “free movement of people” will end. However, it could end as early as March 29, 2019.

Much is reliant on the make-up of any final deal but, armed with the right knowledge, there are some actions which both employers and employees can take now to make sure your business is prepared.

The EU Settlement Scheme Under the EU Settlement Scheme, every EU26 national in the UK must make an application. The application will cost £65 for each adult, and is due to open in March 2019.

The rights of Irish/British citizens: The most frequently asked question we encounter in KPMG’s immigration practice relates to the rights of Irish employees have to work in the UK, and British employees to work in the Republic of Ireland. Due to the impact of the Common Travel Area and associated rights and privileges, Irish citizens are not considered to be ‘foreign nationals’ in the UK, and British nationals are not considered to be ‘foreign’ in the Republic of Ireland.

This scheme is set to come into force whether or not a deal is concluded between the EU and UK.

avigating the ongoing Brexit negotiations is a challenge, particularly for employers.

As a result, the right of Irish citizens to work in the UK, and of British nationals to work in the Republic, will not be impacted by Brexit. The impact on recruitment If there is a transition period, employers will be able to recruit EU26 nationals (EU citizens who are not Irish), just as they do now, until December 31 2020.


Conduct an immigration audit In order to frame your immigration Brexit planning, we suggest that you conduct an initial audit of your workforce to gauge your exposure to Brexit. You should identify how many EU26 employees you have, their role and the location that they work in. Thereafter you can assess what you need to do to encourage and assist such employees to retain their right to work in the UK. Make your plan Once you know your immigration exposure, you can plan your response. If you have a low percentage of EU26 Nationals working in your organisation, it may be sufficient to supply those workers with information about the EU Settlement

Scheme, and hope that they make the application. However, if you employ a high percentage of EU26 workers, we advise that you intervene and assist or get assistance for these workers to make the mandatory applications. The post-Brexit immigration system Under the proposed post-Brexit immigration system (set to come into force from January 1, 2021), employers will face a number of challenges. These potentially include a minimum salary requirement of £30,000 and the necessity for a work visa for EU26 nationals. As such, those employers who rely on low paid EU26 employees, are at risk of not only losing their EU26 workers but will struggle to recruit after 2020 due to the post Brexit restrictions. Bearing that in mind, if your organisation is affected in this manner, we advise that you retain your existing workforce by assisting them through the EU Settlement Scheme. KPMG’s Corporate Immigration team is assisting employers and their workers in assessing their immigration status and supporting the relevant applications to minimise the effect of Brexit on the workforce. For more details contact Johnny Hanna, partner at KPMG Ireland, Johnny.hanna@ kpmg.ie or 02890 893812

Outlook FOR 2019



It’s already the New Year and economist John Simpson examines what’s facing the Northern Ireland business community in the next 12 months

Uncertain times may lead to a business downturn


he early weeks and months of 2019 pose more difficult prospects for managing the economy and maintaining and boosting business continuity than key decision makers would either wish for or normally expect. In addition to the uncertainties of managing the economy, which face the Government, there is a huge element of uncertainty about the reliability of the conventional economic forecasts. How disruptive


will be the consequences of Brexit implementation (or non-implementation)?

better than the UK and compares well with the EU average.

Northern Ireland goes into 2019 with an economy that is growing, but growing only very slowly. While the UK economy has recovered the output levels lost during the recession of the past decade, Northern Ireland in 2017-18 still has overall output 5% lower than in 2007. In contrast, the Irish economy has regained a rate of economic growth that is

There is now an emerging picture of the UK economy growing more slowly than the EU average and, within the UK, Northern Ireland has one of the slowest regional improvements, lagging behind the rest of the UK. The international prospects for 2019 are now forecast to be less expansionary than last year and the OECD points to slower trade growth

OUTLOOK 2019 Brexit, in whatever form it eventually takes, adds a considerable degree of uncertainty. The conventional models to anticipate how the economy will behave are attracting a degree of scepticism well beyond just the margin of error that might be expected. When otherwise well established and well understood agencies such as the Office of Budget Responsibility and the Bank of England attract ill-informed criticism, usually by critics who have little understanding of the inter-action of the main economic variables and the professional competence of the authors, the consequence is a lack of rational measured influence. Critical political comments on prospects for the economy in 2019 are heavily discounting the negative assessments. As the year evolves, the answer to the non-professional critics will lie in the evidence as the unfolding trends confirm that pessimism about the impact of Brexit is well merited. At the risk of being challenged, if the conclusion proves misplaced, the prospects for Northern Ireland in 2019 are not reassuring. In the opening days of 2019, if business decisions can be postponed, chances are that they will. Writing in December for an analysis of business prospects in the following year is, this time, more hazardous than any other recent period. No matter what decisions are made in Westminster, each month in 2019 will reveal a new set of influences each, in different ways, recalibrating the economic arithmetic for the months ahead.

in 2020 linked to disruption of international trade partly linked with the more restrictive trade policies of the US and also to tightening changes in monetary and fiscal policies. Northern Ireland’s slower growth is set to continue. Political instability and Brexit uncertainties continue to be a concern. The most recent annual business enquiry, reporting on the outcome in 2017, shows the stark contrasts. In 2017, the non-financial business economy here expanded at a rate of 0.6%: the rate for the UK was 5.6%. All this in the run up to the final (as yet not finalised, as this is written) Brexit deal which is widely expected to have a further initial adverse impact and, later, may go either way to give a boost or restrain, further ahead.


The real cautionary ideal would be to ‘lock the doors and keep everything inside’ until the external economic environment settled down. Of course that would make a risky situation even riskier. Business managers must manage their business and ‘locking the doors’ is a guaranteed crisis or collapse. Businesses will keep trading, responding to changing market pressures, and hoping that the unexpected economic and political shocks are manageable. The least complicated and most reliable basis for decision making in the early part of 2019 is that there continues to be a major degree of uncertainty about how the economy will respond to events, some of which may have diverse implications. Decisions can often be readily postponed. Delay can be less stressful than anticipation of the uncertain.

The critical uncertainties include: The final form of Brexit to be agreed by the UK Government and the EU? Have the exchange rates for the pound and euro stabilised? How will the Bank of England respond: base rate could further increase? After Brexit, how will the UK Chancellor respond in the next Budget? The answers to these uncertainties are critically important for the UK and, specifically, Northern Ireland. To a significant degree, people in Northern Ireland are not in a position to set the answers. UK politics will be influential. However, that is not an excuse to argue that all responsibility lies outside local control. How will the Northern Ireland institutions respond? If there is still no devolved Executive, the ‘no decision’ making drift will be an ever increasing negative influence. If, perchance, the Executive is reformed, how long will it take to regain lost momentum? Capital budgets in particular have slowed gradually as old contracts were finished. New contracts will take time to move from approval ‘to spades in the ground’. Even more critical, the private sector of the economy may be disappointed as domestic consumers continue to take a precautionary stance as they react to an increase in job insecurity and take a more pessimistic view of their expenditure needs. The prospects for 2019 can be summed up either as challenges or opportunities awaiting sensible momentum. Can the negative Brexit messages give way to a more widely supported Brexit settlement? Can the negative impact of the local political stand-points be by-passed as the evidence of mutual gain from an agreed and restored Executive are realised? Is there a will to introduce a constructive programme for Government which really puts the economy (and better incomes from a more productive society) first? The economic forecasters have good reason for their warnings of a post-Brexit bump. Even critics of the forecasters will have to accept that pervasive and persuasive logic must be acknowledged. It is time to ‘batten down the hatches’ and persevere. ■



It’s certainly been a tricky 12 months... Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, says like consumers, his confidence isn’t what it once was


sually when I sit down at this time of year to take a brief look back at the last 12 months, and look at the approaching New Year, I can make an educated guess about what is going to happen, and 90% of the time I get it right. This is thanks to the hard work of our data analytics team in London who spend hours poring over everything from consumer behaviour, to market performance, and even global commodity prices. However, this year, like our consumers, I am simply less confident and that is largely down to Brexit. At the time of writing we have no deal and the Brexit clock is ticking loudly enough to be heard across the Irish Sea and the Channel. We are getting closer to a no deal Brexit that will simply be a disaster for Northern Ireland businesses and households. We already have half of the discretionary income of households in Great Britain as well as lower wages, so any future cost rises will be felt exponentially more by NI families than anywhere else in the UK. In the Brexit debate, the Northern Ireland Retail


Consortium and our members have tried to be the arbiters of common sense, asking the tough questions about what the challenges and benefits of Brexit will be not only for our industry but for the hard-pressed families across Northern Ireland. Our members have concerns about the integrity of supply chains, from groceries to medicines, and have yet to receive satisfactory answers as to how these will be resolved. But Brexit is not the only reason that 2019 is shaping up to be a challenging year for the retail industry and consumers. Yet again another year has passed with no changes to our antiquated business rates system. Retail is undergoing a seismic shift in response to how consumers are shopping. We have already seen the number of stores in Great Britain contract and that will start happening here in Northern Ireland so retail will no longer be able to hold up this archaic system. We are heartened by the enthusiasm and vision of Sue Gray, the relatively new permanent secretary at the Department of Finance, and we hope that 2019 could be the year that we see some much-needed fresh thinking and

innovation in the business taxation arena. We also have little access to the millions of pounds that we are paying in to the Apprenticeship Levy. It is effectively just another tax on NI businesses. We need reform to allow us to remove the barriers of age and of delivery that mean that the system and the Levy do not work for our industry. For consumers, the Brexit uncertainty has already seen the value of the pound in their pocket shrink. Although retailers have done their best to absorb some of the rising costs, inflation will mean the price of the weekly shop growing and that is before we have any rises from a deal or no deal scenario. I am aware that this is not the optimistic look ahead that I usually write and I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong. But one thing is a constant in Northern Ireland and that is the resilience of our business and our shoppers. We have a long history of cutting our cloth to suit our circumstances and I have no doubt that we will do the same in 2019 no matter how hard it is. See you on the other side. ■


Looking back, it was the year of the backstop... Last year, 2018, was the Chinese year of the dog, but in this part of the world, it will go down as the year of the backstop, writes Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey


ndeed, some have said that Brexit as a whole was the one instance when the canine caught the car and then didn’t know what to do with it.

But while Brexit has no-doubt dominated the political, economic and media agenda, there have been plenty of other things going on in the economy that in any other year would have gained much more prominence. Here are a few key things to remember. New names emerge The backstop was a term we’d never heard of before, but which came to prominence in 2018. Likewise, 2018 was a year when some unfamiliar business names came to the fore. Companies like STATSports, FinTrU, and cyber-security firms such as Imperva moved into the mainstream with investments, jobs announcements and success on the world stage. Labour market records Unfamiliar terms also came to prominence in the labour market, when one economist who shall remain nameless suggested that Northern Ireland had reached ‘full employment’. This set some pulses racing, and was met with cries of ‘oh no it hadn’t’. Panto season had come early, but this villain maintains that unemployment in Northern Ireland had gone as low as it probably could. The number of jobs hit an alltime high in a number of areas, including the overall private sector and the services sector, and even manufacturing hit a 14-year high.


Tourism highs In tourism, it was the year of the £8 pint, when Northern Ireland further upped its tourism offering with hotels like the new Grand Central, and when Lonely Planet named Northern Ireland the number one place to visit in the world. Bumper year for manufacturing For some of Northern Ireland’s main manufacturers, 2018 proved to be a year of robust growth. Strong global demand boosted order books and some areas of manufacturing have never had it so good. Areas such as ‘basic and fabricated metal products’, ‘chemicals and pharmaceutical products’ ie companies such as Almac, Randox and Norbrook, and ‘machinery and equipment’ including firms like CDE Global, all hit record highs during the year. Housing market continues its recovery A decade on from the crash, the housing market continued its recovery. House-building hit a 10-year high, first time buyer activity hit a 14-year high and house price growth continued and Northern Ireland seemed to continue to buck the wider UK-trend and remains more optimistic than elsewhere. Some flies in the ointment remain though. The homemover market remains at very subdued levels and those people in private rented accommodation, which is around half of adults under-40s, will be cursing the fact that in some areas of Northern Ireland, rents have been increasing at a faster rate than both wages and inflation. Looking to 2019, it will be the Chinese year of the pig. It might also be the year when the backstop gets sorted, Brexit is resolved, and the Northern Ireland Executive is restored, allowing important decisions to be made. It would be a very productive year if that all came to pass. But some cynics would say that a certain farmyard animal might also fly. Let’s hope they’re wrong. ■




orecasting is always a challenge but, in 20 years as a professional economist, I have never had less confidence in predicting the year ahead than I do now. At the time of writing, the nature of the UK’s departure from the EU remains unclear. Estimates of the economic impact of various exit scenarios ranged from 5-8% in a catastrophic exit (by 2023). Notably, all of the variants suggested a loss of GDP in the UK, though it also worth noting that GDP means virtually nothing to most of the voting public. The prediction of 30% loss in house prices in the disorderly scenario is much more likely to focus minds. Moreover, Brexit is far from the only uncertainty ahead. Trade wars are continuing, oil prices are slumping and stock markets are incredibly volatile. Many of the global warning lights have flicked from green to amber and it is entirely possible that 2019 will be a very challenging year indeed. Despite the gloomy introduction, the base case forecasts continue to suggest a year of modest growth ahead. EY predicts a small contraction in the local labour market but most other forecasters disagree. This base case projection assumes a transition period is in place and that a global slow-down does not materialise: two rather large assumptions to make. The optimism is partly borne out of what has been a remarkable period of job growth in Northern Ireland. The workforce jobs measure reports 14,000 net additional jobs have been created in the year to Q2 2018.

This continues a trend that started in 2012 and has seen the overall employment level rise by 92,000 since Q1 2012. This is despite very modest levels of recorded GDP growth and, finally, it has taken the region back above the total employment levels reached in 2008. This performance is a credit to businesses throughout the region as, remarkably, all council areas have enjoyed job growth and all sectors outside of public administration have increased their headcounts since Q1 2012. The consumer is, perhaps, the most intriguing


The year ahead – has forecasting ever been harder? Professor Neil Gibson, chief economist at EY Ireland says in two decades in the field, predicting the future has never been harder

aspect of the economy heading into 2019. Inflation is running very close to UK average salary increases, which means that, on average, people are not getting richer. However, overall consumer spending has been rising – partly because there are more people in work and partly because people have been willing to run down savings or take on debt.

The data shows NI to be particularly vulnerable in this regard, with higher proportions of people without savings (45%). The fragile state of the economy means, probably, that interest rate increases are unlikely, especially with falling oil prices easing inflation, but the impact of a change in consumer sentiment and spending behaviour would trigger a marked


a difficult time on the high street as consumers move increasingly to on-line shopping. A number of high profile closures have taken a toll and we expect this pattern to continue. This will, as all periods of change do, create winners and losers and will place pressure further on an outdated rates system that relies heavily on retailing. Embracing digital: the potential that new forms of technology presents has been clear for some time. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, software as a service (SAS), data analytics (to name but a few) have long been touted as potential game changers. There has been a marked pick-up over the last 12 months in firms making investments in these areas. Maturing of the technologies and a tighter labour market are factors in these trends and we expect that to continue in 2019. Pockets of growth: regardless of the wider economic conditions, there will continue to be pockets of very fast growth throughout Northern Ireland. The pipeline of professional services inward investment remains strong, in particular with US firms seeking talent a noticeable trend. Media and film continues to boom and, even on the high street, there is no sign of a slowdown in the proliferation of coffee shops, personal wellbeing businesses and take away outlets. Volatility: share prices and exchange rates are likely to be incredibly ‘spikey’ given the turbulence in the world economy.

slow-down. Consumer confidence measures are inherently volatile but there are reasons to be concerned. Confidence surveys have been edging downwards – the UK credit conditions surveys suggest a tightening amongst lenders in 2019 and savings ratios (the amount people save of their income) are at historic lows. Consumer trends should be watched closely in


early 2019 as they will prove critical to overall economic performance. TRENDS TO WATCH IN 2019 There are a number of economic trends I would expect to see in 2019: Continued retail transformation: it has been

Summary – beating the forecasters? The Northern Ireland economy’s labour market has surprised me over the past 18 months. I hope that it continues to outperform expectations in 2019. Hopefully, there will be a transition period in place with a clear roadmap to a future free trade agreement between the EU and UK which may prevent the scale of slow-down I worry may be coming. While on the subject of wish-casting, let us hope that the Executive is back and operating too in 2019. If all these pieces fall into place then next year’s outlook for 2020 will be much easier to write. ■



Strong cross-border trade on horizon InterTradeIreland’s Aidan Gough takes a look at what’s around the corner for cross-border business this year


hile not without its challenges, 2018 was generally a good year for businesses across the island with more than 40% reporting growth and only 5% in decline at year end. Cross border traders performed even better with nearly 50% reporting growth. Official Irish Government statistics show that exports to Northern Ireland in 2017 (most recent available) grew by 18.4% over the previous year. Figures to date for the first six months of 2018 show that this strong growth performance is expected to continue with 2018 set to be a record year for cross border goods trade. The looming prospect of Brexit has nevertheless dented business and consumer confidence with nearly 40% of businesses trading across the border reporting that they have deferred investment with a further 42%

saying that sales have been negatively impacted. Looking ahead, in the absence of external shocks that fundamentally change the basis on which trade takes place, we expect this strong and positive environment to continue into 2019 notwithstanding emerging challenges in areas such as skills and rising overhead costs. This is good for the wider economy because businesses involved in cross-border trade make a higher contribution to levels of turnover, employment and productivity than those businesses that trade only in their own market. We would, however, point out that crossborder trade is particularly exposed to external shocks such as a so-called hard Brexit. Research commissioned by InterTradeIreland and carried out for us by the Economic and Social Research Institute shows that a disproportionately high level of cross-border trade is carried out by businesses that have the lowest capacity and capability to absorb big external shocks to the trading environment that would disrupt demand or increase the cost of trading. InterTradeIreland remains a dedicated partner for SMEs on their cross-border journey and has a range of supports on hand for businesses, whether they are taking first steps into the cross-border market, or are already established in the other market and planning to innovate and grow. Our Brexit advisory service is also primed and ready to support firms to be best prepared for the changes in trading relationships that lie ahead. ■


Translink’s chief financial officer Paddy Anderson, with its head of procurement, Tricia Massey and InterTradeIreland chairman Ken Nelson MBE

Register your business for ‘inside track’ at Translink supplier engagement event Translink has joined forces with InterTradeIreland to deliver a supplier engagement event with a difference. Taking place on Tuesday, February 26, 2019 at Titanic Belfast, suppliers will have the opportunity to not only meet Translink’s procurement team but also engage directly with decision-makers across the group’s key business functions. Suppliers will gain an invaluable insight into Translink’s specific business needs and how they can most effectively offer their services. The event will include engagement opportunities across a range of disciplines including engineering, fleet and vehicle maintenance, construction, professional services, property maintenance, marketing/PR and technology. There will also be workshops examining various aspects of the tendering process plus a number of current Translink suppliers will discuss sub-contractor opportunities.

“Opportunities across engineering, fleet and vehicle maintenance, construction, professional services, property maintenance, marketing/PR and technology” Encouraging prospective suppliers, particularly SMEs, to register their place at the event, Translink’s chief financial officer Paddy Anderson says it’s an exciting time to be doing business with the public transport operator. “We deliver important services which really benefit society and last year over 81 million journeys were made on Translink services – the highest number in 20 years. Our business continues to grow as more people choose public transport as their first choice for travel in Northern Ireland. “We have a diverse range of key projects including major infrastructure

programmes like the Belfast Transport Hub/Weavers Cross development and exciting technology projects such as the Translink Future Ticketing Programme. So, attracting the best suppliers to meet all our business needs is essential to support our continued growth and success. “By working with InterTradeIreland we are able to provide this unique opportunity for suppliers, particularly SMEs, to engage directly with us and help overcome any barriers which could deter them from pursuing opportunities with us in the future. We’re now encouraging any businesses who are interested in working with us to register and secure their place at this major event.” InterTradeIreland chairman, Ken Nelson MBE said: “InterTradeIreland is pleased to be delivering this event with Translink in 2019, a year which marks InterTradeIreland celebrating 20 years of cross-border business. “InterTradeIreland continues to support SMEs to tender successfully for public sector contracts through a range of supports and services including tender workshops, mentoring and meet the buyer events. This particular event provides SMEs with a unique chance to learn about Translink’s upcoming opportunities and to build connections with one of the key public sector buyers in Northern Ireland. “It is widely recognised that SMEs can and do provide a valuable service to the public sector so I would encourage them to come along to this event which is free to attend as to have the opportunity to meet buyers personally and showcase your company is invaluable.’’ For more details and to register your attendance visit www.intertradeireland.com/events and follow @Inter_Trade @Translink_NI #sell2translink.

Take a step back so you can move forward better in 2019

Thu 24th Jan | 11am - 3pm Galgorm Resort & Spa (Lunch will be provided) Limited spaces. Register online today: www.osgroup.co.uk


Is culture crucial to business success?


re you interested in maximising potential and improving business performance? As business leaders it is imperative that you keep your workforce engaged, excited and open to the possibilities. Technology can help you achieve this.

Significant evidence exists supporting the link between wellbeing at work and productivity. With wellbeing including physical health and mental wellbeing. Jobs that are skilled, autonomous, supported, secure, and offer a good work/life balance with a good income, are associated with better physical and mental health and less absenteeism. However, businesses vary considerably in how proactive they are in promoting employee well-being. Approximately 55% say well-being is on the agenda of senior leaders, with only two-fifths having a stand-alone well-being strategy in support of their wider organisation.

the business’s purpose and strategy can positively impact organisational outcomes. A collaborative approach that engages a self-organizing team and empowers people to determine their own way of working is one of the best ways to achieve the overall company goals. A little can go a long way to achieving this, such as offering flexi-time working or working from home options to aid a healthier work-life balance and give employees a greater sense of freedom and trust. Company culture is fast becoming the differentiator between successful businesses and unsuccessful ones, the culture you create for your people matters.

At the centre of every business are people and culture. Company culture can often develop organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. A company’s culture will be reflected in everything from dress code, business hours, office setup, employee benefits, turnover, hiring decisions, treatment of clients, client satisfaction and every other aspect of operations.

Technology can help engage and empower your workforce. For some employees it is more about the results that the process. People are becoming less interested in following a tedious, conventional framework and expect tools in place to allow them to be more creative, engaging and immediate. For example, millennials would much rather submit information by text message or a messaging apps than spend time writing long, formal emails or reports; they also prefer video chats instead of in-person visits. They utilize the latest technology to get the results as quickly as possible. They want to be judged on their results, not on how they got there, or how ‘professional’ their approach may appear.

A culture that is centrally aligned with

An effective employee well-being strategy


requires a ‘whole organisation’ response with serious leadership commitment. Companies can no longer ignore the importance of building a culture that allows a company to be more creative and collaborative. When we work and how we work has changed and will continue to change. Outdated technology can impact your employee wellbeing, company culture, productivity and ultimate success. Outsource are proud to have achieved some recognition for our efforts and commitment towards workplace and wellbeing at the recent NI Chamber of Commerce Awards. Terry Moore, chief executive of Outsource, said: “This award is a true reflection of what matters most to us at Outsource; our people and our customers. We are extremely proud of this achievement and are delighted to gain recognition for the continuous efforts, and commitment of all the team.” At Outsource we are continually looking for new products and services to enable ‘better business through better technology’. Join us at our business focus event to discover ideas and solutions that could help you have your best ever year in 2019. ■ For more information contact: Outsource Solutions on 028 9448 5112, email info@osgroup.co.uk or visit the website at www.osgroup.co.uk




Online property auctions start to replace the traditional ballroom sales Mark Carron of Osborne King on the company’s new online auctions – helping reshape the future of the industry


s the traditional ballroom property auction a thing of the past given the emergence of online auctions? This question was posed in the Osborne King boardroom in spring 2018 when we made the decision to invest in our online platform iOK. It was evident to us that the habits and requirements of both purchasers and vendors were changing and we felt there was room for a high quality online platform in the local market.

The number of lots offered for sale via online platforms has increased significantly since 2017 and the transition from the traditional ballroom sales to purely online sales has been swift. Osborne King held the last ballroom property auction in March 2018 with a successful sale rate of 84% and total sales of £6.9m.


3500 3000 2500 2000 1500 1000 500 0

H1 2017

H2 2017

H1 2018 Source: Essential Information Group

Since then we have held two online auctions through the iOK auction platform in October and December delivering an average success rate of 77% which is reasonably comparable to our previous success rates via the traditional ballroom route. We are hopeful that this will increase as the wider market becomes more familiar with the process.

Undoubtedly one of the main differences between the ballroom and online platforms is the competitive atmosphere created by a busy room and, from a selfish point of view, a successful ballroom provides a great buzz for our auction team. However, we have seen some incredibly competitive bidding online to

date. For example, a premises in Newry sold in our December auction after some 96 individual online bids. There are a number of advantages to the online process, for example all purchasers complete anti-money laundering checks online before the auction. The bidding process can be viewed in ‘real time’ on your mobile device, anywhere in the world, and we can run an auction at relatively short notice without the need for a ballroom or printed catalogue. We believe this level of transparency and flexibility is extremely beneficial to our clients. I think people who haven’t tried either buying or selling online would find the process very straightforward and its actually quite similar to



the ballroom process. The steps to buying at an online auction are as follows: 1. Visit iOKauction.com 2. Identify a lot or lots that interest you 3. Inspect the property prior to auction. iOK normally hold a number of open viewings in the run up to the auction day. Why not bring a builder or an architect if necessary? 4. Finance – make sure your funds are fully available as a sale completes usually within 20 working days after the date of the auction 5. iOK work on the basis of a maximum reserve figure, ie the actual reserve price will not be any higher than this published amount of the particulars 6. Arrange a survey prior to the auction day if necessary 7. A title/legal pack is available to download from our website once you have registered at www.iokauction.com. This information is available 24/7 through our website downloadable by you or your solicitor (which we would advise)


8. Subject to you being satisfied and are now willing to bid – ie property and title inspection, finance available – an offer could be made prior. Depending on the offer and client we will let you know whether this lot can be bought in advance 9. Buying on the auction day you will also need to have provided the auctioneers with your photo ID, proof of address and bank card details. These are registered online in advance 10. On the day of the auction and once you have authority to bid, log in to your account and bid once the bidding window opens. Our auction bidding window opens at 9.00am and we start to try and close our first sale of lot one at noon and the remaining lots within a two or three minute basis thereafter. Note if someone bids within the last minute the system will automatically allow any under bidders 60 seconds to bid. Unlike eBay you cannot be ‘sniped’. As is the advice in a traditional method of sale ‘bid early and bid often’

auctioneer will sign the usually unconditional contract on your behalf and pass onto the vendors solicitor for completion of legal formalities As with either type of auction a buyer must be fully aware that on the fall of the gavel, the buyer has entered a legally binding contract to acquire that asset (ie caveat emptor). I would like to think that the traditional method still has a place in the property market, but there is no getting away from the digital age and modern technological advancements in this ever changing world. ■ Mark Carron MRICS Director Tele: 028 90 270000 E-Mail: mark.carron@osborneking.com Twitter: @OsborneKingNI

11. Finally, if you are successful we will automatically deduct a deposit amount from your pre-registered bank card and the


Eugene McKeever MBE, managing director of McKeever Hotels looks back at another busy year for the family-owned hospitality business


here has been a lot of buzz around the tourism industry throughout 2018 and thankfully it has been mostly positive, investment continues, although with greater caution as economic uncertainty reigns and March 29 creeps closer. For us as a group we have been focusing on the major investment into Dunadry Hotel, which the McKeever Hotel Group acquired in summer 2017. As I write this I can hardly believe that this time a year ago we were preparing to go onsite and now we have completed the Grand Ballroom, Linen Suite, restaurant, lobby and 25% of the bedroom stock with the remaining due to finish by Spring 2019. We also completed some smaller projects such as the conference and lobby refurbishment at Dunsilly Hotel and have plans for a new frontage entrance for the Adair Arms Hotel to better highlight the historic 1846 building whilst making the front entrance more accessible. Growth has been stable across the group this year mainly due to the strength of the tourism market, the resilience of the corporate market and of course the continued support of our loyal customers. Although trading at Dillons Hotel in Letterkenny has presented its challenges with the weakening pound, the ongoing uncertainty around Brexit and the VAT increase, although it has also taught us to be increasingly focused

Another big year for McKeever Hotels on cost control, develop innovative competitive advantages and fully understand the impact of the lower tourism VAT rate has on your ability to be competitive in what is ultimately a global market in the long run. A big concern facing the industry continues to be access to a skilled workforce. With new hotel developments across the provenience, this issue is at the forefront of the industry. Although we hold Investors in People Silver Award with our continuous training courses, we are now looking at developing it into our own structured training academy. Going forward many challenges remain for the majority of industries, namely rising costs, which is having an impact on disposable income, Brexit uncertainty and a lack of local Government. All of these have an impact on our trading and therefore controlling costs, innovating services and driving sales is still at the forefront.


Ultimately our customers are the most important people in our business but the strength of the relationship we have with them depends entirely on how we interact with our staff and suppliers. And therefore investment in people and products continues to be a core business objective. As 2019 approaches we feel that technology will become an increasingly important part of the guest experience and service as we know it today will become a luxury within the industry provided by the top hotels. As a group we are looking forward to the completion of Dunadry Hotel development in 2019 and aim to keep to the basics of hospitality, with the simple motto to serve others the way you would like to be served. Our main priority for 2019 is to ensure that the customer is at the forefront of any changes implemented, whilst seeking ways to become more efficient and cost effective. â–

HR ready for a prosperous 2019


id your business performance suffer in 2018 as a result of staff sickness absence, annual leave issues or inappropriate social media use by employees?

Rest assured that you weren’t alone. These issues were top of the list of workplace problems frequently raised with HR Team last year. Whatever HR or performancerelated issues you encountered, now is the perfect time to ensure there’s no recurrence this year. Be proactive rather than reactive and start by examining last year’s employment headaches. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be in a position to pre-empt the ‘hot topic’ issues such as sickness absence, annual leave or social media misuse. For example, in handling cases of sickness absence there are a number of steps to


avoid escalating problems. Among these is the implementation of policies facilitating a return to work interview – statistically the number one way of reducing short term absence – and a trigger point system which clearly outlines provisions for absence review meetings. Managing annual leave is greatly improved by policies such as a cap on the number of staff members permitted leave in a given week. Policies like this will reduce pressure within the workplace at busy leave times such as Christmas or summer. As no legislation other than case law exists to govern social media use by employees in the workplace and/or about the workplace and/or colleagues, it is important to have a clearly communicated policy which sets strict guidelines. Getting this right will prevent many of the issues reported by employers in relation to staff posting inappropriate

comments regarding their employer/ colleagues. For an expert review of your human resources policies, procedures, contracts and company handbook for 2019, get in touch with HR Team today. A happy and prosperous 2019 from all at HR Team. Breda Cullen and Martina McAuley, directors T. 028 71 271 882 E. hello@hrteamgroup.com hrteamservices.com



A positive outlook for A&L Goodbody in 2019 Nine months into his role as head of office at A&L Goodbody in Northern Ireland, Michael Neill gives us his outlook for the firm in 2019


ith over 20 years specialising in financial services, corporate restructuring and disputes, Michael Neill is consistently ranked as a leader in his field by various legal publications. A partner at A&L Goodbody (ALG) for almost a decade, he was appointed to the role of head of office at the firm in Belfast in April 2018.

“Since joining ALG I have seen our Belfast office grow exponentially in size, capability and geographical reach, both locally and internationally,” he says. “This is not only a testament to an incredibly strong partner team, but to everyone within the firm and at all levels. “We’re now a team of more than 120 lawyers and business support professionals and, with demand for our services increasing year on year, I anticipate that we will continue to grow in 2019.” Michael says that, alongside the firm’s longestablished ‘core’ disciplines (corporate and M&A, commercial property, litigation and banking and finance), ALG in NI has seen an upsurge in demand for its specialist advisory services in new and emerging areas of law. “As a firm we have never stood still. We’re committed to developing the most innovative, commercial and strategic legal advice for our clients and their businesses. This means


demonstrating leadership, spotting trends and investing accordingly. “In recent years we have invested in developing our expertise in specialist areas such as financial regulation and fintech; media, IP and disputes, GDPR and energy law. We see demand for these thriving practices growing further throughout 2019 and beyond.” Alongside his head of office role, Michael continues to head the firm’s Corporate Restructuring and Insolvency department in Northern Ireland. The team experienced its busiest year on record in 2018, taking roles on all of the headlinegrabbing restructurings and insolvencies during the year – including advising in relation to the only public listed companies to enter an insolvency process in Carillion plc and Johnston Press plc. From a Northern Ireland perspective, they also took roles in the administrations of McErlain’s Bakery, American Golf, Williams Industrial Services and many more, particularly in the retail sector. “Our team being retained across each and every one of these high-profile cases is a result of the outstanding quality of our lawyers,” he believes. “But this high calibre isn’t unique to our corporate restructuring team – it transcends every practice area in the firm. “As well as technical expertise, our clients

expect legal excellence, unwavering confidence and industry know-how from their legal advisor and they find that in every one of our lawyers. We’re immensely proud of the value and impact everyone in the firm brings to client service.” One aspect of ALG’s people investment strategy is a focus on diversity and inclusion. “We’re heavily invested in creating a progressive culture and work environment where every single employee – regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, religion or role in the firm – feels valued and included. In 2018 we assigned a designated diversity and inclusion partner in Tracey Schofield, who works closely with our talent and HR lead in Belfast.”


A&L Goodbody employs over 800 people across its six offices in Dublin, Belfast, London, New York, Palo Alto and San Francisco. Highlights for the firm in 2018 included: • ‘Corporate Law Firm of the Year’ – Insider Media • ‘Most Innovative Law Firm in Ireland’ – The Financial Times • ‘Irish Law Firm of the Year’ – Chambers Europe • ‘Best in Professional Services’ – Tracey Schofield – Women in Business NI Awards • ‘Best Professional Services Firm’ – Highly Commended – BEFTA Awards • ‘NI Law Firm of the Year’ – Shortlisted – Legal 500

is often quite visible in the market,” he says. “We’re winning this work because of our ability to offer a truly all-island service, as well as being able to tap into the expertise of lawyers in the firm internationally. “But what is often overlooked is the work we do day in, day out with Northern Irish companies – and that’s the work we’re most proud of. Over the past 11 years we have nurtured long-established relationships with local SMEs and larger entities and have invested in growing our local client base significantly year on year.” So, what’s next for A&L Goodbody? Michael Neill

ALG also remains committed to supporting the community in Northern Ireland this year through its programme of partnerships and collaborations. “In addition to our official charity partnerships, we’re keen to support the wider interest of our clients, staff and the community in which we work and live. Our official sponsor of the world premiere production of the stage musical version of Good Vibrations at the Lyric Theatre is a good example of this,” he says. For the past three years, the firm has also collaborated with Ulster Business in hosting the Top 100 Companies banquet. “We’re very proud of our involvement in the Top 100,” Michael says. “It’s a great opportunity to


showcase our most important companies and to acknowledge just how much they contribute to the NI economy every year.

“Like any other business, we’re entering 2019 with some uncertainty in terms of what lies ahead politically and economically,” Michael says.

“It’s a good fit for us as a firm, since we’re already working with so many of the Top 100 to advise on a range of legal matters, at home and abroad.”

Despite this uncertainty, he is positive about the outlook for A&L Goodbody in 2019 and beyond. “We’re going into 2019 with a sense of ‘cautious optimism’,” he says.

While ALG is renowned for its work on highprofile international legal matters, Michael is keen to point out that the firm has also established a strong local client base over the past decade.

“We will be pushing ahead with our ambitious plans to better serve our clients and also attract and develop the very best talent. Alongside this, we will further strengthen our position as a market leader by continuing to invest in emerging technologies in order to offer a modern, efficient and commercially-focused service to our clients.” ■

“Our work on some of the very large international transactions, by its very nature,


This is where we were hoping to bring you a platform from one of our Stormont ministers but, two years on... we’re still without a government By xxxxxx xxxxxx

Signed xxxxxx xxxxxx




Benchmark your 2019 talent offering now


ith 2019 firmly underway, many business people will want to ring in the new year with change and the manifestation of resolutions. Hiring more and better people is a common call. If you are like me and believe in the concept of marginal gains, perhaps it is worth investing a few hours and undertaking a basic benchmarking exercise to identify where you need to improve your offering.

Justin Rush

To effectively compete for top talent in the Northern Ireland marketplace you need to offer potential new recruits a blend of the following: Shared vision Not all businesses have a lofty purpose that will add to the common good, the truth is you do not have to. However you do need to articulate a passionate rationale for your organisation that will, at a minimum, pique interest. Engaged leadership Two sayings I never forget are ‘people stand beside leaders and behind managers’ and ‘people leave a manager not a company’. Are you able to example how your leaders are inclusive, supportive and available? Talented, in-demand people will seek out information on the person that will be their leader. Learning and development This is not a ‘nice to have’ this is a ‘must have’. Top talent expects leading employers to be able to map their progress from day one, until at least the end of year one. It should not be a newsflash that the best people seek challenges and new roles regularly. Wellbeing commitments Last year was certainly the year that mental health and physical health became entwined as ‘wellbeing’. Employers that can example their commitment to wellbeing will be advantaged. And no, it does not mean you need to have head massages and yoga every Friday. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Regardless of your company size, you must seek to become involved in relevant and genuine


initiatives that will resonate with your team. Sponsorship, volunteering or donating money/ services are necessary to reinforce the culture and values you espouse. Total reward Basic salary is no longer the key to appointment success, indeed truly in-tune employers figured this out a long time ago. Building a reward package that is tailored to an individual’s different circumstances is key. People under 26 do not value health cover or Pension contributions as highly as those over 35.

Indicators show that the skills shortage for experienced and qualified professionals will become more acute in 2019, therefore every increment you accrue will be vital. And don’t forget, now that you have this market-leading offering, ask yourself this simple question. Is it easy for someone to find all of this information quickly and easily? If not, it’s all for nought. ■ Justin Rush is managing director at the Abacus Talent Group and can be found on justin@abacustalentgroup.com

Leaders in Business John Mulgrew speaks to some of the company bosses leading the way across Northern Ireland


Tina McKenzie



f running several multi-million pound job and recruitment businesses isn’t already enough to keep an entrepreneur’s diary packed, Tina McKenzie is also now heading up the Federation of Small Businesses in Northern Ireland. The west Belfast businesswoman has grown her portfolio of companies to around £150m.

“My main job is chief executive of Grafton Recruitment, which is now the largest recruitment agency in Northern Ireland – we have around 7,000 to 9,000 people a day working for us,” she told Ulster Business. “I also run Diamond Recruitment and People Plus – it is an organisation which works with the most vulnerable in society. “I have been doing recruitment for almost 25 years, and I’m also the chairman of the FSB. When I picked up that role only a year ago, the businesses were slightly smaller.” The FSB is responsible for around 6,000 members and around 10,000 business in Northern Ireland – dealing with companies with workforces up to 250 corporate staff. Five years ago, after working away from the UK and Ireland, she returned to her native Belfast to start Staffline. As for how she’s both carved her position out in business, and led others, Tina says her background has determined how that’s unfolded. “I think it’s a mix of two things. I think some of


us are riskier than others, and some of us are more driven than others, more ambitious and more doggedly determined. That’s not always a good thing – it can sometimes wear heavy on people,” she said. “I think my background determined my leadership style – coming from a very working class background in west Belfast. I started working in the family business when I was 10. It was nothing for me to go to school and then work at night. “I think growing up in a family business, you learn quickly that you have to be available, and be prepared to do any job. You must do the jobs people don’t want to do.” Part of that early career in the workplace also came with being a young woman in business, but being in charge of a much older workforce. “I was able to influence and manage people from a very young age,” Tina said. “Especially, when you are young, and people are in their 50s and 60s. That probably gave me the grounding.” Of course, running several businesses and having numerous other responsibilities means any form of a nine-to-five working existence goes out the window. “Anyone who thinks it’s easy, or is nine-to-five is much mistaken,” she says. “I’ve been able to avail of great skills in international business and I’ve had good role models. Always working with great people…

they are at the centre of what you do.” The recruitment businesses she works with deal with staff right across the sectors – with positions from minimum wage, to executive salaries of £150,000. “We cross all verticals, from retail to agrifood, healthcare, finance, banking and professional sector – from the lower skilled right up to the very high skilled.” The businesses reach across Ireland, with two offices in Belfast two in Dublin, Cork, Londonderry, Coleraine, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Enniskillen, Portadown, Lisburn and Newry. Far from an unfamiliar face across Northern Ireland’s private sector, Tina has increased her public appearances backing the withdrawal deal on Brexit. She, like the majority of Northern Ireland business, thinks it’s the best option to avoid a ‘no deal’ scenario. “I think Brexit, whether it’s Remain or Leave, was always a challenge. It was always a challenge politically. For us, irrespective of the withdrawal agreement, at the FSB we haven’t been sitting on our hands. We have been working hard and engaging with our members. “(An agreement would mean) we would haven’t have to worry about borders in the Irish Sea or in Northern Ireland. In a sense, NI would sit in the part of the Venn diagram between Ireland and GB as a free port, with tariff-free stats. It could give us a huge advantage and help us become the Singapore of the Western Hemisphere.” ■







Darragh McCarthy FOUNDER, FINTRU


’m going to work until the day I die’, says FinTrU founder and boss Darragh McCarthy.

In the handful of months since the Cork native featured in Ulster Business, his company has gone on to grow its workforce by more than 100 staff. As a result, it’s hard to ignore his company’s stratospheric expansion in the space of just four years, along with the accolades he’s picked up along the way. “FinTrU has probably transformed itself in the last 12 months from a presence in Northern Ireland, to being a much more established company,” Darragh told Ulster Business. “It’s currently 330 employees, and a year ago it was probably half that.” The former Morgan Stanley banker will grow FinTrU into a 1,000 person company, after announcing 600 new jobs across Belfast and its newly set up Londonderry office. FinTrU works with some of the world’s largest tier one investment banks in areas such as regulation and legal services. It’s expanded from a small office on the Dublin Road in Belfast, to taking on an entire building at the Gasworks, with further plans for growth. “We are now up-and-running in the North West. We have 35 people in there, and have our second academy, which will see another 20 in there in February. We are really going to try and grow that as quickly as we can.”


The first academy in Derry saw 370 applicants for just 20 places. “That’s something that’s going to encourage us to keep on growing the business because, I think FinTrU is great, but we shouldn’t be getting that many applicants for every role we create.” Part of the strength of his firm’s ability to recruit is its academy schemes, run alongside the Department for the Economy. That allows those with a degree in any discipline the ability to train for specific roles within the firm. “We describe it as a the ‘FinTrU attitude test’ – do they have ambition with humility?” he says. “I really love to find the people where the penny has dropped. For everybody, it is a different age. Some people have known from the age of two, or 32. “But if you can find that right person at that right time in their lives where they want to develop professionally and prove themselves, they are wonderful and it’s exactly what our academy can capture.” FinTrU already counts six tier one investment banks as its clients, with expectations of growing that to 10 over the next two or three months. Darragh retired from Morgan Stanley in his late 30s and could have, essentially, retired at that stage.

But he says what kept him going and led him to setting up FinTrU was “making a difference in the world”. “Leaving a legacy – I have a lot of energy and I need to do something. Unfortunately I’m not very good at tennis or golf. I happen to be good at business, and happen to have been granted the ability to run a business and grow a business. “I just think there is a great opportunity to impact a lot of lives by creating employment, and I enjoy doing it. “I think the way I am now, as I have grown older, I’ll work until the day I die. I just love working. I also love working with young people, starting their careers and developing, and if I can still teach them, and help them develop as professionals, that gives me a great sense of fulfilment.” And entering the Northern Ireland business landscape, fresh, just a handful of years ago, he says he’s been welcomed by fellow entrepreneurial leaders. His next step, he says, is pushing sustainability across the business – from the ground up. “FinTrU is going to be much more vocal in trying to lead by example and encouraging companies to lead by example by taking decisions such as offsetting their carbon footprint or encouraging more people to use public transport – to be a positive contributing force to society.”■



Howard Hastings



his year marks Howard Hastings’ three decades working at the company, which was founded by his late father – the charismatic and inimitable Sir William Hastings – more than 50 years ago

“It’s been a big year for the company, because the addition of the Grand Central at a cost of £53m, 300 bedrooms to the company which has now 1,000 bedrooms for the first time, it was a significant growth spurt and project to undertake. “We go in to the New Year, happy that we have added something to the hotel market in Belfast – which is well-positioned, not just to cannibalise our competitors, but to take advantage of some of the new markets that are coming into Ireland.” The group employs around 850 full-time staff and roughly the same number in part-time and casual work, depending on the season. Howard returned to Northern Ireland in 1989 – a very different hospitality landscape back then – after working for Volvo in Marlow, England. “We were still very much in the height of the Troubles, and it was before we bought the Everglades, the Europa and developed the Merrion,” he said. Howard started off as operations director,


taking over form a long-term ‘right-hand man’ to his father, who had previously held the role. “He retired a year before I came home. His role had been in the operations of the company, where it was more bar focused, rather than hotel-focused. With my law degree and accountancy qualification, it brought a certain amount of business skills into the business.” He also did his time in bars and hotels, before going into the family business – including a stint at the Gresham in Dublin. A few years later, he took over at the helm of the business, with his brother and three other sisters also holding director roles. “I suppose people look from the outside and think, that’s a very large business – because it’s a series of smaller enterprises, it doesn’t feel like that. “We operate in a very competitive marketplace. One of the things you can do to distinguish yourself in the marketplace is to have the very best people you can have. As a company, my style would be very much to focus on getting the best people we can, retaining and developing them.” Howard says he and the company also ensure that they are building a career in hospitality, and are able to grow and develop.

“When we opened the Grand Central we were able to recruit a substantial proportion of the top team as internal promotions, which meant we could be relatively certain that could deliver the style and culture that we wanted.” And is there a greater weight on his shoulders, running a family business? “In a family company, in my experience, there is less politics when compared to a corporate environment. “The other benefit is that we can be quite nimble in decision making. We aren’t bound by lots of committees in getting things done. Our investments sometimes take a longer term view than would be the case if you are a shareholder looking for their return every quarter.” On Brexit, while Howard believes that the withdrawal deal on the table is “the best that could be achieved” he still thinks withdrawing Article 50 would be a better option. “If that’s the best we can do, would it not be better to consider withdrawing Article 50, that we may be better off securing our future from within, and reforming that, which some of us did not like, about the European project, rather than ending up in a situation where we are on the end of an EU lead without the advantages of shaping where it would go.” ■





Kieran Kennedy



or Kieran Kennedy the O’Neills company journey has also been a personal one for the business boss for almost 40 years.

The company, originally known as the sportswear face of gaelic games in Ireland, it has now grown into a business selling right across the globe. Since joining the Strabane-based sportswear maker as a stock controller in 1979, Sion Mills man Kieran has been at the core of the company’s growth for four decades. “When I started there were 30 people, and 7,500 sq ft. Now we have 700 staff and 250,000 sq ft,” he told Ulster Business. O’Neills has its main base in Strabane, and one in Dublin, with sales offices in the UK, France, Poland and as far afield as Australia. Founded a century ago, the company’s relationship with the GAA blossomed a few years later. “(It began) when we presented the first ball to the GAA in 1926 – the first white ball,” Kieran said. Of course, it’s not just gaelic games that the firm is involved with. It’s growth its business


right across the sportswear sector, to include rugby, cricket and soccer, among others.

on Brexit which will help protect the existing fluid trading relationships across the island.

“We cover a wide range of sports and education – the main business would be GAA.”

“I would be delighted. It’s not perfect. Our big concern would be over duties and tariffs – we have an intricate supply chain. Goods could be transported eight times before they are sold.”

Kieran was appointed as general manager of the company in 1988. Since then, it has expanded on its home turf to include sites across Ireland, and beyond. “We now have seven retail stores, including Strabane, Derry city, Magherafelt, Craigavon, Enniskillen, Newry and Belfast. Obviously if we can manufacture and sell directly to the public themselves, it’s much more beneficial to the business.” Having been in a managerial role for 30 years, what is it that makes his leadership drive the company forward and ensure it takes in the right people, and retains them? “It’s all about the staff, and you have to build a good relationship with the staff – and put yourself in their shoes. It’s about empathy. People (who work here) have been here a long time,” he said. And Kieran – like other businesses which rely on both cross-border trade and workers from nearby Donegal – wants a withdrawal deal

The worst case scenario is falling back on World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs, which could be applied several times during the transporting of goods between Northern Ireland, the Republic and the rest of the UK. “If there is a hard border, there would be a staffing issue,” he said. “At the end of the day, businesses are flexible and work with the hands they are dealt.” O’Neills is a company which has bucked the trend of clothing production being shifted to Asia or outsourced to third parties. Looking to the future, while expanding both its global market reach and retail business, it is continuing to seek out new opportunities. “We are looking at new markets and expanding in France,” Kieran said. O’Neills is the official supplier to French rugby squad Catalans Dragons, and is also planning a retail shop in Poland. ■







Catriona Gibson



hen Catriona Gibson left to practice commercial law in London, it was supposed to be just a short stint.

But coming back 16 years later, Catriona returned to an entirely different Northern Ireland from the one which she had left behind. Since then, she’s risen from partner in Arthur Cox’s litigation team in 2006, to becoming the first female managing partner in her field. Originally from Newcastle, Co Down, the Queen’s University graduate left her native Northern Ireland to work in London. “Looking at what was happening in the province, and the state of the economy, there wasn’t that level of commercial activity,” she told Ulster Business. She began working for Lovells, now Hogan Lovells and specialised in litigation. That’s across a broad range of commercial law work, from commercial litigation, banking litigation, contractual disputes, and resolution. Catriona’s decision to return home to Northern Ireland to work came as a result of visits to her holiday home here. “We were looking forward to coming home for a holiday, and thought, why don’t we move here?


“It was a totally different environment to when I left. “I came back in 2006 and have been with Arthur Cox since then. It was the natural destination (for me) and I identified with the brand – very strong, and a heavyweight.” She joined as partner in the litigation team in 2006, and says at the time felt that the firm “was on cusp of something even better”. “I became managing partner in February 2016. I really thoroughly enjoy the role. Taking on the title from Alan Taylor, who did an amazing job at growing Arthur Cox – profiling it in Northern Ireland and beyond. I’m continuing to build on that.” In her time with the firm – which has around 100 staff – it’s undergone year-on-year growth, even through a tougher postrecession climate. “(There has been) continued growth, and continued development of the client base.” And she says that her career progression, to the most senior role in her profession, was driven by being immersed in the business and the commercial landscape here. “It’s particularly enjoyable – you have a lot more exposure to commerce, to other leaders in business and are fully integrated to business community.”

While she says taking over at the helm of Arthur Cox was a natural progression, she’s broken the mould along the way, too – becoming the only female law firm managing partner here. “I was probably taken aback. It was such a break with tradition,” she says. “(At Arthur Cox) it didn’t seem like a big step as it’s so egalitarian, but outside it did seem to be. It’s important to know that anyone can make it.” Regarding her own style, Catriona says you “must be seen to be the leader”. “… and have to have a clear strategic vision and be able to show that – judgement and integrity, so you can bring people along with you.” As for the future, and plans for growth, Catriona says: “You never want to stand still. There is always room for growth and development. I think as clients change you have to be able to react. “In the last 10 years, you can see different waves of the economy, a changing shift to work. “We have grown year-on-year – understanding and working with the businesses, national and international, and staying close to the needs of our clients.” ■



Owen Brennan



n 1997, Devenish Nutrition was an agri-feed business, established in Fermanagh, with around two dozen staff.

In the 20 years since its takeover, Owen Brennan, executive chairman with the now global company – which has its headquarters in Belfast – has grown the business from a firm with annual revenues of £5m, to an international business now doing that in a week. “By the time we got there it was wellestablished for over 40 years. The shareholders were looking for somebody to take the business to the next stage. “While the company was smaller at the time, they were really keen to see it grow from the Northern Ireland base. “The business has grown substantially. At that time, the Northern Ireland revenues were over 90% of the entire sales. Today they are less than 10%.” However, Northern Ireland revenues are around five times larger than when Owen took over the business. Devenish has round 500 staff – across 24 nationalities, which is roughly the size of the entire workforce 20 years ago. But it counts Northern Ireland as its main base, and remains a key element of the business. The company sells into more than 35 countries. “The most important metric is that we spend around £30m a year on innovation projects,” he said.


“The big focus in 1997 was seeing a niche opportunity for a specialised, innovative nutrition product, full-service business.” It deals in animal feed supplements – specialised high-value nutrients in a small pack. It also makes diets for small animals at the early stage of their lives, along with specialised nutritional products. And Owen says while the public hears about the negative impact of livestock, the positive impact isn’t heard. In his time at Devenish, Owen has been handed several accolades, including winning the Belfast Telegraph Cup 2015 at the Ulster Farmers’ Union annual dinner. “I’ve always taken those awards very seriously, and it’s the reflection of the work of a lot of people. I might happen to be the person that ends up being the recipient, but that’s only possible because of the success of the overall business.” He says, while sounding like a cliche it’s “genuinely a team effort”. “Part of my interest (in sport) is that I see the parallels between sport and business. “Who is the most important person on the rugby field?… actually, it’s everybody. If you have one weakness in that 15 or match-day 23. “If you take that analogy into the business area. I was once asked by a mentor, who did I think were the most important people in the business at that time. I said I didn’t know.

“But he said ‘the telephone receptionist and the lorry driver’. He said those two people, between them, have by far and away the most customer contact in our business. I’ve never forgotten that. And 40 years later, I find that to be true.” On Brexit, Owen says the position among businesses has remained consistent, with a majority opposed to the UK leaving the EU. “The three things which have emerged to date include the diminution in the value of sterling – that has been a very bad thing for business, generally. “… the second effect has been uncertainty… life is uncertain, as is business. But anything that adds a large uncertainty in a business environment is not good. “The third is maybe a little harder to define. I think the debate around this leaves a lot to be desired. “People have said to me that the focus on immigration has made a lot of people, that would be described in those debates as immigrants, feeling very uncomfortable. “We are an international business, and had got to used to thinking of that international dimension as a good and wholly positive thing, so to hear a debate with that emphasis, with that sort of connotation for people of an international background.” ■







Darina Armstrong



arina Armstrong’s career within the Progressive Building Society began at a young age, working her way up to leading the organisation since 2011 – almost 20 years after first starting with the society. “I absolutely love everything about the business. I love the mutual ethos, and that we are fundamentally there to help the community,” she told Ulster Business.

“We are battling our way through that – the housing market hasn’t fully recovered through it. The number of new developments probably aren’t servicing the needs of the demand. We still have an issue out there. “Slow, and modest growth is happening at the minute. But that’s good, and that’s sustainable. Affordability is very good in Northern Ireland and the economic factors, even with Brexit, are good.”

“We have to make a return, but fundamentally we are there for the good of society. I passionately believe that home ownership is a good thing. And I passionately believe that savings are a good thing, and that’s what our business has been doing for more than 100 years.”

Progressive now has 12 branches and more than 180 staff spread throughout Northern Ireland.

According to its latest full-year figures, ending in December 2017, Progressive posted pre-tax profit of £10.7m.

“For me, it has to be doing right by the customer. Once your staff are fully on that journey too, they know they are doing the right thing,” Darina says. “They aren’t forced into sales targets – they want to get the right product fro the person, and making it as easy as they possibly can.

In the last year, it helped more than 1,000 people buy their home and almost 600 to build a new home, with overall new mortgage lending of around £200m. It’s weathered some of the most difficult years in the residential property market here, with Northern Ireland prices plummeting in the wake of the recession in 2008.


For Darina, it’s about working hand-in-hand with the customer, and ensuring everyone in the team in the same mindset.

“In part, to hand hold. There are some cases where deadlines don’t happen, things don’t go according to plans – for example, in a housing chain, someone can drop out. It’s about being there, and being able to help.

“There is still a demand for people to buy houses – that hasn’t changed at all.” Darina took over at the helm in 2011, while the property market in Northern Ireland, and throughout the UK, was still going through tough times. But she believes it has normalised since then. “Things are picking up,” she says. “We have the experience here to keep going in a direction that suits the demographic that we serve. “We are here for the long-term, and factor that in. Ultimately, it has to be right for the consumer. “It’s also about the whole of Northern Ireland. It’s not just Belfast-centric, and we have to extend our reach. There’s good activity in different parts of Northern Ireland, and that’s where our roots are.” And after more than 26 years with the organisation, Darina says she has no plans to jump ship to another financial business. “I am totally bought in to the mutual ethos. For me, it’s all about the customer. I would struggle where decisions would be made for shareholder return, or shorttermism.” ■



Brian Smith



or Brian and Rory Smith, going out on their own with an online golfbooking platform came about a result of necessity.

business does. We have doubled the customer base, to 1,500 courses and (represent) about 50% of the golf market across UK and Ireland.”

The Belfast brothers were both made redundant within a year of one another, leading them to start BRS Golf – which was later bought over by GolfNow, owned by US broadcaster NBC.

And in the last five years, the company has increased its workforce from 15 to 75, with that numbers expected to hit 90 by the end of 2019.

“I founded BRS Golf along with Rory. The brand is still well known in the golf world. It started off as a tech product, a tee-time management product, which was sold to individual golf clubs – bookings, corporate days and green revenue,” Brian told Ulster Business. “We started expanding into new markets, and of course, Ireland.” It was a 10 year journey, from start-up, to selling the business to GolfNow – where Brian remains within the senior management. “We set about integrating our business into GolfNow, also taking their products and establishing them in the UK and Ireland marketplace. “We basically try to do everything that the US


Brian grew up in south Belfast, studying IT and engineering at Queen’s University, before beginning his career at BT, where he worked for five years. He then moved to Nortel, where he was then made redundant, leading him to setting up his own company with brother Rory. “I always had an urge to start my own business,” Brian said. “We grew up playing golf, Rory got me into it – I was maybe eight or nine. We used to go down and hit golf balls in Strangford beach, and then went to Ardglass Golf Club – playing three rounds a day. “I was looking at ways to get into golf. It was the perfect marriage. To allow members to book at their own club, and a need for club to reduce phone-calls, for example – the internet was taking off at the right time, and we were very lucky.”

For Brian, part of leading a business and being responsible for a team, is letting your staff get on with doing their job. “I think leadership is extremely important. I’d say my style is to give people autonomy. The one thing I have really done, is creating a great buzz – a fun place, where they enjoy working. “From a management style, I am a great believer in everyone’s opinion matters. Everyone should be listened to. There is no top-down approach. “All the directors and managers sit down with their teams. To me, that’s the real secret. You can’t have a great business without a great culture. You have to drive results, as well. The business has been on the up for 16 years.” And according to Brian, that growth will see it doubling its headcount to 150, over the next five years. “We launched into Australia last year, we have four people there and that is supported in Belfast,” he said. “We launched into France in September, and in 2019 and 2020 we are looking at Germany and Italy – growing the revenue line, profit and moving into new markets.” ■





We speak to five Tughans corporate partners about burgeoning investment in Northern Ireland and being behind the scenes on some of the biggest business deals here


ughans looks like it’s in for another busy year, judging by the sheer number of high-profile and highvalue deals the Belfast commercial law firm has been behind in the last 12 months.

The firm, which works with companies right across the UK, Ireland and further afield, has a team of around 120 staff. And it’s the corporate team which handles the top-end M&A, funding investments, venture capital and private equity deals. John-George Willis, the firm’s senior partner and head of corporate – working across M&A, funding and general company work. “We have four corporate partners working exclusively on M&A and investment into companies” he says. “It’s been another very busy year. We’ve been looking back across the deals, and have topped the Experian deal table for each of the quarters to date. “The feature of this year has been lots of activity in mid-market, around £5m to £20m space. “

Corporate law team leading the charge into 2019 Northern Ireland, with foreign buyers seeking deals here.

attraction into Northern Ireland,” she said.

For Tughans, that includes a deal to sell Belfast motorhome firm Camperco to Australian buyer Apollo – worth £4.5m. Meanwhile, Co Tyrone’s Westland Horticulture acquired English company Guardman Group.

“We have investments from London and Dublin, all looking at Northern Ireland companies. The innovation is here, and people seem to have woken up to the fact that there is a huge amount of innovation in NI, a lot of that coming out of Catalyst Inc in the Titanic Quarter.

“Those guys are still coming in where there is a specialism, or good contracts, people or technology,” James said.

“That is very attractive. They realise that London isn’t where it’s all that. They need to go elsewhere.”

“Despite the negativity, we are busy – and when we chat to others in the corporate finance sector, they say they are busy.”

Ciara Lagan is a partner in the corporate team, and is responsible for setting up some of Invest NI’s equity funds, such as the Growth Loan Fund.

And the investment is also coming from outside

“One of the main things is that there is a lot of

For Tughans, its work has been recognised in a number of accolades over the last few years. That includes Ciara Lagan being named Dealmaker of the Year at the Insider Dealmaker Awards. Ciara was also highly commended in the latest Women in Business Awards.

Of course, while a number of major deals have grabbed the headlines, it’s the mid-market and lower value deals which are ensuring the firm continues to grow. Commenting on the past year corporate partner James Donnelly said:



securing investment from London based fund Lonsdale Capital. Some of the other high-profile work includes the listing of Fusion Antibodies on the London Stock Exchange. And for Tughans, it’s also very much a team effort – with partners and lawyers from various areas of specialisation working together on a major deal. Adrian O’Connell is a partner, and heads up Tughans’ contracts and technology practice and is responsible for working across clients’ commercial contracts. “We do a lot of support work with the corporate team, and our own stand-alone contracts with clients, and work alongside commercial litigation on some occasions. “These are critical contracts, and the clients are trying to strategically move their businesses forward. “What I deal with is under the bonnet. Whenever they close the hood and try and sell the car, that’s when I hand it over to the corporate team.”

John McGuckian, John-George Willis, Adrian O’Connell, Ciara Lagan, James Donnelly, Andrew Kirke and Paul O’Brien

And among her work in the last year, was the sale of Co Antrim self-tanning brand, Vita Liberata to a US pharma firm.

“That’s a good sign. People are out there, and acquiring. Alongside that M&A activity, there is private equity work.

John McGuckian, also a partner in the corporate team, works across M&A, venture capital and private equity.

“There is a lot of venture capital, and investment through some of the Northern Ireland funds. That includes Techstart NI, Kernel Capital and the Co-Investment Funds, managed by Clarendon Fund Managers.

“We have had quite a number of sales in the last few years, but a good example for us is companies which are starting to acquire,” he says. “We acted for Westland Horticulture and Henderson Foodservice which both acquired companies in the Republic of Ireland, and Staffline which bought a few companies in the Republic most publicly, Grafton Recruitment.”


“In that world of £500,000 upwards, to around £3m to £5m – we do a lot in that space, and thereafter there is more investment in the private equity world.” Elsewhere, there was Lisburn-based equipment rental business Lowe Refrigeration, which saw Perwyn investing heavily in the company. Tughans also acted for Elite Electronics in

So, what’s attracting high-profile companies from across the UK and Ireland, and elsewhere, to the Belfast law firm? “We have a good team across a number of different disciplines, and we are well-served in our team as we have lawyers qualified in Northern Ireland, most are also Englishqualified, and Ciara is also qualified in the Republic of Ireland,” John says. “A lot of us trained in large City firms, so we are able to bring that experience back. “We are quite commercial in terms of transactions – we put what the client wants at the forefront of transactions.” And Ciara says the focus is understanding the client and its needs and building strong relationships with them. “It’s about delivering the best possible results for the client,” Ciara says. ■



Helping to lead the family business


ntrepreneurship runs through Brendan Boyd’s veins.

As a director in one of Northern Ireland’s most successful property companies, he has been instrumental in ensuring the business – which has a commercial and residential portfolio value of £200m with assets from Northern Ireland to London, Scotland to Wales, and even in Canada – is continually innovating and able to offer commercial property which is answering the needs of tomorrow’s tenants. An economics graduate from City University in London, Brendan worked in the real estate agency world before returning to Northern Ireland in 2007 to start up his own renewable energy business Air Core – which has windfarms throughout Northern Ireland as well as solar and hydro electric assets – and to join the family property business Killultagh Estates which his father Frank founded 25 years ago. The start of the financial crisis was an “interesting” time to take up that particular baton, Brendan said, but the fact the company has come through the downturn and emerged much stronger and even more resilient since then is one of the achievements which Brendan is most proud of.

It has managed that not-inconsiderable feat by continually innovating, a good example of which can be found at one of company’s key


assets Connswater Shopping Centre which has broken new ground with the first drive through Starbucks in Northern Ireland, a drive through Tim Hortons, Brand Max and a number of other new stores. Meanwhile, the company has also proposed a nine-storey grade A office development at 5 Donegall Square South in Belfast, which is commencing construction in Q1 2019 and is set for completion in Q4 2020. This is another innovative response to demand in the market, which will help answer the growing need for quality office accommodation in the city centre. “It’s essential to innovate if you are to grow,” Brendan said. “We are constantly looking at ways to do things differently, to introduce new technology and to meet the needs of our tenants.” One of the best examples of this is Killultagh’s acknowledgement of the importance of resilient and efficient connectivity to modern companies. With that in mind it has secured the first WiredScore gold-level certification for any building in Northern Ireland for The Linenhall after significant improvements to the building’s infrastructure. The WiredScore certification is a mark of the

Brendan Boyd, director of Killultagh Estates

resilience and quality of connectivity in a commercial building and is found in some of the most progressive developments around the world. “High speed connectivity remains a priority for companies in the modern age,” Brendan said. “WiredScore helps tenants – whether indigenous companies or inward investors – find buildings with a level of connectivity which will allow them to provide a resilient service to their customers. “That means it is a big boost for the Northern Ireland economy by making sure there is a supply of future proofed offices which come with internationally-recognised approval of their connectivity capabilities.” Killultagh Estates is keen to implement WiredScore ratings throughout other buildings within their portfolio, including 5 Donegall Square South which is expected to achieve Platinum-level certification, putting it in the same bracket as the Empire State Building, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google’s headquarters. It is these kind of innovative solutions which keep Killultagh Estates on an impressive growth trajectory and, with the likes of WiredScore, that trajectory looks set to continue. ■


Stuart John and Damian Farrell

Further growth at Abacus sees new joint managing directors appointed


The promotion of Stuart and Damian from associate director roles, to top leadership positions, is something the company has real pride in.

Speaking about the challenge of taking over the leading roles in the business from company founders, Justin Rush and Alan Braithwaite, Damian says:

Stuart John and Damian Farrell have been appointed as the joint managing directors of Abacus, which is the largest part of the Abacus Talent Group.

“At Abacus we believe in promoting from within the team, so when the option was presented to head up the largest part of the group, we were very excited,” Stuart says.

“Justin and Alan have been hugely supportive of the development in our careers, which has led to our stewardship of the company.

ne of Northern Ireland’s leading recruitment businesses is heading into the New Year with two new managing directors – to help grow and expand the Belfast-based business.

The senior recruitment experts, who both have more than 10 years’ experience in the industry, will help shape and lead the company into 2019 and beyond – a year which is set to have its own challenges, with the UK due to leave the EU in the coming weeks. Stuart says: “We are 18 months in to a very ambitious five-year business plan for the group. Abacus is sizing up growth opportunities across the sectors and markets in which it operates.


It’s the next step of the Abacus journey, the pair have been lining up to take over the roles since 2017. Damian says: “During that time, we have learned about the challenges of running a profitable business in an uncertain economic climate. “We are sticking to the instincts we have developed in our careers to date and so far, they have been proven correct”.

“They are completely transparent, 100% honest, and always put the company before anything else. “By following the example, they have set, Stuart and I will lead the business in to another successful period.” Looking ahead to his new role, Stuart says he’s confident that the company will continue to deliver for clients, meet ambitious growth targets, and tackle any challenges head on.”■


What is the outlook for hiring in 2019? By John Moore, managing director of Hays Northern Ireland


s we look ahead at 2019 it is clear that there is a shortage of professional and skilled workers in Northern Ireland and across the UK. The good news for employees is that a number of roles are in high demand and as such the prospect of multiple job options and double digit pay rises is very much a reality. The tricky news for anyone hiring is that these professionals can be harder to track down, difficult to secure and are taking their time to decide the right employer for them.

Employers are already under pressure to move fast to capitalise on new opportunities in an ever-changing world. Digitalisation, automation and investment in technology combined with political challenges served up by Brexit and the lack of a Stormont Executive mean uncertainty and the expectation of more change to come. Perhaps the biggest threat to being able to tackle this change in 2019 is the competition for talent. Employers we speak to every day remain broadly optimistic about the year ahead, but many are already citing skills shortages as threatening their productivity and project delivery. We surveyed almost 23,000 people for the Hays UK Salary & Recruiting Trends 2019 guide, and this year we have seen salaries rise by an average of 2% in Northern Ireland, slightly above the UK average of 1.9%. Eight of the top 10 pay increases across the UK were for technology roles. Data architects saw an average increase of 6.2%, whilst database developers also saw a higher than average rise of 5.6%. Other areas which saw high salary increases include tax managers in financial services at 6.7%. The competition for staff has also increased demand for HR professionals, with reward specialists seeing an increase of 3% and in construction, site managers saw an increase of 3.4%. Overall, employers appear to have responded to employees’ demands for higher salaries. Last year 67% of employers expected to increase salaries, while this year 73% actually did so. Around 30% of employers increased salaries by over 2.5%. Salary remains the biggest motivator to look for a new job, but professionals are also looking to move for career progression – 40% of employees surveyed felt they had no scope for career progression. Work-life balance is also a key reason that employees are looking for new jobs. The billionaire Elon Musk was criticised recently when he


said employees should work 80 to 100 hours a week if they want to succeed in business. It’s clear many employers continue to underestimate how important it is to offer a positive work-life balance. Only 18% of employers in our survey thought work-life balance is important to attract staff, yet 30% of employees prioritise it when considering a new role. Our survey showed 92% of employers were faced with skills shortages and that over a quarter (28%) don’t believe they have the talent needed to achieve objectives. Yet, hiring plans are continuing, with over threequarters stating they intend to recruit staff over the next 12 months. So, while there are undoubtedly challenges for anyone hiring in 2019, it is far from being a picture of doom and gloom. Good people are out there. Employers do however need to be reflect on their entire offering and look for new approaches to attracting and retaining their top people. Showing employees evidence of career opportunities and listening to the call for greater flexibility over working hours is part of the solution. The other element is looking to untapped talent pools and working with recruiters like Hays to find people who might not actively be looking for work but would be open to the idea – for the right employer. ■

Ones to Watch Ulster Business looks at some of the company founders and bosses who could end up as future leaders in business


Nuala Murphy MOMENT HEALTH What does your company do and what role do you play? Moment Health is a technology company supporting women’s mental health issues with ‘The Moment Health App’. Evidence and analytics-based technology provides accurate data allowing users and their clinicians to take steps towards diagnosis and recovery.

health illness around the time I was starting my own family I was compelled to do more to help the women who needed it. What is your background? I’m a chartered marketer by profession and have worked across many sectors in Northern Ireland, including many with a focus on health and technology.

Antenatal or postnatal depression and associated anxieties affects 20% of women and 10% of men and suicide is a leading cause of death for women in pregnancy and during the first year on a par with bleeding and high blood pressure. Research indicates that early intervention gives an 80-90% chance of full recovery. Moment Health is the first to tackle this and is a free download from Apple and Android stores.

What do you do differently from your competition and what are your strengths? Only 3% of mental health apps are evidence based. At Moment Health we are using technology to enable positive outcomes by early intervention and behavioural change.

It equips mothers with the evidence and knowledge they need to seek help and sustain good mental health and was developed with key stakeholder groups.

Do you have a target in mind in terms of where you want the business to grow? We are focused on bringing early intervention to new and expectant parents in an easy to use way. We are available across the UK, Ireland, US and Australia. I’m focused on ensuring everyone in Northern Ireland knows about us and the importance of keeping on top of their mental health at the time of having a child. We

How did the business start and how has it grown? It started with an idea almost two years ago. Discovering prevalence or perinatal mental


Who are your main customers? The mum or dad at home, through to employers and healthcare professionals.

are the worst off right across the UK for lack of services. What challenges have you faced? The ‘femtech’ category is regarded as ‘niche’. But femtech is rapidly expanding, and major organisations and investors are really listening and start to recognise this now. Both Forbes and VentureBeat reported on the growth of the femtech category earlier this year. It is forecast femtech could become a $50bn (£40bn) market by 2025. Who most inspires you? Sarah Friar, chief executive of Nextdoor is an inspiration. Sarah is based in San Francisco now, originally from Co Tyrone, and in recent years I’d been inspired by her tenacity and the mark she was making in the tech world. She has put Northern Ireland on the map when it comes to equality and diversity in tech. I am beyond pleased she is a part of the Moment Health journey as both a mentor and advisor. Where do you see yourself in the next few years? As a start-up there is no one path to follow. We are trying to prove a scalable repeatable business in order to grow and prosper. I’d love to do that from Belfast. ■


Becca Hume What does your company do and what role do you play? I am the founder of TapSOS – a smartphone app to communicate with the emergency services in a non-verbal manner. TapSOS is pictorial, allowing people to raise an alert rapidly without speaking. It operates in the same way as ringing 999, connecting users with the four services: ambulance, police, coastguard and fire service. How did the business start and how has it grown? I had a part-time job in retail through school, and during this time I met a deaf colleague. Curious with his use of sign language I began to study it at college in the evenings. Fast forward a few years and I now have a lot of deaf friends, which opened my eyes to the frustrations with certain products and services that simply lack full functionality for their needs. I saw the opportunity to enhance this particular service, and have been working on this since leaving university. What is your background? After leaving school I studied fine art for four years, specialising in silversmithing. I returned after a year to do a master’s degree in multidisciplinary design and it was during this time


that I had the opportunity to explore how I could combine both design thinking and my knowledge of sign language and the deaf community, in order to design tech for social good. What do you do differently from your competition and what are your strengths? There are only two methods of contacting 999 in the UK – telephoning or texting (eSMS). Our product is closest to the text service, simply because they are both non-verbal. However there are no others in the UK offering our type of service. There is a company in the US which is similar but their model is completely different. Our strength is that we have integrated with the UK 999 infrastructure – which makes us more reliable and secure. Who are your main customers? The app will be available to download and use for free. Our revenue will come from analysed data (all GDPR compliant). Do you have a target in mind in terms of where you want the business to grow? At the moment we are building this for the

UK but already our technology is scalable – so once we prove the UK market we will expand quickly into Ireland, and further into Europe within the next two years. What challenges have you faced? Time is the biggest challenge, when I first started people always said ‘if you think it will take three months, it will be six months’ and this is so true – quite often the time doubles and this is frustrating as time is so precious. Who most inspires you? I don’t have just one person. I’m inspired when I witness people, pressing through difficult circumstances with incredible resilience and positivity – they are the heroes. Where do you see yourself in the next few years? Doing what I love but diving a little deeper into this field – enhancing my knowledge and expanding the business into new markets with the aim of improving the quality of life for many people in stressful situations regardless of their ability. ■


Colin Williams SIXTEEN SOUTH What does your company do and what role do you play? We create and produce television for children – it’s in every home and every country across the world. We make shows which are most of the television networks. Shows we have include Claude on Disney Junior, that airs in every country in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Australia. It’s Disney’s number one in Australia and second in UK. There is also Pinkalicious – which is a long-term production with PBS Kids. There are 100 of us, and I oversee all the creative output – my main job is overseas development and the creation of new ideas. How did the business start and how has it grown? The business started 11 years ago and the first show we made was Sesame Tree – a version for Northern Ireland. Since that we have made eight shows, that have since sold into 120 countries. We started as a studio which made


one show, and next year that will be four or five.

work in our studio, which could mean further expansion and possible outsourcing.

What is your background? I am a graphic designer and I went to art college, and came through the visual route.

What challenges have you faced? The truth is, the biggest challenge is probably production capacity versus opportunity. We would love to do more in Belfast as well. But there is a limit to the talent pool here. We are making a move to help that, and we have a foundation academy to teach and train.

What do you do differently from your competition and what are your strengths? It is the quality of our work which differentiates us from the rest of industry. We have an uncompromising approach to quality, and only make the highest quality work. We take the slightly harder road to go down. Who are your main customers? We create the shows and then we licence them to people. Our customers include Disney, PBS, Nickelodeon, Hulu, Netflix and BBC. Do you have a target in mind in terms of where you want the business to grow? We have been on quite a steep trajectory in terms of our growth, moving from one show at a time to three, to potentially five at a time. That will mean we can’t produce all the

Who most inspires you? Probably my kids. I have done this for 11 years, they are now 16 and 12 and they were preschoolers when we were making pre-school shows. I’m constantly looking at what they are into. Where do you see yourself in the next few years? We have already had a number of offers of investment and haven’t taken that yet. While we are growing as a studio, we will continue, or be acquired, or invested by a larger party. The next few years will be interesting to see how it pans out.


William Mayne

BULLHOUSE BREWING COMPANY What does your company do and what role do you play? Bullhouse Brewing Company is a modern microbrewery, specialising in hop forward, full-flavoured beers. I’m the owner and head brewer. How did the business start and how has it grown? It really began on a trip to the US with my brother in 2011, and a visit to Green Flash Brewing Co in particular. After that I began making beer at home. What is your background? I have a degree in sports biomedicine and nutrition. I then came home from Cardiff and got a job with HMC Global, on a contract for Invest NI doing FDI sales. I helped bring TP ICAP to Belfast, creating 300 jobs. My appetite for the brewing business got the better of me, so I moved to Canyon Europe in Mallusk where I had more flexible hours. There, I managed £5m of accounts across six continents, from SMEs to multi-nationals. I left my ‘day job’ in September 2017.


What do you do differently from your competition and what are your strengths? For many years, the multi-nationals tried to homogenise and commoditise beer. We are free to create very flavourful beers. We also collaborate with our direct competitors to combine knowledge. I like to think our strength is in the quality of our beer. We’re ranked in the top 100 breweries in the UK (out of 2,000+) on the top beer review site. Who are your main customers? Our target demographic are people who really love beer. In terms of our customers, in NI we self-distribute to independent bars, restaurants and off-licences and we also distribute to Scotland and supply festivals elsewhere in GB and across Europe. Do you have a target in mind in terms of where you want the business to grow? When you look at what’s happening in the US and the UK and Ireland, you get a glimpse at the future. I see growth in the own-premise model as the way forward. It gives the brewery control and unprecedented insight, as well as

the financial freedom to deliberately not cater to everyone. What challenges have you faced? The licensing legislation and access to market are the headline challenges. Because pub licenses have a monetary value, multi-national brewers are able to tie up the market. It’s bad for the consumer and it’s bad for local brewers as our local market is the hardest to access. We also can’t sell directly to our customers, which makes the on-premise model all but unattainable without legislative change. Who most inspires you? In the beer business it has to be Ken Grossman and Sam Calagione. Their respective books are great business books. I’d like to say I’m inspired by the ethos of the brewing community, the spirit of which I’ve not seen in any other industry. Where do you see yourself in the next few years? Ideally with an on-premise model where we can sell 95% of our beer at the brewery. ■

Georgina O’Leary, centre, is the director of innovation, research and development at Allstate and fintech envoy for Northern Ireland

Don’t let the January gloom fool you... it’s going to be a good year for NI fintech By Georgina O’Leary


anuary isn’t well known for being a month full of optimism. If you’re looking for something to brighten the post-Christmas gloom though, look no further than the rise of fintech. Short for ‘financial technology’, fintech is one of the most dynamic industries in the country. Already contributing £6.6bn to the UK economy and growing, I believe the next year will see Northern Ireland as one of the biggest beneficiaries of this growth.

Here’s some exciting things to watch out for in 2019. Blockchain 2019 is a year in which we’re likely to see further innovation and applications of blockchain and Northern Ireland looks likely to benefit from that. Seamus Cushley, director of blockchain and digital at PwC, has said that blockchain has the potential to be as disruptive as the internet and with such a high concentration of blockchain experts here in Northern Ireland, we are right at the cutting edge of this exciting technology. Artificial intelligence Once the preserve of sci-fi, artificial intelligence


(AI) is now an accepted aspect of our everyday lives. From automated customer support that helps customers deal with their online banking problems, to insurances management where AI can be used to automate the underwriting process, fintech is quickly adapting to this new technology. Northern Ireland is full of potential in this field, most notably the work being doing at Ulster University’s Cognitive Analytics Research Lab as witnessed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he visited last July. Collaboration at home and abroad We’ve already seen some exciting collaboration in 2018 and that will continue into 2019. Collaboration between large firms and startups has also been working well both in the Catalyst fintech hub at Danske bank and at the Ormeau Baths where Barclays has provided support to some exciting startups. In my own role as fintech envoy I’ve been facilitating collaboration between private companies and our excellent higher education institutions to begin work on the first fintech degree. One exciting project to watch is thehub.io which is an amazing resource for startups. The website connects startups to investors,

information and people. It will act as a digital bridge, connecting the Scandinavian tech industry with our own flourishing startup scene here in Northern Ireland, connecting Northern Irish companies with investors and staff who can drive the FinTech sector forward. Northern Ireland’s fintech strategy In my own role as fintech envoy, I will be bringing together business and civic leaders to work together to help grow the fintech sector in Northern Ireland. To help support the fintech industry’s growth, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has tasked me with creating a strategy specifically for Northern Ireland which I aim to launch at an event in Belfast in February. This strategy will be designed to allow us to capitalise on the potential of Northern Ireland’s fintech industry. The rise of fintech is a technological revolution which is currently transforming the world, creating well-paid careers and contributing billions to global GDP. With strong government support, close collaboration between big companies and startups and a world class workforce, Northern Ireland has the potential to become the best place in the world to start and build a fintech company. ■


ONES TO WATCH What do you do differently from your competition and what are your strengths? Our clients are the backbone of our business. Building trust is a key part of what we do. Not everything is without its challenges, however, because our clients back us 100%, they have the confidence that we will work until we find resolutions. We will burn the midnight oil for our clients. Who are your main customers? Our clients are individuals and business who are active in the real estate market. By active I mean they are tenants, landlords, investors, home owners and developers. Do you have a target in mind in terms of where you want the business to grow? I’m always hatching new ideas, new ways we can deliver our service, discovering new technology and noticing what’s going on in other jurisdictions. It’s about pushing the brand for more and more recognition so that we become the ‘go to’ estate agency and chartered surveying practice that people trust to get the job done.

Ursula Mayers MAYERS REAL ESTATE What does your company do and what role do you play? Mayers Real Estate, based in Belfast, offers practical, professional real estate services across the UK. The business is made up of a number of key services including residential and commercial sales and lettings as well as real estate consultancy across the range of asset classes. How did the business start and how has it grown? The business celebrated its first birthday in September 2018, and we are very proud of what we have achieved both in terms of business development and the aspirations


of our clients. We retain a core group of clients who are active in the market and rely on us for advice on strategic decision making, asset enhancement, acquisitions and disposals. We are very excited about the continuous development of the residential sales element of the business. What is your background? My training towards achieving my chartership began in 2005 and I qualified as a chartered surveyor in 2007. I recall at that time the land deals transacting for £1m an acre and I thought real estate sure was an exciting place to be. Then, in 2008 the recession hit.

What challenges have you faced? I’m a chartered surveyor and estate agent. That’s my day job. Add running, sustaining and continually developing a business into the mix and suddenly my daily agenda looks a lot different. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have a team alongside me who are competent, diligent and trustworthy. Who most inspires you? My inspiration comes from everywhere. I’ll see a slogan on a marketing campaign, or a video online or someone will share their experience with me. I am very fond of a few words spoken by Maya Angelou – ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’. Where do you see yourself in the next few years? So far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career and I’m thankful everyday that I had the tenacity and motivation to create my own business. Mayers Real Estate will continue to thrive and I will continue to work hard with my team in promoting the brand. I also understand that there are a lot of great people who are deserving of an opportunity. People, who like me, have strengths and weaknesses. ■

ONES TO WATCH What does your company do and what role do you play? Our company is Ion Distillery and I am one of two co-founders along with Peter McBride from McBride Retail Group. My main responsibility is as head distiller, and I am responsible for producing our range of small batch craft spirits at our distillery in Co Tyrone. How did the business start and how has it grown? We have just launched our range of three products into the market but we have been working behind the scenes on Ion for the past two years. We have already negotiated listings with a supermarket chain and distribution with a English-based drinks distributor. What is your background? My background is in marketing and PR having worked for organisations such Liverpool Football Club, Pilkington Glass, Kingspan, Kawneer Architectural Systems and Wickes. After returning home to Northern Ireland I founded Pokertree Brewing Company in 2014. What do you do differently from your competition and what are your strengths? The main difference is our production methodology. Ion is irish for the word ‘pure’, so our ethos is to strip everything back to produce products in as pure a way as possible; in keeping with how they were originally manufactured. Rather than having one jackof-all trade still, all our equipment has been custom built by hand and was specific for the products we intended to produce – so we have a dedicated still for each. Our rum, for example is made in the only Caribbean-style doubler still in the UK or Ireland. This lends a real authenticity to the product. Who are your main customers? As a new brand we are only beginning the process of rolling out our products across Northern Ireland, but already have shelf presence with many quality independent retailers as well as presence in SuperValu and Centra stores across Northern Ireland. We have also negotiated a distribution partnership with Berkshire-based BWH Drinks to service the London market. Do you have a target in mind in terms of where you want the business to grow? There has been exponential growth


Darren Nugent ION DISTILLERY internationally within the craft spirit sector, and at Ion we have ambitions to follow other successful local brands in showcasing the very high standard of drinks produce coming out of Northern Ireland. Over the next few years we aim to increase production, expand our portfolio and develop a presence in several export markets. What challenges have you faced? Any small business starting out faces the same challenges – access to finance and a need for support and guidance as the business finds its feet. That is why I am very fortunate to have a partner in this venture of the calibre of Peter McBride – founder of McBride Retail Group. Investing financially in the business, but almost more importantly, using his extensive business

acumen to help steer Ion in the right direction. Who most inspires you? I have huge respect for James Watt and Martin Dickie – co-founders of the Aberdeenbased craft beer ‘empire’ Brewdog. Divisive in terms of past guerrilla-marketing tactics – it is undeniable that the pair have used their savvy and understanding of their market and social media to grow BrewDog into one of the world’s largest craft drinks businesses. Where do you see yourself in the next few years? I see myself as continuing on the journey of building Ion into a national and then international Irish spirits brand – becoming synonymous with quality in the process. ■



What does your company do and what role do you play? Grofuse is a full-service digital agency which is focused on ensuring clients achieve their sales targets. We tell client’s stories through engaging content written by former journalists – grab their customers’ attention with stunning design, maximise conversions by using the latest digital marketing expertise, and develop websites which are living, breathing, online stores or shop windows. As content director, my role is to bring almost 20 years’ experience in journalism, political communications, corporate PR, crisis management and digital content crafting to Grofuse. How did the business start and how has it grown? The business was created by a fusion of expertise to achieve sales growth, including experienced digital marketers, PR consultants, web developers, software developers, graphic designers, illustrators and motion designers. I co-founded the company with expert digital marketer Denis Finnegan who has spent 15 years fuelling online lead generation for businesses. Growth has been swift over the last 12 months. We’ve employed an effective combination of marketing efforts and created fans of our existing clients. What is your background? I’m a seasoned hack, having worked in print journalism for almost 15 years followed by a few years as a political communications adviser. I spent a brief period teaching English and history at secondary level before entering a newsroom. The working environments were poles apart in terms pace, excitement and... language choices. As a school pupil and university student, I worked on building sites, supermarkets, farms, bars, bread delivery vans, a bakery and even a bacon factory kill-line. However, I had never encountered such flurries of expletives as I did in newsrooms. Great places to work. High pressure, tight deadlines and great target-setting – a superb way to fuel productivity in any work environment. What do you do differently from your competition and what are your strengths? Clear communication with our clients is our greatest strength. We listen intently to what our clients’ goals are, take time to learn about their products and gain full understanding of their


Ian Cullen GROFUSE

ideal customers. We start with a blank canvass and devise bespoke digital strategies to fuel each client’s business growth by engaging their target market effectively and delivering genuine sales leads that are easily quantifiable. Who are your main customers? Our customers operate across a wide range of sectors. We are currently working with clients across the UK and Ireland, US, France and Spain. Do you have a target in mind in terms of where you want the business to grow? We are currently focusing the bulk of our efforts on the island of Ireland with a particular focus on Dublin and Belfast. What challenges have you faced? The somewhat ‘snake-oil industry’ reputation of digital marketing sometimes poses a barrier to speaking with decision makers who in the past have invested with little return. However, once we’re given an opportunity, we like to let the results do the talking. Who most inspires you? Those who thrive in the face of adversity

and have strong growth mind-sets. The type of person with the right measure of accountability, skill and relentlessness to inspire their teams to achieve targets. It’s a mind-set akin to that of a top athlete whose body is screaming ‘slow down’ in the business end of a race but whose mind interprets that as a cue to go faster. My wife Martina – a former operations manager with Lidl Ireland who co-founded and runs leading human resources consultancy, HR Team – has these qualities in abundance. She inspires me in everything I do. Where do you see yourself in the next few years? I love living and working in the North West. Whatever people like to call Derry or Londonderry, it’s a very special place with a lot of talent and a big future in driving the cross-border regional economy. With our headquarters at Catalyst Inc and plans underway for satellite offices in Dublin and the UK, we want to ensure our agency plays a part in shaping that economic prosperity with the provision of more high-quality jobs for the area. ■


Hans Enoksen ENOKSEN WATCHES What does your company do and what role do you play? My company is making watches and I founded it. My primary tasks, apart from running the company on a day-to-day basis, are product development and design as well as dealing with our ambassadors and other partners. How did the business start and how has it grown? The business started with a basic idea of selling a high performance range of watches at an amazing price and thereby providing almost unprecedented value for money. Bundled with a strong story, so it becomes about more than just the watch and what it looks like. In less than a year we now have customers all around the world. What is your background? I spent most of my career in the IT industry, mainly in product and concept development and sales, rather than hardcore coding and designing. Watches were always a passion and Enoksen Watch Company is the realisation of the dream of turning a hobby into a living. What do you do differently from your competition and what are your strengths? The watch industry is dominated by companies


selling products with almost insane markups. We have taken a different approach and by running a truly bootstrapped operation we can sell our watches at more reasonable prices without sacrificing quality or customer experience. Who are your main customers? Interestingly our customer base is people with expensive watches. I would say that 90% of our customers already own watches from Rolex, Omega, Breitling, Cartier and IWC. A typical watch from Enoksen costs less than a service on Rolex. There is a clear trend at the moment where value for money and discretion is more important than status. Do you have a target in mind in terms of where you want the business to grow? I do. We have some clear revenue and market goals. More importantly we want to build a business that contributes to solving some of the problems the world is facing. We have teamed up with one of my environmental heroes Alexandra Cousteau and we are deeply involved in her new Oceans 2050 foundation. What challenges have you faced? I think we have the same challenges as everyone else, but we are fairly well funded and we have access to pretty much everything

we need. From a product point of view we are sometimes faced with disbelief when customers experience our quality, and they are trying to understand how we can make such high quality products at such a low price. Who most inspires you? I have a number of business heroes that I take inspiration from, but mostly I am in awe of those who are driven by something more than money. Businesses that are built by people who are in it for life, or at least act as if they are, are a pleasure to look at and to learn from. Rolexfounder Hans Wilsdorf is a true inspiration. And Rolex, despite its worldwide dominance in the luxury watch market is a non-profit organisation. How cool is that? Where do you see yourself in the next few years? We are an online company selling a product, which really needs to be experienced first hand. We are trying to address that by creating a team of people, who are based in the 100 most significant cities around the world. Another goal is to develop 100% sustainable products. So in summary we are working to have feet on the ground everywhere, and fulfilling orders from our HQ in Belfast. â–

Geoffrey, Martin, Andrew and John Agnew

Another significant year for the Henderson Group


ast year was a significant year of growth for the Henderson Group, the company that not only owns the SPAR, EUROSPAR, VIVO, VIVOXTRA and VIVO Essentials brands in Northern Ireland, but also runs the Henderson Property, Retail, Wholesale, Foodservice and Technology companies under its name.

All companies posted growth in sales and development in 2018, which according to Martin Agnew, joint managing director of the Group, has put them in good stead to continue to innovate into 2019. “Innovation was at the heart of all developments within all Group companies in 2018. We saw our Retail company set an even higher standard of store with the SPAR and EUROSPAR brands and the 15 new company owned and independent stores opened last year,” he said. “Henderson Technology has delivered experience enhancing operating systems throughout these stores, and our wholesale and foodservice teams are collaborating to bring an international standard of food-to-go


to the fore of our outlets in Northern Ireland. “One of our new stores is a fitting example of where we are going with the SPAR brand as we enter in to the penultimate year of this decade. SPAR Fortfield, which opened its doors in Carrickfergus at the end of 2018, is a 7,000 sq ft outlet which sits on the border of a SPAR and a EUROSPAR. “Big enough to be a supermarket, but with the feel of a local convenience store, SPAR Fortfield is a brand-new concept for us at Henderson Group. Within the retail space lies a selection of locally sourced fresh products, from our ownbrand enjoy local and The Kitchen ranges, to well-known local brands from Irwin’s to Mash Direct. Sitting alongside the traditional offering, is a Foodservice exclusive, the first ever Barista Bar Cafe. “The Barista Bar Cafe is the latest development of Henderson Foodservice’s coffee and treats to-go brand and provides a new level of hospitality, all within the store. It is complemented with a Burger King and Subway counter, plus an enhanced Daily Deli food-to-go bar, our own-brand hot food counter service.”

Henderson Retail’s food-to-go credentials have been praised across the UK, and last year the group welcomed retailers from across the UK when the Retail Industry Awards organisers hosted a best practice trip to learn from outlets here. Martin says: “The accolades we achieved at the 2018 Retail Industry Awards, are a nod to where we are and where we want to continue to be – the best in our field: Food-to-Go Retailer of the Year, Chilled Retailer of the Year and Community Retailer of the Year, providing outstanding quality of food-for-now, tonight’s tea and all the essentials in between, supporting local food companies, farmers and growers, and being in the heart of all communities across Northern Ireland while at the same time, giving back to organisations at home and abroad.” Nearing the end of 2018, Henderson Group posted a rise of 12.7% in sales year-onyear. This solidifies the promise made by the company that the horizon is full of ambition and opportunity, ready to be grasped by this business at the forefront of the industry. ■


Connect Business Networking Series welcomes top companies


round 200 businesses got the chance to come together to build their professional networks and knowledge, while also getting to exchange new ideas and best practice at Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council’s (ABC Council) Connect Business Networking Series.

Throughout 2018 the high quality, dynamic and future-focused series brought together key local business figures to engage, explore and examine a diverse range of business issues and challenges. With motivational, inspirational and captivating guest speakers, the events covered topics including how to build business networks, GDPR regulations, attracting and retaining talent, building an online presence, connecting with technology and business, female entrepreneurship and future proofing your business in changing times.

Lord Mayor councillor Julie Flaherty with guest speakers Gill Johnston, Tina McKenzie, Grant Gilmore, Mark Garrett Hayes, Lisa Strutt and event host Jamie Delargy at the ‘Future Proof Your Business’ event held in December

Continuing to champion the borough’s exceptional business leaders, employers, innovators and entrepreneurs as well as inspiring new-starts, ABC Council is set to continue the series this year.

Welcoming delegates, Lord Mayor councillor Julie Flaherty opens the ‘Future Proof Your Business’ networking event

At the ‘Future Proof Your Business’ event, Lord Mayor councillor Julie Flaherty with guest speakers Tina McKenzie and Mark Garrett Hayes


Gill Johnston and Grant Gilmore at the ‘Future Proof Your Business’ networking event


Grant Gilmore (centre) engages in a discussion alongside fellow guest speakers (from left) Mark Garrett Hayes, Gill Johnston, Lisa Strutt and Tina McKenzie at ‘Future Proof Your Business’ event

Delegates at the ‘Future Proof Your Business’ networking event

Lively discussion at the ‘Connect with Tech’ event

At the ‘Connect with Tech’ event, held in October, are Niall Haslam, Adam Wallace, Lord Mayor councillor Julie Flaherty, Austin Tanney, Stephen Henderson, chief executive Roger Wilson, Brendan Woods, Nigel McAlpine and Cathy Coomber

At the ‘Connect with Tech’ seminar delegates got the opportunity to try out virtual reality and augmented reality hardware

Pictured at the ‘Building Connections’ event held in early 2018 (from left) Nicola Wilson head of economic development at ABC Council, Jose Andre, Lisa Strutt and councillor Joe Nelson


Chair of economic development and regeneration committee, councillor Paul Greenfield speaking at the ‘Future Proof Your Business’ event

At the ‘Building Connections’ event attendees got to engage, collaborate and grow their professional networks



Mrs Edel McInerney, Daniel Smyth Year 12, Charlie Best, and Eoghan McInerney, Prep Six. Pic Ben Bauer

Helping to build a practical future


reparing the work force of tomorrow for a landscape that is rapidly evolving is challenging. One of the fundamental considerations is to equip pupils with the right practical skills, enabling them to be more than just grades on a page.

This is particularly important for STEM subjects. STEM continues to be one of the most important areas for the future workforce, but fundamental practical skills must not be lost in the race for A-star success. Head of physics at Campbell College Belfast, Mrs Edel McInerney, says: ‘We must ensure that our curriculum continues to push the academic side whilst also building fundamental ‘hands-on’ practical skills. We work closely with representatives from the various industry sectors and they are telling us ‘loud and clear’ that graduates are coming to them with great grades but little ability to do experiments or lab work, for instance.”

“The Northern Ireland curriculum has continued to include practical elements for subjects such as physics. Practical work is one of the most difficult elements of the A-level course and for pupils and teachers alike adds to the work load considerably. However, it is fundamental to developing a rounded individual with transferable skills that they can bring to the workplace. “ A team of Campbell College pupils from Prep Six right up to Sixth Form is embarking on a series of practical science workshops, led and delivered by the pupils themselves, to other schools. These demonstrations are one way that the college helps pupils learn practical skills in a real world situation. The senior pupils along with their junior counterparts are tasked with showing others how it is done. “These key life skills are vital. The workshops not only teach our pupils the practical skills of science but at the same time they are learning to

Campbell College will be hosting its open days on Friday, January 18 from 6.30pm to 9.00pm, and Saturday, January 19 from 10:00am to 12:30pm. For more information visit www.campbellcollege.co.uk 86

present, work in a team and act as mentors to the younger pupils,” Mrs McInerney says. “Our key focus throughout the college is about developing the whole person and this is just one of many examples of how we do this.”

Venture capital & private equity JANUARY 2019


Is NI bucking the funding trend?

Despite figures showing an overall slump in venture capital among firms across Ireland, the funding options for businesses in Northern Ireland couldn’t be wider. Ulster Business takes a further look 88


few years back, the options were fairly limited for NI firms when it came to venture capital funding.

Now, between private funds, investors and those backed by Invest NI, the options have widened significantly for companies – especially those which are high-growth – to seek a cash injection, and get to the next level. Jayne Brady is partner at the Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Growth Fund NI.

“We have been operating in Northern Ireland for five years, and in that period we have seen a growing momentum in the Northern Ireland ecosystem,” she told Ulster Business. “We have 76 companies in our portfolio, and have invested in eight companies in Northern Ireland as part of that.” And a lot has changed in the last few years, particularly with the sheer number of avenues in which businesses can find access to funding.


One of the largest investments was secured by B-Secur, which has created a biometric technology which uses the human heartbeat to unlock everything from finance and healthcare through to cars and buildings. The company, based at Catalyst Inc, secured £3.5m from investors including Kernel Capital and ADV. For Jayne, Kernel is looking at companies with turnover of more than £1m, which have the ability and scope to be scaled. “We see investment where there is a scaling potential. We look at companies where we are generating £1m plus –– which you can scale rapidly, or those with a deep IP (intellectual property) focus. Some companies in services won’t have that level of scale.”

Then, there’s the Growth Finance Fund, and Growth Loan Fund II, which provide a total of £60m of funding for Northern Ireland’s SMEs. “There wasn’t an availability of local funds, and it was difficult to get that level from GB, because you needed to reach a certain level.” And where is the investment now going in Northern Ireland? “It’s very strong sectors of expertise, and there is a big FDI element – medical technology, cyber-security. It’s not created in isolation, and (needs) an availability of skills.” “More recently, there has been more external investors. We would co-invest, and there is a


level of investment from outside players – there are good opportunities.” Jayne says that Kernel Capital tracks investments, and the level and size of deals here has grown. A lot of that has been down to the growth of the Knowledge Economy – which has expanded seven or eight-fold in the last few years. For businesses looking towards funds like Kernel, a typical deal size is from around £1m up to £3m.

The two new funds are being managed by WhiteRock Capital Partners, a homegrown fund manager set up in 2012 to manage the first Growth Loan Fund, which has committed £55m of loans to more than 100 businesses over the last six years. There’s also the Growth Finance Fund. That will see loans from £500,000 up to £2m going to growing businesses. It’s also the first time the British Business Bank has invested in a fund aimed solely at supporting Northern Ireland businesses. >


Jayne Brady, Kernel Capital, Alan Foreman, chief executive, B-Secur, Colin Anderson, chairman, B-Secur and Andrew Sloane, ADV


The latest figures from the Irish Venture Capital Association, which covers businesses across the island, show venture capital funding has slumped, with a fall-off in major deals and seed funding. Investment was down by almost a third to €546m (£490m) in the first nine months of the 2018, confirming a significant slowdown on 2017. The drop-off in cash accelerated during the year, with the amount raised by tech firms and startups in the last three months just half what it was a year earlier. The figures suggested that the largest segment of funding to see a decline is in deals was above €5m (£4.5m). But a Northern Ireland report by Catalyst Inc, published last year, showed companies raised over £30m in equity capital in 2017. Elsewhere, flying the flag for venture capital in Northern Ireland for more than 25 years is Crescent Capital. Run by Colin Walsh, former CBI chairman in Northern Ireland, it’s invested in a raft of the most successful and leading companies here. That includes Andor Technology and Belfast-


based biotech firm Fusion Antibodies, which is based at Springbank Industrial Estate in the west of the city.

That includes Upstream – an alternative finance company run by Judith Totten, which specialises in funding for SMEs.

According to Jayne, it’s not just about backing Belfast firms, or FDIs setting up shop in the heart of the city.

“As Northern Ireland’s largest independently owned and managed provider of working capital, Upstream works collaboratively with organisations’ existing lenders to provide additional capital in a more flexible way to help businesses thrive,” sales director Alan Wardlow says.

“We look towards the strong sectoral focuses, and outside Belfast as well. We are very conscious to go to our customers.” That includes holding regular open events across areas such as Newry, Co Tyrone and Londonderry. “We are very open to meeting any companies, and our door is open,” she says. But will Brexit play a part in the future of venture capital funding in Northern Ireland? “We need to be cognisant of any particular indication of any change in regulation,” Jayne says. “From our perspective, because we invest in deep tech, they are somewhat removed from that direct impact.” Elsewhere, there are other revenue streams which firms can look towards, especially when it comes to working capital.

“Businesses come to us for our responsiveness – our formal credit approvals are achieved in days rather than weeks or months. Upstream has long standing relationships with many local venture capital (firms) and private equity providers as well as the various Invest NI-backed loan funds and we work closely together to provide solutions for business owners across Northern Ireland “We recently incorporated a trade finance solution into our product range to bridge the gap for organisations who require additional growth funding, quickly, to deliver orders beyond their current capability. This funding is proving incredibly popular alongside our longstanding invoice finance option which gives organisations the ability to release funds against their debtor book thereby freeing up cash flow for businesses to seize growth opportunities as they become available.” ■


Paul Millar, Neil McCabe and David McCurley

WhiteRock: Funding the growth aspirations of businesses across NI N ever before has Northern Ireland been able to offer such an extensive range of alternative finance options.

Together, the newly launched Growth Finance Fund and Growth Loan Fund II will provide a total of £60m of funding for Northern Ireland’s SMEs.

That might sound like hyperbole, but the proof can be found in the recent launches of two new loan funds aimed at helping businesses achieve their growth ambitions.

They have launched in an environment where Northern Ireland’s main banking institutions have a healthy appetite to lend to businesses and where there are more equity providers


and venture capital options operating in the province than has ever been the case.

That combination means businesses with growth potential should have a much better chance of raising finance to fund plans for new jobs, new equipment, new contracts and new products than they would have had even five years ago.


The two new funds are being managed by WhiteRock Capital Partners, a homegrown fund manager set up in 2012 to manage the first Growth Loan Fund, which has committed £55m of loans to more than 100 businesses over the last six years. Growth Loan Fund II is a £30m fund which will help Northern Ireland SMEs who have an export focus to bring forward growth plans by providing loans from £100,000 to £500,000 over the next five years. Finance for the fund is being provided exclusively by Invest Northern Ireland, part funded by ERDF under the EU Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme 2014-2020. The Growth Finance Fund, also a £30m fund, will support loans from £500,000 up to £2m to growing businesses – the majority of which are expected to be operating in the manufacturing, engineering or tradable services sectors. The fund represents the first time the British Business Bank, the UK government-owned economic development bank, has invested in a fund aimed solely at supporting Northern Ireland businesses. As well as the British Business Bank’s £10.5m commitment, further investment in the Growth Finance Fund is being provided by Invest NI (£7.5m) and NILGOSC – the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers’ Superannuation Committee (£12m). Paul Millar, chief executive of WhiteRock Capital Partners, said: “The appetite for funding remains strong and we are delighted to be managing these two new funds, which will add to the extensive range of alternative finance options available in Northern Ireland. “As before, we will continue to work alongside primary banks, equity partners and asset-based funders to help businesses to fulfil their growth ambitions. Indeed in our first fund, we leveraged a further £50m from commercial funders into SMEs alongside our £55m of investment and we expect more of that co-operation in the new funds. “There have been a number of great success stories during the life of the first Growth Loan Fund – from consumer goods manufacturers,


to food and drink businesses and companies in IT, leisure, engineering and construction – and we hope to support many more in the coming years.” WHO IS ELIGIBLE? Since being established, WhiteRock has grown into a team of 10 which is led by Paul Millar, Neil McCabe and David McCurley. Travelling many miles across the country to meet SMEs with ambitious plans, the team has worked with businesses of all sorts over the life of its first fund, providing commercial loans for growth finance or working capital requirements outside of the risk parameters of their existing bank facilities.

WhiteRock is now able to offer loans from £100,000 to £2m to businesses across the two funds, which gives a degree of added flexibility to the offering we’re able to provide to companies

WhiteRock says companies who might think they are not eligible to receive loans from the new funds should check the criteria before ruling themselves out as there are only a few excluded sectors – such as financial services, retail, coal mining and shipbuilding. “We are not prescriptive about the sectors the businesses we support should come from,” explains Neil McCabe. “During the life of the first Growth Loan Fund, for example, we supported companies as diverse as Vita Liberata, a producer of luxury skincare products, engineering company ConveyorTek, gin distillers Boatyard, gym equipment manufacturers BLK BOX, medical technology firm Diaceutics, cash management specialist RMS Group and food-to-go manufacturer Around Noon.” Criteria and terms of the new funds include: - Being an SME in Northern Ireland with

growth and export potential. - Being able to demonstrate ability to service loan repayments from projected cashflows. These are commercial loans not grants. - Loans are expected to complement existing sources of finance. - Loans will be provided over a two to seven year term with flexible repayment options. FUNDING PARTNERS WhiteRock says both the Growth Loan Fund and Growth Finance Fund exist to create more choices for businesses and diversity in the small business finance market, ultimately boosting the Northern Ireland economy. WhiteRock works with companies’ primary lenders to augment existing packages on offer to businesses. David McCurley says: “When the first Growth Loan Fund was launched, mezzanine finance was a little-known concept among Northern Ireland businesses who could previously only go to their banks to fund growth plans or working capital requirements. “With these new funds we expect to again help locals SMEs with their growth aspirations by working alongside their banks, equity partners and asset-based funders when an additional layer of funding is needed to complement a customer’s existing banking facilities and execute their plans.” The WhiteRock team takes time to get to know your business and their experience shows that for ambitious companies looking to expand there is definitely a strong case for using a combination of funding. “WhiteRock is now able to offer loans from £100,000 to £2m to businesses across the two funds, which gives a degree of added flexibility to the offering we’re able to provide to companies,” Paul Millar says. “We want to speak to more companies from right across Northern Ireland in the year ahead and if their requirements fall outside of the parameters of our funds, we will do our best to help connect companies to other funders.” To contact WhiteRock Capital Partners email info@whiterockcp.co.uk



How to take the

lead in business ATTENDEES Gillian Sadlier (Senior business manager, Bank of Ireland UK) Dr Joanne Murphy (Interim director, QUB William J Clinton Leadership Institute)

Ulster Business and Bank of Ireland UK gathered business bosses and thinkers together to examine what true leadership means and the challenges facing the next generation

Edel Doherty (Managing director, Beyond Business Travel) Jayne Brady (Partner, Kernel Capital) Bridgene McKeever (Director of marketing, McKeever Hotel Group) Elaine Smyth (Acting director and head of programmes, Connect at Catalyst Inc) Niamh Griffin (Senior manager growth and development, Bank of Ireland UK) John Mulgrew (Editor, Ulster Business)

John Mulgrew: It’s a very general one, but what makes a leader in business? Jayne Brady: It’s very easy to spot a leader, but it’s maybe harder to describe. For me and in my experience it’s about the vision, those who can see the big picture and landscape that. They are people who can inspire others within the business to be part of that vision. There’s an element of it not just being visionary, it’s actually about them putting that into the pragmatism of a plan to deliver and them being there supporting the team in bringing it through to reality.


Dr Joanne Murphy and Bridgene McKeever

Bridgene McKeever: I also think that there’s a massive element of somebody who’s really trustworthy. You cannot be a leader if people don’t trust you, you might be a manager or you might be a dictator in some ways but you are not a leader if the team below you doesn’t trust where you’re going, and your vision, and get behind that.

are the finished article however that is far from reality. Great leaders never stop learning and refining their skills they also are not afraid to show their vulnerability and that it’s OK to make a mistake, it’s just another way you learn. I would also say a leader is a dealer in hope, hope for the future.

Elaine Smyth: I think at times you can notice people that have those leadership qualities within your organisation, but a leader is someone that not just appreciates that they have some of the raw characteristics of leadership but that they are willing to really develop those and to have the courage to take on responsibility to step forward and take the lead.

Joanne Murphy: I think it’s possibly useful just to make a distinction between leaders and leadership. A lot of time when we talk about leaders we tend to think about individuals, and that’s a natural thing. We tend to also think about leaders being very closely associated with change. But a lot of thinking and the research around leadership has moved now to an idea of looking at leadership as something that occurs at all levels of an organisation.

Edel Doherty: People refer to leaders as if they

Gillian Sadlier: I think it’s a really important


The round-table, which was hosted by Bank of Ireland UK

point, Joanne. Particularly in larger organisations, each team within an organisation needs somebody to lead. There’s a lot of leading by example. Niamh Griffin: And that leadership drives a culture in an organisation and particularly when there’s such high competition for talent and skills, leadership and culture is absolutely becoming more and more critical for businesses. John Mulgrew: How do you encourage

people who work for you to develop ideas and progress in their development? Joanne Murphy: I think we would talk about people working with you, that what you’re trying to do is to build inclusive teams... people will take their cue from you. And that is a huge responsibility and it’s difficult to be self-aware all the time. But it’s very important. Elaine Smyth: Sometimes it is letting them take on a bigger task. When I think back to when

I was 27, I was given an opportunity, and to step up, maybe punch above my weight, a bit, in a particular job role – to me this just makes absolute sense. Bridgene McKeever: Sometimes it’s letting them make mistakes. I have somebody who is paralysed about making decisions because of the fear of making a mistake. I was saying to them to make that mistake, I want you to go and make a mistake, I want you to make a blunder and get over that, because we all make it, we all make mistakes. We all do things and it’s about learning from it. Gillian Sadlier: You need to re-emphasise their confidence, encourage them to come up with the solution, ask them, ‘what do you think?’. It’s important to recognise that we’re all different. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses. Nobody is the finished article, nobody is perfect.

Elaine Smyth, Gillian Sadlier and John Mulgrew


Jayne Brady: There’s a lovely example, where Norman Apsley, (former chief executive of Catalyst Inc) just retired, when one of his new recruits started he said ‘well I am the chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Science Park (Catalyst Inc), but actually, I’m the person that you are going to have to come to when you make that mistake, and the person who is >


ROUND-TABLE WITH BANK OF IRELAND UK going to help you sort it out, just so you know that’s my role here’. John Mulgrew: Can you think of any big business decisions in your career which stand out? Jayne Brady: It was probably when we were establishing the fund in Northern Ireland (the Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Growth Fund NI). I had no experience of venture capital, other than raising finance. We were defining the investment strategy in Northern Ireland and I guess the usual thing would be to follow, and do the same as other funds had done but we decided to really look at it, be ambitious and take a different approach to differentiate us in the market. Bridgene McKeever: For me it was probably the decision to come into the family business. I worked throughout different departments so I had colleagues as such and when I decided to go into the family business and follow that route, the dynamic shifted. And I can’t honestly tell you how the dynamic shifted but it did and people treated me slightly different – that was a really big challenge for me to overcome, becoming this leader of people that used to be colleagues. Edel Doherty: For me it was investing in myself. When you run a small business, and you are in year two, every pound is a prisoner and I joined an organisation called Vistage, which is a chief executive peer-learning group – it was the best investment that I have ever made. Elaine Smyth: For me, it was joining an early stage software company in the late 1990s. It Jayne Brady

Joanne Murphy and Bridgene McKeever

grew to over 200 staff. We grew the business from the consultancy services work and in 1999 we sold the product end of the business for $250m. On the management team we were young, all in our 20s and 30s, we thought, this is dead easy we’re just going to do it, we spun off the consultancy bit of the company… and then in 2000 the bottom fell out of the market and we had to reduce our staff quite dramatically. Then we had to decide what are we going to do, are we going to take in external investment and just grow the product side of the business and totally reorganise the whole business and that was really, really tough. John Mulgrew: Are their any barriers facing younger people in business who are trying to progress their career? Gillian Sadlier: I think it’s hugely competitive. You look at young people coming out of school now and moving onto further education – they’re being encouraged to do so much, to develop a personal statement that’s going to get them offers for university, they’re expected to have their work experience, played sport or music, completed voluntary work. You’ve got these very well-educated people, with great experience, but along with that there can sometimes come some naivety in terms of theory versus the real world and the hard work required. Joanne Murphy: I think there is a big issue – which we see with students – about resilience. They can sometimes, although not always, appear very confident on the surface. But a lot of the time there is an issue that people have not failed before, so when they fail they hit


ground very hard and that’s very difficult for them, and they’re not particularly resilient. I think that’s one of the big changes. Niamh Griffin: With the likes of social media and technology, it appears that 99.9% of everything posted shows the best of stories from people’s lives, setting an expectation that everything needs to be perfect or is always perfect, it adds fuel to what you’re saying Joanne in terms of that first fall, how hard they hit. Leaders need to support them, tell them it’s OK, let them fail and to learn from that experience. Edel Doherty: I have a different view, I don’t think it’s that difficult to stand out and progress your career in the private sector. My advice is work smart, continually learn and develop your emotional intelligence. As leaders part of our role is to set example, create the environment to help our young people reach their potential. John Mulgrew: Are there particular mistakes people make when they get to a position of leadership? Gillian Sadlier: I think sometimes people forget to, or chose not to listen to other people. One of the things that we would see in banking, or professional services is people focussing too much on top line, on growing the business, reaching the turnover target without looking at the whole picture. They need others around them to say, hold on a second, think about this, is it profitable, do we have the funding, do we have the capacity? Joanne Murphy: I think it’s very important that


Edel Doherty, Jayne Brady and Joanne Murphy

people retain their authenticity. You know people should get the positions because they’re good at what they do, most of the time. And sometimes I think because they suddenly have the label of leadership within an organisation, it changes their behaviour or changes how they operate, and this is concerning and a little bit dangerous. Elaine Smyth: And also, it’s the recognition that a leader isn’t there to make all the decisions. They’re there to make sure the best decisions are made. Bridgene McKeever: Surround yourself with critical friends instead of yes people. People who are actually going to tell you the truth, for the best direction of the company and for the best strategy, and so on and so forth, instead of people that sit round you and just say ‘yes’.

Niamh Griffin

Edel Doherty: From my Vistage group, we would meet every Monday morning at 7.30am and what we would do is a five minute run down on our businesses and our goals. We set goals – not just business goals – and they have to be about things like your health and your family. John Mulgrew: Is there any one particular individual you have taken strong inspiration from? Elaine Smyth: My managing director in Apion, Denis Murphy. Denis used to walk the corridors of Apion and, despite having 200 staff, he just made everyone feel that he knew them and he knew what was going on with them. Joanne Murphy: The one that comes to mind for me is Dame Stephanie Shirley. I just find her absolutely inspirational. She is someone that came to the UK, a country that she didn’t

John Mulgrew: And throughout that progress do you have to continue to grow and develop as a leader?

know, with people speaking a language that she didn’t know, and she developed an extraordinary life for herself in the early days of technological innovation as a woman, as a pioneering woman in that field. John Mulgrew: Putting Brexit to one side, what’s around the corner for business in the next 12 months? Joanne Murphy: I think there is a general kind of theme emerging outside Brexit, where there is an increasing need for people to be able to lead effectively within volatile environments. Edel Doherty: And I know for the business travel industry there’s even more disruption in how airlines are distributing their content. So our guys are sitting there with Brexit coming in from one side, while all of this new distribution is coming in, with new technology.

Gillian Sadlier: You never stop learning. As the saying goes, ‘every day is a school day’. Personally, I am very goal driven and take time at the start of the year to reflect on my goals for the year ahead.

Gillian Sadlier: I think the uncertainty is huge. In Northern Ireland we have proved ourselves to be very resilient over the years; we’ve always faced a lot of difficulty. What we’re seeing with our clients is that they’re using the uncertainty around Brexit as the spur to look at their core business and to make sure that they are fit for purpose.

Jayne Brady: I guess invest in yourself. A couple of years ago I went on the IoD (Institute of Directors) certificate and diploma in company direction, and as part of it, there was a leadership module where you worked with a group of your peers – I found that tremendously valuable.

Bridgene McKeever: I think since the recession people really looked at their businesses. So I think business in Northern Ireland has become more agile, quicker to move and very aware that if challenges appear there’s also opportunities. It’s about finding those opportunities within that. ■


Gillian Sadlier and John Mulgrew




How is business? Business is good, we’ve had another successful year with great sales across the product ranges. In the past two years we’ve invested £2m in a new factory and industry-leading chocolate and yogurt manufacturing plant, specifically designed for the coating of dried fruit & nuts, which has been used to facilitate new product development and increases in production levels. Meanwhile, our team has grown to 105 and we recently appointed a director of marketing who will help us deliver our exciting brand plans for 2019 and support our expansion into new markets. As a business, our strength is our culture of innovation, creativity and speed to market, all of which is underpinned by excellent quality ingredients achieved through strong relationships with suppliers and growers world-wide. How did you get started in the industry? I had owned a packing business, working in the food and drink industry. However, with the arrival of supermarket chains in Northern Ireland the sector changed so I decided to look for other opportunities. I spotted a gap in the market and established Kestrel Foods in 1996 with my wife Lorraine. We started with one van, employing four people and now produce a diverse range of products under the Forest Feast and Acti-Snack brands and export to over 30 countries worldwide, including Russia, Norway, Italy, Iceland and the United Arab Emirates.

world when I show them how we have used their products to bring new snacks to market is always a special moment as I am normally greeted with a huge grin and hand shake or even the odd hug. I am happy that we have been able to help sustain the livelihood of the indigenous farmers who supply a lot of the commodities we source through fair trade initiatives particularly in the Philippines and West Africa. Visiting these areas and meeting with local people gives me a sense of purpose, responsibility and a desire to make their products work. Getting to know the culture in each growing region and understanding how dried fruit, nuts and seeds are affected from season to season through climate change, politics, economics and global demand will always fascinate me. What is the most difficult part of your job? The business has grown considerably in recent years putting a great deal of importance on business planning and decisions around the strategic direction of the business. Managing that growth requires strong leadership and decision making on tight budgets with a small senior executive team.

Typically, who are your clients or customers? Our customer base includes retail, foodservice, e-commerce and travel retail as well as supplying retailer private label. Our Forest Feast and Acti-Snack brands are also stocked in Tesco, Waitrose, Dunnes Stores and SuperValu, as well as a range of independent stores, and we supply British Airways.

The nature of the business with many different commodities from around the world can have its own challenges as we strive to deliver on our promises to customers in many different sales channels domestically and internationally. Foreign currency fluctuations, crop failures, duty tariffs, technical challenges and logistical issues all must be overcome on a daily basis.

Do you enjoy what you do, and what in particular? Yes, I get a great deal of satisfaction when we work together as a team to identify new snacking trends and being able to use my sourcing knowledge to help create new and innovative tasty snacks for our Forest Feast and Acti-Snack brands. It is fantastic to be involved with the marketing team and our product development specialists as they work their magic to create some heavenly snacks with great consumer appeal. The delight and joy on the faces of our growers around the

What are the challenges facing your sector, and the economy in general? As a company with a strong export element we are obviously watching the Brexit situation very closely. The long-running uncertainty for us is in relation to exchange rates, routes to market, possible trade tariffs and access to foreign national employees, has created a challenge in terms of forward planning. However, as with all businesses we are determined to make the final outcome work for us. ■



Motoring Sponsored by

By Pat Burns


Crossing into new territory C

ontinuing its theme of developing and expanding its SUV range, Citroen has just launched a new C5 Aircross. The new C-segment five seater SUV offers plenty in terms of comfort, equipment and the very latest in Euro 6.2 engines.

Prices start at £23,225 and the C5 Aircross SUV comes in three trim levels: Feel, Flair and Flair Plus, and has a unique personality with an array of personalisation options. It is equipped with a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and the latest eight-inch HD touchscreen as standard and also features ConnectedCAM Citroen and wireless smartphone charging. There is an array of 20 safety and driver assistance technologies, including advanced active safety brake, active lane departure warning and active blind spot monitoring, all of which are standard equipment.


The new model is topped by a floating roof, with the glazed area wrapping 360 degrees around the vehicle, thanks to gloss black A and B pillars and gloss black quarter-lights. The uninterrupted glass surface is emphasised by the chrome ‘C’ signature on each side of the car, reflecting the spacious interior. The stylish two-tone roof bars lend a touch of refinement and purity to the floating roof. The body features wheel arches and lower body panels with a classic SUV look, highlighted by the graphic shapes of the Airbump panels with coloured inserts adding to its personality. Available in three highly specified trim levels Feel, Flair and Flair Plus, the C5 Aircross models are equipped with a six-speed manual gearbox or the eight-speed EAT8 automatic gearbox, for optimum driving pleasure and efficiency. Two petrol versions are available, the PureTech 130hp stop-and-start six-speed manual and the PureTech 180hp stop-and start with the auto box.

Three diesel versions are available, the BlueHDi S&S 130 six-speed manual, BlueHDi 130 auto and BlueHDi 180 automatic. The new SUV comes with Grip Control with Hill Descent Assist as standard while the C5 Aircross will be the first Citroen model with PHEV Plug-In Hybrid technology, arriving in early 2020. The brand’s new suspension system with progressive hydraulic cushions offer a uniquely smooth and comfortable ride that is synonymous with Citroen. The three individual, sliding, folding and reclining rear seats give best-in-class boot volume. There’s also a host of ingenious and functional storage compartments for a variety of uses. The C5 Aircross SUV features a wide range of technologies, including 20 latest-generation driver assistance technologies, these include as standard: advanced active safety brake, active lane departure warning and active blind spot monitoring and collision risk warning. ■


In with the



ey to the success of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is that it doesn’t ask its owners to make any compromises. For people wanting an SUV, it offers the same space and practicality, as well as the all-important elevated driving position, as any of its competitors.

The battery pack doesn’t devour boot space or compromise the dynamics – it is integrated into the floor, keeping the centre of gravity low and ensuring that the Outlander PHEV retains the practical advantages of a large boot and foldflat rear seats. For those looking for a fourwheel drive vehicle, the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV offers the unique solution of having an electric motor for each axle which means that even in EV mode, the Outlander PHEV remains a true 4X4 at all times. The changes made for the restyled 2019 Outlander PHEV are focussed on ensuring it remains a leader in terms of efficiency and performance while also improving every aspect


of the driving experience – all in response to customer feedback. Unsurprisingly, the powertrain received the most extensive engineering focus with the development of a new 2.4-litre petrol engine, which uses its MIVEC variable-valve timing system to seamlessly switch between Otto and Atkinson combustion cycles depending on the driving situation. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’s electric powertrain has also received some engineering attention. Improvements include a 10% increase in the generator output and an increase in the rear electric motor output from 82hp to 95hp. The drive battery has also had its output increased by 10% and its overall capacity increased by 15% to 13.8kWh thanks to new battery cells. This combination of improvements to the

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV’s dual powertrains means that it’s not only more efficient than before, it also offers better driving performance. At the same time, the Outlander PHEV’s pure EV range is more than enough for the average daily UK commute – 28 miles according to the new, more stringent real-world WLTP tests. The WLTP average fuel economy figure for the new Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is 139mpg and its WLTP CO2 emissions are just 46g/km (40.3g/km NEDC). To complement the drivetrain enhancements, a number of other changes ensure the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is even more pleasurable to drive. A new ‘sport mode’ brings with it sharper throttle responsiveness, sportier power steering and more grip with the super allwheel control system and there’s also a new ‘snow’ mode to improve low-grip launching and cornering abilities on slippery surfaces, while the traction control system has been revised to improve hill-climbing performance by carefully managing rear motor torque without compromising stability. Prices start at £34,255. ■


NI car sales rise bucks trend across UK T

he number of new cars powering out of showrooms across Northern Ireland has increased by 3.8%, according to fresh figures. A total of 3,253 cars were sold in November, up from 3,124 a year earlier. That’s according to figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Across the UK as a whole, sales fell by just under 3%. Scotland saw the largest rise, with a 7.1% surge, while English sales suffered – dropping by 4.1%. In Northern Ireland, the Ford Kuga was the top selling motor, with 104 vehicles sold. That was followed by the Volkswagen Golf, with 102 sold. Overall, demand for petrol and alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) rose 3.5% and 24.6% respectively, but failed to offset a 16.7% fall for diesel cars.

“In the year to date, more than 2.2 million buyers have taken advantage of an increasingly diverse range of models, including ever-more zero and low emission vehicles as manufacturers continue investing in technologies to produce the cleanest vehicles ever made,” the SMMT said.

of the year showed a drop of over 3% (1,721 cars).

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, said: “Model and regulatory changes combined with falling consumer confidence conspired to affect supply and demand in November.

“Consumers’ disposable incomes have been squeezed by inflation, and rising food and utility bills are set to see this trend continue into 2019,” he said.

“The good news is that, as supply constraints ease, and new exciting models come on sale in the months ahead, buyers can look forward to a wide choice of cutting-edge petrol, diesel and electrified cars. It’s now critical that a Brexit deal is secured to boost consumer confidence and provide a stimulus to the new car market as we enter the New Year.”

“Talk of an end to austerity – as indicated in October’s Budget – is premature. With the freeze in most working-age welfare benefits continuing and some welfare benefit cuts still to take effect, the average consumer isn’t expected to see a notable improvement in their personal finances in the year ahead.

However, figures from the first 11 months

Ulster Bank chief economist, Richard Ramsey, said “squeezed incomes” and rising living costs could continue to put pressure on new car sales.

“Consumer confidence is expected to remain subdued, particularly for large discretionary purchases such as a new car.” ■













































Total top 10


Northern Ireland grand total




Going strong after 20 years


he luxury SUV market is fiercely competitive and one of the biggest players is the BMW X5. The fourth generation 2019 model combines an elegant and strong design with supreme on and off-road ability and the new X5 has an even greater blend of premium luxury performance and comfort. It’s a winning formula with previous generations selling in excess of 2.2 million examples since the first X5 launched in 1999.

The all-new X5 demonstrates the latest BMW advances in technology, design and safety, with the highest level of autonomous capability yet seen on a BMW X model. A choice of TwinPower and M Performance petrol and diesel engines are matched to a new eightspeed Steptronic gearbox and the latest version of xDrive for maximum comfort, capability and performance. With a wheelbase 42mm longer than its predecessor, an increase in vehicle length of 36mm, an extra 66mm of width and a19mm increase in height, the new BMW X5 has both


an imposing appearance and generous levels of space for passengers and their luggage. The new BMW X5 comes as standard with 19-inch light-alloy wheels on the xLine model, 20-inch M star-spoke light-alloy wheels on the M Sport model and 22-inch V-spoke alloy wheels on the M Performance model. Further variants in 20 to 22-inch formats are available as options. There will be one petrol and two diesel units available from the latest generation of engines. The BMW X5 M50d is powered by a six-cylinder in-line diesel engine with a quartet of turbochargers, with a six-cylinder inline unit in the BMW X5 xDrive40i and BMW X5 xDrive30d. All engines channel their power through an eight-speed Steptronic transmission, while BMW xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive is on hand to ensure that power is translated into secure progress – on or off road. The new BMW X5 xDrive30d is also powered by a straight-six diesel engine, this time it is a three litre unit featuring a single turbocharger

with variable inlet geometry. Maximum power is 265hp, while offering 620Nm of torque. Capable of reaching the 62mph mark from rest in 6.5 seconds, the new X5 xDrive30d returns combined fuel consumption of 47mpg, equating to CO2 emissions of 158g/km. The two-axle air suspension system is standard on both the xDrive30d and X5 xDrive40i models. It is controlled individually for each wheel using an electrically driven compressor with pressure reservoir, enabling it to balance out an unevenly loaded vehicle. Working in tandem with the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), the vehicle load registered by its sensors can be factored into braking calculations. When the sport driving mode is engaged or the vehicle’s speed exceeds 86mph the ride height is automatically lowered by 20mm. Another button in the luggage compartment activates a loading mode that lowers the vehicle by 40mm. Prices start at £57,495 for the 30d X Line model. ■

A word from

The Wise The column with an ear for experience...

Name: Aodh Hannon Position: Managing director, Hannon Group

How did you start out in business? I started out helping my father out in his small fruit and veg wholesale business. It was a great learning curve with plenty of hard work and early starts. Very quickly though, you find that you need to set up on your own. I didn’t want to compete against my father, so I started to look around for other ideas. Pretty quickly I settled on transport. I bought a lorry and a refrigerated trailer and set up as an owner-operator back in 1994. By 2002 I had 15 trucks operating throughout Europe and needed a base on the continent. In 2003 we opened Hannon Logistics BV in the Netherlands which was a real turning point for us and gave us our first real foothold as a serious international logistics provider. Now the group operates right across Ireland, the UK and northern Europe and we employ over 400 people. What have you found the most challenging during your years of business, so far? I would say it’s probably been having the discipline to keep the business moving forward. When we opened in The Netherlands the easiest thing would have been to settle into the safe and familiar cut flowers and horticultural sector which we had become the leaders in. Within three years of opening in Holland we had launched Hannon Logistics Ltd in the Republic of Ireland, opened our cross-distribution centre in Dublin and invested heavily in entering the cool-chain food import/export logistics sector. This paved the way for us to become a key partner for many of the key fresh food producers across Ireland exporting into mainland Europe. We have also diversified outside of logistics quite significantly in the last five years which has also been challenging.


How would you describe your management style? I think you need to be flexible. My management style will vary depending on who I am dealing with. People are different, so a one-size fits all style doesn’t work. Some people work best when you give them clear direction at the start and then let them get on with it. Others will want to come back to me quite often to get feedback and a bit of a steer along the way. Then you have everything in between. All of them can be OK. The secret is making sure that it’s not all one-way though and that you make sure that you get back what you need to make sure you can keep your eye on the ball. What would you change if you could go back and do it all again? Really, it’s hard to know. In business, you make lots of mistakes but it’s the mistakes that you tend to learn the most from. Have you done it all on your own? At the start, of course you have to do it on your own, no-one else is going to do it for you. You need to put the work in and know your business inside out. If you’re building something from the ground up that’s vital. Once you’ve done that, you’re able to know exactly what’s needed to grow your business. How would you like your business to be remembered? We are primarily B2B so outside of our sectors we are fairly low-key. What’s important to me is that our customers get a high-quality service every time they use us. If they remember us for that then I’d be happy. What piece of advice would you give to a 20-year-old you? I would probably say that listening to advice is good but at the end of the day you need to know better than anybody what your business needs. You just need to put the work in and get on with it. ■



Phil Murray has been appointed programmes manager at the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He will provide support to firms which access the NI Chamber’s Learn Grow Excel programme. Claire Murray has been appointed to the board of the Lyric Theatre. She has worked for 15 years in marketing and communications at a senior level with Coca-Cola and Heineken Ireland. Jason Crane joins GOC Estate Agents with more than 20 years’ experience in the corporate relocation industry assisting clients relocating to Northern Ireland to find new homes.

Conor McCrory has been appointed as an associate solicitor in the employment and immigration law department at Cleaver Fulton Rankin. He joined the law firm following 10 years working in London. Damian Thornton has been appointed as chief operating officer of Diaceutics. He will be responsible for the organisation’s business operations and strategic planning. Kerri Bradley has been appointed as HR director at Cleaver Fulton Rankin. She joined the law firm, having previously worked as an HR manager at Robinsons Services Group.

Michele Reid has been appointed group manager for Mount Charles’ healthy eating franchise, Freshly Chopped. She will oversee the opening of the restaurants across Northern Ireland and Donegal. Daniel Quee has been appointed as senior communications manager with PR firm Jago. He has more than eight years’ of experience within public relations at a national level. Nuala Donnelly is now on the board of the Lyric Theatre. She is head of sponsorship at The O2. She is responsible for building the commercial partnership with AEG and overseeing the sponsorship of The O2.



Onecom has appointed Ben Dowd as chief executive, to drive the business’s ambitious expansion plans. The company operates a base in Belfast. Oliver Tighe has been appointed associate solicitor in Carson McDowell’s commercial property team. He qualified in 2006 and has gained experience as a general practitioner in property and probate law, developing a specialist interest in commercial property. Olwen Dawe has been appointed as board member of the Lyric Theatre. She is a consultant and policy analyst, and has led on gender equality and diversity initiatives in theatre and the arts.

Fujitsu has appointed of Mary Scullion to her new role as sector lead, local and devolved government and transport. Ms Scullion has over 12 years’ experience with the company. Georgina O’Leary has been appointed by Chancellor of the Exchequer as Northern Ireland’s fintech envoy. She will be responsible for promoting Northern Ireland’s thriving fintech sector. Roger McMillan will become managing partner of Carson McDowell, from May this year. He will have a primary focus on the internal running of the firm and core operational matters.

Michael Weston has been appointed general manager at Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. He has almost 20 years’ management experience in the hospitality industry. Niall Burns has been appointed deputy general manager of Slieve Donard Resort and Spa. He has worked for Hastings Hotels for more than eight years. Neasa Quigley will assume a parallel role as senior partner at law firm Carson McDowell, leading the firm’s overall strategic direction.





1. Hagan Homes has announced a partnership with NI Children to Lapland and Days To Remember Trust. Pictured are Jim Burke, Hagan Homes, Fiona Williamson, and Jack Rodgers MBE, founder and chairman, NI Children to Lapland and Days to Remember Trust. 2. Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) has announced a new strategic alliance with sports technology firm, STATSports. Pictured is Michael Mulvey, president of DkIT and Alan Clarke, co-founder of STATSports. 3. Andrew Lynas, managing director of Lynas Foodservice and the group’s chairman, Norman Lynas, are pictured at the opening of the new Lynas Food Outlet on the Boucher Road in Belfast. 4. Pamela Ballantine (right) helps launch he 24th annual Institute of Hospitality NI Awards at The Loft, Ten Square Hotel. She is joined by Richard Buchanan, chaiman of Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI, and Marianne Hood.



5. Launching the largest Deloitte Academy programme to date are Ann Williamson, head of employer skills at the Department for the Economy, Tim Lemon, interim head of business development at Belfast Met and Jackie Henry, senior partner at Deloitte.





PHOTOCALL 6. Barry Byrne, managing director, Mount Charles, Kathryn Thomson, chief executive, National Museums Northern Ireland, the IoD’s Gordon Milligan and Paul Stapleton, managing director, NIE Networks. The three business leaders, and Natasha Sayee of SONI, have been elected to the IoD’s NI committee. 7. Darren Nugent, co-founder of Ion Distillery and James McLornan, spirits buyer for Centra and SuperValu, as they announce that selected off-licences will be the first in Northern Ireland to stock Ion’s new rum. 8. Waddell Media managing director Jannine Waddell MBE and executive director David Cumming, marking the television production company’s 30 years in business.



9. Colin McClean and David Ferguson of cafe chain Bob and Berts. The Northern Ireland company has continued its expansion in Scotland with the opening of a new store in Dunfermline. 10. Launching Polaris Safety Training & Rescue and British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland (BHFNI) charity partnership is Craig Moore and Orla Clarke from BHFNI and Mark Harriott from Polaris Safety Training & Rescue.







11. Celebrating Platinum status at the 2018 NI Environmental Benchmarking Survey are Declan Cunningham, Moy Park, Laura Duggan, environmental manager at Belfast City Airport, Chris Conway, chief executive of Translink and David Small, Northern Ireland Environment Agency. 12. Nigel Sproule, owner of Sproules Jewellers is pictured with Jennifer Doherty, business manager at First Trust Bank. The jeweller has unveiled its newly refurbished premises on Carlisle Road in Londonderry. 13. Josu Esnaola, group commercial director, CAF, signing a contract for 21 new train carriages for NI Railways, alongside Translink chief executive Chris Conway. 14. Betty Beare and Alice Gibson pictured as the ‘Radius at the Ritz’, which kicked off in the QFT in Belfast. Joining them is Mark Kerr, Fusion Heating along with Grainne Mullin, Radius Housing and Brendan Scott of MW Advocate.



15. Michael McCallion, Asda senior buying manager local foods with Trevor Mounstephen, Cookstown account manager, after it secured a new listing with Asda to stock three Christmas gammon lines in all the retailer’s Northern Ireland stores.





PHOTOCALL 16. Fergus McElduff, Automated Intelligence, entrepreneur Eoin Lampkin and Daniel Loughlin of IRP Commerce with Dr Norman Lapsley (second from left) at an event for Mr Lapsley, who has retired from his role as chief executive of Catalyst Inc. 17. Brian Gillan, head of business and corporate banking at First Trust Bank is pictured with Jonathan Lamberton from Northern Ireland Hospice at First Trust Bank’s Christmas Market. 18. Ian Beatty, business acquisition manager at Danske Bank with Ashley French, director at French Village Bakery as the family-owned company announced it will invest invested £850,000 to expand its current operations and develop its catering division.



19. Ledcom’s outgoing chairman Henry Fletcher, Simon McDowell, of Kilwaughter Minerals, new chairman Dr Norman Apsley and chief executive Ken Nelson. This year Ledcom’s work with start-up businesses helped create 235 new jobs. 20. NI company HyperSync is creating up to 50 jobs after securing a deal with US company Agio. Pictured is HyperSync’s Marcus Thompson along with Majella Barkley and Neil Marrin.






Greater number of NI surveyors predict house price growth


ouse prices in Northern Ireland are outpacing the growth of other regions across the UK, according to a new poll.

RICS residential property spokesperson Samuel Dickey said he believes 2018 is “shaping up to be a good year” for the housing market, despite concerns over performance elsewhere.

According to the latest survey, a greater number of surveyors are reporting prices rising than falling, or remaining stagnant.

“House prices look to have risen at a healthy rate and activity in various segments of the market has been relatively good, albeit that there are regional variations,” he said.

That’s according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and Ulster Bank Residential Market Survey, for November. However, while the survey measures whether prices are increasing or decreasing, overall, Northern Ireland still boasts some of the cheapest properties in the UK. The average price for a home in Northern Ireland is now around £135,000, and ranges from £116,368 in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon to £161,215 in Lisburn and Castlereagh, according to figures from Land and Property Services the Northern Ireland Statistics & Research Agency.


“Uncertainty in the wider environment doesn’t seem to be having a significant impact on the housing market to date. Whether that continues into 2019 remains to be seen.” According to the RICS, experts are significantly more optimistic about sales activity in Northern Ireland. However, the latest survey does show a slight drop in the number of new properties coming onto the market, which has prompted calls for action. “One thing that does continue to be a feature is the lack of supply,” Mr Dickey said. “We need to see more new homes being built, and

more resale properties would need to become available to meet demand.” Surveyors here are more optimistic about prices continuing to rise at the start of 2019, compared to experts in England, Scotland and Wales. London and the South East of England experienced the biggest slump in property prices in November. Terry Robb, head of personal banking at Ulster Bank, said that high demand has driven the stream of healthy activity during the year. “Our new paperless mortgage process has played a role in helping generate interest, but demand more broadly in the market remains firm. “The level of interest that we are seeing from customers, as well as feedback from surveyors, suggests that the early part of 2019 at least will continue to see good demand.” ■

Niavac hosts showcase for top video technology


orthern Ireland audio-visual company Niavac has hosted an event to showcase an array of top technology for its customers. The Play To Your Strengths event, which was held at the company’s Belfast offices, was primarily aimed at government departments,

corporate and higher education. It also saw around 100 visitors during the course of the day. James Conlon, managing director of Niavac, said the showcase “allowed customers to experience practical ideas for their next projects

and included the latest in laser projection/ digital signage and video conferencing”. “Our business briefing allowed our audience to learn from leading sporting icons and see how their experiences were applicable in the business community.”

NI port exports ‘double in 20 years’


orthern Ireland is exporting twice the volume of freight it did 20 years ago, with Warrenpoint Port more than trebling its output.

Figures collected by the Department for Transport recorded 27.1 million tonnes of traffic passing in and out of ports here during 2017, 2.2% more than in 2016, against an overall UK decline last year. While imports account for 61% of the volume, traffic travelling out is rising at a much faster rate than inbound traffic. A total of 10.5 million tonnes of traffic passed out of the main ports in 2017, just over 400,000 tonnes more than the year before. It’s almost double the 5.5 million tonnes recorded in 1997. Belfast remained by far the busiest port, handling 67% of traffic in 2017, ahead of Warrenpoint (12%), Larne (11%) and Londonderry (7%). Exports from Belfast more than doubled from 3.3 million tonnes in 1998 to 7.1 million last year. Warrenpoint has been the other notable success story. It has risen from 491,000 tonnes exported in 1998 to 1.6 million in 2017. Port chief executive Clare Guinness said the growth had been largely driven by the roll-on/roll-off wheeled cargo traffic through Seatruck Ferries.




Rachael McAdam, manager of Clockwise, along with and Rachael Pittaway of Castleforge Partners, which owns the building. CBRE’s Lisa McAteer and David Wright were also there, alongside Rory McConnell, McConnell Property and Brendan Moley, MAC Group, which carried out the fit-out work on the building.

Moving on for a spot of lunch, 44 Hill Street played host to the Diageo and Visit Belfast Christmas media lunch.

The Chairman Phew… well, that’s 2018 behind him. But of course, it won’t be long until the New Year season begins


nother year, and another busy calendar.

There were croquettes, arancini and all many of other small edible items, alongside a decent chunk of charred cattle. Those turning up included the Ulster Business, Hospitality Review and Northern Woman teams, along with Diageo’s Claire Hutchinson, Visit Belfast’s Gerry Lennon and Anne McMullan, and PR man Shane Finnegan.

It was straight to the top of one Belfast’s tallest, and grandest buildings, for a gathering of Better Belfast. The group, organised by Abacus’s Justin Rush, brings together businesses, influencers and media from across the spectrum.

While the weather has been chilly and wetter than an Olympic-sized swimming pool, the Chairman has made his way to as many of the social events as humanly possible.

And, there were bacon baps, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, alongside healthier alternatives in the form of yoghurt and granola.

Over at High Street in Belfast, more than 150 members of the Northern Ireland business community attended the official launch of River House.

Trying to paint a picture of the business landscape was economist Dr Esmond Birnie, of Ulster University’s Economic Policy Centre, while guests also heard from Mark Dorman from Belfast Metropolitan College and Fergal McFerran of Stonewall NI.

Following a huge investment, the building has been transformed, and includes Clockwise, a five floor co-working space for small to medium sized companies who want to locate themselves in the city’s commercial centre.

Also waking up early for the event was IoD NI director Kirsty McManus and Michael Neill, head of A&L Goodbody’s Belfast office,

Among those turning out for the evening was

The Abacus team was there, including


managing director Justin Rush, Stuart John and Damian Farrell.

It was the turn of Line of Duty and the Bodyguard creator, Jed Mercurio to grace the NI Chamber President’s Banquet at ICC Belfast – formerly the Waterfront Hall. The guest of honour was joined by NI Chamber chief Ann McGregor, Paul Murnaghan of BT, and NI Chamber president Ellvena Graham. It wasn’t a night for mincing words, either. The Chairman spent the night in the company of seasoned journo Gary McDonald, the McDonald’s team, including Simon Tiernan and PR boss Claire Aiken. Oh, and who could forget, the man who has been on television screens more often than Huw Edwards, Aodhan Connolly of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium. He left his hat at home, though.

Taking to the hidden treasure of Willie Jack’s Orpheus bar, atop his Harp bar empire, the Waddell Media team marked 30 years in business. Celebrity chef Paul Rankin joined Jannine Waddell, managing director, and David Cumming, executive director, alongside a host of others, including comms expert Orla McKibbin.

Elsewhere, Belfast’s Lyric Theatre officially announced its spring 2019 season programme. This year’s theme will explore current cultural themes and their impact, as well as platform an array of artistic talent, old and new, with highlights including a Northern Ireland Opera and Lyric co-production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. ■


Ellvena Graham, Jed Mercurio and Paul Murnaghan of BT

Chef Paul Rankin, Jannine Waddell and David Cumming

Ellvena Graham pictured at the NI Chamber President’s Banquet at ICC Belfast

Rory McConnell, McConnell Property and Brendan Moley, MAC Group Rachael McAdam, manager of Clockwise at River House and Rachael Pittaway of Castleforge Partners

A&L Goodbody’s Michael Neill, Abacus’s Justin Rush and economist Esmond Birnie

Esmond Birnie and Justin Rush


Lisa McAteer and David Wright with Rachael Pittaway (centre) of Castleforge Partners

Fergal McFerran at the Better Belfast event

Mark Dorman at the Better Belfast event



A Rolex for the next generation? W

hile Tudor’s fresh line-up of watches is somewhat of a deviation from its roots, it’s important to understand where the independent Swiss brand sits in the world of horology.

The brand dates back as far as 1926, when it was transferred to Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf. It’s still lovingly referred to as the Swiss watch stalwart’s sister brand. From there, following the Second World War, he decided now was the time to expand and give the brand an identity of its own.

John Mulgrew gets hands-on with the flagship of watchmaker Tudor’s revamped line-up and examines the lineage of the luxury Swiss brand

The primary difference between the brands back then, was that Rolex watches carried in-house movements, and that Tudor would offer familiar watch styles, such as the Oyster and Submariner, at a more affordable cost, while its big brother would guarantee the technical, aesthetic and functional characteristics, along with distribution and after sales service. But the brand back then, and the company now, has changed radically. Just a few years


ago, it tore up the rulebook on its traditional line – moving away from historically similar watches to Rolex, and a few changes from its classical lines, towards a tight range of watches, bringing in the old and the new. The core model is the Black Bay. A millimetre larger than the Rolex Submariner, it’s a slightly chunkier affair, without treading into the excessive sizes of some other brand’s modern timepieces. It also offers a new ‘58’ – a smaller 39mm watch, which fits right in as a cheaper alternative to the Submariner, a Black Bay Chronograph and the Pelagos – a larger, more modern affair made out of titanium. The brand also comes in at a time when Rolex prices have shot up, considerably. Many of the most desirable models in the Rolex line have a waiting list – with second-hand prices outpacing the new book price. Tudor itself has also embraced this burgeoning demand, releasing its own GMT watch – with so-called ‘Pepsi’ blue and red bezel. Currently, Rolex’s own model – aside from the sizeable price difference – will mean joining a waiting list.


SPECIFICATION MODEL: Tudor Black Bay Heritage CASE SIZE: 41mm MATERIAL: Stainless steel MOVEMENT: In-house calibre MT5602 automatic WATER RESISTANCE: 200m CRYSTAL: Sapphire PRICE: £2,630

(MORE THAN) A WEEK ON THE WRIST Tudor Heritage Black Bay Sitting as Tudor’s poster-boy or flagship in its range, the Black Bay is a dive watch which melds the styling and inspiration of, possibly the most recognisable watch in the world, the Rolex Submariner, with a larger case, while adding patina on the hands and markers. There’s no crown-guard, ala Rolex. This time, it’s a larger, screw-down, with an etched Tudor rose – formerly the brand’s logo. Overall, the Black Bay’s case is brushed, including the caseback, with the finish smoothly transitioning into a polish around the sides and crown. The sapphire crystal glass is slightly domed, sitting around a millimetre off the face off the watch. Around the edge, the bezel is a solid, thick and satisfyingly sold 60-click version, with red triangle and lume dot.

available on a leather or fabric band, along with red dial and blue – the latter without the patina on the markers and hands. The bracelet is a stand-out characteristic of the piece, certainly in terms of build quality. The three-piece links have a lug width of 22mm, tapering to around 20mm. It’s brushed, but polished and riveted along the side. On the clasp, there’s a double-locking system, with a thoughtful inclusion of the Tudor shield logo into the mechanism, along with three points of micro-adjustment. This watch, available from jeweller Lunn’s, spent several days on my wrist – from the office, to out-and-about and around the house. It’s a comfortable piece to wear – balanced between a bit more heft than its more expensive sibling, but never straying into the realm of gaudy or garish.

After a few hours, it felt very much like one of my own. I did miss the date, however, but those after additional complications or functionality could look to the chronograph version, or the larger Pelagos. The Black Bay is a well-balanced piece – easily sitting at the centre of a Venn diagram between casual and formal. The brand itself is firing everything at the new range, with endorsements from David Beckham and Lady Gaga, aimed at a younger generation with disposable income to spare. While that may not appeal or speak to the horological purists, with the in-house movement, attention to detail, provenance and mixture of the traditional and modern, it’s likely to build a fresh reputation as a ‘watch fan’ timepiece, and for those who have no issue explaining to those admiring the chunk of steel on their wrists, that it isn’t a Rolex. ■

This version is on a steel bracelet, but is also




Breakfast BUSINESS

By John Mulgrew

The column that doesn’t have time for lunch...


ordon Carson’s 4c Executive is heading into its sixth year in business, and with that, it’s planning to expand further in this New Year.

It’s a new spot, this time around. Cafe on the Square, located at the bottom of Custom House Square, which opened its doors a few months ago. Now, if you’re a fan of Jed Mercurio’s multiaward winning dodgy cop series Line of Duty, you catch a glimpse of cast and crew in this city centre eating spot. This editor certainly did, on his first visit a few weeks back. The series has been using the area in and around the square, including the graffiti-clad underpass, for filming. Inside, it’s a lot of bare, rough wood and touches of copper. On this occasion, coffee aside, it’s an egg-based affair, all round. “We are very, very busy, which is great news,” Gordon says. “We are in executive recruitment, and our end of the market is serving roles, such as 40% of C-level roles (chief executives for example) 40% director roles and balance would be skill-sets that we are challenged to go and find those individuals with those skill-sets. “The process of headhunting we use allows us to search for those skill-sets particularly. “Our clients range across the private and public sector, and charitable sector. Some that we would have advertised recently would be Ulster Rugby – the chief executive. We are currently working with Translink for a new service operations director. That’s a key role, given what is going on in the city.



“In the charitable sector, Bryson Charitable Trust – which is the largest in Northern Ireland.”

in Northern Ireland, it has recently placed three senior roles, including two in the US and one in Germany.

At that point, breakfast arrives. For me, smoked salmon with egg, with an avocado-based topping. It’s a solid collection of flavour and textures, on a circle of white toasted bread. Gordon opts for Eggs Royale. Back to business.

On the current climate, Gordon says there’s not much that can be done aside from getting on with it.

“Do we specialise in any one sector? No. One reason is because Northern Ireland is too small, to start,” he says. “Secondly, our methodology for the search process allows us to search into any sector without having that specific knowledge.” 4c Executive now has a team of 10. But that number looks set to grow this year, as the business plans to diversify and introduce new elements. And despite the political chaos which continues to circle around us, at home, close to home, and in Brussels and beyond, Gordon says the company remains “flat out”. “There’s no doubt that some of the clients we are working with have that level of anxiety and nervousness and lack of confidence. “But, we tend to fill business-critical roles. You can’t leave a business crucial role unfilled. They have to get on and fill those roles.” And while 95% of the firm’s clients are based

“The one thing for certain is that we are all uncertain. That’s what everybody has to deal with, so we are just getting on with it. “Clearly, we are very busy. We would expect that to continue, and we would expect if we got the right result, that could maybe lead to an uplift in our core business. “We are looking for opportunities to grow our business. In 2019 we are going to launch some new services, which would be complementary to that core executive search.” ■ THE BIL Eggs R


oyale Avocad o and s £8.50 moked Americ salmon ano x2 £8.95 £5.40 £22.85


Uncovering the 9-5

Name: Gareth Quinn Position: Kairos

7.00am I usually wake with an alarm and the noise of our three kids Katie, James and Thomas starting to get restless before breakfast. My wife Lisa and I have a pretty good tag team where she makes the kids breakfast and does all the important things while I stumble around the house checking in on any emails or work messages received through the night and trying to get ready. I then drop the kids to school three mornings a week before heading into Belfast for a 9.30am start. On the other two mornings, I try to get into work for around 8am to 8.30am. 9.30am The start of the working day proper kicks off for me at the coffee machine and 30 minutes getting up to speed with Andrew Trimble, my business partner at Kairos, and Matt, our new vice-president of engineering. The rest of the morning can be taken up with various meetings and conference calls which can be with clients, partners and more recently investors, having recently closed an investment round. At Kairos we have just launched a major hiring campaign, so a lot of the morning can also be taken up with meeting potential recruits. 12pm I try to take an early lunch and use this time to check in on emails that have come in during the morning. With Kairos being an early stage company with a relatively small team at the minute, there can be a multitude of things to have to work through. I try to get to the gym beside the office or to a pilates class two or three lunchtimes a week, which is a great way of clearing the


head and recharging the energy levels for the rest of the day. 2pm Early afternoon marks the time when we touch base with clients and partners on the East Coast of the US as they start their working day. The rest of the afternoon tends to be mixture of meetings and calls and, if we’re lucky, a quick game of FIFA on the PlayStation (just to make me feel younger than I am…). 4.30pm I usually try to leave Belfast before 5pm to be home in time for the various evening activities our kids are involved in during the week.

I coach junior soccer and gaelic football a couple of nights a week, which is not only a great way to spend some time with the kids, but is a fantastic release after a day in the office. 8pm With dinner out of the way and the kids either in bed or reading, I normally find the sofa, my laptop, Netflix and a cup of tea. On a week night, I can spend anything from two to five hours working on specific projects needing prepared for the next day, making sure our plan is on track and tying up any loose ends from that day. With our international clients still active on emails at this time, there’s always business to be done late into the night.