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Contents 06 News

39 Retail

84 Photocall

Catch up on the latest company news from across the world of NI business

Ulster Business finds a high street in need of leadership to ensure its future

There’s pizza, new jobs, awards, good causes and some business expansion

14 Cover Story

51 Travel, Tourism & Hospitality

90 The Chairman

PwC on its big move to the city centre and not slowing down its growth plans

The countdown is on to NI’s biggest event

The black tie season is now in full swing, and this year’s calendar is filling up

18 In Focus

67 Tax & Accounting

92 Business Breakfast

Dr Clive Black on the ‘scandalous’ Brexit negotiations and who could lose out most

Remember corporation tax? John Mulgrew does – we take a look four years down the line

Ulster Business editor John Mulgrew has an Americano with KPMG’s Johnny Hanna

23 IT & Technology

74 Motoring

94 Travel

From survival, to research and defibrillators – we examine firms turning to tech to save lives

We have a look at a new £6m dealership and take a spin in an old favourite

Oh, Vienna... (I’m sure that’s the first time anyone’s tried that plug)

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MARCH 2019



Shifting business and political sands


ell, this will be the last introduction to the magazine before the March 29 Brexit deadline.

Northern Ireland’s very own broadcaster and illusionist, David Meade, whose company is on course to hit revenue of £2m this year.

All being well, between writing this and it hitting shelves and desks, we could have something of a more reassuring situation in place. Judging by the comic state of politics in the UK and Northern Ireland, it seems unlikely.

I tried to leave the politics alone, but as I type this, tweets about the moving and shaking of MPs in Westminster is filling up my timeline. It’s hard to keep up with the shifting political sands.

But, on to the positives, and welcome to March’s edition of Ulster Business. We’ve seen some major developments in the world of the NI private sector – from big numbers at two of our biggest banks, to Kainos setting up shop in a new shiny city centre site, a £75m redevelopment for one of Belfast’s most historic buildings, and

Westminster now seems to have more parties than a hair metal band in the 1980s. Back to business, and it’s with a heavy heart that Ulster Business bids farewell to deputy manager, Sylvie Brando. Sylvie’s been with the magazine for more than 12 years – working in the boom times,

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

through the years of recession, and out the other end with Brexit now around the corner. In that time, she’s had to deal with a few editors, including journos turned PR, David Elliott – twice – Symon Ross, and Dave Cullen. I think in her year or so with me, it was hearing the words ‘house style’ that she’ll remember most. So, from all at the Ulster Business team – Sonia, Sarah-Ann and I – I’d like to wish Sylvie good luck in her next venture. We’re all going to miss her here. And with that, enjoy this issue and we’ll catch up soon. ■ 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

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


Ulster Business Magazine

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

MARCH 2019



month IN numbers

Kieragh Nelson and Paul Terrington



The number of jobs at risk at Honda’s production plant in Swindon. Around 90% of vehicles made there were being exported to the EU.


The volume of cargo in millions handled by Belfast Harbour during 2018, for the first time in its long history.


The percentage growth of the Northern Ireland economy, last year, according to EY. But it predicts a slowdown to just 0.9% throughout 2019.


The number of building developments under way in Belfast, while around 21 were completed in 2018, according to Deloitte’s latest Belfast Crane Survey.

PwC to crack 3,000 staff by 2020


wC is set crack the 3,000 staff mark by the end of next year as it moves into its new £75m offices in the heart of Belfast city centre, Ulster Business can reveal.

Just 18 months after being appointed to PwC’s national management board as head of UK regions, Paul Terrington, PwC’s NI regional chair, has no plans to reduce his commitment to keep growing the business here. “This is an incredibly exciting time to be part of PwC. Since I took on the Northern Ireland role six years ago, we’ve doubled the workforce, become the fastest-growing UK region and are now the biggest office outside London with just over 2,200 people,” he says. “Our strategy was to be the leading provider of professional services in the Northern Ireland market but there’s no way we’d be the size we are now had we only focused on that.” Speaking about the move to its new headquarters in Merchant Square – a £75m, 200,000 sq ft office – Mr Terrington said:


“We have great people and one reason why we’re moving to the city centre is because that’s where they want to be. By the time we’re ready to relocate towards the end of 2020, we will have at least 3,000 people moving in to the heart of Belfast.” On the current political uncertainty, he says: “The business community wants clarity and certainty. Ideally we want to see a Brexit withdrawal agreement that then gives the scope for a trade deal that offers Northern Ireland the capacity to trade both with the EU and as part of the UK. The potential competitive advantages and ability to attract investment would be terrific and the kind of economic accelerator which we have sought for years, but never managed to gain.” Meanwhile, lettings in Belfast are expected to remain buoyant this year despite the uncertain political climate, according to a report from Lambert Smith Hampton. That’s been buoyed by PwC’s pre-letting of the Merchant Square development, which is currently under construction. The Merchant Square relocation project is led by Kieragh Nelson, a director who joined the firm in 2017. Read the full interview on page 14-16


Construction outlook ‘worst since recession’ By John Mulgrew


painted such a stark picture with respect to the concerns of the local construction industry,” he said.

John Armstrong of the Construction Employers Federation was speaking as the body released its State of Trade survey. It shows that 70% of respondents see the industry either staying the same or getting worse.

“Two years of political intransigence has had the well-publicised effect of holding up public sector works, from values in the hundreds of millions to the tens of thousands, which have, as each month has passed, exacerbated the growth and employment-limiting issues that companies are facing.

he construction sector here hasn’t painted “such a stark picture” since the deepest point of the recession, an industry boss has warned.

And just 2% of those surveyed see the construction market in Northern Ireland getting ‘a little better’ during 2019, while none saw it getting ‘a lot better’. “Not since the deepest point of the recession a decade ago has our State of Trade survey

MARCH 2019

“… the absolute shame within this is that we are in a period when public sector capital expenditure is going up and the majority of companies have made great strides towards recovery and enhanced sustainability since the industry’s lowest point.”

Clive Black

John Armstrong



Quotes OF THE month “The Derry to Stansted link is an incredibly important one for connecting those who live here in the north west to London. The loss of this will also be very damaging to businesses in the region who rely on this flight.” Brian McGrath, president of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce after it was revealed airline flybmi had collapsed.

“Our multi-million-pound investment in Templepatrick will strengthen the community and economy, as well as cement Northern Ireland’s reputation as a world-class tourism destination.” Galgorm group managing director Colin Johnston as the company agreed to buy the Templeton Hotel for £7m.

“That ethos of championing the contribution made by women is set to continue this year. Senior executive teams, made up of men and women, from companies and organisations across the region are choosing to attend the conference together and in greater numbers than ever before.” IoD NI business development manager Heather White speaking ahead of its Women’s Leadership Conference.


What the new development could look like

£75m overhaul of Tele building given go ahead


£75m proposed redevelopment of the former Belfast Telegraph building has been given the green


The plans for The Sixth development, a joint venture between Belfast City Council and Co Tyrone developer McAleer & Rushe, were given the go ahead at the council’s planning committee meeting.

building of significance to our city and media’s commercial heritage.”

It would see the listed building on Royal Avenue retained, and the rest of the site redeveloped into a mixed-use scheme, which would include 230,000 sq ft of ‘creative workspace’ alongside ground floor retail, including cafes and restaurants.

It was designed by architects Alford Hall Monaghan Morris, alongside planning and development consultancy Turley, Sort Design and commercial property agents CBRE and Lisney.

“The aim of this joint venture is a strategic investment in the city, delivering workspace of a world class scale and quality for local or international occupiers seeking accommodation in the city core,” Suzanne Wylie, chief executive of Belfast City Council said.

Stephen Surphlis, property director, McAleer & Rushe, said: “We are extremely pleased that councillors have supported our plans, and have supported the officer’s recommendation to approve our application. We look forward to progressing the development as quickly as funding is in place to deliver the project.”

“Council has a particular focus on wellness and well-being within the Belfast Agenda, and the inclusion of a roof-top running track as part of this development, highlights the evolving nature and role of workspace in the city centre. By planning for the future, The Sixth will create real estate that better reflects how and where we work, while also bringing back into life a

And councillor Matt Garrett, chairman of Belfast City Council’s planning committee, says the scheme has “been specifically designed to respect the existing built heritage in this part of the city, which is set to be further transformed over the next two to three years, and The Sixth will build on the momentum already generated by the Ulster University investment”.


‘Failure of politicians’ over Brexit talks ‘scandal’ By John Mulgrew


here has been a total failure surrounding the “absolute scandal” over Brexit negotiations, it’s been claimed.

Dr Clive Black, a Queen’s University alumni and head of research at Shore Capital, was speaking to Ulster Business about the UK’s exit from the EU, and the a lack of leadership in tackling the problems around it. “The first thing to say is that it’s a real failure of government,” he said. “None of us a have a clue what will happen.” That could include, kicking the can down the road for a few months, or longer.

MARCH 2019

“(There is) really fundamental uncertainty out there. We find a real failure of governance, of all political colours, and it is totally unacceptable for businesses and households.” Mr Black says the way in which the Brexit negotiations have been handled at a political level is “an absolute scandal”. “What is clear, after the referendum, people go on with their lives,” he says. “We used a term that they were pretty stoic. “But in autumn, that stoicism was tested and broke. People of all political persuasions were looking at news, and reading papers,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who it is, none of them are behaving in what I would say is the national interest.”

Read the full interview on page 18-20



Brexit ‘biggest risk to NI in a generation’ By John Mulgrew


xiting the EU without a deal is the biggest risk to the Northern Ireland economy in a generation, one bank boss has warned.

Kevin Kingston, chief executive of Danske Bank UK, says that it has “engaged on an individual basis with many” of its business customers in recent months to help them plan. But he has warned that a “no deal Brexit is the biggest risk to the Northern Ireland economy in a generation”. Mr Kingston was speaking as Danske Bank posted pre-tax profits of almost £89m during last year. “What we have seen is that larger businesses have been taking decisions to try to safeguard their operations, but the smaller businesses are far less prepared, making them the most vulnerable,” he said. “It is these businesses that are of course the lifeblood of the economy in Northern Ireland. “At this point, I am gravely concerned about the challenges ahead should a hard Brexit become a reality.” Danske says while its profit before impairment charges is down 22% that “the underlying performance of the business remains strong”. It said that 2017 benefited from two one-off credits – the sale of the wealth business and pension changes – so a profit fall in 2018 was expected, despite improved income growth. Overall, total income was up 2% year-on-year reflecting growth in lending and deposits, and


Kevin Kingston

higher UK interest rates “partially offset by the inclusion in 2017 of income from the proceeds of the sale of the bank’s wealth business”. “The year-on-year increase in expenses is primarily due to the non-recurring impact in 2017 of changes made to the bank’s pension scheme,” it said. Speaking about its business in 2018, Mr Kingston said: “In corporate and business banking lending is up 6% year-on-year, as we continue to further strengthen our leading market share in this segment. “Some notable deals included funding support for Andras Hotel Group, Novosco, SHS Group, Devenish Nutrition, Westland and kitchen door and component supplier Uform.”

Danske says the use of digital services also increased – up around 35%, year-on-year. The bank has also announced the closure of two of its branches, one in Bangor and its Lisburn Road location. “We also launched a dedicated fintech cocreation space on the ground floor of our Belfast headquarters – the Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub,” Mr Kingston said. “To complement this we introduced – an online portal to help the growing number of start-up businesses in Northern Ireland to connect with investors, peers and potential new recruits across Europe.” Danske Bank is also launching a new £10 polymer note, which is now in circulation. π


Power interconnector clears legal hurdle in Republic


major cross-border electricity development has cleared a legal hurdles in the Republic.

The proposed north-south interconnector would see power grids in Northern Ireland and the Republic being joined up in what has been termed “the most important infrastructure project on the island today”. The Irish Supreme Court has now upheld planning approval for the scheme in the Republic. However, planning approval for the Northern Ireland element was quashed at the High Court in February, after departmental officials conceded the case brought by a group of landowners. Robin McCormick, general manager, SONI (System Operator for Northern Ireland), said:

“It (the interconnector) will help deliver real benefits to domestic and commercial electricity consumers and will make a significant contribution to helping Northern Ireland achieve its climate change commitments.

“We are pleased that the project has now cleared all of the planning and legal hurdles in the Republic of Ireland and we are hopeful that the same can be achieved in Northern Ireland in the coming months.”

Effective SEO to win more customers


eing relevant to what people search for online is a key factor in winning more customers, says SEO (search engine optimisation) expert Denis Finnegan.

“We’ll guide attendees through some of the Grofuse team’s tested strategies to determine customer intent in keyword research,” he says. “We’ll explain why this is vital for thinking long-term about SEO in order to maximise sales and comfortably leave competitors behind.”

Search engines such as Google are everevolving and that means businesses need to keep up in order to stay ahead of competitors. Mr Finnegan, Grofuse’s digital director, says marketing managers and teams should be continually optimising for searcher intent to help their company websites climb the rankings and stay there. “There are many elements to improving rankings, but it’s important to note that ranking for relevant searches is becoming more important than simply ranking for keyword phases. “Over the last year Google has implemented changes to improve its ability to understand both search queries and content on particular

MARCH 2019

Denis Finnegan

web pages. Such algorithms focus on seeking out the best pages to provide solutions to searchers’ problems. “This is essential to bear in mind when optimising your website for search.” Mr Finnegan, who has led successful SEO campaigns for businesses across Ireland and further afield for more than a decade, will host a masterclass entitled ‘Effective SEO to Win More Customers’ in Belfast on Wednesday, April 10.

Places at this workshop – which provides clear guidance on how to increase high quality website traffic – will be allocated on a firstcome, first-served basis. To register email: or call Grofuse today on 028 71 228820. Masterclass: ‘Effective SEO to Win More Customers’ Where: Catalyst Inc, Queen’s Road, Belfast When: Wednesday, April 10 (10.00am to 11.30am) Fee: £45 (excluding VAT) per delegate.


Ulster Bank posts £51m pre-tax profit

Richard Donnan


lster Bank has posted a pre-tax profit of £51m while its boss here says a worst case ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario could impact consumer behaviour here.

Richard Donnan, head of Northern Ireland for Ulster Bank, said overall the bank posted a “positive set of results” while each of the main lending streams are “all showing double-digit growth”, fuelled by a mixture of customer demand and more buoyant lending. Overall, income rose from £184m to £191m during 2018, while profit after impairments stood at £51m. On deposits, Mr Donnan said: “There is good liquidity in the market. We have nearly twice as many deposits as loans.” There was a 15% rise in new corporate lending, while small business rose by 27%. And mortgages saw a 30% rise, year-on-year. On Brexit uncertainty, and the impact for the business and wider economy, Mr Donnan told Ulster Business:


“… there’s a lot of uncertainty in the year ahead, and that impacts us as well. There’s a potential impact for us, directly… our focus is to make sure that we can support our customers through this, no matter what the outcome will be. “We are preparing our business on the basis of the worst case scenario, and our focus is to support customers. It’s very uncertain to predict the next 12 months, because the range of outcomes are quite varied. “What we are doing is supporting our customers as they prepare, having conversations with them and helping them prepare for the outcomes.”

on employment levels, or energy costs, or inflation, coming through.” Speaking about the overall results, generally, Mr Donnan said: “Our core business in Northern Ireland continues to show a positive performance of £51m profit, with this being driven by improved underlying performance across all areas of our business – our profit before impairments and taxes has risen by over 80% in the last two years (2016 – £31m). The strength of this bank is put to use by supporting the Northern Ireland economy.

Asked about any concern over a tightening of belts or stagnation in the consumer market over the next few months, he said:

“Lending drawdowns by small businesses were up 27% in the year, we helped over 30,000 people get financially fitter through a free financial health check, and we have retained the largest share of the personal and business current account market in Northern Ireland.

“Interestingly, there has been some slowdown in the investment side at a UK level. The biggest impact on the consumer side, is if there was a ‘no deal’ outcome and that has an impact on the wider economy in business – the downstream (for consumers). Whether that’s

“Customers continue to change the way they bank with us. We have a continuing and successful focus on controlling our operational costs, which has enabled us to prioritise investment in the innovation and digital services that customers tell us they want.” π


Almost 20 years after it moved 600 staff and 16,000 paper files into Waterfront Plaza, PwC will move again – this time taking around 3,000 people and some very smart technology to Merchant Square in the heart of Belfast 14

PwC: investing in people, purpose and Belfast


ust 18 months after being appointed to PwC’s national management board as head of UK regions, Paul Terrington, PwC’s NI regional chair, has no plans to reduce his commitment to keep growing the business locally.

“This is an incredibly exciting time to be part of PwC. Since I took on the Northern Ireland role six years ago, we’ve doubled the workforce, become the fastest-growing UK region and are now the biggest office outside London with just over 2,200 people,” he says. “Our strategy

COVER STORY of operation, Operate earned over £45m, now has 1,000 people and is still growing.” Reinforcing Paul’s confidence to invest in Northern Ireland as a strategic location is a 2017 forecast from TheCityUK that it could become the second fastest-growing financial services region outside London by 2025, helping deliver £16bn of additional gross value-added (GVA) to the UK economy. But that depends on the ability to recruit the right talent, and he says the challenge now is finding and retaining the skills. That’s an issue that particularly concerns Paul as he looks ahead at the economic picture with Brexit and lack of an Assembly to the fore. “The business community wants clarity and certainty. Ideally we want to see a Brexit withdrawal agreement that then gives the scope for a trade deal that offers Northern Ireland the capacity to trade both with the EU and as part of the UK. The potential competitive advantages and ability to attract investment would be terrific and the kind of economic accelerator which we have sought for years, but never managed to gain.

Kieragh Nelson and Ian McConnell with members of the PwC team in Belfast

was to be the leading provider of professional services in the Northern Ireland market but there’s no way we’d be the size we are now had we only focused on that.” Instead Paul built on the legacy of his predecessors and accelerated growth in new, technology solutions, while retaining the traditional accounting, tax and consulting services. Today PwC remains the leading provider of advisory services to the region’s family-owned and owner-managed businesses and multinationals, but has also built an impressive portfolio of cutting-edge technologies, opened the door to significant export markets and is tackling some of society’s most challenging issues.

MARCH 2019

“We’ve grown in many new areas – blockchain, cyber, cloud-based accounting services – but the single biggest impact has come from developing our distinctive ‘Operate’ division,” Paul says. ”Operate is our service delivery business, which supports and delivers technology and people solutions to large, often regulated organisations. So instead of just advising clients how to solve their problems, we now do the heavy lifting for them.” Run by Ian McConnell, a partner who’s been with the firm for 26 years, Operate is already attracting global attention. “Clients increasingly don’t want a consulting firm just to tell them what to do: they want a problemsolving partnership.” he says. “In its first year

“However I do worry about the impact of political stalemate on our long term future. Failure to invest, particularly in education and skills, will impair our competitiveness and make this a less attractive place for business. The decreasing effectiveness of health, environment and infrastructure will mean that talented people will opt to make choices to live their lives elsewhere. “In my national role, I see other parts of the country fusing partnerships in innovative and exciting ways between business,education and government. Compared to that, we are already getting left behind. We should be moving forward.” Which brings us to Merchant Square, the £75m, 200,000 sq ft office development which PwC takes over in 2020. “We have great people and one reason why we’re moving to the city centre is because that’s where they want to be. By the time we’re ready to relocate towards the end of 2020, we will have at least 3,000 people moving in to the heart of Belfast. “That makes it important for Belfast too and not just because it’s the city’s biggest-ever >


Kieragh Nelson and Paul Terrington and what will become the new Merchant Square building in the background


local charities in north and west Belfast, the worst affected areas in the UK, to collaborate and devise really innovative approaches; programmes to give opportunities to young people and their families through education, technology, sports, and mental health coaching.

private sector office deal. As we were making our decision, the whole Bank Buildings issue was at its height, and we wanted to show our support for the city and its future.” The Merchant Square relocation project is led by Kieragh Nelson, a director who joined the firm in 2017. “We’ve got serious ambitions for Merchant Square,” she says. ”There’s a sense of ‘OK, we’ve just opened flagship offices in London, and Manchester – what more can we do in Belfast; how can we make it even better?’ And the vast majority of decisions on how it will look, feel and work are made by the team here. Our goal is to create the most technologically-advanced, innovative and collaborative space for ourselves, our clients, and also for the communities around us.” Doing the right thing is a maxim often repeated in PwC, but it gets backed up. On the morning of our interview, a large group of people from the firm, including Paul, took part in one of their regular ‘Darkness Into Light’ walks to raise awareness of mental health. The firm’s commitment to social mobility has seen a number of employment programmes


launched, notably the UK’s first technology degree apprenticeships, with Queen’s University one of five universities selected to run the programme. And it’s expanding its Hive Academy programme, which delivers free technology education to primary and secondary schools, to the Channel Islands. This year the firm challenged itself and created a unique charity partnership – the PwC Challenge – to create innovative suicide prevention programmes. “Our purpose is to build trust in society and solve important problems, and it really does feature in how we look at what we do. We strive to celebrate and share our knowledge widely and unselfishly with our people and communities and not be afraid to take a stand and do the right thing. And we put it at the heart of what we do every day. “Take the PwC Challenge: more people in Northern Ireland have died by suicide since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement than from the violence in the years before. This is a crisis, and it’s one which affects our people, and our communities. So we asked

“As well as the clubs in PwC which fundraise every year for the challenge, our own people are volunteering every week in various projects – particularly with our Hive Academy. We want to ensure that people, who are high achievers in many different fields, are supported to play their fullest part in society.” For Paul, it’s all about the people. Last year PwC invested around £6m on staff development here, and this year, a number of people have begun the first Masters in Operation service delivery, run by Ulster University. “It’s important to support people to develop their careers in ways they mightn’t have considered when they joined. That’s a key building block of our purpose – it drives social mobility, equality and diversity. “It’s true that if someone decides they want to head off and join PwC Australia or New York, they can. That’s the beauty of working for a global firm – those opportunities are there. But what I really want to make sure is that you don’t have to leave: if you want to live and work in Belfast, and have global clients, work with cutting-edge technology and be part of a firm that’s engaged in society, you can do that too.” π



A Brexit ‘scandal’ and those who could lose out most John Mulgrew speaks to Dr Clive Black, a Queen’s University alumni and head of research at Shore Capital about the ‘scandalous’ EU exit negotiations, and how it’s the Republic of Ireland which could bear the brunt of Brexit


total failure of government and politics, and an “absolute scandal” is how Dr Clive Black describes the – still ongoing at the time of print – political discourse surrounding the UK’s exit from the EU.


He’s head of research at Shore Capital. It’s an investment bank which engages in trading, stock broking and corporate advice. As part of that, he and his team are responsible for forecasting, analysing, and writing about UK and Irish listed companies. He’s chairman of

the Institute for Global Food Safety at Queen’s University, and is also a graduate. “The first thing to say is that it’s a real failure of government,” he told Ulster Business. “None of us a have a clue what will happen.”


That could include, kicking the can down the road for a few months, or longer. “(There is) really fundamental uncertainty out there. We find a real failure of governance, of all political colours, and it is totally unacceptable for businesses and households.

As for currency, Clive says a ‘no deal’ would put the UK in a “major hiatus for a period of time”. Now, while I spoke to Clive a few weeks back, little has changed since. At the time of writing an extension was one avenue, while crashing out still on the table.

“We feel pretty confident of the UK economy in total. If we know what will happen, some form of sensible deal with the EU, then that would be everyone’s preference. If that came through, we would see the UK flourish… and sterling increase against the euro.

And it’s the Republic which Clive says is facing the biggest Brexit hurdle. “The country most exposed is the Republic of Ireland… a harder border (impacting) Irish exports,” he says.

“A lot of businesses are avoiding this country at the minute, because of the uncertainty. It’s difficult for organisations to make small, or big decisions.

That negative prediction for the Republic’s economy was echoed by both the Central Bank in Ireland, and the European Central Bank (ECB) boss Mario Draghi.

MARCH 2019

Ireland’s Central Bank chief economist Gabriel Fagan warned there could be 40,000 jobs lost following a ‘no deal’, after 10 years. For Clive, clarity is the main concern. He says, if the UK knew what it was dealing with, what World Trade Organization (WTO) tariffs would look like, then Brexit could “eventually bring benefits to the UK”. “But it would take a broader adaption by businesses and markets,” Clive says. Back on currency, he says in a ‘no deal’ scenario, sterling would “fall against global currencies”, and big against the dollar, while being nuanced against the euro. “It’s how the markets see it from a >



European perspective,” Clive says. “The Republic of Ireland is going to be a big problem for the European Commission.” As for the UK and the EU’s trading relationship, as the largest single export market, there are challenges facing major sectors, such as the German car industry, and what that will mean for UK consumers.

A lot of businesses are avoiding this country at the minute, because of the uncertainty. It’s difficult for organisations to make small, or big decisions interest,” he says.

“A weak pound will stimulate more exports, and could actually attract investment inflows,” Clive says. “But the big damage is the lack of certainty.” Clive says the way in which the Brexit negotiations have been handled at a political level is “an absolute scandal”. “What is clear, after the referendum, people go on with their lives,” he says. “We used a term that they were pretty stoic. “But in autumn, that stoicism was tested and broke. People of all political persuasions were looking at news, and reading papers,” Clive says. He’s not polite in the language afforded to the politicians and handling of the situation. “It doesn’t matter who it is, none of them are behaving in what I would say is the national


“They are loving the limelight. (There is) simmering anger, increasingly in households and businesses. It’s a country sitting there, thinking that this is a shambles. “You couldn’t script it… in GB you have the ‘Little England’ mentality. Brexiteers don’t know and don’t care, and see Northern Ireland as a pain in the backside. Every single political colour is playing its own cards to everyone’s detriment. “Everyone who looked at referendum in 2015 and didn’t think Northern Ireland could be an issue, was either asleep or a lunatic. “Across the UK, and I would have thought in Ireland, businesses are thinking, ‘what are you

people doing?’. Businesses in the Republic of Ireland are also worried about what is going on. There is also a simmering anger among households as to what is going on in Westminster.” We’ve talked about the impact of trade, delays, tariffs, additional costs and bureaucracy, but for Clive, the clearest impact – and when it’s too late for just the alarm bells – is impacting employment. “Whatever the context, what changes things is unemployment,” he says. “When businesses start to lay people off, that’s what causes the step change. People stop buying houses, shops close… that is what we would be most worried about. “The vast majority of businesses across the UK aren’t sabre-rattling – they are genuinely frustrated, and they are worried. Workers aren’t stupid. If there was an agreement, stocks and sterling would rocket, along with business and consumer confidence. “People have their own view on the deal – some form of sensible deal, that would be a universally accepted outcome.” π


AI will change jobs market, but people are still the key to success Luke Fuller

By Luke Fuller, director, Hays


n a tech-driven world it is sometimes worth taking time to remember that it is by investing in people and skills, not just technology, that business transformation takes place successfully. In last month’s Ulster Business column, I looked at some of the challenges facing finance leaders, including the risks posed by improving Artificial Intelligence technology in certain finance jobs and how this will hopefully drive many organisations to upskill their people.

AI has caused a degree of hand wringing from those who believe it spells the end for certain jobs but it has also been welcomed by others who believe it can markedly improve business productivity. AI is already being used to complete many vital tasks in businesses across a range of industries. For example, we’ve seen the introduction of AI systems by GPs that conduct the initial triage of patients, an increased use of chatbots by banks to deal with basic customer enquiries and wider investment in HR and finance shared service centres. This use of ‘conversational AI’ and virtual assistants is transforming how organisations and customers engage with one another, improving efficiency and accuracy within customer service. By providing customers with convenient, fast and accurate self-service offerings, organisations are reducing call centre costs and freeing up staff to undertake more complex, value-adding tasks. This has obvious implications for employees in these positions, however the changes AI can bring should be seen as opportunities. For example, if chat bots can solve the easy problems for a bank’s customers, staff who were in those positions can be upskilled to take on different tasks which require human input. The changes mean you must start to futureproof your talent pipelines, because your


competitors will be doing just that. Employees and jobseekers must, in turn, do everything they can to secure their future employability. We regularly see sensationalist headlines predicting the demise of the human worker but at Hays we simply don’t see this happening. In fact, we expect to see an explosion in new roles around AI and data and a relentless demand for specific soft skills such as adaptability, creativity and collaboration. While machines can undoubtedly perform functional tasks efficiently, we’re yet to see an algorithm that can accurately read things like humour, temperament or enthusiasm as well as a person can. Creativity, collaboration, human interpretation and communication skills top the list of things that employers are looking for in candidates. The most coveted job titles focus on translating the complex into something digestible, either for colleagues or customers. In the finance sector we may see many

organisations taking accounts assistant roles out of their organisational structure, but these will likely be replaced by an increase in roles that require financial analysis skills, which will be filled by people who can interpret data collected by AI systems. We continue to see healthy demand for traditional part and newly-qualified accountants. But those looking for roles in these fields would do well to seek out organisations who want them to help conduct increasingly complex data analysis to drive better-informed commercial insights. Candidates who understand both the technical aspects of AI and the wider business opportunities will be in high demand as companies try to optimise their business processes. While AI may not replace every type of role, it will change how we work over the next five to ten years. A willingness to learn, adapt and upskill, has never been so important. π

IT & technology Sponsored by


Professor Frank Pantridge


Life-saving tech in NI’s blood Northern Ireland Professor Frank Pantridge created a medical device which has gone on to save countless lives. John Mulgrew looks at the next generation of life-saving tech entrepreneurs


hen footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed suddenly while his Bolton side were away to Spurs at White Harte Lane – seven years ago this month – it was a Belfast-made Heartsine defibrillator which helped save his life.

In fact, it was a Northern Ireland man, cardiologist Professor Frank Pantridge, who invented the portable defibrillator in the first place. Following his recovery, Fabrice paid tribute to the late professor, adding “without his invention of the portable defibrillator I would not be here today”. And that entrepreneurship, when it comes to producing technology which can help save a life, seems to have followed on from his own


lineage to wider, modern tech development here. That development now ranges from sea survival, to research, mobile phone apps, street defibrillators and life-saving bike ‘smart’ bike lights. Heartsine is one of them. Founded in 1998 by John Anderson with a group of investors, it led to the development of portable cardiac defibrillators. In the 1960s, Professor Anderson was approached to start the biomedical engineering group at the Royal Victoria Hospital and headed the effort to produce the world’s first mobile defibrillator to bring


Becca Hume

One of Heartsine’s defibrillators

the expertise of the hospital to the patient to improve outcomes. The company’s products include a range of semi-automatic and fully-automatic ‘automated external defibrillators’ – its flagship product the only one of its kind to provide verbal, visual and audio feedback to a rescuer on the force and rate of compressions. The success of the firm led to it being acquired by US firm Physio-Control in 2015. Elsewhere, also helping ensure lives are being saved, marine and defence equipment firm Survitec – based in Dunmurry, just outside Belfast. It started out in Dunmurry in 1952 as RFD Ltd and has grown into a major supplier of marine equipment, with turnover of around £450m and operations around the world. Its clients include global air forces and navies, major airlines and ferry companies. The firm’s finance headquarters remain in

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Dunmurry, where it employs around 300 people, while manufacturing is carried out both in Dunmurry and in England. It also has around 80 service centres in 30 countries around the world. The availability of defibrillators is one of the key elements in their ability to save life. And such is the development of the technology, that a series of ‘smart’ hubs have been installed throughout Belfast – and each includes a defibrillator.

Tech entrepreneur Patrick Fisher, founder of Urban Innovation Company, is behind the £3m scheme, which is a ‘smart’ telecoms hub. Belfast City Council has already granted permission for 25 of the hubs, with that growing to a network of 30. They integrate so-called ‘public access defibrillators’. Therefore, if someone experiences an ‘out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest’ nearby, the likelihood of >



survival greatly increases from 9% to 59%, according to those behind the scheme. The defibrillators can also be used without training. “In the age of the ‘smart city’, street furniture must do more to earn its place on the High Street,” Patrick Fisher said. “At no cost to the public or taxpayer, the Pulse Smart Hub is the smartest of smart furniture. A network of beautifully designed and engineered hubs that provide next generation connectivity, share information, track the environment, and ultimately, save lives.” Another firm which perhaps doesn’t get the kudos for helping save lives, is Co Down bike light business See.Sense. A crowd-funded business based in Newtownards, husband and wife team Philip


Irene and Philip McAleese

and Irene McAleese began their company as keen cyclists. The product line has grown in those years, but essentially, the equipment reacts to the road surface and surroundings, with the lights flashing quicker when the cyclist is in a more hazardous situation, such as on uneven terrain or negotiating a junction. This makes it easier for motorists to see cyclists, while at the same time conserving the battery power. Irene has said the idea came about while they were living in Singapore, and found cycling even more dangerous than in London. Since then, the firm has gone on to win a number of awards. That includes shining a light at the Aer Lingus TakeOff Foundation Business Awards in 2018. See.Sense won the Innovation of the Year Award for its products.

But there’s also a new crop of developers using technology to help make lives easier, and to ensure they are saved. Becca Hume is the founder of TapSOS – a smartphone app which allows users to communicate with the emergency services in a non-verbal manner. It’s a pictorial system, allowing people to raise an alert rapidly without speaking, operating in the same way as ringing 999, connecting users with the four services: ambulance, police, coastguard and fire service. “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,” she says. It’s yet another example of the ingenuity of Northern Ireland entrepreneurs, each considering the lives of others when putting their thinking caps on. π


Ian Sheppard, managing director Northern Ireland at Bank of Ireland UK with Steve Orr, chief executive of Catalyst Inc

NI ‘knowledge economy’ four times overall GVA growth By John Mulgrew


orthern Ireland is one of the UK’s fastest growing ‘knowledge’ economies – outpacing overall GVA four-fold.

£3.2bn GVA added to our economy”. Steve Orr, chief executive of Catalyst Inc, said: “How do we make NI the place to be, a beacon for world class talent and investment?


and ensure that whatever the final outcome of the UK exit from the EU, NI is not disadvantaged. This includes an immigration policy that works for us alongside proper and sustainable funding of our position of NI universities.”


among fastest growing “We must make UK knowledge NI a place Ian Sheppard, managing that attracts director Northern Ireland economy regions word class at Bank of Ireland UK, said: researchers, “In highlighting the significant engineers, potential contribution that the Number of jobs which entrepreneurial talent and ‘knowledge economy’ can deliver for could be added to Overall, the ‘knowledge investment at Northern Ireland, the report heightens the economy’ accounted for the same need for a fresh injection of impetus by all NI economy 5.9% of output, an increase of time as stakeholders. 1% point on previous year, while helping create employment has increased by 2% over the opportunities that are “The immediate challenges are clear year (4.7% of total employment). accessible locally across but together with this potential and Growth of sector a range of skills levels. the rich and valuable research data in terms of The biggest chunk of the sector deals with from the report on the progress made in GVA exports, making up 35% of the total. “We have seen two thirds of indicators and the increase government, academia and in GVA by 6.3%, an engine of economic The research also says if Northern Ireland business successfully collaborating growth, offers us the opportunity to refocus on “achieved the aspirations for the knowledge to bring in investment through the city deals. the fundamentals of what drives a competitive economy, there would be circa 80,000 jobs and Now is the time for our politicians to step up economy.” π According to the latest Catalyst Inc 2018 Knowledge Economy Report, the sector here – which includes areas such as tech and STEM roles – grew by 6.3% during 2018.



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Gavin Woods, Nigel Mulholland, Michael Hutchinson

Nitec looks to the future amid brand refresh


op IT firm Nitec Solutions has revealed a brand refresh as the company marks its milestone of 20 years in business.

Nitec has announced that it is undertaking a refresh of its core brand identity. Reflecting the growth and development of the business as a leading IT solutions provider, the refresh emphasises the evolution of the company, and includes a new logo and positioning, along with the development of a new website. The Antrim-based company has been the IT partner of choice for many small to mediumsized businesses in Northern Ireland since 1998, offering a full portfolio of services including cyber-security, cloud computing, software development and unified communications. With a team today of almost 50 staff and an extensive customer base of several hundred clients, Nitec has gone from strength-tostrength since starting off as a one-man operation 23 years ago in 1995 when owner, and now managing director, Nigel Mulholland, set up the business in the back of a (very wellequipped) white van. “Even though our look is changing, what’s


not changing is our purpose and dedication to delivering on our promises to our clients,” Nigel says. “Our ‘x equals’ logo still encapsulates both the problem-solving mentality and precision we have used to add value to businesses through intelligent technology for 20 years. However, in the 10 years since our last brand refresh, we as a company have grown in so many ways, and we want our branding and positioning to also reflect the strengths and values delivered by our enthusiastic and committed team of employees.

Yet, what separates Nitec from the rest of the competition is their investment in their service delivery. In addition to delivering world class support to clients, Nitec take a progressive approach to problem-solving by proactively placing themselves in front of the problem before it even exists: developing and implementing leading edge, layered security solutions that prevent issues from arising in the first place, while providing customers with real-time access to the process monitoring and reporting.

“Nitec is continually growing and evolving as a business but in ways to better serve our customers. Our core focus is, and always has been, on adding value to our customers’ IT experience by implementing cyber security and business productivity solutions that don’t simply meet customer requirements, they go above and beyond. This is the message that we wanted to convey in our new look – it’s cutting edge and forward thinking, and so are we.”

Nitec’s approach has also attracted the interest of major players within the industry. The firm’s Microsoft credentials are unmatched by any other Microsoft Partner in the whole of Ireland, boasting more competencies than can be fitted on the official Partner logo. It also has close ties with other global IT suppliers including Mimecast, WatchGuard, Hewlett Packard and BT, among others.

Nitec’s unique ability to deliver end-toend IT solutions as part of a rolling 30-day commitment has earned the company the reputation as an IT partner of choice, removing the need for restrictive and binding long-term contracts.

Nitec’s brand refresh is currently in progress and is expected to be rolled out over the next couple of months. ■


Lyndsay McGhee, McCulla, Kiran Wolbeck, managing director, ZKTeco Ireland, Stephen Brown, managing director, NTD

NTD taking biometrics to next level


ust a few years ago the idea of using biometric technology in a business here would have seemed like science fiction.

Now, for companies like Lisburn’s North Time and Data (NTD) it’s becoming a burgeoning part of what is already a successful business, having worked across time management systems for three decades. The company has specialised in such systems for firms right across the sectors and sizes. But in the last few years, it’s formed a partnership with ZKTeco – a global manufacturer of biometric security technologies. NTD has brought together ZKTeco’s top end hardware with its own software – and it’s an area of the company which is growing, according to Stephen Brown, NTD’s managing director. “NTD is more than 30 years in business, and we have been supplying time management systems to businesses for more than 20 years,” he says. “Three years ago we identified that biometrics was becoming the new buzzword in the industry, and we needed to get on board with that technology. And from then, we started our relationship with ZKTeco. “Following our first meeting, we were shown

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the vast range that the company could offer NTD, and from then on we started integrating their hardware terminals into the NTD software. We are using the existing North Time Pro software, and using the ZKTeco hardware.”

“You can’t do ‘buddy punching’ – you have to be there physically. Typically, when we do a sales presentation, it’s about saving a business time and money. The cost tends to be around the same price, but it’s able to increase a company’s productivity, and save them money.

The technology allows firms to utilise fingerprint and facial recognition for a range of uses, from time management and attendance, to security and restricting access to areas for selected staff.

“McCulla is a long-standing customer, but had traditionally used a card-based system. We have now upgraded the time and attendance/ access control system to incorporate facial and waterproof fingerprint recognition.”

As for the customer base, Stephen says they include companies from the small, independent, to larger firms with a global business footprint.

ZKTeco specialises in the manufacture and development of a large variety of solutions, including time and attendance, access control, turnstiles, CCTV, metal detectors, X-ray inspection, integrated security solutions and embedded fingerprint modules.

“It’s all shapes and sizes. For example, Foyle Food Group, which has around 2,000 employees, or SDC Trailers, Thompson Aero Seating and Bob & Berts,” he says. One of its latest contracts has been extending its relationship with McCulla Transport. “Originally, the technology came from time and attendance for payroll, but as the relationship developed, we started branching out into access control – managing and ensuring where people can and can´t go.”

NTD is recognised as one of the leading suppliers of time and attendnace/access control solutions. With more than 700 installations across Ireland, the NTD name is synonomous with reliability, functionality and innovation. The firm has witnessed its own growth in the last few years, doubling its own headcount to 20, and is now selling its products as far afield as Dubai and Australia. π

The hardware and software stops so-called ‘buddy punching’ – with workers traditionally able to clock in and out using a colleague’s ID card.



Kainos taking on Bankmore Square for Belfast office


ech firm Kainos will take on a massive proposed office scheme in Belfast for its new headquarters, it has emerged.

The firm, which has 12 global offices but currently has its base off University Street, is taking on a planned 250,000 office building at the site of the Dublin Road Movie House cinema. It’s understood the company is paying £7m for the site.


Co Tyrone firm is embarking on an ambitious £8m expansion plan which will see it adding 80 new jobs to its workforce. Edge Innovate has announced 80 new jobs and a proposal to build a 37,500 sq ft factory at its facility in Edendork, outside Dungannon.

Planning permission has already been awarded for the development but it’s understood Kainos will submit a revised scheme. Brendan Mooney, Kainos chief executive, said: “Our people remain central to everything we do and we want to ensure that our staff work in the best environment possible, and Bankmore Square allows us the opportunity to create a superb, modern and innovative office for our people.

The company, which designs and manufactures quarrying, mining, materials handling and recycling equipment, is part of a manufacturing hub in the Dungannon area that includes Terex, Mallaghan and McAvoy. Managing director Darragh Cullen said that despite Brexit creating the most uncertain period for the industry since the recession, “you can’t afford to wait, otherwise your competitors will overtake you”.


Kainos plans to move into Bankmore Square in spring 2021.

Tyrone firm adding 80 new jobs

It has already filled almost half the new positions, bringing its workforce to 160. It’s receiving almost £1m from Invest NI towards creating the new roles.

“It’s scary times for manufacturers in Northern Ireland,” he said. “But if you are confident in your product and the ability of your people, you have to go on ahead.”

“As well as the additional capacity that the office will bring, this investment, and the location of our new HQ, signals our commitment to retaining and attracting the best staff. We remain focused on providing exceptional careers and working conditions for all at Kainos and hope to close this transaction soon.”

Alastair Hamilton, Invest NI chief executive with Niall McKiver and Darragh Cullen of Edge Innovate


Samsung’s Irish vice president signals 5G boost After helping Nokia weather a storm, Conor Pierce is steering a new course with the Korean tech giant, writes Michael Cogley


hen Conor Pierce was selling insurance to sceptical primary school teachers along the west coast of Ireland, the idea of a utopian world powered by high-speed data and 5G handsets must have been very far from his mind. Neither could he have dreamed back then that one day he would head up a major territory for one of the world’s biggest companies.

Yet here he is looking after Ireland and the UK for Samsung Electronics and is now one of the most senior Irish figures in the smartphone industry. The Shankill, Co Dublin native —


Conor Pierce

recently appointed as Samsung vice president — has led a fascinating career to date that included everything from selling socks across Europe to plugging holes at the sinking Finnish giant that was Nokia. Conor confessed to being “attracted to darkness” and that he excelled in situations where businesses needed to be turned around. He pointed to his time as head of Nokia in the UK and Ireland as the “most exciting” period of his career. “I was shocked to be honest. I was shocked that Nokia got to the state that it was in, on


its knees, losing huge market share,” the tech executive said. “The fact that such a powerful, loved brand, could deteriorate so quickly really upset me because we were really emotionally involved in that.” Having spent years building up the Nokia brand across North Africa he headed closer to home in 2011 only to be “horrified” by a decision made by his superiors. Nokia was going to dump its Symbian operating system for Windows Phone, a platform that was meant to go toe-to-toe with Apple’s iOS system and Google’s Android but instead went down as one of the greatest tech flops in recent years. Nokia, boasting the Windows Phone operating system, eventually got itself up to 13% market share before Bill Gates’s colossus bought the Finnish company outright and closed its phone business down. It was at that point that Conor left for Samsung. He has a system for when he enters a business that needs saving. Assess the situation, the talent on board, the market, but, he says, most importantly, set “some form of direction”. “Imagine being in a tanker that’s floundering in a massive storm and you don’t see a horizon but you see a glimmer of hope so you start aiming that so at least the team know that we’re moving that way,” he says. While such tactics may have been necessary in Ericsson and Nokia, it’s hard to imagine that those skills will be needed at Samsung in the near future. Samsung is the market leader here in terms of volume, and it claims to be nabbing up to 1,900 Apple users a month in the premium smartphone category. Despite this, one of the company’s main categories, the smartphone, is flatlining. In Samsung’s defence they’re hardly the only ones to be suffering from what seems to be an over-saturation of a market that has struggled for real innovation in recent years.

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The UCD graduate admitted that the affinity many had with the two-year contractual upgrade system has faded while the secondhand smartphone market has excelled. That said the introduction of 5G, a mobile network that could be up to 50 times faster than 4G, has given optimism for substantial growth in the future. “5G is beginning to land this year — 5G is going to be a major catalyst for growth in our sector, and also it’s going to change people’s lives which is exciting,” he said. “It will change the way we live, the way we work, the way we communicate, when it becomes ubiquitous. It’s going to take a long time, it will take longer for 5G to land than it did for 4G and remember only 50% of the mobile subscriptions in Ireland are 4G, many, many years after 4G has launched.” But the rolling out of 5G has not been without controversy. For instance, the decision by the US government to arrest an executive from Chinese manufacturer Huawei and encouraging other countries not to use their 5G hardware. That has not stopped Huawei continuing to become a commercial thorn in the side of Apple and Samsung, producing a number of high-end phones that have been received exceptionally well. Last year, the company reported a 50% increase in revenue in its consumer business up to $52bn (£40bn). Despite the headaches it may be causing him, Conor insists that he likes competition and says it’s healthy for the industry. Like most tech multi-nationals Samsung is very well diversified. While it may be best known for its impressive array of televisions and Galaxy smartphones and tablets, the company is also in the fridge, washing machine, and vacuum-cleaner businesses. One such category that has proven popular among Irish users is the smartwatch. While the Galaxy Watch and the Apple Watch and others are becoming more and more synonymous with Irish life, one feature remains out of reach

for the early adopters. In the UK and the US, watch users can leave their phone behind and remain connected through LTE (Long Term Evolution) on their watch — a key feature for any smartwatch user. The introduction of LTE will mean that consumers will be able to keep the same number across multiple devices but will add to their monthly tariff, Conor says. This means someone using a smartphone, tablet, and smartwatch, can have them all synced to the same number under the same bill. And Ireland could become an even more interesting market for Samsung in other ways too. Much has been made of the difficulties of gardai on the beat having to spend vast amounts of time reporting on their job rather than actually doing it. In what Conor says is a testament to the security of their devices, he’s just agreed a deal to wire up the UK’s emergency services with Samsung devices and has now set his sights on Ireland. There were few hints in Conor’s early career that he would ultimately end up selling high tech gadgetry to law enforcement. One of his first jobs was in the family hosiery business — Glenross — based in Poppintree in North Dublin. A stint running his own stall at the Blackrock market followed during college before spending two-and-a-half years on various travels around the world. He visited India, Nepal, Australia, various Pacific Islands and the US before finding himself back in Ireland working for an insurance company, Woodchester Brokers, selling salary protection schemes to primary school teachers during their break time. These days Conor is focused on big-picture problems and selling the utopia of a world full of smart homes and autonomous vehicles. But, in a tech industry facing any number of challenges, there is no doubt that the hard lessons he learned from selling insurance and socks will continue to stand to him. π



Housing is buoyant… and there’s a willingness to lend Andrew Webb of Baker Tilly Mooney-Moore looks at the current state of Northern Ireland’s housing market

Andrew Webb


aving moved house in the past few weeks — taking over a year to sell and complete — I feel I can now write a little bit more about the housing market here and the prospects for the year ahead.

One of the most common questions I get asked is ‘what will happen house prices after Brexit?’ As with most Brexit-related questions, a shrug of the shoulders and an exasperated ‘nobody knows’ is my typical response. But, on closer consideration, while Brexit adds considerable uncertainty into the wider economy mix, there is a current confidence around the housing market that is providing a boost to economic output. This sense of confidence is backed up by a recent survey from RSM who found that 61% of their survey respondents in the south feared a housing downturn compared to 37% here. Latest figures from Government tell us that there were 2,236 new housing starts between July and September 2018, an increase of nearly one third on the same period one year earlier. Similarly, the number of housing completions was up by 5.7% on a year previous. This up-tick in completions appears to be driving confidence to step up the pace on new starts. There are recent reports of record January sales from a housebuilder and signs that this is continuing into February. In explaining this, continuing favourable mortgage deals, and faster paced wage increases following a decade of stagnation are obvious markers. The house price index from


Land and Property services reports that the average price of a house at the end of 2018 is £136,669. This is up 1.3% on the previous quarter and up nearly 5.5% on the previous year. Average house prices here are about five times average salaries. To put that in context, houses in England and Wales are around eight times more than average wages. For further context, a decade ago, house prices here were close to six times greater than the average salary, so affordability has increased over the decade. Driving some of this increase is a new willingness from banks to lend. You can get a 30-year mortgage for an average NI house with zero deposit at 2.64% (around £545 a month). Bring a 15% deposit to the table and the rate drops to 1.79% and £435 a month. It is not surprising then that UK Finance reports that there were 2,700 new first-time buyer mortgages completed in Northern Ireland in the third quarter of 2018, 3.8% more than in the same quarter of 2017. The £280m of new

lending was 7.7% more year-on-year. For first time buyers, the average loan size was £101,000 and repayments are averaging 15.8% of monthly gross incomes. House price information is a fascinating barometer of the wider economy but it is important that a significant proportion of people have no financial ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to housing. Around a third of people rent their house, either privately or through housing associations or the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. There is a serious shortage of housing within the social renting sector that is resulting in a waiting list of more than 36,000. Of those applicants, nearly 25,000 were in ‘housing stress’ and official figures are suggesting that 20,000 households are recorded as homeless. The pace of development of social housing is about 1,500 to 1,800 each year over the past decade. At that pace, there is little hope of closing the gap between supply and demand in the social sector. π


How SMEs can shape their offering to solve the talent challenge


emand for top talent has never been more of an issue for local businesses. It seems as though businesses are under attack from all sides, the labour market is operating at ‘full employment’, pressures to retain increase, and attitudes from young professionals show a steady trend to work free-lance in the future. No easy solutions exist if growing your business requires an increased workforce. However, these are some considerations you may want to make.

Justin Rush

Invest in future talent. Many of Northern Ireland’s largest employers invest heavily in the recruitment of graduate level talent. They do this to maintain a pipeline of people who can be trained and moulded into important leading roles. It is true that this graduate talent from our universities represents highpotential, future talent. But don’t think that you need to be a global business or international consultancy to appoint from this group. Recent surveys suggest that SMEs can provide highly attractive graduate employment offerings by illustrating the range and depth of responsibility that they can offer. Offer work from home. Working from home is nothing new for many large businesses but it is a major leap of faith for many smaller firms. If the systems and processes required to make it effective can be introduced cost-effectively, this tactic could provide you with access to a pool of talent way beyond your normal commutable distance. Consider job sharing. This option is not the most straightforward to pursue, but it can certainly provide you with access to a segment of the market which you were not tapped in to. One full time job can easily become two reduced hour positions. Workplace flexibility is now regularly ranked by employees as a one of the top three most valued benefits provided. Couple this with an increased demand for


reduced hours employment and you could have a decision to make. My experience with this initiative has always been positive, often recruiting highly qualified and experienced people who have simply had to address a change in circumstances. Illustrate your commitment to diversity. This is such a huge item of at present, ignore it at your peril. Especially if your recruitment tends to mean appointing under 25s. If you are unsure what your businesses commitment to

diversity is, you need to bring your senior team together and rethink it. At this time of major uncertainty, it is incumbent upon business leaders to take any steps needed to retain their in-house talent and to attract the best they can. π

Justin Rush is managing director at the Abacus Talent Group and can be found on

Retail Sponsored by

MARCH 2019


High street in need of leadership to ensure its future Northern Ireland retailers are increasingly frustrated that a lack of government means key areas of reform aren’t being looked at. John Mulgrew speaks to retail experts about the challenges of the high street 40


f there’s one thing Northern Ireland is good at, it’s kicking the can down the road. Again. And while the ongoing political flux at home is being trumped by Brexit, crucial areas of business reform, especially in regards to the ever-evolving retail landscape, aren’t being addressed.

And even since the fundamental review and reform of the business rates system was last discussed On the Hill, Northern Ireland and the wider retail landscape has changed further

still – with national retailers going to the wall, or narrowly avoiding going bust. “In 2019 our retail sector is in for its fastest ever period of change and reinvention,” Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI says. “This is equally the case for our high streets and town centres. “This change will not all be good, as we will see some more significant large retail casualties in 2019. However, we will also see


Glyn Roberts

the creation of more confident and dynamic independent retailers, who will be at the forefront of a new retail sector, leading toward 21st century town high streets.”

gap and modernisation of our town centres, Northern Ireland is not just lagging behind the rest of the UK and Ireland, it is in real danger of being left behind internationally.”

As for the big names facing tough times, HMV called in the administrators once again, while House of Fraser was bought out of administration by Sports Direct’s Mike Ashley – a recent fresh lease with the owners of Belfast’s Victoria Square shopping centre securing the only Northern Ireland outlet’s future for the foreseeable future.

Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, says there needs to be a fundamental review of the business rates system.

“It is nothing less than disgraceful that we start a second New Year with no Government in place in Northern Ireland, with not even a date set for all-party talks,” Glyn says. “This is hugely disruptive for the economy and Northern Ireland is in danger of becoming an international laughing stock. “With much-needed decisions not being made on reform of business rates, infrastructure investment, addressing an ever-growing skills

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“Retail is 12% of the economy but pays almost a quarter of rates – that is not tenable,” he says. “The structural change in retail is not reflected in the business rates system and we need to widen the tax base. “Stormont being down is a problem, as it affects decisions on business rates and apprenticeship levy, plus the changing face of retail, and a lack of legislation to protect shop workers from abuse and violence.” Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s councils are raising business rates, from the smallest rise in Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, at 0.99%, to the inflation-busting hike of

3.46% from Derry & Strabane District Council. “There is the very real possibility that they will only find out what the regional rate — and their total rates liability — will be the week before those business rates bills hit their doormats,” Aodhan says. Hospitality Ulster’s Colin Neill says the lack of a Government in Northern Ireland is costing the sector millions and damaging the potential for future growth — sighting the lack of progress to modernise liquor licensing as one of its major contributors to the losses. A Liquor Licensing Bill was one of the few pieces of legislation the Assembly had introduced at that time, but the collapse of Stormont killed the Bill, which set out to address the laws. Overall figures point to a mixed bag for the high streets in general. For example Northern Ireland shops in January defied a UK trend slump to rise by almost 4%, but shop vacancy rates have crept up to 14%. >



Belfast itself is still recovering from its high street disaster, following the firm at Primark’s Bank Buildings. That led to a city centre drop in footfall of more than a third, while businesses in and around the cordon felt a more considerable drop. “Consumer behaviour is rapidly changing, and people want something different from their high streets and I believe that smaller, more agile and tech-savvy retailers who can adapt to this tidal wave of change, will be the ones who will not just survive, but thrive,” Glyn Roberts says. “Government also needs to reboot its policy agenda for the retail sector and for our town centres to meet the challenges ahead. “While devolution remains in limbo, our eleven councils have been doing their level best to fill the gap and provide leadership, despite not having the full ranges of powers to


make the real economic changes within their communities. “Retail NI is an organisation working across all 11 councils, contributing to each of their consultations on local development plans and assisting our members with planning and town centre regeneration.

The regeneration of “ our town and city centres needs to be the top priority of our councils

“Local government elections take place in May and Retail NI has already hit the ground running with the publication of our detailed report, ‘Regeneration NI’, which sets out a comprehensive plan to create 21st century town and city centres.

“The regeneration of our town and city centres needs to be the top priority of our local councils and we will be engaging with them and the political parties ahead of the elections. “The Belfast Region and Derry city deals offer huge opportunities for economic, social and infrastructural regeneration for our two main cities and many of our local towns. It is hoped the Belfast Region City Deal will create up to 20,000 new and better jobs, alongside delivering a 10-year programme of inclusive economic growth – including an increase of £470m Gross Value Added (GVA).” “2019 will truly be the year of retail reinvention that will see Northern Ireland’s largest sector of industry, perhaps being slightly smaller but more agile, nevertheless a sector, which is vital to the future of our local economy’. π


Osborne King director Frank Cassidy assesses Northern Ireland’s retail landscape, and looks at the challenges facing an ever-changing high street and beyond

Bricks and mortar retailing… the future I

t is undoubtedly the case that retailing is changing at a rapid pace. Once upon a time retailers signed 25-year leases with five-yearly rent reviews and no breaks.

significant trading problems during the fourth quarter of 2018.

detriment of bricks and mortar retailing? I do not think so.

Now leases are very flexible with hard pressed landlords lucky to get three years, term certain. In the US, Sears and JC Penney are having severe trading problems whilst here House of Fraser went into administration last year and Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and New Look, among others, have been encountering difficulties.

The BRC-KPMG Sales Monitor dubbed the overall Christmas period 2018 the worst since 2008. We may ask why? During the 1970s and 1980 an over-supply of retail space was created and in the wake of the property crash in 2008 austerity squeezed demand for products.

The government and particularly Northern Ireland government is so dependent on rates income that they cannot just allow high street retailing to die and consumer spending to be taken over by online operators who pay a fraction of the rates high street retailers pay.

During the past 10 years however, online competition accounts for £1 in every £5 of retail spending compared to 20p, just a decade ago.

Meanwhile Tesco have reported that they will be closing their butchery/deli counters but it is not just bricks and mortar retailing that has been affected. Online giant ASOS experienced

It is no accident that the world’s richest man is Amazon’s chief executive, and he replaced another tech giant, Bill Gates to take that position. But will online retail continue to the

When he was before the House of Commons community select committee, Mike Ashley, one of the UK’s largest retailers, said that if the government didn’t act the high street won’t be there in 2030. He advocated for a 20% online sales tax to level the playing field.


As they normally do, the government is slowly realising that there is a potential problem and


they have launched the ‘Future High Streets’ policy where £675m will be allocated to councils to transform high streets into modern community hubs. But the high street is evolving in any event. We see signs that the retail and hospitality landscape is polarising into experience and convenience retailing. As part of this, the shopping asset class is diverging into convenience locations and the large centres such as Rushmere, Foyleside and Abbey Centre which create a destination appeal for consumers who want a big ‘shopping day out’. If large retailers such as Tesco are giving up on butchery/deli we would expect this to provide opportunities for small niche traders. In addition, the advantages gained by large fashion retailers in getting their merchandise manufactured in Asia is falling away as countries like China become more prosperous and manufacturing costs there increase. This is likely to swing the balance back to the local trader. It is interesting that barber shop, beauty salons and tobacconists are seeing a big increase in

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their numbers. A total of 624 new barbers opened in the UK during 2018. Although millennials are the drivers behind online retailing, true spending power lies with older shoppers. By 2050 those aged over 65 will represent 25% of the total population and the number of people aged 85 will triple. The over 65s hold as much as 37% of total household wealth which means that retailers will have to become more elderly retail friendly. So if technology doubles every 18 months the older age group will be left behind by those advances and they will need to resort to bricks and mortar retailing as a consequence. Other changes will see programmes such as the Blue Planet impacting on our disposable culture so we may need to wear our fashion purchases more than a few times.

addition, there is the anthropological need for humans, especially older groups, to interconnect with others by taking shopping and leisure trips. As an example you see post-Christmas where people suffering from “cabin fever” pack retail/ leisure locations in order to get out of the house. So while appearances at present appear to indicate the death of the high street, for many reasons the words of Mark Twain resonate – ‘reports of my death are greatly exaggerated’. Happy bricks and mortar shopping. π To get in touch, Frank Cassidy can be contacted at 028 90 27 0000 or frank.cassidy@osborneking. com on email. You can also follow Osborne King on Twitter at @OsborneKingNI

In conclusion therefore, retailing changes do not necessarily follow a pre-ordained trajectory. Variables, often unforeseen enter the equation not least of these will be government intervention to meet civic requirements. In



NI footfall defies UK slump


igh streets across Northern Ireland have defied a UK-wide slump as footfall rose almost 4%, according to one report.

“The excellent start to 2019 in footfall continues with a four month run of growth and a rise in eight out of the past 12 months,” Aodhan Connolly, director of the NIRC said.

The latest figures from the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC), with Springboard, show that footfall in Northern Ireland continued to increase in January at a rate of 3.9%, up from 2.2% in December.

And while the 3.9% increase beats both the three and twelve month averages retailers are finding it hard to celebrate in the face of so much uncertainty for their industry.

“As well as obvious concerns on Brexit, they It was the fourth consecutive month of growth also have serious concerns about the outdated for NI and the largest rise of all UK business rates system in Northern Ireland regions. High street footfall picked which is unfairly weighted against up by 4.7% while shopping retailers who pay 24% of business centre footfall was up by rates despite being only 12% of 1.7%, ending 15 months the economy. of decline, according to the NI retail footfall report. “We have already seen rises in rise in January the district rate from Derry and But the organisation is continuing Strabane Council as well as Belfast to warn of Northern Ireland’s City Council, with others sure to “outdated” rates system. The region’s follow, and we have no idea yet of when the vacancy rates have also crept up to 14%. regional rate for business will be struck.



“This uncertainty and these rises make Northern Ireland a less competitive place to do business. We need a quick declaration of the NI regional rate and we need to see progress from the Department of Finance on rates reform immediately. This is now mission critical for retailers and one of the reasons our vacancy rate remains 4% above the national average.” And Diane Wehrle, marketing and insights director, Springboard said: “The good news for Northern Ireland is that its footfall performance is defying the UK trend, with January recording a positive result for the fourth consecutive month. “And unlike the UK as a whole in January which was typified by a significant rise in the first week and then declines for the remainder of the month, in Northern Ireland footfall rose in the first three weeks which averaged 4.6%, and it was only in the last week that footfall declined by 2.2%.” π


Two thirds of UK manufacturers ‘hit by Brexit woes’ By John Mulgrew


ore than two thirds of UK manufacturers say ongoing longterm uncertainty around Brexit is making planning difficult and impacting business.

following a familiar narrative established over rate in the quarter between October and previous decades and successive governments: December – rising to 70.3%. However, they hesitate because they detect a lack of Northern Ireland’s employment levels and national economic purpose from the economic activity lag behind the UK’s centre. as a whole. “This extends to the poor According to the Annual Manufacturing performance of the Apprentice The figures from the Report 2019 from Hennik Research, 71% Levy, which remains Northern Ireland Those who say the have serious concerns around Brexit, while unreformed despite its Statistics and Research Government could do two thirds say Brexit will cause chaos for the obvious failings.” Agency (NISRA) show manufacturing sector this year. the unemployment rate more to promote Meanwhile, outside and remained flat at 3.8%. It exports The report warns “that the Government’s beyond Brexit, just over a third remains lower than the UK handling of Brexit, a national shortage of of manufacturers expect the UK average at 4%, and the fifth technical skills and a lack of public awareness investment climate to be “very positive lowest rate of the UK regions. of the importance of manufacturing and fuelled by growth”. are the key issues keeping UK “The Labour Force Survey continues to show manufacturers awake at But the rest are “anticipating low unemployment evident since late 2017,” night”. a tough financial landscape, commentary in the latest report said. The survey covers a particularly for SMEs, where wide selection of strong companies will survive “The employment rate is the highest on Who say the manufacturers, ranging by squeezing the weak.” record and continues the trend of increasing from turnover of £2m to employment from 2017, while the quarterly uncertainty created more than £250m. Elsewhere, Northern Ireland’s and annual falls in inactivity are consistent with by Brexit is making employment rate has reached a trend of decreasing inactivity from 2017. planning difficult Editorial director Nick its highest level since comparable Although the unemployment and employment Peters, says: “It isn’t that records began. rates are at notably low and high levels manufacturers don’t trust the respectively, at 26.8% the inactivity rate is extraordinary power and potential of these According to the official Labour Force Survey, broadly average when compared to rates over technologies – they manifestly do, but they are there was a 0.9% increase in the employment the past five years.” π




Driving new strategic collaborative partnerships for employers elfast Met’s Centre for Skills and Apprenticeships is playing a pivotal role in helping employers meet the skills demands of their workforce


in staff retention. The college’s aim is to provide employers with the opportunity to create new apprenticeship roles or to upskill their current workforce.

With a vision to be a world-class college that nurtures the talent and ambition of the city of Belfast and beyond, Belfast Met is determined to provide the range of skills necessary to support employers in competing locally, nationally and internationally.

The Centre for Skills and Apprenticeship team brings a wealth of industry experience in providing high quality learning solutions for employers and learners which will without doubt help employers meet the skills demands of their workforce.

As part of this approach the college has further invested in its Centre for Skills and Apprenticeships to support those interested in training, apprenticeships and Higher Level Apprenticeships and offers a range of pathways to help advance their education and career.

Aidan Sloane, head of skills, apprenticeships and employer engagement at Belfast Met said: “We’ve seen an increased demand from employers for apprenticeship and higher level apprenticeship provision and as a result, the College has witnessed growth in demand.

Apprenticeships are a proven solution to tackling staff turnover, with 80% of companies who invest in apprentices reporting an increase

“Employing an apprentice can have many benefits for businesses including increased productivity, improved competitiveness,

developing a competent workforce and much more. “From the perspective of the learner, skills and apprenticeships provide a professional and technical career pathway allowing them to gain valuable recognised qualifications with the opportunity to ‘earn while you learn’. “The college’s aim is to help students to decide on their chosen pathway via its broad range of skills and apprenticeship programmes and qualifications offered.” If you would like further information on Belfast Met’s Centre for Skills and Apprenticeships, please contact the employer engagement team directly on 028 9026 5219 or by email apprenticeships@ Aidan Sloane

Pinnacle given top Sage accolade


T firm Pinnacle has been awarded a top accolade for its Sage software and services in Ireland.

The company, which has offices across the UK and Ireland including Belfast and Dublin, has been named by Sage Ireland as its ‘highest growth partner’ for sales of Sage 200cloud. Search Workshop Supplies, one of Ireland’s largest suppliers of garage and workshop equipment, is one of the latest firms which has partnered with Pinnacle. Olivia O’Dea of Search Workshop Supplies, said: “From our initial meeting with Pinnacle’s business development director Siobhan Marley, we were given a solid reassurance that Pinnacle fully understood the growing needs of our business.” Barry Murphy, managing director of Sage Ireland, said:


Siobhan Marley, drector and James Spencer, managing director of Pinnacle

“The team at Pinnacle are incredibly passionate in supporting their customers to thrive in an ever-evolving market. They

constantly add value through a brilliant attitude and technical nous, allied to their strong focus on innovation.”

Travel, tourism & hospitality

Sponsored by


It’s the biggest thing since sliced bread... With just 19 weeks until Northern Ireland hosts the biggest sporting event in its history, John Mulgrew speaks to the bosses tasked with organising the legendary Open Championship


e’ve come a long way in just a short few years. Despite its huge golfing credentials, especially in the modern game, it had been more than 70 years since Northern Ireland played host to the Irish Open.

That all changed in 2012, when it returned north to Royal Portrush. And that, buoyed on a refreshed and renewed interest in both the tournament, and the sport itself. Now, in 19 weeks, that same links course will see more than 200,000 people


flock to arguably the world’s greatest golf tournament and the largest sporting event ever hosted on these shores – The Open – transforming a small Co Antrim town for a handful of summer days. “There is a buzz with everyone at the R&A,” Johnnie ColeHamilton tells Ulster Business. He’s executive director of championships at the R&A – the ruling authority of golf throughout the world, aside from areas such as the US, and


organisation responsible for organising The Open. “This will be my 20th Open Championship, and one reason I continue to be involved is that it’s a challenge every time.” It will see Irish golfing greats, including Open winners Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell (hopefully) and Padraig Harrington – among others – join the biggest name in sport, Tiger Woods. “One of big drivers to returning to Royal Portrush was the success of the Northern Irish and Irish golfers. They have raised the

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profile of golf immeasurably. “We are absolutely delighted with the response so far – 20% of tickets sold in 48 hours, and sold out within a record-breaking eight weeks.” Johnnie says the decision to choose Portrush, bringing it back to the course after a 67 year hiatus, was the correct one – buoyed by the support from the community, agencies and organisations. The 148th Open will be held at Royal Portrush from July 18-21. “In my career, we had a similar scenario, returning to Liverpool for the first time in 50 years, and we had a very similar response. It

returned in 2014, and now Royal Liverpool is firmly on the rota, and I hope that Royal Portrush is similar.” Of course, aside from the golf, both the short-term and long-term economic benefits will trickle down and benefit, not on the surrounding areas, but prop Northern Ireland up on yet another global platform. According to Tourism NI chief executive John McGrillen that longer-term benefit could be worth up to £80m for the wider economy. >



John McGrillen

“There will be 192,000 tickets sold for championship days, and 56% of those sold to people out of state, outside Northern Ireland,” he tells Ulster Business. “It allows us to present an extremely positive image for Northern Ireland, and into key markets across the globe. We will never have experienced the opportunity to provide such a positive image of Northern Ireland. Despite what we might think, there are perception issues. “Northern Ireland has a normalised society and some of the most dramatic golf courses, scenery and landscape to see.

“This is the first Open Championship we have hosted in my time, in which we have a body of water between our base and our contractor base. There’s getting things across water, and an enormous amount of work on the golf course – new holes, a new road system around the course and a tunnel for the players from one of the new greens to tee. You can’t do that without support from the golf club “The members have been hugely supportive, turning the course upside down, but maintaining integrity and enhancing (it).”

“That allows us to demonstrate that the course can deal with that many people. Everyone (organisations) worked very well, collectively, and that gave confidence to the R&A that we would have the capacity to deliver it. The risk factors they had were eliminated because of the success of the Irish Open, and that was very critical.” As for boosting many of the hundreds of businesses in and around the area, John said: “It will do, as it’s showing off Northern Ireland… we have seen a big boost in the number of Americans playing golf. We don’t have to wait until after the event.

“More specifically, the fact that the Open will have been here, as one of the world’s top golf courses, will drive up the amount of spend, especially from golf tourism.”

He said, along with the blue light services, local authorities, council and tourism groups, the community in and around Portrush “understands that this will bring great benefits” to the area and Northern Ireland as a whole. “You can overcome difficulties with support,” he says.

That alone makes up around 8% of Northern Ireland’s tourism intake. John says he wants that to grow to £50m by 2020. He says golfing visitors spend around four times that of an average tourist.

“Royal Portrush has never had more than 200,000 people drive to it, or get the train to it, at the same time. It’s a challenge to make sure we deliver a wonderful Open Championship and a spectator experience.”

For John, the best outcome is, of course, an Irish winner. Oh, and clear skies. “A local winner would be phenomenal. It would be fantastic to see Rory win, or Tiger Woods.

Johnnie says all signs so far suggest that the Open in Portrush is “going to be an enormous” success. But the process hasn’t come without its challenges – namely the Irish Sea.

John McGrillen says the triumph in landing the Open itself was down to the success of the Irish Open in the last few years. “You had more than 40,000 people turning out at Portrush… visitor numbers had been dwindling.

“If Tiger Woods won the Open in Portrush, that would remain in peoples’ memories forever. While we would love Rory or other locals to win, I would not be disappointed in Tiger winning it.” π


“The visibility the Irish Open has given us. We have Royal County Down, Royal Portrush and Portstewart – that’s increased significantly. It’s not just those courses which are benefiting – it’s being spread. People will typically stay in Belfast and travel around.”

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Paddy McKenna from Diageo, title sponsor of the NI Tourism Awards, Bill Wolsey from Beannchor Group and John McGrillen, chief executive Tourism Northern Ireland

Diageo a key supporter of NI tourism and hospitality


iageo is an integral part of the community in Northern Ireland both as a major exporter and employer. The company’s world famous brands are enjoyed by visitors and locals alike and, for many, are a key part of the overall tourism experience.

Paddy McKenna, commercial manager for Diageo NI, said: “Our brands, including Guinness, Harp, Baileys and Smithwick’s, are synonymous with the hospitality and tourism industry. We are both committed and passionate in our support of the sector and we show this support through investing in our brands, our customers and via strategic partnerships.”

initiatives that have put Northern Ireland firmly on the tourist map and, in doing so, have proven to be significant economic drivers for the Northern Ireland economy. The innovation, drive and diversity of the sector is something we should be proud of.” Diageo also continues to work closely with Visit Belfast by committing financial support to their work in marketing Belfast as a world class destination to both domestic and overseas visitors.

One such strategic partnership is Diageo’s sponsorship of the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards which takes place end May 2019.

“Food and drink are increasingly important part of the tourism offering here and we are focused on working with Visit Belfast to enhance the overall experience for visitors, whether it’s offering food and drink pairings in local bars such as The Cloth Ear or ‘Taste of Belfast’ pub guides in the Welcome Centre.

“We are the extremely proud title sponsor of the Northern Ireland Tourism Awards. These awards are an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the individuals, businesses and

“Occasion driven hospitality is a growing trend and, as part of that, we want to create attractive occasions for our customers to leverage and for consumers to enjoy. This


is where sponsorship of events provides real value for customers. Our big ticket brand sponsorships work extremely well and the uplift they provide to the hospitality sector is significant. We are delighted that Guinness is the new title sponsor of the Guinness Six Nations and of course the Guinness PRO14. We’ve already seen first-hand how much both customers and consumers get behind these occasions. “Our brands also activate at a local level and this is equally important. For instance, Harp’s ‘Pure Here’ campaign which celebrates the people and places that make life in Northern Ireland so special has been a huge hit, and there is more to come later in 2019. “We continue to sponsor the International Guinness Blues on the Bay Festival in Warrenpoint which attracts globally acclaimed musicians and tourists to our shores and into our hotels, bars and restaurants, while Hop House 13 support of the Harmony Live Festival helps put Holywood firmly on the map as an exciting music and tourist destination.” π

Helen Graham and Holly Wilson



elfast Cathedral, or ‘St Anne’s’ as it is commonly known, has stood at the heart of the Cathedral Quarter for almost 115 years, and is the place of many significant services. However, recently it has taken a new direction and is opening its doors to not only church goers, but to local and international tourists, and for prestigious events. Holly Wilson, events and marketing manager, and Helen Graham, tourism and visitor services manager, took up their positions at the Cathedral in August 2017 as part of a grant funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Their roles were created to develop the commercial activity within the Cathedral with a central aim to put the organisation in a more secure position for the future. St Anne’s continues to be a working Cathedral, offering daily services and regular Evensong featuring the Cathedral choirs. However during the day tourists can also enjoy the magnificence of this historic building between the hours of 9am-5pm, exploring the Cathedral at their own pace, or by joining a guided tour. “Belfast Cathedral is a relatively ‘new’ tourist attraction in the city, and we’re in the early stages of developing our tourism offering in order to deliver a first rate visitor experience,” Helen Graham says. “Over the coming months we will be launching a children’s trail to cater for the family market, and also a multi-lingual audio guide which will allow both our local and international visitors to fully immerse themselves in the stories of the cathedral.

“These elements, alongside a refresh of our internal interpretation are all steps towards the cathedral becoming recognized as a ‘must visit’ attraction in Belfast, and we’re looking forward to welcoming many more visitors over the 2019 season.” In the evenings the Cathedral can be turned into a unique and prestigious events venue, says Holly Wilson.


The next chapter of

Belfast Cathedral “What is wonderful about using the Cathedral as an events venue is that the interiors are stunning, and it doesn’t need any additional dressing to make it look impressive. “The beautiful stained glass windows, delicate woodcarvings, marble tiles and carved stonework provide the perfect backdrop and unique atmosphere for an event. It’s an unforgettable experience. The location of the Cathedral is perfect. It’s in the heart of the city, easily accessible by public

transport and we also have more than 140 carpark spaces available.” Belfast Cathedral’s potential is huge and Holly and Helen say they are thrilled to take on the challenge of this next chapter. “We believe the Cathedral can enhance the offering in Belfast for both domestic and international guests for tourism and events. We are so passionate about the building. It has an exciting future and we’re delighted to be a part of it.” π




David Meade has his mind on international markets David Meade, the renowned international keynote speaker and broadcaster who runs David Meade Events, on creating one of Northern Ireland’s most exciting success stories


hether it’s winning a million dollars from a Las Vegas casino (and handing it back) or being mistaken for a numerologist and receiving hate mail for allegedly predicting the end of the world, David Meade has had an eventful few years. Which makes it even more impressive that, in that time, he’s also managed to start and scale up one of the great business success stories in Northern Ireland, David Meade Events.

Known for his skills as a mentalist and speaker, David also runs the company which delivers cutting-edge corporate events, learning and development workshops, and offers keynote speaking services. It has achieved double figure growth every year since its establishment in 2012 working not only in UK and Irish markets, but also internationally.


Asked how he had diversified into events and keynote speaking from being an on-stage mentalist, David says: “I’ve actually been delivering events and keynote speeches very successfully in the UK and Ireland for a number of years, but I suppose most people know me for my tours and the more corporate side of my business was lesser known. “I moved into this space roughly seven years ago because I love inspiring and motivating people and it was a natural move to work with companies who want to inspire their teams to be innovative and the best they can be.” David believes there are even more opportunities outside our region and this year the company is investing over £250,000 to take advantage of them. This includes investing in new video learning services, enabling people

to access David’s bespoke training services remotely, from wherever they are in the world. “Over the last number of years, the company has grown at a phenomenal rate and this latest investment was a no-brainer because we simply had to respond to that growth.”


David says: “We are still based in Northern Ireland, but there is a huge untapped market that we want to explore further. The world is getting smaller because of technology and we want to meet the challenge and work with people all across the globe. So far in 2019 we have contracts in 10 countries, including Dubai, Singapore and Switzerland and many more are in the pipeline.” David’s list of international clients reads like a who’s who of the biggest and most impressive organisations in the world including Apple, Harvard, Mercedes Benz, Adobe, Bank of America, Coca-Cola, British Airways and Canon. David attributes his company’s success and ability to attract such high-level clients to its ability to adapt and innovate in response to the market. “If the uncertainty of today’s marketplace teaches us anything, it’s that you must evolve

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and that’s what we’re doing – keeping up with the ever-changing market and meeting the ever-increasing demands, both in Northern Ireland and across the globe.” One of the company’s most exciting innovations has been the development of a bespoke in-house video production studio. This has greatly enhanced its capacity to produce media projects for its clients. Allowing clients to access the bespoke training remotely means the firm can compete all over the globe. This view of the company, as competing on an international stage, is a vital part of David’s approach to business and informs the business decisions he makes, including this recent quarter of a million-pound investment. He explains “The investment in our video learning service means we can deliver training to clients in any corner of the world, at any time. Thinking of ourselves as part of a global

economy, rather than just the Northern Ireland economy has been key to shifting the company up a gear.” He has grown to a team of 10 and this year the company is expected to achieve a turnover of £2m, an impressive milestone for any company but something David considers not a destination or even a point to slow down, but simply a platform to push on to bigger and better things. “As the company continues to thrive and grow every year, I find myself looking at new and innovative ways to keep up with demand. Hitting that £2m milestone will be energising and whilst I’m proud of the work my team have done here, I’m already thinking ‘OK, what’s next?’ With this investment, our ability to evolve and the international demand for the services we provide, there’s so much more we can do.” π


Lunn’s opening new Tag Heuer store


uxury jeweller Lunn’s will open Ireland’s first standalone Tag Heuer watch boutique in the heart of Belfast city centre.

The family-owned firm will open the store at Queen’s Arcade as part of a £400,000 investment. The company is also launching a Rolex store at the arcade, this summer. It already boasts its flagship shop at Queen’s


Arcade, as well as locations at Victoria Square and in Londonderry. Peter Lunn, chairman of Lunn’s Jewellers, said the announcement “marks our latest investment into the redevelopment of Queen’s Arcade and is a further vote of confidence in Belfast as an attractive retail destination with huge potential to attract high end customers”.

Rob Diver, managing director of Tag Heuer Europe, said: “We are very proud to be partnering with Lunn’s to be opening a new Tag Heuer boutique in Ireland in the Queen’s Arcade in Belfast. We believe that the opening of this new boutique will take Tag Heuer to new heights in Northern Ireland and allow clients to experience our exceptional timepieces and strong brand DNA.”

Tax & accounting


Remember corporation tax? It’s hard to believe we were (almost) gifted a low-rate of corporation tax four years ago. John Mulgrew takes a retrospective look over the business levy which slipped out of our hands


ewspaper journalists are sceptical people. They have to be. Taking everything at face value will likely mean not getting to the root of a story. And speaking to politicians in particular, means asking the right questions.

Just a few weeks into my time as business correspondent for the Belfast Telegraph, having already written extensively about corporation tax while working in business reporting elsewhere, I was thrust into the offices of the Camlin Group in Lisburn, for the then Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to officially unveil the publication of the Bill which would allow Stormont power over the business levy. But there was a caveat. One which I made sure to quiz her on. We needed a balanced budget, and a stable devolved government. I felt she thought my question trite and overly cynical. At the time, Ms Villiers said the new powers could bring a “transformative change” to Northern Ireland’s economy. And Prime Minister David Cameron – remember him? – said it was a “great opportunity” which he hoped Northern Ireland’s leaders would “grasp with both hands”. They didn’t. Flash forward four years down the line, with Brexit looming, still no government and an already shifting tax landscape, is there an appetite for bringing down the rate? In essence, the argument was always that Northern Ireland, given its border the


Republic, was at a disadvantage, due to the higher (UK-wide) tax rate – pushing business and businesses south of the border for a seemingly more favourable landscape. Initially, the idea was to reduce the tax rate to 12.5% – bringing it in line with the Republic. There was even talk of making the Northern Ireland economy look more appetising to foreign investors, bringing it to just 10%. However, since then the overall UK tax rate on company profits is due to be cut from its current level of 19% to just 17% by the end of the decade. There had also been talk of slashing it to 15%. And with that, as with lowering the devolved taxation rate, comes a loss in revenue for the State. An analysis based on HMRC data has suggested that the loss of revenue from the planned cuts could add up to more than £6bn. Recently in the Republic – used as a marker for the argument in reforming Northern Ireland’s own tax regime – corporation tax revenues are under threat as an international reform process kicks off in earnest. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is looking to change the way big technology companies are taxed. It has now said it will consider moving to a system where companies will be taxed, at least in part, according to where users are based rather than where the company is based. Ireland had opposed a similar plan at EU level, not least because a small population means it will reduce the tax take. >

TAX & ACCOUNTING Former Secretary of State Theresa Villiers announcing the Bill for devolving corporation tax back in 2015

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Sir George Quigley


The late Sir George Quigley was one of the initial proponents of cutting corporation tax in Northern Ireland, to match the rate south of the border.

– such as manufacturing and retail – would have been eligible for the Northern Ireland corporation tax rate, including large corporations and small and medium firms.

But, the first snag was the Azores ruling, which would mean Northern Ireland’s block grant cut due to the shortfall in taxation upon reducing the business levy’s rate.

But, it would also mean larger companies such as the big supermarkets, would only be taxed at the Northern Ireland rate on profits made here, with the rest charged at the UK rate.

Andrew Webb is director of economic advisory at Baker Tilly Mooney Moore. He’s not unfamiliar with corporation tax, having assessed the economic impact of chopping the duty more than a decade ago. He also thinks it’s still something businesses are keen to see happen, once we get the other stuff out of the way.

“The inability of our politicians to get the hard fought for corporation tax reduction over the line is an area of deep disappointment,” Andrew says. “We can match our near neighbours for talent and technology and while we are behind on tolerance, tax was the big differentiator.

“The corporation tax discussions have slipped down or off the agenda,” he says. “I’ve noticed Invest NI make no reference to it anymore. Brexit has consumed all the bandwidth. “There is still an appetite from business to see Northern Ireland’s competitiveness improve, of which corporation tax is a part, but the urgent fight is to determine the terms of trade after Brexit.” According to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers at the time of the initial announcement, trading profits from most business sectors


“One look at inward investment announcements in the Republic shows that 2019 has already brought announcements of over 2,500 more jobs. That is a level of performance we can only dream of.” The political chaos and inability to continue working in a devolved government means that the sales pitch and carrot by which business groups had been selling Northern Ireland, has become something rotten. How do you go back to your potential foreign investors and say, ‘everything’s OK now, we had a slip up, but it’s just around the corner… I promise’. In May 2017, The Department of Finance

finally admitted that an original April 2018 deadline for the tax move “may slip”. That was some time ago, obviously. Then, a report later that year warned that the huge delay in getting a low rate of corporation tax caused by Northern Ireland’s political impasse is one of the biggest challenges facing the office market here. In March, a report by the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, which was commissioned by the Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, predicted around 32,000 jobs could be created and an additional £4bn thrust into the Northern Ireland economy over the next 15 years as a result of cutting corporation tax. Meanwhile, CBI regional director Angela McGowan said Northern Ireland is becoming “toxic” to investors and damaging its global business reputation if it cannot deliver a low rate of corporation tax. So, will we ever see the corporation tax cut? “At the moment it is hard to see how we would achieve the necessary political and budgetary stability to enable the Treasury to give the green light,” says Andrew Webb. “But perhaps a post Brexit scenario could see planned UK wide corporation tax reductions get more dramatic as part of emergency measures to protect the economy.”π

Paul Stephens, head of corporate and ABL, Ciaran McAreavey, managing director, and Adrian Madden, head of sales in Ireland


Close Brothers Commercial Finance supports growing SMEs


ince Close Brothers Commercial Finance was established in Ireland over a decade ago, we have been leading the way towards more sustainable funding for SMEs across the country. By offering a varied portfolio of invoice and asset finance solutions, we give firms more flexibility in managing cash flow. Today, with offices in Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Galway, and a wider team situated across Ireland, we are able to share knowledge regarding commercial finance with more decision makers than ever before. We work with a range of sectors, appreciating that different sized enterprises need different levels of support. Our main aim, however, always remains the same: to support businesses so that they can thrive. Asset based lending Many larger businesses aspire to continue with growth and development, but it can often be difficult to raise the high levels of working capital needed to finance an acquisition or management buyout (MBO). That’s where


asset based lending can help. Asset based lending (ABL) combines invoice discounting with funds released against other business assets, such as stock, plant and machinery. We can also augment this offering with cash flow loans for companies with a history of strong cash generation and positive forecasts. This kind of funding gives companies an opportunity to raise high levels of funding and is typically employed for facilitating strategic plans such as a complete refinancing, a merger or finalising any major internal changes. It can also offer an accessible working capital pot to help with business needs as required. Close Brothers Commercial Finance is one of the largest providers of asset based lending in Ireland. Our asset based lending solutions are designed to give businesses growth opportunities without the risk associated with investing working capital or traditional loans. All borrowing is secured against existing assets, giving you peace-of-mind.

Close Brothers Close Brothers is a UK merchant banking group providing lending, deposit taking, wealth management services, and securities trading. Close Brothers Group plc is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is a member of the FTSE 250. Our core purpose is to help the people and businesses of Britain and Ireland succeed over the long term. To achieve this, all of our diverse, specialist businesses have a deep industry knowledge, so they can understand the challenges and opportunities that our customers and clients face. We support the unique needs of customers and clients to ensure that they thrive, rather than simply survive, whatever the market conditions. π To find out more, visit the website www. or email head of corporate and ABL, Paul Stephens at


Gordon Merrylees, managing director of entrepreneurship, RBS with Lynsey Cunningham, director of regional entrepreneurship, Ulster Bank, Richard Donnan, Ulster Bank’s head of Northern Ireland, and winners of the pitching competition, Dr Roisin Molloy and Julie Brien

Ulster Bank unveils new Belfast Hub


ome of Northern Ireland’s top entrepreneurs and business leaders have helped launch Ulster Bank’s new Belfast hub.

Now housed in Ulster Bank’s main Belfast headquarters, the fully-funded accelerator programme empowers entrepreneurs with the tools they need to start, scale and succeed and has become an integral part of the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem since launching in Belfast in 2015. The event also included the latest findings from the 2018 Impact Report. Guests heard how the Belfast Hub, which is one of 12 ‘entrepreneur accelerator’ hubs located across the UK, continues to have a positive bearing on highgrowth start-ups and larger businesses seeking to scale up. And headline impact figures revealed at the event show the programme has supported 400 entrepreneurs who have gone on to create over 1,000 jobs predominately based in Northern Ireland, while securing more than £20m in investment for businesses here. Notably, 53% of the entrepreneurs supported by the Belfast Hub in 2018 were female,

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compared to nationally where only 20% of SMEs are run by women. Lynsey Cunningham, Ulster Bank’s director of regional entrepreneurship welcomed the findings. “Advancing female entrepreneurship and supporting female business leaders is a longstanding priority for Ulster Bank, particularly this year, and I’m pleased to see so many women taking the opportunity to join the UK’s largest fully-funded accelerator network. “Despite this positive outlook, we know that women are still less likely than men to start their own business so we are working hard to address this imbalance and better understand the challenges and barriers which are preventing some women from embracing their entrepreneurial skillset. “Our current cohort of entrepreneurs is performing exceptionally well, securing over £750,000 worth of investment in January 2019 alone.” And addressing the audience at the event, Richard Donnan, Ulster Bank’s head of NI, said: “Having the Belfast Hub in house is a

significant move for Ulster Bank and we are pleased to be so closely aligned with dynamic work that they do. Teams across all business divisions in Ulster Bank are being energised by the vibrancy of our entrepreneurs who in turn are given even closer access to coaching from our business leaders and connections to our expanding customer network. “We have invested over £400,000 to create the new space for the Belfast Hub as a further demonstration of our long term support for the Accelerator programme which is already showing positive signs of growth in 2019.” The competition was won by Julie Brien of TriMedika who walked away with a cash prize of £1,000 to help grow the west Belfast-based medical devices company. Co-founders Julie Brien and Dr Roisin Molloy who have been involved with the Accelerator Programme since 2016, said the prize money would go towards an upcoming trip to Africa where they plan to introduce the technology in this region. π For more information about the work of the accelerator programme or to find out how to apply for the next intake, visit www.ulsterbank.



Colin McClean and David Ferguson

Entrepreneur OF THE month How is business? Business is booming and all our sites are exceeding expectations. We are currently experiencing double digit increase in like-for-like sales and nearly 50% increase in business with the addition of our newest stores. We currently serve over one million customers each year and we hope to double in size over the next few years. With the backing of BGF, we plan to open more sites in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and potentially the Republic of Ireland. How did you get started in the industry? My father, Arnold, worked in the food industry for Lynas Food Service for many years before opening a few cafes and restaurants of his own. From the age of 16 I had always worked in the family business during school holidays and just loved the atmosphere and being at the centre of the community. I taught at a private school in England for four years and ran a clothing retail store. I was keen to move back into hospitality and that’s when I first came up with the name and idea behind Bob & Berts. Typically, who are your clients or customers? Our demographic is very wide and appeals to almost everyone. We have a very traditional offering such as freshly baked scones, soups and stews



right through to our trendy menu items such as Nutella stuffed French toast, pulled pork and our amazing thick shakes. Do you enjoy what you do, and what in particular? I really enjoy expanding the business into new towns and regions. I find it very satisfying when I see customers with our take away cups walking around new towns that we have located in. I love seeing our brand and business getting immersed into the local community and we sponsor 12 young sports teams across Northern Ireland and Scotland. What is the most difficult part of your job? Our growth has been amazing although it’s one of the most difficult areas of our business. We need to identify a suitable site and think strategically about operating that site. What are the challenges facing your sector, and the economy in general? Rising costs are a big issues. The cost of operating our stores has increased significantly with food costs steadily increasing over the last few years. Brexit is an obvious concern and we have no idea how this will really affect our sector. π

Motoring By Pat Burns

Sponsored by


Dave Sheeran, managing director, Terence Donnelly executive chairman and Raymond Donnelly, director at Donnelly Group

Donnelly Group opens new £6m Jaguar Land Rover showroom


orthern Ireland’s largest familyowned new and used vehicle retailer Donnelly Group’ has opened the doors of its new £6m Jaguar Land Rover showroom.

Located at the Donnelly Group’s flagship Moy Road Dungannon site, the new 50,000 sq ft showroom has added Jaguar to the dealer’s already extensive repertoire, and also becoming one of the top premium brands, located in the area. Featuring the new Jaguar Land Rover ‘arch’ concept which seamlessly brings both brands together under one roof in a modern, bright, spacious, ambient setting, the showroom provides a superior experience for Donnelly Group’s loyal customer base and new customers alike. Dave Sheeran, managing director at Donnelly Group which includes 18 manufacturers in nine locations across Northern Ireland, said: “The Donnelly Jaguar Land Rover showroom presents a unique experience for Mid Ulster and one which has been designed with the customer in mind at every stage – from sales to finance to aftersales, our dedicated team of specially trained staff are here to help. “There is now adequate space to showcase 16


new and 75 used Jaguar Land Rover vehicles which is really important for our customers to see the cars in real life. “From the sporty Jaguar F Type, right up to the classic Range Rover, motorists looking to purchase a premium vehicle now have a wider choice than we have ever been able to offer before.

“We are really pleased that Jaguar Land Rover mirrors this approach and that our customers are guaranteed an enjoyable experience. Flooded with natural light and luxurious décor, the showroom provides a comfortable space for both our employees and our customers, who can relax in the lounge area which is complete with a coffee bar and wi-fi.

“Feedback from the first customers through the door has been fantastic and we’re looking forward to more of the same in the coming weeks.

“Donnelly Group has been a leader in the local motoring industry for 72 years now and we are always looking at ways to provide a superior service to even more customers.

“We are fortunate that many of our Land Rover staff have been with us for a long time and they have really enjoyed getting involved with the Jaguar brand, but we have also employed a number of new staff members to service the new, larger showroom.”

“We are incredibly proud to open the doors of this new showroom.”

And Terence Donnelly, executive chairman at Donnelly Group and son of founder Peter Donnelly, said:

Raymond Donnelly, director at Donnelly Group, said: “We appointed a number of local contractors to help us with this project and we are delighted with the finished product so I would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone has played a role in getting this new showroom out of the ground.

“Our ethos has always been centred around the customer and ensuring they receive the highest levels of customer service and the greatest value on an excellent selection of new and used vehicles.

“Our customers will be amazed at the difference, and with over 100 customer parking spaces there is plenty of room for motorists to drop by to take a look at the now extensive range of vehicles on show.” π


Restyling and new engines for the



he Suzuki Vitara has earned acclaim for its stylish design, compact and easy to manage dimensions, good on-road performance and genuine off-road capability. For 2019, the Vitara receives various styling upgrades, new engines and an even higher level of technology and safety features. The Japanese manufacturer goes head to head with its Korean counterparts Hyundai and Kia for top place in this part of the market.

seven airbags, alloy wheels, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control with speed limiter, auto air conditioning and front and rear electric windows.

The SUV market is fiercely competitive and this revised model incorporates a more elegant front face with redesigned grille and lower bumper and the rear lamps have now been redesigned with a distinctive LED display.

This unit has an output of 111PS and is also direct injection turbocharged (DITC). The engine has very compact dimensions and offers 170Nm of torque available from 2,000rpm through to 3,500rpm. The optional six-speed automatic transmission model offers 160Nm of torque which is available slightly earlier from just 1,800rpm through to 4,000rpm. CO2 emissions for the 1.0-litre Boosterjet petrol engine and manual transmission is 129g/km (NEDC test).

For the interior, a new seat trim design is used for the range and suede seat fabric is fitted on SZ5 models; the upper instrument panel is upgraded to a soft touch material and the instrument cluster now features a central colour information display. Standard equipment for all Vitara models is comprehensive and the SZ4 model includes


After the debut of the 1.0-litre three cylinder Boosterjet engine in the Baleno, S-Cross and Swift, this engine technology is now extended to the Vitara. Offering the same level of power and torque of a much larger capacity normally aspirated engine, it delivers a smooth drive and genuine driving pleasure.

Although a four cylinder unit, the 140PS 1.4-litre engine has very similar technical characteristics to the 1.0-litre with its compact

turbo charger and cylinder head design. The 1.4-litre engine offers strong benefits in performance too with a 0-62mph acceleration time of 9.5 seconds (2WD models) for both manual and automatic transmissions and a maximum speed of 124mph. The advanced forward detection system fitted as standard on SZ-T AllGrip and SZ5 models supports numerous safety technologies of which collision-mitigating Dual Sensor Brake Support (DSBS) is included. With DSBS, at vehicle speeds from approximately three mph to 62mph, if the system determines a risk of collision with a forward obstacle, it issues both an audio and visual warning. If there is a high risk of collision with a forward obstacle and the driver panic brakes, the system deploys brake assist, increasing braking force. If the risk of a collision increases even more, the system applies full automatic braking in an effort to avoid the collision or reduce damage. Prices for the new Vitara range start at ÂŁ16,999. â–


The E-Pace gets



aguar’s E-Pace is now even more connected and comfortable. New updates for the sporty compact sports utility vehicle include ‘self-learning’ smart settings technology, an adaptive dynamics suspension set-up and a costeffective and efficient 200PS petrol engine. The E-Pace now features Jaguar’s self-learning technology, smart settings. Debuted on the all-electric I-Pace, Smart Settings learns the driver’s habits and anticipates their needs to make their life easier.

The 2019 E-Pace recognises the approaching driver, based on both a key fob and smartphone Bluetooth signal. The vehicle will then adjust the seat, climate and infotainment system based on the driver’s normal preference. Over time, algorithms tailor settings based on time, location, weather and behaviour patterns – for example, pre-heating the steering wheel and seats on a cold day, or changing the media source on a particular day of the week or time of day. Up to eight profiles can be set up on the Jaguar E-Pace, making it a worthwhile

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offering for fleets users and those who share their vehicle. The intelligent phone reminder function will also tell the driver if they forget their smartphone, while the predictive call list learns patterns of phone use to cue up popular contacts at the appropriate time. Smart settings is offered as part of the Connect Pro Pack, which also consists of a 4G wi-fi hotspot, pro services and navigation pro – offering real-time traffic information, doorto-door routing from your smartphone, street view and parking availability. The adaptive dynamics system offers improved handling response, body control and ride. It uses continuously variable damper technology to tune the balance between handling responses and body control. The intelligent setup delivers faster responses and a dedicated off-road setting. It monitors vehicle movements every two milliseconds and calculates the required damping force every 10 milliseconds to respond instantly to the driver’s inputs and road surface changes, providing greater control

and minimising body roll. Rough surfaces and off-road conditions are sensed immediately, and the damping adapts accordingly. Drivers can select normal and dynamic settings for the adaptive dampers through the configurable dynamics menu in the Jaguar drive control system. The normal mode focuses on comfort while the dynamic setting is calibrated to provide increased body control and road holding. The E-Pace is now fitted with Jaguar Land Rover’s clean and efficient 200PS 2.0 litre fourcylinder turbocharged Ingenium petrol engine for the first time. The 200PS model completes the 0-60mph sprint in 7.7 seconds, delivering fuel economy of 34.4 mpg and CO2 emissions of 186 g/km. The new engine features the same collection of advanced technologies found across the rest of the Ingenium engine family. This includes twin scroll turbocharger, continuously variable valve lift and variable cam timing which work to enhance power and efficiency as well as drivability. Prices start at £30,320. ■



Thirty years of the

MX-5 T

he Mazda MX-5 celebrates its 30th birthday this year and to keep this evergreen model at the top of the sports car sales charts the 2019 model now has a power upgrade and a new rear differential for more spirited driving… After all, spring is just around the corner.

At the forefront of this technical upgrade is a more powerful and higher-revving version of the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G engine. Substantially redesigned with lighter pistons and con-rods, the 2.0-litre engine also features revisions to the camshafts and exhaust valves, fuel injectors, throttle valve and air intake. The end result is an increase from 160ps to 184ps and a higher rev band, which rises from 6,800 to 7,500rpm. In addition with higher fuel pressure and more efficient combustion, there’s an increase in torque across the rev range. As a result, on the convertible 0-62mph


performance improves by 0.8 of a second to 6.5 seconds, while manual and automatic RF models see a 0.6 and 0.5 second increase, respectively, while tuning of the main silencer delivers a cleaner more powerful engine note.

Masashi Nakayama, program manager and chief designer for the MX-5, said “the key phrase for our development of the fourthgeneration MX-5 was ‘innovate in order to preserve,’ and Mazda is not going to rest on their laurels.

Even better, this enhanced performance hasn’t come at the cost of efficiency, as fully homologated to the WLTP/RDE test cycle, both the 2019 MX-5s engines achieve Euro 6d Temp emission regulation compliance, while the introduction of Mazda’s stop-start technology on 2.0-litre models means all 184ps cars have a lower CO2 output than the outgoing 160ps car.

Across all models in the range, the 2019 MX-5 now features telescopic steering adjustment and improved seat sliding operation to improve driver comfort and the famous Jinba Ittai ‘car-and-driver as one’ ethos that sits at the heart of the MX-5 experience.

The 1.5-litre also benefits from improved combustion and reduced internal friction to see a slight power increase to 132ps and a moderate torque improvement to 152Nm while at the same time retaining its efficiency and fuel economy.

As you would expect of a car that was named World Car Design of the Year on its debut, the styling of the MX-5 has been left alone, although a new design of 16 and 17-inch alloy wheel will mark out the 2019 model. Prices start from £18,995 for the MX-5 convertible, while the RF (retractable hard top) is from £22,595. ■


A word from

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

Name: Sean Murphy Position: Chief operating officer, Irish Football Association How did you start out in business? I left Queen’s University in 1994 with a degree in politics and economics and no real idea of what I wanted to do. The first permanent job opportunity I saw was as a cashier with Ulster Bank and I thought I’d work there for a while until I decided what I wanted to do as a career. It took me 22 years to work out my next move but luckily in that time I had made it to managing director for personal banking with Ulster Bank and I then decided I’d like to work in football and joined the Irish FA as chief operating officer in June 2018. What have you found the most challenging during your years of business, so far? Probably the most challenging, yet equally most rewarding, has been leading people through change. I believe there are two key factors in business success. One is engaged staff and the other is the ability of the business to be proactive and constantly evolving to anticipate changing customer needs and behaviours. In my time with Ulster Bank I experienced a period of significant economic growth in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I was also there for the financial crisis in 2008, which has been described as the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression in 1929. I experienced a takeover by RBS, then a takeover by Ulster Bank of First Active, then one of the most significant banking IT system failures. How would you describe your management style? I consider myself to be open and honest. I’d like to think that anyone who has ever worked with me or for me, whether at Ulster Bank or at the Irish FA, has known where they stand. This will sound cliched but I genuinely will never ask any of my team to do something I wouldn’t do

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myself. I’m loyal to and supportive of my team and I expect that back. What would you change if you could go back and do it all again? I genuinely don’t think I’d change anything from a business perspective. I’ve made loads of mistakes and have been in awkward situations where, at the time, I’d like to have been able to press the reset button but then I wouldn’t have learned from the mistake and done better next time. Have you done it all on your own? Not at all. First and foremost I’ve been really lucky to have my wife Moya who has been there to advise, challenge and support me throughout my career. I’ve also two sons, Ryan and Adam, who have helped ensure I have kept the right work-life balance. I’ve worked with some brilliant leaders who I’ve learned from and also some not so great leaders who I’ve also learned from. How would you like your business to be remembered? I have always worked hard at ensuring any team I have led has been as engaged as possible. One of my best managers once told me ‘if your staff don’t speak highly of your business then don’t expect your customers to speak highly of it’. There are loads of studies that prove that engaged staff are much more productive and provide better customer service. I’ve experienced this throughout my career, so I would like any business that I have been involved in to be remembered as one that truly cared for its people. What piece of advice would you give to a 20-year-old you? Don’t beat yourself up too much over mistakes or setbacks. Learn from them because you will always get another chance. And also don’t worry if you go bald. There is life after hair. ■



Eversheds Sutherland has appointed Lisa Bryson as a new partner in its Belfast office. The announcement comes as the firm makes a total of three key partner appointments in Dublin and Belfast. Alain Kerloc’h has been appointed visiting professor at Ulster University Business School. Mr Kerloc’h is co-owner of the Michelin-starred OX restaurant in Belfast city centre. Laura Connor has been appointed as an associate solicitor in the defence litigation team at law firm Tughans. She will work for a wide variety of insurance clients across a range of areas.

Donald Thompson is now a partner with John McKee Solicitors. He specialises in commercial property and addition to practising in Northern Ireland, is qualified in England. Cathy Walker has joined Larchfield Estate as accommodation supervisor. She is the new go-to contact for corporate retreats and group stays in the venue’s on-site luxury accommodation. The CBI has appointed Adrian Doran as its new vice-chairman. He will serve in the role before taking up the position as chairman from Trevor Lockhart in January next year.

Joe McVey has been appointed as the new chief executive of Brain Injury Matters, the leading brain injury charity in Northern Ireland. Mr McVey has experience in strategic planning, governance and organisational development. John McKee Solicitors has appointed Alan Bissett as a partner. He has extensive experience in corporate, commercial, and energy lawyers and is qualified to practise here and in England. Tim Acheson has joined Smarts Communicate as a communications manager. His previous experience includes helping brands to transform their digital footprint and grow visibility.



Anna McKelvey has joined Smarts Communicate as a senior communications consultant. She will be responsible for creating and delivering creative, engaging digital communications and marketing. Dearbhla Lavery is now an associate solicitor in the defence litigation team at law firm Tughans. She will focus on commercial disputes for corporate clients. Matthew McKee has been appointed forensic investigation services manager at Grant Thornton in Belfast. He will specialise in e-discovery and legal technology services at the business advisory firm.

Matthew Hamilton is assistant contracts manager at Hagan Homes. He will assist with the overseeing of construction projects from start to finish to ensure that they are completed on schedule. Hannah Watson has been appointed sales and marketing co-ordinator at Larchfield Estate. She will develop the corporate offering for tailored corporate events, group stays and weddings. Michael McCrory has been appointed as a senior communications consultant with Smarts Communicate. He brings more than 15 years’ experience to the business having worked with a large number of major corporate and consumer brands.

Darragh Rutherford has been appointed as head of finance for fit-out specialist, Portview. He brings with him 15 years of experience in the manufacturing, construction, mining and retail sectors. Gregg Reid has been appointed as a communications manager at Smarts Communicate He joins Smarts’ digital team working on developing and delivering digital content strategies. Richard Pakenham is now head of commercial publishing at Ulster Business and Belfast Telegraph publisher Independent News and Media NI. Mr Pakenham will be responsible for implementing the company’s commercial marketing strategy.

MARCH 2019


PHOTOCALL 1. Primary six and seven pupils from Oakfield Primary School in Carrickfergus with Vicky Logan, Oakfield Primary School, Aisling Press, head of branch banking, Danske Bank and Carla McCoubrey Action Mental Health after helping raise £130,000. 2. Caitlin McCartney, SOS NI with James Hagan, founder of Hagan Homes, and Joanne McQuillan, operations manager, SOS NI. Hagan Homes is donating £30,000 to the charity. 3. IT recycling company AMI has announced a £3.5m investment alongside the creation of 30 jobs in Belfast and Dublin. Pictured are Philip McMichael, chief executive of AMI, and Rob Clarke, chairman.



4. Millar McCall Wylie has been named Northern Ireland Law Firm of the Year at the Legal 500 awards. Pictured are partners Caroline Prunty, Jan Cunningham, Peter McCall, Damian McParland and Conor Wylie. 5. David Rafferty, Tim Horton, Kurt Eastwood, surveyor at CBRE, Mark Rainey, centre manager, Josephine Coulter, Connswater Shopping Centre and Mike Powell, store manager, Brand Max as the centre marked the creation of 100 new jobs.






PHOTOCALL 6. Chrisanne English and Dr Lynsey Quinn, Open University, Adele Dallas, CAFRE Loughry Campus, Glen Young from Henderson Group, Jill McGrath, Queen’s University, Belfast and Maria Curran, Ulster University as Henderson Group launches its ‘business experience placements’. 7. Four Star Pizza director Brian Clarke celebrates a record year which saw the Irish-owned pizza chain experience revenue growth of 8% during 2018, driven largely by a 31% rise in online sales. 8. Pictured in the new penthouse suite at the Fitzwilliam Hotel is Cian Landers, general manager and Christopher Ash, director, Project Orange, following a major refit of the hotel.



9. Aodhan Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, Vicki Hassan, head of transaction banking at Danske Bank with Glyn Roberts, Retail NI as the bank launched its new polymer note. 10. Sean McPeake of Mid Ulster Council with Eve Beattie of start-up Eveva, alongside Patricia Elliott, business adviser with Workspace, who provided Eve with expert advice and help with developing a business plan.



MARCH 2019




11. Laura Ard and Ian Watt of Nitec Solutions present a cheque to Richard Naylor and Kevin McCaughan of the Corrymeela Community for Corrymeela’s Christmas Open Day event. Photo by Kieran Clancy, Ballycastle Chronicle. 12. The Ulster Community Investment Trust (UCIT) has committed £12m across its businesses. Harry McDaid, chief executive of UCIT and Catherine McClelland from Ortus Group, which is one of those groups benefiting. 13. Seamus McAleer of McAleer & Rushe, joins Colin Mounstephen from Deloitte to launch Deloitte’s third annual Belfast Crane Survey, which tracks construction activity in the city. 14. Wayne Story, chief executive of Civica with Mark Owens, managing director, Civica NI and Tanya Anderson, head of SME business development, NI Chamber of Commerce at the launch of Civica’s latest Changing Landscape report.


15. Heather, Hollie and Reuben Mc Feeters, and Clare Forster of Mash Direct help launch the ITV and Veg Power campaign in Northern Ireland. It aims to encourage children to eat more vegetables and combat health issues including childhood obesity and diabetes.






PHOTOCALL 16. Henderson Foodservice has added to its portfolio with the acquisition of foodservice company, Foodco. Pictured are Pat McGarry, Gary McIlroy, Barry Monaghan, Billy Moore, Cathal Geoghegan, Robert Walsh and Alan Kelly. 17. Pictured at the announcement in Belfast that Expleo Ireland will invest £1.3m in its workforce and create 30 jobs in Northern Ireland are Rob McConnell, director and global head of digital labs, Expleo and sales director, Scott Armstrong.


18. Donnelly Group has opened the doors of its new £6m Jaguar Land Rover showroom in Dungannon. Pictured is managing director Dave Sheeran, Terence Donnelly, executive chairman at Donnelly Group and Raymond Donnelly, director at Donnelly Group.


19. Pictured at the Institute of Directors Northern Ireland (IoD NI) annual dinner, held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Belfast is Dale Guest of main sponsor Bank of Ireland UK, Gordon Milligan, IoD NI chairman, guest speaker Martin McCourt, and Catriona Gibson of associate sponsor Arthur Cox. 20. Chris Ross (centre), managing partner of John McKee Solicitors welcomes the law firm’s new partners Alan Bissett and Donald Thompson as part of the latest expansion at the Belfast firm.


MARCH 2019





21. Marking the launch of her new digital agency AC Connects is Anna Corry (middle) along with Isobel Kerr of Habitat for Humanity, Gayle Baird from the Child Brain Injury Trust, Andrea Kennedy from Cancer Research UK and Emma Hassard of Concern Worldwide. 22. Launching the 2019 Henderson Wholesale Fresh Innovation Awards are last year’s Overall Supplier of the Year, Gary Mason from Irwin’s Bakery with host Jo Scott and Nigel Dugan. 23. Keavy O’Mahony-Truesdale from Neill’s Flour and Ian Hunter, head chef at Belfast Cookery School, are encouraging families across Northern Ireland to look at incorporating more fibre into their diets, as part of ‘Fibre February’.


24. Entries are now open for the 2019 Best Kept Awards, sponsored by George Best Belfast City Airport. Pictured is Bridgeen McIlroy, NI Amenity Council alongsside Joe Mahon, Michelle Hatfield and Doreen Muskett MBE. 25. Stephen Felle, chief executive of Davy Private Clients UK, Neil Gibson, EY chief economist, Kingsley Aikins, Alan Werlau, head of investment strategy at Davy, Naomi McMullan, and Stephen Warke of Davy, at the firm’s annual conference.






PHOTOCALL 26. The Ulster Grocer team is pictured alongside sponsors and past winners at the launch of the Ulster Grocer Marketing Awards 2019 at the Culloden Resort & Spa outside Belfast. 27. Helping launch Manufacturing NI’s Anchor High leadership summit is John Hart of law firm Pinsent Masons, Mary Meehan, Manufacturing NI, John Mathers, Barclays and Johnny Hanna of KPMG. 28. Managing director of Business in the Community, Kieran Harding, is pictured presenting its silver CORE accreditation accreditation to Phoenix Natural Gas chief executive, Michael McKinstry.


29. Ryan Foster and Suzanne Bowman of Jurys Inn celebrate the completion of a ÂŁ9.1m refurbishment of Jurys Inn hotel in Belfast, alongside radio presenter Pete Snodden.


30. Giancarlo Di Vece, chief executive of Unosquare, site lead Mark Brown, and Eduardo Arias, vice president of finance pictured as the firm announced it will set up a new office at Mays Chambers in Belfast city centre.


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The Chairman There’s nothing better than getting the black tie season off to a bang. It normally takes a while for the formality machine to kick back into gear, following the festive period...


he Chairman’s first black tie of the year kicked off at the Crowne Plaza at Shaw’s Bridge in Belfast. It was the turn of the Institute of Directors (IoD) and its annual dinner.

It was a veritable who’s who of business leaders from right across the Northern Ireland private sector. Of course, Brexit wasn’t far away from any conversation reverberating around the room. Those gathered heard from chairman Gordon Milligan, who warned of the impact of leaving the EU without a deal. He said if we tumble over the cliff edge without a parachute, a no-deal Brexit is about a lot more than trade. He also warned that we would see many legal obligations and definitions lapse immediately while throwing in doubt the status of EU citizens in UK and UK citizens in EU.


He was joined by guest speaker, Martin McCourt. He’s currently chairman of Glen Dimplex, and former chief executive of Dyson. There’s a business off to sunnier climates… Also speaking was Dale Guest of sponsor Bank of Ireland UK, and Catriona Gibson – managing partner of law firm Arthur Cox. Of course, IoD NI director Kirsty McManus was in attendance, along with Edel Creery and John Armstrong. The ABL Group team was also out in force, with Gary Crabbe, Maurice Boyd and Stephen Carlisle attending, while Donna Donnelly and Angela Bennett also paid a visit.

The world of sport was certainly well represented, however the big name golfers paid a visit through the medium of a large video screen, rather than in person. That included Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Rory McIlroy. Among the other sporting stars turning out was Ryan Burnett, along with Lara Milner from Lord of the Dance.

Elsewhere, one of Belfast’s popular night spots for folk younger than the Chairman, the National, re-opened its doors after a £350,000 revamp. The city centre spot on High Street allowed a few folks in before the doors officially opened.

It’s just a few months away – which you can read all about in this magazine – and it was time to officially unveil the Open Championship to the world. Titanic Belfast played host to hundreds from the industry, business, sport and media to celebrate Northern Ireland’s soon-to-be hosting of the world’s top golf tournament, for the first time in 68 years. Sitting just inches away from the Chairman was golfing legend Peter Alliss. The voice of the sport for a generation, he took his own charm, charisma and acerbic wit on stage during the evening, alongside AP McCoy and Jonathan Rea. Also turning out was the Tourism NI team, including boss John McGrillen, Susie Brown and Kate Ferguson, along with the Jago Communications team, including Shona Jago-Curtis.

There were cocktails, and there was a barbecue – alongside paella. Everyone was happy. Among those turning out were Petra and Conall Wolsey from the Beannchor Group, which owns the bar.

Elsewhere, a city centre restaurant marked the official launch of its new location and menu. Nu Delhi previously flew the flag for Indian cuisine on Bruce Street, just off the Dublin Road. Now, owner Naz Din has now moved just around the corner, and taken a first floor spot above city stalwart Ginger Bistro. And he knows how to draw a crowd. The launch night saw a host of media types, business owners, friends and some wellknown faces. Among those turning out included Sonia Armstrong from Ulster Business, the Sunday Life team and Gareth McKeown from the Irish News. Some of the better known faces included Q Radio presenters Ibe Sesay and Steve Turnbull. π


AP McCoy and Ian McElhinney at the Open launch

Golfing legend Peter Alliss at the Open event

Conall and Petra Wolsey from the Beannchor Group at the relaunch of the National

Dale Guest, Gordon Milligan, speaker Martin McCourt and Catriona Gibson at the IoD dinner

Edel Creery, John Armstrong and Kirsty McManus pictured at the IoD dinner

MARCH 2019

Donna Donnelly and Angela Bennett pictured at the IoD dinner

Gary Crabbe, Maurice Boyd and Stephen Carlisle pictured at the IoD dinner



Breakfast BUSINESS

By John Mulgrew

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


‘people’ element of Brexit is still going to be one of the biggest challenges facing us here in Northern Ireland.


“There’s hospitality, tourism, agri-food, manufacturing and logistics. That huge pool of EU nationals. What will happen with Brexit, or in terms of the future policy?


ight, so just to let you know, we’re back to a largely coffee-based affair on this occasion. To be fair, my breakfasteer Johnny Hanna of KPMG has been on the go since 6am, so it’s understandable.

As we perch ourselves on stools at a small table on a rather bright and mild Belfast morning, Johnny says he continues to be busy – partly because of existing business, and in part, fuelled by Brexit planning. “For us, we are probably one of those businesses who are well-hedged, in terms of the different aspects of the business. We have a very strong tax practice that is busy all year round, and we are involved in a lot of transactions, irrespective of the Brexit context – and some of it to do with it.” Are companies making big moves because of the Brexit flux? “There’s a mixture. The larger companies have been preparing more,” Johnny says. “They are lining things up. Some are not pressing the button yet, or hit that tipping point, even though we are less than a month away.

number of remaining businesses, many small and medium, which have done absolutely nothing. “That’s consistent with what I have been seeing.” I opt for a croissant. That’s two months running, now. Jam is always a bit of a quandary. It probably doesn’t need it, really. But then again, I was offered it, so out it comes. Right, where were we. “For a lot of SMEs, the question we ask is ‘how much disruption could you live with?’” Johnny says. “For many of them, even a little disruption could put them over the edge, in terms of business. But they just don’t have the resources to do that preparation… they are all hanging on to this hope that there will be a deal, or an extension.”

“Some companies have. In terms of M&A, we have seen some transactions in the NI market, where companies have had a bit of a hedge, merged, or made an acquisition, outside of Northern Ireland – and a bit of vice-versa.

KPMG in Belfast has grown into a team of around 270 – and is now based at the Soloist building in the city centre, with around 3,000 workers as a whole.

“But the reality is that there are a significant

Back to the hot potato, Johnny says the


“We have heard anecdotally that we are losing workers fairly regularly – probably the biggest issue, going forward, is immigration policy. If the average salary is £21,000 to £22,000, but the immigration policy says ‘we are happy for you to bring in EU nationals, but they have have to be earning £30,000’. What happens for a whole raft of companies in NI? That’s fine if you are in London. That’s a big concern.” And so, onwards to our respective workplaces to continue the day. Let’s hope this time next month we’ll all know a little more about what we are all going to be facing in the coming weeks and beyond. π

THE BILL: Americano Croissant Total:


£4.50 £2.00 £6.50


MARCH 2019



This means nothing to me... Niamh Horan takes in the sights and sounds of Vienna, from the traditional to the modern side of Austria’s capital


here is something wonderful about bringing a person you love to a place they have always dreamed of visiting. Have you ever asked your nearest and dearest? You might be surprised where their heart settles. But the dream is


always there, nestled in the back of their mind, when the dull repetition of life creeps in and they yearn for something far away from home.

heart of the city, the Park Hyatt is possibly the best hotel in Vienna, if not, one of the best five-stars I have stayed in. The breakfast, alone, is to die for.

My mother’s wish was for Vienna. So when we arrived, and she had nestled into her white fluffy dressing gown (we had a quick pit stop at our beautiful hotel The Park Hyatt for one of her many, many wardrobe changes) just seeing her enormous smile took my breath away.

We’re talking long thin flutes of crisp champagne — on tap — white truffle scrambled eggs, crispy warm sour dough toast with mashed avocado and a sizzling full Irish fry. The buffet is akin to a social occasion each morning, and the first meal of the day can easily turn into a two hour chit-chat before you peel yourself off the couches and make your way out into the morning sun.

Located in a century-old former bank at the

St Michael’s Square

TRAVEL Which wasn’t going to be hard given that Vienna has been crowned the greatest city in the world for nine years running by the annual Mercer Quality of Living survey. With its coffee houses and grand architecture, it has provided inspiration to the world’s greatest intellectuals, artist and writers. Our first stop then was to the grand Cafe Central. It is here that Hitler, and Stalin, and Trotsky, and Freud once sat — separately — over coffee and cake, probably musing about coffee and cake. Staff wear crisp white shirts and smart black waistcoats and serve you wine, lunch and their world famous pastries and cakes from a tantalising display in the centre of the marbled room. Queues form outside early in the day but once you’re tucking into warm apple strudel or the local speciality sachertorte (chocolate cake) it is all worthwhile. Next, we took the two-minute stroll to the Hofburg Imperial Palace where the colossal statues of the labours of Hercules adorn its facade. The fountains, cobbled streets and horse drawn carriages give it an other-worldly feel. The old heart of Vienna knows only one form of architecture: epic — and there is a treat on every corner. To feast your eyes on one major sight after the next, take the city’s famous ring road, the Ringstrasse, and enjoy four miles of sheer extravagance built at the end of the 19th century.

The rooms are luxurious and spacious and a spot-lit marbled bathroom and separate styling area give that extra star quality when you’re getting ready for a night out. Check out the uber-chic Pearl Bar where you can sip ice-cold spritzers and watch the style go by as Vienna’s beautiful fashionistas make their way to the nearby shopping district. If we never left the hotel it would have been enough. But we had four days ahead and my mother planned to squeeze every ounce of joy out of them.

MARCH 2019

You can choose the convenience of the tram or one of the hop-on/hop-off buses or simply enjoy the fairytale walk. Once you’re finished the historical tour of the city, it’s good to know that the Viennese do museums like the Irish do pubs. The only problem is having to choose. For our visit, we focused our time on the Belvedere. The Kiss (Lovers) by Gustav Klimt is the most famous Austrian painting and the highlight of the Belvedere’s permanent collection. Other masterpieces on display include works of Jacques-Louis David, whose heroically windswept portrait of Napoleon Crossing the Alps — sat on a rearing white Arab stallion — famously captured the public image of the emperor and spread his reputation throughout Europe. That’s why he had

five versions painted and distributed around Europe. For convenience, you’ll be glad to know that the Belvedere is situated in the grounds of Schonbrunn Palace which is another absolute must-see. It pulls in over 2.5 million visitors a year. My mum is an avid gardener and was in heaven as we wandered around the colourful beds of flowers, through the tunnel of red roses (the grounds are an Instagrammer’s dream) and among the acres of trees. Under the hot afternoon sun, we whipped out our picnic blanket and settled down to have a champagne picnic before climbing the hill to enjoy a fantastic view of the city. Entry to the grounds is free. Chocolate lovers among you should take a wander through the enormous Lindt boutique in the grounds of the palace. It is the millennials’ equivalent to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. While on the subject of indulgence, pay a visit to the Nautilus seafood restaurant in the Naschmarkt, for its famous fresh catches. We heard a lot about the quality of the food here before we arrived and it lived up to its good name. And if you are going to the State Opera then the nearby and uber-trendy Do&Co Albertina restaurant is also delicious. Which brings me to our night in a private box at Vienna’s Royal State Opera... For anyone hoping to entertain a romantic date, you won’t regret it. The red-and-gold auditorium sets the scene for world-class opera and ballet, with the celebrated Vienna Philharmonic in the pit. We saw Verdi’s masterpiece La traviata where thunderous cheers of ‘Bravo, Bravo’ rippled through the audience (yes that doesn’t just happen in the movies) as fans threw bouquets of roses at the feet of Placido Domingo no less. When the lights came on we could see the emotion his spellbinding voice had left behind. What a treat. What a city. Take a visit and make your own — as well as that special someone’s dreams — come true. π



Adrian Weckler checks out Canon’s new full-frame camera, which comes in at an affordable price

REVIEW: the new Canon EOS RP C 1 anon is back. The company that has been under siege by mirrorless rivals has finally come out with a competitively-priced fullframe mirrorless camera that will prove to be a compelling option for much of the current DSLR market, especially Canon shooters.

An initial ‘hands on’ with the Eos RP indicates to us that this a powerful, traveller-friendly mirrorless camera that has mostly cut corners in the right areas to save on cost. The Eos RP’s highlights are its surprising light weight, its relatively low price and its flip-out touchscreen. Its drawbacks are its modest battery life, a lack of proper 4K video and a poorlyimplemented silent shooting system. But overall, this is definitely a camera of interest.


Let’s look at the device’s pros and cons in order. First, the pros.

Light weight: at 485g (including battery and adapter), this is not only lighter than any other full-frame camera, but beats many serious APS-C cameras such as Fuji’s X-T3. That is a huge advantage for travellers (like me) where weight is a massive consideration in what you decide to bring or leave at home. One way it saves on weight is by not being as weather-sealed as some rivals, or as generally hardy.


Relatively low price: €1,600 (£1,400) for a new full-frame mirrorless camera with these features is very, very competitive. Consider that this is basically a mirrorless digital version of the 6D Mark ii, with many of the same components, while being almost €300 (£260) cheaper. Other than battery life, why would someone switching to

Canon consider the 6Dii? (Logically, the DSLR version should be cheaper because it’s based on a camera technology that is currently in the early stages of being phased out.) Let’s look at equivalent-priced cameras for comparison. This is positioned at the same level as the Fujifilm (non-full frame) X-T3 (€1,499/£1,300) and Sony’s old A7 Mark ii (€1,579/£1,380) and way below Sony’s current A7iii (€2,299/£2,000). Now consider how much cheaper it is to new rivals such as Panasonic’s full-frame S1 (€2,499/£2,170). This kind of pricing is a welcome departure for Canon, which is used to positioning its full-frame cameras at a premium to most other brands.


Flip-out touchscreen: a fully-articulating flip-out touchscreen is, in my opinion, a huge advantage for anyone interested in tricky photography angles or a bit of


that 4K mode can be used in full if using an EFS lens, which the Eos RP also takes (with the adapter).


A single card slot: As is the wont of Canon and Nikon when protecting more expensive camera sales, the Eos RP has been restricted to a single card slot. This probably rules it out as a primary camera for professionals, although not as a secondary camera.


A disappointing silent shooting mode: this is a bit of an own goal from Canon. One of the major advantages to a mirrorless camera is the silence of an electronic shutter. It means you can photograph discreetly at events where the camera’s ‘clack’ sound could be disruptive or distracting. But for some reason, Canon won’t let you shoot silently in manual mode on this camera, meaning you can’t adjust things like shutter speed or aperture. This could probably be fixed in a firmware update, although there’s no sign that Canon thinks this is a problem.

video work. This is incredibly useful in lots of situations, from shooting babies and pets to getting a clear shot at parades and other events when in a crowded zone. The fullyarticulating touchscreen swivels 180 degrees, allowing you to see your framing if you’re photographing or filming yourself. For those who need to include some video work, this will substantially make up for the lack of proper 4K video-shooting. The Eos RP also has an earphone port as well as a microphone port, again giving it a video-friendly sheen.


Eye-detection autofocus: eye-detection has become a big thing for mirrorless cameras. The more expensive Eos R doesn’t have it, but this camera does. Canon’s dual-pixel autofocus is also still regarded as the industry standard, so this is well equipped in this area.


A decent sensor: it has the same 26-megapixel sensor and flip-out screen as the 6D ii. I own a 6D ii and the quality is very good. One might argue that it’s a shade behind the 30-megapixel sensor of the 5D Mark IV (which is fitted in the Eos R).

MARCH 2019

Now let’s look at the Eos RP’s drawbacks.


Modest battery: the Eos RP’s battery life is just over 1,000mAh, which means you’ll only get around 400 shots with it compared to the 700 (or likely more) you’d get with an Eos R or 6D Mark ii. The Eos RP uses the same small battery that you get in some existing mid-range Canon DSLRs, like the 800D. Still, those batteries are slightly cheaper and it’s easy to simply pack an extra one (or two) with you in a bag or pocket.


Another 4K fudge from Canon: this is one of the features that YouTubers will moan most about. Yes, the Eos RP shoots 4K video – but only at a 1.7 crop. In other words, if you switch to 4K mode, you’ll only get the centre bit of your lens’s frame. This rules the Eos RP out for some serious videographers. However, most potential purchasers probably won’t care. 4K video is only really valuable to professional videographers as an editing tool, allowing them to crop parts of the frame or create effects. It’s also only fair to point out

There are a few other points worth making. First, there’s no joystick, which is a shame. You can, however, use the touchscreen to focus, even when you’re using the EVF. This isn’t quite as accurate as a joystick but it does work. (Canon isn’t replicating the touchbar of the EOS R here, which no one will miss anyway.) Second, you get the basic adapter in the box with the camera. This lets you use any of your existing Canon-compatible lenses, from any manufacturer, including ‘full frame’ (EF) and ‘cropped frame’ (EFS) lenses. For anyone who feels the camera is a little bit too small, there’s a grip that Canon makes (the EG-E1) that gives it a heftier ergonomic shape. Speaking of lenses, Canon has also announced six new ‘RF’ lenses for its full-frame mirrorless system. These include a 15-35mm f2.8, a 24-70mm f2.8, a 70-200mm f2.8 and, intriguingly, a 24-200 f4-6.3. These four lenses all include stabilisation. Two other 85mm f1.2 lenses have also been announced. CONCLUSION For someone who uses a Canon DSLR and is considering an upgrade into mirrorless, this is something of a no-brainer. ■



Uncovering the 9-5

Name: Jennifer Callister Position: Head of Ireland, Royal Caribbean

6am My day typically starts early – usually the first thing I do is put the kettle on and check the news before my official work day starts. This gives me a chance to get up to speed on any cruise and travel industry news. 8am I start my morning in my home office pulling out stats for key trade customers to monitor their performance and review any offers that may be of interest to them. I really enjoy working with our trade partners to offer guests a holiday of a lifetime. Royal Caribbean continues to surprise and excite current cruisers and those who have never considered it as a holiday option before. We have created an incredible adventure playground for our guests and work closely with our agents to continue to immerse holidaymakers in the extraordinary world of Royal Caribbean. 11am Typically I make some calls to customers at this time to update them on their performance and also bring them up to speed on all things Royal Caribbean, updating them on marketing activity, as well as social and website content. The cruise industry is really competitive and diverse, with a cruise to suit everyone so there is always lots of news and updates to share with our partners.

busy one in the evenings and I love spending time with them and hearing about what they have been up to that day.

Royal Caribbean is continually innovating and creating. We have 25 of the world’s most extraordinary cruise ships travelling to the most popular destinations and 2019 will herald the official launch of Perfect Day at CocoCay and the newest addition to our fleet, the spectacular, Spectrum of the Seas.

I’m in the car I use this opportunity to make any calls I need to while on the move. Once I reach my destination, I will often provide staff training, ensuring they have collateral, assets and information they need. At Royal Caribbean we are passionate about challenging peoples’ perceptions of a cruise holiday which is why we continue to drive the industry forward through creative innovation, a spectacular fleet and breath-taking experiences available both off and onboard.

1pm It’s now time to get into my second office – my car. I normally spend my afternoons on the road meeting with key trade partners. While

6pm I generally finish up at around 6pm to make dinner and catch up with my family. I have two teenage children, so my household is always a

9pm This is wind down time for me, I try and get a good night’s sleep to be well prepared for the following day.


7pm After dinner I sometimes spend another hour checking emails that I may have missed during the day. A certain amount of my role is ‘always on’ but Royal Caribbean is such an extraordinary and exciting company to work for I really don’t mind.

Profile for Ulster  Business

Ulster Business - March 2019  

Ulster Business

Ulster Business - March 2019  

Ulster Business