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Soaring above the rest Deloitte on how it’s growing its leading team as business demand intensifies GERRY MALLON
The Belfast man on leaving Ulster Bank
CONSTRUCTION £400m plan to revamp Sirocco waterfront
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Contents 8 News
28 Good Friday Agreement
The latest news and business exclusives
Looking back at the signing 20 years on
Our man Pat Burns looks at the latest motors
14 Cover Story
35 Commercial Property & Construction
Ulster Business speaks to Deloitte about how business is booming despite Brexit
Chris Kane: the man behind Belfast’s Sirocco
We take a look at what’s been happening across NI in the last few weeks
18 In Focus
53 Corporate Restructuring
90 The Chairman
In an exclusive interview we speak to Gerry Mallon about his exit from Ulster Bank
John Simpson looks at the NI businesses expanding through mergers or takeover
From Senators to Dead Rabbits, the man in black has been out and around town
23 Finance & Banking
63 Export Focus
Ten years on from the recession, has NI banking returned to a normalised landscape?
From technology to recycling, Emma Deighan on the NI firms winning big with exports
Adrian Weckler speaks to Samsung’s Conor Pierce about a changing mobile industry
Politics floundering 20 years on while business continues
lthough some may believe politics and business don’t mix, we’ve marked a key turning point in Northern Ireland this year.
Welcome to May’s edition of Ulster Business. Aside from the plethora of in-depth interviews, analysis, and exclusive news, you’ll notice we’ve taken a look at the impact of the Good Friday Agreement, 20 years on from its signing. A crucial step for Northern Ireland in 1998, the unfortunate position for most of us, is we’re now stuck in a political quagmire, and teetering on a return to direct rule. Whether it’s budgets not being signed off, due to the lack of an Executive, or little attention being given to industrial strategy, the bulk of Northern Ireland’s business community is, while frustrated, just getting on with it. This month, we’ve been speaking to senior banker Gerry Mallon – who is stepping down from his role as head of Ulster Bank in the Republic. There’s also an in-depth look at the state of play in Northern Ireland’s banking sector, one of the biggest developments in our commercial property sector, and we take a look at the companies forging their way through their sector thanks to a focus on exports. Publisher Ulster Business c/o Independent News & Media Ltd Belfast Telegraph House 33 Clarendon Road, Clarendon Dock Belfast BT1 3BG Printer W&G Baird Greystone Press, Caulside Drive, Antrim BT41 2RS www.wgbaird.com
Since the last issue went to print, there have been several notable business deals taking place here. That includes STATSports, securing a big contract in the US, and the sale of construction sector stalwart, Lagan Group, to UK-listed firm Breedon, in a huge deal worth close to half a billion quid. And two of the latest business surveys paint a picture of a reasonable economic performance among Northern Ireland companies. According to Danske Bank, the economy is predicted to grow by 1% this year, and 1.2% in 2019. Meanwhile, Ulster Bank’s latest purchasing managers’ index shows expansion across most sectors, with sales to the Republic and other exports helping to fuel a modest rise in growth. So while we’re still a long way from clarity and getting a straightforward take on what Brexit will mean, companies are still getting on with the day-to-day of doing business. And with that, I hope you enjoy this edition. ■ John Mulgrew Editor John Mulgrew
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Manager Sonia Armstrong
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Deputy Manager Sylvie Brando
Cover photo Elaine Hill
Sales Executive Sarah-Ann Gamble
Contact: 028 90 264260 www.ulsterbusiness.com
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A month in numbers 35 The number of jobs being created by Belfast firm Barclay Communications. It currently has around 200 staff across its three main sectors. The company has experienced steady growth since it began in 1997, becoming Northern Ireland’s only O2 direct network partner.
‘Difficult decision’ leaving Ulster Bank, says Mallon EXCLUSIVE By John Mulgrew
erry Mallon says it’s been a “really difficult decision” to leave his top role in charge of Ulster Bank in the Republic after less than two years in charge.
1.8 The drop in footfall experienced across Northern Ireland’s high streets, shopping centres and retail parks. But while there was a fall in shopper numbers, Northern Ireland’s retail performance outpaced the UK as a whole, which suffered a 6% drop in the five weeks to the end of March.
£82.3m The value of commercial property transactions under offer across the sector in Northern Ireland. The latest report from Lambert Smith Hampton says while the market has had a slow start to the year, it’s predicting a stronger second quarter.
In an interview with Ulster Business, Mr Mallon, who formerly headed up Danske Bank, said he has “zero regrets” about taking up his post as chief of Ulster Bank in the Republic, and, that it took some convincing to move to his incoming role with Tesco Bank. Mr Mallon said that the banking environment in the Republic had been “interesting”, however, he was surprised by how negative the perception of the industry, and bankers in general, still is.
to something which is a fantastic new opportunity.
“It's a really difficult decision to leave RBS and to leave Ulster Bank,” he said.
“I have been presented with such a fantastic opportunity... coming at banking from a very different perspective. It's impossible to say no to it.
Speaking about his new role with Tesco Bank, the Belfast man – who is also chair of the Irish Football Association (IFA) – said: “I wasn't interested in a move, and wasn't looking for a move. At that level, you get approached... I initially said that I wasn't interested, but Tesco persisted in asking me to take a look at it. “The the more I did, the more excited I became about it.” He said he didn't expect to leave his top Ulster Bank role after less than two years in charge.
“Yes, clearly you don't go into a role like that with the expectation that you will leave in a couple of years. I did see myself as having a longer term at RBS, but when opportunities present themselves to you can't choose the timing...
The investment by Intu, owners of the Sprucefield site. The development of the area, which was first revealed by Ulster Business, will include 13 new retail units and a hotel.
“I have zero regrets about the move to RBS, which I think has been wonderful development for me and I am moving on
“It's a really difficult decision to leave RBS and to leave Ulster Bank.
“Clearly there is less legacy there, but I think what is exciting is the reach and the power of Tesco. “It's such a wonderfully all encompassing every-man brand, that everyone in the UK can relate to. “There is strong trust there. No matter how much we as bankers talk about customer service and simplicity, no one does it as well as a retailer. “Coming at financial services with the customer-friendly approach of a retailer is very exciting. “Tesco, through the Clubcard, has a unique approach to customer loyalty, something that banking has never been able to crack.” Full interview, pages 18-20
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Ulster Carpets to build new factory EXCLUSIVE Some of its recent deals and contracts include work on the five-star Palm resort in Dubai.
By John Mulgrew
lster Carpets is set to build a new multi-million pound factory at its Co Armagh base as the company sees sales and turnover grow, Ulster Business can reveal.
The company also received a visit from the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in 2016. The business has grown both its turnover and pre-tax profits in the last year.
The successful business, headed by boss Nick Coburn, wants to knock down its existing factory at the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, to make way for a new development. “This further investment, along with the newly erected dye-house is testament to the fact that Ulster Carpets remains committed to the manufacture of their Axminster and Wilton products at the Castleisland site in Portadown for the long term,” Mr Coburn told Ulster Business.
Turnover at the business rose to £68.4m, according to accounts for Ulster Carpet Mills (Holdings) Ltd ending March 31, 2017. The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to Ulster Carpets
It’s now submitted a new outline planning application for the scheme.
Pre-tax profits rose from £6.6m to £6.7m, during the same period. It’s also grown the size of workforce to 640.
Ulster Carpets, a family-run company, has developed a major export business in highend hotels and resorts around the world.
Some of the company’s deals in Northern Ireland includes work on the refurbishment of Jurys Inn at Great Victoria Street in Belfast.
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Quotes of the month “Looking ahead, we only see the Ulster Fry Index going one way - up. Consumers are going to feel an increasing squeeze as the price of food rises in the months ahead.” Richard Ramsey, chief economist with Ulster Bank speaking as its latest Ulster Fry Index shows the price of a cooked breakfast has risen 2.8% in a year.
STATSports ‘could double workforce’ By John Mulgrew
ewry tech firm STATSports could double its workforce here after landing a massive £1bn deal in the
The company produces GPS data monitoring, which is already used by some of the world’s biggest football teams – including Manchester United, Liverpool and Juventus. It’s now signed a deal with the US Soccer Federation. It means four million players will end up using its APEX monitoring devices.
“This is a huge step forward in terms of the sale of Inver Park and a great result for Larne FC and Mid and East Antrim. The successful bidder has set out exciting and ambitious plans for the venue, which I have no doubt will ensure a fantastic future for Larne FC and the local community.” Councillor Gregg McKeen speaking as it was revealed Larne Football Club’s ground has been sold to Kenny Bruce, the co-founder of property business Purplebricks Group.
Speaking to Ulster Business, Sean O'Connor, co-founder of the company, said: “This is a fantastic business story. Its not just supplying to a customer, it’s a genuine partnership to improve the game.” He said a series of discussions have been ongoing between the company and US Soccer Federation for some time before the deal was secured. “US Soccer has always expressed an interest in getting a better understanding of what is going on at their academy. “Because of the scale of the US, they have academies, with a huge number of people. That gives us direct access to all that.” Speaking about the firm’s success, Mr O’Connor said it boils to down to several key areas.
“This is a huge opportunity for the North West region and represents a major investment in the city. It will transform travel and enhance connectivity between train, bus, and other sustainable transport modes.” Translink head of projects, John Glass on its plan for a new transport hub in Londonderry, which was given planning permission.
“It’s the hardware. The tech, if you do the Pepsi challenge, has been proven to be far superior. Our software is the next level, and the third pillar is our service. You have to be able to back it up with service, and making it work at different clubs. “We haven't settled at any point. As a company, we try and put as much back in research and development. We are growing. This partnership will involve us ramping up, globally.”
It’s understood that could see the firm doubling its workforce. He said the latest huge deal in the US has meant the company hitting headlines across the world. “It has put us into publications that we wouldn't (normally) have been in – Forbes for example. We have been profitable, yearon-year. We haven’t had the big marketing budget, instead putting that into R&D.” He said the key driver for the company was developing a good product, and building strong rapport with customers. “We try and service every client – if that customers leaves, and goes elsewhere tomorrow, he will have a positive story.” And while the company has expanded with satellite offices outside Northern Ireland, the Newry base is still key for the firm, Mr O’Connor said. “It has been great for us. A lot of our initial business was in the UK with Premier League teams. Being here gave us the benefit of being neutral. It gives you an impartiality. Even when you go to the US, being from the island Ireland helps. “There is no doubt it will grow… we are going to have to ramp up, and you never know what is round the next corner.”
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Tech firm Cayan expands at City Quays By John Mulgrew
echnology firm Cayan is expanding into additional new offices at Belfast’s City Quays building as it continues to grow its workforce, Ulster Business can reveal.
At the time, Paul Vienneau, chief technology officer of Cayan, said: "Our Northern Ireland operation is incredibly significant to our overall business strategy, with our Belfast development team consistently delivering product engineering excellence."
Cayan, formerly known as Merchant Warehouse, is based at the City Quays 1 building. The company, which provides payment processing platforms to its clients, revealed late last year that it’s growing its team to 240 workers and hiring an additional 170 staff. It is adding customer services roles, including client services representatives, team leaders and case managers. But it’s now understood that the company is taking on the former offices of MACOM
Paul Vienneau of Cayan, and Jeremy Fitch, Invest NI
Technology Solutions, which closed down in Belfast earlier this year. Murphy Chartered Surveyors was responsible for securing the lease. In December, Invest NI announced it had offered Cayan £680,000 towards the creation of the new posts, of which around 100 were in place by December.
Since setting up in 2013, Cayan has seen steady growth over the past few years and expects its overall headcount in Northern Ireland to rise to 240 people by 2019. In 2016, MACOM announced a move to City Quays 1 at Belfast Harbour from its offices at Newforge Lane in the south of the city. At the time, it said it hoped to double its team of 22 staff. But the company has since moved out of the building.
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Brexit benefits 'outweighed' by costs of leaving the EU “However, at the same time, it is not in the interest of Northern Irish businesses to fall significantly out of step when it comes to UK regulation and by doing so set up barriers in the Irish sea. “Unfortunately, a balance that protects Northern Ireland’s economic prosperity has yet to be identified”. According to the CBI, there are three main areas that “should guide both UK and EU negotiators”. • Where rules are fundamental to the trade or transport of goods, the UK and EU must negotiate ongoing convergence
By John Mulgrew
ome business sectors in Northern Ireland and across the UK will see opportunities with Brexit but they are “vastly outweighed” by the costs of the leaving the EU, a new report has claimed. A new six-month study by the CBI, entitled 'Smooth Operations', examines the impact and regulatory needs of 23 industry and services sectors across the UK. The CBI study says “Brexit presents opportunities for rule changes in sectors such as agriculture, shipping and tourism that could benefit the British economy and consumers”. But it warns that “these opportunities for divergence are vastly outweighed by the costs of deviating from rules necessary to ensure smooth access to the EU market”.
“Another important finding is that changes to rules in one sector have significant knock on effects for companies in other sectors and throughout supply chains,” it says. Angela McGowan, CBI's Northern Ireland director, says that as “the only part of the UK which shares a land border with an EU member state, Northern Ireland businesses rely on continued regulatory convergence to support all-island operations and supply chains”. “Individuals cross the border every day for meetings and commutes, as do goods and services,” she said. “A significant amount of convergence with EU rules will be necessary for Northern Irish companies to continue operating seamlessly across the island of Ireland.” She said continued alignment, including the all-island electricity market, is key to continued business success here.
• As part of the new relationship, negotiators should set a new international precedent for liberalising trade in services and digital products • Alignment will need to come with mechanisms for influence and enforcement that benefit both sides Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI director general, said: “It’s vitally important that negotiators understand the complexity of rules and the effects that even the smallest of changes can have. “Deviation from rules in one sector will have a knock-on effect on businesses in others, and divergence from rules in one part of a production process will have consequences for market access throughout entire supply chains. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of the decisions that will be taken over the next six months. Put simply, for the majority of businesses, diverging from EU rules and regulations will make them less globally competitive, and so should only be done where the evidence is clear that the benefits outweigh the costs.”
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Record year for Titanic Belfast
record number of people have flocked to Titanic Belfast in the last year – with more than 840,000 visitors.
Visitor numbers were up 13% year-on-year at the attraction, while numbers were 4% higher than 2012. The top tourist spot organisation said it had played a key role in the growth of tourism in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement. Judith Owens, Titanic Belfast's chief executive, said: "Since we opened in 2012, we have continued to go from strength to strength, having now welcomed over 4.4 million visitors from over 145 different countries. “The year 2017/18 has been a very strong year for us, with a 13% increase in visitors year on year. Now over 85% of our visitors are coming from outside Northern Ireland and one in five people are now visiting Ireland because of Titanic Belfast. “We, alongside Belfast and Northern Ireland, are firmly on the global tourism map and we have plenty more to give."
And John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI, said the attraction had been a "catalyst for economic growth" in the city. At the start of the year, Titanic Belfast announced it would create 70 new permanent jobs as part of the tourist attraction's latest expansion. It's adding 29 full-time staff alongside 41 roles with varying weekly hours.
How to handle World Cup absence Adopting a flexible approach to requests from employees during big sporting events such as the World Cup can ensure business goals are scored and staff remain onside, says HR Team Director Martina McAuley.
Another option is to allow staff to listen to coverage on the radio or watch matches on TV in the workplace. Employers may allow employees to have their breaks during matches. Making substitutions by way of shift swaps, which are pre-approved by the team manager, is also an option.
Employers need not suffer own goals in business productivity or workplace relations by being ill-prepared for requests to facilitate staff wishes to watch their heroes perform.
It is equally important to be clear on the rules of play in the workplace to ensure that staff avoid being shown the red card and other penalties.
Although no Irish team will feature in Russia next month, the tournament is expected to lead to an increase in requests for time off in workplaces across Northern Ireland. Now is the time to put agreements in place that cover requests for time off, sickness absence, website use, watching TV or listening to radio at work during this period. “Employers can expect requests for time off, extended breaks or flexible working arrangements and it would be a good idea for them to be prepared in advance. Granting these requests is something employers should be considering in order
Unreasonable demands or behaviour in the workplace during this period can be easily avoided if everyone is clear on the policy. HR Team Director Martina McAuley
to maintain high productivity and avoid conflicted loyalties. A possible option for employers is to permit more flexible working hours. Employees could perhaps start later or finish sooner and agree to make up the extra time on another date.
Employers need certain staffing levels in order for their businesses to run smoothly. It is therefore important that employers have basic workplace agreements in place.
For further information or trusted advice on any human resources, employment law or performance management issue contact HR Team on email@example.com or visit: www.hrteamservices.com
Neal Shanks, Matt McCullough, Peter Allen, Andrew Johnston and Orla O’Dowd at the We Are Vertigo skydive centre in Belfast
Deloitte invests in growing NI There’s more interest from investors in companies from Northern Ireland than might be expected in a time of Brexit uncertainty, according to the corporate finance advisory practice at Deloitte. Ulster Business met partner Peter Allen and his team
ou might assume that, under a cloud of Brexit uncertainty and more than a year without a functioning government at Stormont, the investment community’s view of Northern Ireland would not be particularly favourable.
But the number of deals involving local companies which have taken place in the past 12 months and the number of businesses successfully attracting investment suggests that the opposite is actually true, according to Peter Allen, corporate finance partner at Deloitte in Belfast.
“Deal activity, both M&A and debt raising, is happening despite Brexit and the impasse at Stormont. In what are uncertain times, the interest being shown in Northern Ireland companies should be viewed as a real good news story,” he says.
COVER STORY “We’re seeing very strong M&A activity and appetite for investment in Northern Ireland. 2017 was a busy year for M&A across the island of Ireland and we expect to see continued strong activity for the rest of this year and into 2019,” Anya says. “This is driven by international corporate buyers seeking acquisition opportunities and an active private equity market. Both Dublin and London funds are competing for investment opportunities in high growth businesses with international expansion capabilities, led by strong management teams.” Complementing Anya’s experience is recently appointed M&A partner Jan Fitzell who will jointly lead the firm’s M&A services offering, advising companies on their acquisition, disposal and capital raising strategies. He was previously director of IBI in Dublin for 14 years. They add to the corporate finance expertise Peter Allen has built in Belfast over the last eight years as Northern Ireland has transitioned out of recession. In addition to a strong restructuring practice the team has grown to include debt, equity, M&A and forensic advisory services.
“NI businesses that have made it through the last recession are generally robust and lean organisations. They have strong routes to market, they are likely to be international businesses who export and they have a flexible platform upon which to grow.” Having recently acted as lead advisers on the largest Northern Ireland private equity deal in recent memory – the £60m investment in Lowe Rental by London family office fund Perwyn – Deloitte’s team is well placed to assess the lie of the land. Deloitte provided advisory and debt advisory services to the management shareholders and investor MML in the transaction and found there was strong interest from the international private equity community in Lowe because of its strong growth prospects in overseas markets.
Lowe’s chief executive Rodney Lowry, said the transaction was “executed with precision” and praised the “professionalism and expertise of the entire Deloitte team”. There is, says Peter, a lot of similar activity in the pipeline and as a result Deloitte has invested significantly in its corporate finance and M&A capabilities, bringing together London, Dublin and Northern Ireland expertise to provide a different type of offer to the market. This includes partner Anya Cummins, who started her career in the firm’s corporate finance team in Dublin and re-joined Deloitte in 2016 after spending five years with sellside specialist boutique Cavendish Corporate Finance in London. She specialises in mergers, acquisitions, disposals and equity capital raising.
At the forefront of building connections across Northern Ireland and advising on debt and equity fundraising deals is Matt McCullough, senior manager in the corporate finance team. Neal Shanks has also joined that team to lead on debt advisory, bringing 15 years’ experience of the banking sector. He is currently advising on several fundraising deals for significant local trading businesses as well as major development sites including Giant’s Park and the Sirocco site in Belfast. “Deloitte is doing something different. We’ve brought it all together by augmenting our teams on the ground in Belfast and Dublin with people who have gained that London experience of the investment process and know what each type of deal requires,” says Peter. Matt has been the driving force behind a number of deals to help growing businesses in the past year, including the £2.5m equity >
Matt McCullough, left, and Andrew Johnston, right, with David Ferguson and Colin McClean from Bob & Berts
security that grab the headlines. But Peter says that a number of the best growth stories are happening in traditional industries such as manufacturing, food & agri and hospitality and leisure and these stories are not confined to Belfast.
investment in cafe chain Bob & Berts by the Business Growth Fund (BGF) and the £1.5m debt and mezzanine financing package that enabled We Are Vertigo to launch Ireland’s first indoor skydiving centre. Bob & Berts currently has 16 coffee shops but having secured the investment from BGF now intends to open an additional 30 stores across Northern Ireland, the Republic and Scotland over the next four years, which could result in as many as 600 new jobs being created. Having previously opened the first indoor trampoline park in Northern Ireland, We Are Vertigo demonstrated their ambitions were even higher with the £1.5m investment to open the island’s first indoor skydiving centre, creating 20 jobs in the process. “Most of the companies I speak to are looking at opportunities for growth,” Matt says. “For a lot of them the biggest challenge is accessing the right sort of funding to realise their plans. Deloitte acts as the gateway to a range of investment options for the private sector.” A lot of the companies Matt meets are growing businesses who are potential candidates for Deloitte’s Best Managed Companies programme or are already part
Anya Cummins with Peter Allen and Jan Fitzell
of the programme. He says there is particular growth activity and investor interest in sectors such as technology and manufacturing, but the attention isn’t limited to those industries. “There is undoubtedly interest in Northern Ireland from funders and investors at the moment, which represents a strong opportunity for businesses to market themselves,” Matt says. Speaking about We Are Vertigo’s success, Peter said the business “identified a market need and addressed it with a really good product”, adding that it “continues to innovate, and has a fantastic management team”. When M&A in Northern Ireland is discussed it is often hot sectors such as fintech and cyber
Deloitte, which now has close to 800 employees in Northern Ireland, has also recognised that what companies here want is not limited to M&A and has invested accordingly in its expertise in debt advisory, customs & VAT, corporate tax and forensics. This benefits the business, but it is also in keeping with Deloitte’s commitment to helping bring investment in to NI, which is evidenced by the firm’s significant support for the regeneration plans of Belfast City Council including being a lead sponsor of the Belfast delegation that attended the MIPIM property conference. “Deloitte has confidence in Northern Ireland as a great place to do business and a hotbed of talent and we’re committed to playing our part to bring investment and attention to the region,” Peter says. “Deloitte’s own expansion and the breadth of expertise within the business demonstrates our determination to invest in our economy and the scale of Northern Ireland’s ambition into the future.” ■
Colin Bickerstaff, senior engineer, Elaine McCormick, mailroom accounts manager and Mike Wiseman, service support manager
Thirty years on and going strong N orth Time and Data (NTD) has worked with some of Northern Ireland’s biggest companies and public bodies for 30 years. The company, which has been in the niche mailroom business since 1988, has steadily grown its reach across Northern Ireland. The Lisburn business began with a team of three, and now employs 19. “We offer a range of products to cater for the postal and mail-handling needs of a sole trader, right up to the more complicated processes required by larger enterprises with their own dedicated post room; and all of our customers can also avail of the great discounts offered by Royal Mail,” Elaine McCormick said. “We offer the latest digital systems and Neopost provide ongoing training for all our staff, to keep abreast of new developments in the industry.” The firm, which is still locally owned, also boasts Royal Mail’s authorised maintainer status. North Time & Data was founded in 1988 by Clive Irwin; since then, it has grown steadily
and in 2012, Clive decided to pass the reigns over to its current managing director, Stephen Brown.
“As a Northern Ireland company, we pride ourselves in the very personal and professional service that both our sales and service teams deliver” Stephen said. “I’m delighted to have a very experienced and dedicated team on board, as we continue to grow a very successful business. As Neopost’s Premier Partner in Northern Ireland, we are well placed to take advantage of innovative mailhandling products as they come to market,” he adds. “We are absolutely dedicated to top class customer service. Year-on-year, we’ve been delighted to grow the business, bringing on new customers, alongside assisting and advising existing customers, as they grow and expand.” Among its list of clients, NTD has been appointed the sole supplier of mailroom equipment to the Education Authority since 2008, providing solutions to schools and colleges all over the province. It was most recently awarded the latest contract in April 2017.
Another of the firm’s customers is First Trust Bank. The bank began working with NTD over 10 years ago and has since forged a strong and successful relationship with the company, according to Simon Pritchard, First Trust Bank’s property and facilities. “I already knew that my colleagues in First Trust had a very good relationship with NTD and from the beginning I was impressed by their attitude and can-do approach,” he said. “NTD was headed up by Elaine McCormick with dedicated technical support from service manager Mike Wiseman and service engineers James Rainey and Colin Bickerstaff. Right from the start Elaine made it clear that NTD valued their relationship with First Trust Bank and would do whatever they could to enhance their business throughout the branch network. “The new Neopost devices have now been up and running for approximately three months and to date, we have had no issues. “This project was a success by any standards but I think it is hard to imagine it running so smoothly without the local support, commitment and professionalism demonstrated by Elaine and the team at NTD. So all I can say is, here is to NTD’s next 30 years of doing business in Northern Ireland.”
No regrets... Gerry Mallon’s imminent departure from Ulster Bank in the Republic came as a surprise to many. But the IFA chairman tells John Mulgrew, the decision to jump to Tesco Bank didn’t come easy
erry Mallon says he has “zero regrets” as he’s set to leave the Ulster Bank in the Republic after less than two years in charge. In an interview with Ulster Business, the former Danske Bank boss said his time at the helm of the RBS-owned bank, for just under two years, has been “interesting” but he’s been surprised by how negative the perception of the industry, and bankers in general, still is, in Ireland. The Belfast man – who is also chair of the Irish Football Association (IFA) – is leaving to head up Tesco’s challenger bank, later this year. But he said he initially turned down the new job.
“I wasn’t interested in a move, and wasn’t looking for a move. At that level, you get approached... I initially said that I wasn’t interested, but Tesco persisted in asking me to take a look at it. “The more I did, the more excited I became about it.” He said he didn’t expect to leave his top Ulster Bank role after less than two years in charge. “Yes, clearly you don’t go into a role like that with the expectation that you will leave in a couple of years. I did see myself as having a longer term at RBS, but when opportunities present themselves to you can’t choose the timing.”
Gerry says there are still “more legacy issues in the south still to be resolved, but they are finite and they will be resolved”. “None of those are reasons to leave,” he said. The Republic’s banking sector is going through a fresh challenging period, amid an industry controversy over tracker mortgages. At the end of 2015 it emerged customers, across a range of lenders in the Republic, were denied a tracker interest rate on their mortgage which they were entitled to. “It’s something that is being dealt with,” Gerry said. “I think the industry will recover but it still feels now like the industry did in 2010, in the UK.
“I have no doubt that the industry hasn’t covered itself in glory. But I do think that the treatment of the industry has been quite harsh. “The part I see, is a lot of people in the industry working hard to do the right thing. “It will be resolved this year... the damage which has been done in terms of public trust will be decades in the mending.” “It (the market in the Republic) has taken a turn for the worse gain in the last half of 2017, when the tracker mortgage issue really became a major political concern. That wasn’t something that I would have seen coming.
“I have zero regrets about the move to RBS, which I think has been wonderful development for me and I am moving on to something which is a fantastic new opportunity. “It’s a really difficult decision to leave RBS and to leave Ulster Bank. “I have been presented with such a fantastic opportunity... coming at banking from a very different perspective. It’s impossible to say no to it. “Clearly there is less legacy there, but I think what is exciting is the reach and the power of Tesco. >
“It’s such a wonderfully all encompassing every-man brand, that everyone in the UK can relate to. “There is strong trust there. No matter how much we as bankers talk about customer service and simplicity, no one does it as well as a retailer. “Coming at financial services with the customer-friendly approach of a retailer is very exciting. “Tesco, through the Clubcard, has a unique approach to customer loyalty, something that banking has never been able to crack. “The notion of both banking being able to enhance and improve the Tesco loyalty, and being able to benefit through Clubcard points is a real winner for the customer, and the retailer.” He said Tesco is now the largest of the socalled challenger banks, with more than seven million customers. “It has quietly got on with building a strong position,” Gerry said. Gerry took over as chief executive of Danske Bank in 2008, just weeks before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. He’s headed up Ulster Bank’s operations in the Republic for less than two years, and has been at the helm of the Irish Football Association (IFA) since 2015. The 48-year-old’s career has brought him from the Northern Ireland subsidiary of a Danish bank headquartered in Copenhagen to the Dublin base of a bank owned by a Scottish parent company, and now to Edinburgh, where Tesco Bank has its own base. Following his somewhat surprise departure, Les Matheson, chief executive of personal and business banking at Ulster Bank parent RBS, said the Belfast man had “made a significant contribution to the continued turnaround of Ulster Bank since joining in 2016”. On his time with the IFA, including his third year as chairman, Gerry says it’s key that the organisation gets the “right levels of
professional corporate governance and financial expertise”. “Between us (the non-executive directors) we complement the rest of the board members, who are coming from the football family. “They understand more about the grassroots, about the league and the game.” And it’s very much a business, according to Gerry. “It’s a £15m turnover business that has some big government assets, and has responsibility, and is a national institution,” he said.
“It is a great source of pride. If you look around, that is how we all do it. It’s not a remunerated position. “We do it because we want to contribute. I was never going to get capped on the pitch.” Gerry says the part-time role hasn’t made a great deal of difference to his already busy work schedule. “From my perspective, I’ve got the less onerous jobs, and possibly less glamorous (roles) – chairing the meetings. “If we have competent board members, strong staff and a good chief, then the role as chairman should be relatively light.” ■
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The new AC Hotel
NI hotel sector to grow to 9,500 rooms By John Mulgrew
orthern Ireland's hotel room numbers look set to break the 9,500 mark by the end of this year, according to a new industry report. The latest hotel opening its doors in Belfast is the AC Hotel. The £25m Belfast Harbour development, which boasts 188 bedrooms, is creating around 80 new jobs. It also features the first Irish restaurant from chef Jean-Christophe Novelli. According to the latest report from the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation (NIHF), overall hotel occupancy stood at 77.7% in 2017, across the province – with year-on-year growth of 2.9%. “2017 was a strong year with consolidation in occupancy, growth in room rates and good trading conditions,” according to NIHF chief executive, Janice Gault. “We had a number of new openings and expansions over the course of 2017 and this expansion is set to ramp up in 2018 with two new properties already opened in the first quarter. We have had a reasonable start to the year with reports suggesting that Easter has held up well. “
But she said the industry still faces challenges, in particular, the recruiting of staff. “Recruitment of new staff and finding staff with suitable skills to take up supervisory and management roles has been difficult over the last 18 months.,” she said. “New openings, competition from other sectors and a reduction in numbers of workers from within the EU have exacerbated an already difficult situation.” The report says that 23% of staff in the hospitality sector are “non-nationals and their position regarding employment in a post-Brexit UK is not clear”. It also says occupancy levels “slowed considerably” as the year drew to an end, particularly in Londonderry, and the south west. The new Grand Central hotel, which features 300 bedrooms – making it Northern Ireland's largest hotel – is set to open its doors in Bedford Street in Belfast, next month. Work has also begun across the road, with Liverpool developer Lawrence Kenwright turning the Scottish Mutual building into a new George Best hotel.
Since September 2017, 684 rooms have been added to the city’s hotel stock, an 18% increase in bedroom numbers, according to the report. Meanwhile, speaking about the new AC Hotel, vice president of premium and select brands Europe, John Licence, Marriott International, said: “Belfast has established itself as a leading business, hospitality and tourism destination and we are delighted that Marriott International is entering Northern Ireland with the opening of AC Belfast. “As our portfolio expands, we continue to seek design-driven properties that offer our creative and entrepreneurial guests distinctive architecture and thoughtful design that is both affordable and accessible, and this hotel is a perfect example of that.” And the hotel's general manager, Lisa Steele, said: “The doors are open, and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome our Belfast guests in the inimitable AC Hotels’ way. “Our mission is to provide guests with an elevated stay, keeping things simple and stylish, paying mindful attention to the detail of what they actually want, and delivering thoughtfully designed moments of elegance throughout their stay.” ■
Business finance & banking
BUSINESS FINANCE & BANKING
Back in the black A decade on from the biggest economic crisis in a generation, John Mulgrew asks whether Northern Irelandâ€™s banking sector is fully back on track
BUSINESS FINANCE & BANKING
as banking returned to a precrash 'normalised' environment? Tens years on from the recession, banks are in profit, with the bulk of those profits relying less and less on so-called writebacks - cash set aside to cover expected loan losses that can then be released. But while lending books are burgeoning, whether the sector is now “normalised” is still up for debate. “It would be hard to view this as a full return to normality, if indeed there is such a thing in economic terms,” Neil Gibson, chief economist with EY in Ireland told Ulster Business. “A successful banking sector is essential to support a growing economy and the return to profitability and an uptick in lending for the major banks in Northern Ireland is extremely welcome. “It comes at a time when employee job numbers have returned to pre-recession levels and the unemployment rate has equalled its lowest recorded level. “... interest rates remain extremely low and real incomes remain lower than before the crisis. Property prices remain well below the unsustainable peak experienced a decade ago and the region is currently without a functioning Executive.” With Danske Bank, pre-tax profits soared to £147.5m in 2017. That was driven by a strong surge in mortgage lending – up almost a third. Overall, lending balances were up 9% yearon-year and deposit growth has also been marked, rising by 5%.
Our latest Northern Ireland results show the way in which we have been changing and improving our organisation to become a simpler, safer and more customerfocused bank.
and closer to customers. These changes have made a tangible impact, with an average of 37 new small business relationships being established every week.”
“Indicators such as the Ulster Bank Northern Ireland PMI continue to point to relatively strong growth in the private sector and Ulster Bank is playing an active role in supporting companies and consumers. “Our latest Northern Ireland results show the way in which we have been changing and improving our organisation to become a simpler, safer and more customer-focused bank. “We are a leading supporter of business and personal customers across Northern Ireland and we have robust policies in place to finance good deals and play a leading part in local growth. “... we have retained the largest share of the personal and business current account market in Northern Ireland.
“In the small business sector, last year we completed a programme of relocating our small business advisers back into key branches throughout Northern Ireland,” Simon Little, head of communications at Danske Bank, said.
Richard Donnan, head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, says there is “no doubt that the economy and the banking sector are in a more normalised environment than they were 10 years ago, or even five years ago”.
“Overall, our business in Northern Ireland continues to show a strong performance, with a profit driven by positive underlying performance across all areas of our business as well significantly reduced impairment writebacks, which point to the more normalised environment in which we are operating”.
“This decision was taken as a result of feedback from small businesses and it has allowed our people to be more accessible
In the last year, its corporate lending book has grown by 15%, with a 29% increase in small business drawdowns.
Neil Gibson said that “with an evolved regulatory environment and scars still remaining from the recession in many >
BUSINESS FINANCE & BANKING
locations and within particular businesses it is perhaps better to think of the sector as reshaped and operating in an environment that is different to what went before”. “Put another way – ready for today, rather than returning to yesterday,” he said. “Attitudes to lending and risk are changing as the recession slips further into the rear view mirror but the uncertainty of Brexit and government spending plans still present headwinds for local lending. “Nevertheless demand is likely to continue to tick upwards, not least because many firms have not invested significantly during the fallow years and the need to upgrade premises and equipment, to recruit and retrain and to seek out acquisitions and make growth enabling decisions is becoming more urgent.” Bank of Ireland says that since the recession “much has changed in what is clearly a resized business lending market in Northern Ireland”.
“The opportunities for lending are across a number of sectors SMEs and trading businesses, with the fundamentals of lending to the fore. In particular the focus is on cash generation and repayment capacity, the strength of the business case and proposition and the experience and quality of the leadership team.
potential corporate and business investments are on hold and ready to be actioned when the fog lifts.”
“The breadth of choice for business borrowing is probably wider than ever. Over the last three years Bank of Ireland lending approvals to businesses in Northern Ireland have increased by 43% and the latest data from UK Finance confirms that demand for business finance across the market has been steady rather than spectacular over the last 12 months, with the volume of applications, approvals and drawdowns reaching a 'new norm'.
“Larger corporate banking customers have returned to a healthier state, but we’re still seeing uncertainty in the business environment for SMEs with both approval levels and lending stocks quite flat.
“With a modest forecast for regional growth, the likelihood of another small interest rate rise shortly and ongoing Brexit-related uncertainty, we do not anticipate this changing significantly in the near-term. To date, the Brexit outcome has had a limited impact on performance overall although some
Brian Gillan, head of business and corporate banking at First Trust Bank, said that 10 years on from the recession “we are potentially starting to see a two tier market emerging”.
“We are seeking to help businesses and one way we’re doing this is by working with customers in different sectors to understand and plan for the potential implications of Brexit. “Uncertainty is a new certainty, and our guidance to SMEs remains consistent. Supply chains and business operating models need to be continually reviewed against the issues, challenges and opportunities that are presenting themselves in a changing market.” ■
David Trimble, Bono and John Hume pictured on stage at the Waterfront Hall in 1998
The economic impact of the Good Friday Agreement Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at Ulster University, assesses the economic impact of the Good Friday Agreement, 20 years on from the signing Economic life and well-being have improved for most people One indicator of this is that Northern Ireland’s population has grown considerably adding 174,000 to the total between 1998 and 2015. Moreover, for a time, the previous historical trend of being a net exporter of people was reversed. A much higher percentage of the population now comes from outside Northern Ireland; positive net immigration added 35,000 people during 1998-2015. Not only are there more of us but on average we are living longer. Those of us of working age are more likely to be employed and more people are working in high productivity service and manufacturing sectors. Participation rates in university education are also higher than it was in 1998. This all leads to higher wages and incomes compared to 20 years ago. Albeit earnings growth was concentrated in the 1998-2007 period and then interrupted by the banking crisis. 1998 is not the best year to benchmark performance - it was not a turning point If one looks at indicators such as population growth, employment or tourist numbers, the turning points in performance appear to come before 1998. The political agreement may have
consolidated an established trend, which would have commenced after the end of the early recession in the 1990s, and given a significant boost by the calling of the 1994 ceasefires.
period of operation was marked by three periods of political negotiations. And, for more than 450 days now we have really had 'no government'.
Our relative economic performance has not improved and may have worsened Twenty years on and significant performance gaps relative to both the UK and Republic of Ireland averages still persist. Notably relative GVA, or economic output, per head is a few percentage points less than the 1998 levels.
Lack of an obvious positive devolution difference in policy terms Given the many persistent economic challenges locally, it is reasonable to ask if the Executive took full advantage of its devolved powers. In the post 2007 period, it developed “super parity”, which is a relatively low level of taxes and charges compared to GB. There were many fiscal 'giveaways', which in the current environment may no longer be sustainable. But have many of these policies really helped the economy? Another discussion point could be the devolution of corporation tax, but the implementation of this policy at this time remains highly uncertain and conditional on a restoration of Stormont along with budget sustainability.
Conditions improved in the early years, but the financial crisis had a much greater impact locally than nationally. It is also important to recognise that the process of re-balancing the economy to be less public sector reliant has also occurred and would not be reflected in the headline economic indicators. The extent to which there is greater political stability is mixed Such stability may matter to business but it is far from obvious how much extra stability the Agreement delivered. Devolution did not operate continuously throughout the 20 years. It was stop-start during December 1999 to October 2002. The mid-2007 to January 2017
In conclusion, the economy and individual prosperity has improved since 1998, but the evidence would suggest that devolution may have been more important at a political level than an economic level. ■
What is invoice finance? By Sean Dolan, business development manager, Bibby Financial Services Ireland
eeping cash flowing is the most important part of any business. Invoice finance enables you to do this by releasing cash tied up in outstanding invoices, giving you an immediate cash injection and an ongoing supply of cash that grows in line with your sales.
Invoice factoring is ideal for smaller businesses without an established accounts team or those who want the benefits of a funding and collections service. We provide the finance and manage your credit control, chasing and collecting outstanding invoice payments on your behalf.
BENEFITS TO YOU: Whether you are a small start-up business struggling with working capital or larger organisation looking for a cash injection to fund expansion plans, as long as you are trading on credit terms within the business to business marketplace you can benefit from invoice finance.
A SECURE FORM OF FINANCE As the sales ledger is used to secure access to funds we don’t require an extensive credit history.
Invoice finance takes two main forms - invoice discounting and invoice factoring.
IMPROVE YOUR PROFIT Paying suppliers early lets you buy in larger quantities and take advantage of any volume discounts available.
FUNDING WITHIN 24 HOURS We provide an immediate injection of funds into your business against the agreed value of outstanding invoices. ■
Invoice discounting is a funding-only solution, more suited to businesses with a credit control function in-house. We provide the finance and you remain in control of collecting payments.
ACCESS TO SPECIALIST EXPERTISE We take an in-depth view of your business; this includes taking into account the entire financial picture when making a decision.
For more information about Bibby Financial Services Ireland, please visit: www.bibbyfinancialservices.ie or call Sean directly on 079 17 006 051
NI economy to grow by 1.2% in 2019 By John Mulgrew
he Northern Ireland economy is forecast to grow by 1% this year – falling behind the UK’s expansion as a whole.
“Stormont’s political stalemate is continuing into a second year, with seemingly no current prospects of restoring the devolved institutions,” Mr Lambe said.
The latest report from Danske Bank says consumers are set to face “some pressure over the next two years”. It predicts the economy will grow by 1.2% in 2019. “After rising last year, we think that inflation has now passed its peak and expect it to slow through 2018 and 2019,” Conor Lambe, Danske Bank chief economist said. “Local consumer spending growth is projected to pick up slightly, but the expected 0.7% increase in 2018 is still relatively modest.” “Brexit-related uncertainty is likely to continue to weigh on business investment as companies still face uncertainty around their future, long-term access to EU markets. “But, on a more positive note, the global economy is performing strongly and this
The only sector to witness contraction is public administration and defence, according to Danske Bank.
should provide some support to exporting businesses this year.” Across the sectors, administration and support sector is expected to be the fastest growing in Northern Ireland in 2018, rising by 3.5%, followed by IT and communications on 3.4%. Meanwhile, the wholesale and retail trade sector could see growth of 1.3%. Manufacturing is predicted to see a 1% uplift, while construction output is projected to increase by just 0.7%.
“The lack of political representation has led to the postponement of big issues such as healthcare reform, and the length of the impasse has caused frustration within the Northern Ireland business community. “The Brexit negotiations are continuing following the sign-off by the EU’s political leaders of a 21-month transition period from when Brexit formally occurs in March 2019. “Given the December deal and the agreement on a transition period, the chances of a no deal outcome are now less than they were just a few months ago, although there are still a number of issues to be negotiated.” ■
YOUR SUCCESS IS OUR SUCCESS Partner with the funding experts who go beyond the numbers Every 46 minutes a new business chooses to partner with Bibby Financial Services. Why? Aside from our global presence and industry expertise, we believe that the best funding solutions come from getting a real understanding of your needs and developing a true partnership together. For a relationship based approach to funding, get in touch with one of our experts.
CALL US ON 07917 006 051
WE BELIEVE IN YOUR BUSINESS
INVOICE FINANCE • EXPORT FINANCE • BAD DEBT PROTECTION
Pictured from left are: Mark Mitten, Eadaoin Sharkey, Caolan Byrne, Carol Weir, Chris Donnelly, Chris Rainbird, Russell Smyth, Adam Leslie, Gary Borland, Lisa Magill, Mark Fletcher, Rachel Harrison, Philip Maxwell. Not in pic: Ian Jordan, Maria McDonnell, Stephen Wallace, Stephanie Denny, Carolyn McCappin, Matthew Mullan, Joseph Letts
A busy year for KPMG’s dealmakers How KPMG’s corporate finance team has established a winning presence at the heart of the all-island deals market
ussell Smyth and Chris Donnelly are busy men. They are part of the corporate finance team at KPMG which has been involved in some of the biggest deals to have been completed across the island of Ireland in recent months in both the public and private sector.
ALL-ISLAND TEAM Russell is the partner who heads up the corporate finance team in Northern Ireland, as well as leading on a number of high profile deals in the Republic of Ireland. Along with Russell and Chris, Gary Borland is the third member of the senior team working on private sector deals.
Just look at the team’s ‘Corporate Finance Advisory Firm of the Year’ win at the recent Insider Dealmaker of the Year awards for proof of that success.
Meanwhile, Chris Rainbird heads up the public sector team supported by his senior team of Rachel Harrison and Stephen Wallace.
Russell and Chris spoke about what sets KPMG apart as corporate finance advisors, and looked back on some of the headline deals they have completed recently.
The 20-strong team in Belfast operates seamlessly as part of KPMG Corporate Finance Ireland, one of the largest dedicated corporate finance teams on the island with 75 staff.
The geographical spread, Russell says, offers the firm a unique all-island perspective. That’s evidenced by some of the deals KPMG have completed recently, which include a number of high profile and cross border deals such as: • Fundraising for Co Armagh company Northway Mushrooms to build a mushroom composting facility • Private equity investment in Ashdale Care by MML Growth Capital • Sale of Pallas Windfarm for €72m (£62m) • Sale of part of the renewable energy company, Gaelectric
Demonstrating the breadth of the team’s work, KPMG is also the lead advisor to Belfast City Council for the Belfast Region City Deal which has the potential to supercharge economic growth across Northern Ireland. SECTOR FOCUS One key factor setting the KPMG team apart is its sectoral knowledge, according to Russell. “We are active across all sectors but have a particularly strong track record in healthcare, energy, infrastructure and agri-food,” he said. “Collectively we have sector-leading knowledge of our target sectors, as well as access to the wealth of knowledge which KPMG globally is able to offer.” Another key differentiator is their unrivalled knowledge of alternative funding sources such as the use of private equity, nonrecourse lending and unitranche funding. Russell said the options in the funding market have expanded significantly in the last few years.
Chris said: “We came from a place where the funding landscape was dominated by banks but that is changing with more funding options available alongside a healthy banking market. We have a deep understanding of the funding options available and know what works.”
confidence and more developed M&A strategies among both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland corporates will ensure a healthy pipeline of deals are completed in 2018,” Russell said.
On Brexit, Russell said it is undoubtedly on investors’ agendas, but hasn’t impacted their pipeline over the last year, as evidenced by the Ashdale Care and Northway deals.
While the corporate finance team at KPMG is obviously busy, there is time for a little downtime, although even that sees them compete hard with peers in the sector.
“While we can clearly see how Brexit could impact investor appetite, we have been seeing strong flows of funding from the Republic of Ireland and GB markets. There is a massively liquid market with a ‘wall of capital’ which has to be deployed.”
The KPMG Kingpins League is an annual 10pin bowling competition for bankers, lawyers and other advisors in Northern Ireland and is tightly fought.
According to KPMG’s M&A Outlook released earlier this year, deal activity in Northern Ireland fell slightly last year and respondents to the firm’s survey had a more cautious outlook for the year ahead with 27% forecasting an increase in deal volume. The picture is more positive in the Republic where 57% of respondents expect deal volumes to increase.
As you would expect, performance is analysed to the smallest detail. Russell is particularly pleased the firm is holding the top spot after five weeks, although a look at the individual leader board shows he is has some way to go to catch up with the rest of the team. But as he reminds us – it’s about the success of the team as a whole, not just the individual.
However, Russell said the deal pipeline is busy. “Our key skill is that we can quickly identify, understand and connect the new wave of funding options to the opportunities which are presented to us in the all-island market.”
“Strong capital availability in the market, including increased private equity and alternative lender activity, robust investor
With a strong pipeline of deals on the horizon and a determination to win in the bowling lanes, it’s clear the KPMG corporate finance team is in for another successful year. ■
Hard facts on pay and reward basic pay increase. This surely reflects the fact that many businesses recognise the need to fairly reward in order to retain the best talent. The high level of expectation for basic pay increases in the year ahead would indicate that employees feel they are performing to a high level in their job, and that significant demand exists in the market for their skills. Given the findings of our survey it is recommended that employers take time to benchmark their reward offerings in order to ensure retention of key personnel.
he team at Abacus have completed its annual survey of 1,000 employees from the Northern Ireland marketplace to create its most detailed reports on pay and benefits. The team surveyed employees that hold 60 distinct job titles across 20 job families, and as a result have produced 21 separate reports. The survey reports provide hard data on current average basic salaries per job title, as well as information on benefits currently available. The survey also established the percentage of each sample that gained a basic pay increase in the last year. Importantly, the survey asked respondents to comment upon whether or not they felt confident of a pay increase in the year ahead, and if so, how much they would expect that pay rise to be.
The findings showed 55% of respondents received a pay increase in the last year with 74% expecting a pay increase in the year ahead. Upon review of individual survey reports you will find a number of interesting facts. For example, 90% of those working in analytics expect a pay increase in the year ahead, the highest of any job family we surveyed. £3,221 is the average expectation for basic pay increase from marketing executives and 74% of employees working in accountancy practice in the last year obtained a pay increase. So, what does this data tell us? Well it is clear to see that in the last year, the majority of employees surveyed gained a
The Abacus Salary Survey Reports have the following titles: • Salary Survey Overview 2018 • Commercial accountancy • Accountancy practice • Accountancy tax • Accountancy support • IT analytics • IT software web • IT software OOP • IT software Q/A • Legal qualified • Legal non-practice • Legal support • Financial compliance • Financial crime • Financial project management • Financial IFA • Insurance • Human resources • Sales • Marketing • Office support The reports can be downloaded for free from abacus.jobs/salarysurveys. ■ Justin Rush is director at Belfast-based Abacus Group. He specialises in advising businesses on research, advice and strategy on talent. He can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
Commercial property & construction
Property advice, with a little more bite. COMMERCIAL PROPERTY & CONSTRUCTION
The current Sirocco site which will be transformed into the new Belfast Waterside development
The £400m city scheme rising from the ashes Chris Kane - the man behind the BBC's move to Salford - wants to turn Belfast's long-vacant Sirocco site into a thriving £400m hub. He speaks to John Mulgrew
he Irishman tasked with turning a long-vacant huge brownfield site on the banks of the River Lagan into a thriving business hub and community has long-standing ties to Belfast.
Chris Kane, originally from Kildare, is chairman of Vanguard Real Estate. It's the property vehicle which intends to finally develop the former Sirocco site, close to the Short Strand, into a massive mixed-use development.
“I'm not a developer. My career has been as a leader in corporate private real estate for the BBC and the Walt Disney company. My background is in large estate transformation,” he told Ulster Business.
Property performers, not puppets. COMMERCIAL PROPERTY & CONSTRUCTION
“I'm no stranger to Belfast. Part of what we were doing is building a connected community in a city that deserves regeneration.” One of his previous high-profile projects was the BBC's huge move to Salford in Manchester. It saw thousands of jobs being shifted into what is now the 200-acre MediaCityUK. “Salford was a great example, working with our branch team, to demonstrate through partnership... recreating Salford, and making the MediaCity what it is today.
Every time you fly in (to Belfast), you look at where Sirocco/ Waterside is... it’s a hidden gem. You say to yourself, this is what will unlock the city.
“There were the 2,500 jobs that the BBC brought along with Granada, independent production has spawned thousands of jobs, and added significantly to the GDP. The sale of the site was first revealed by the Belfast Telegraph back in 2016.
“It was based on a proper partnership between the public and private.
Chris wants the grand Belfast Waterside plan to be finished by 2023. It will see the 16-acre site include 250,000 sq ft of office space, hundreds of homes and a bridge – aiming to play host to more than 5,000 people when completed.
“That's what we hope to achieve for Belfast. At the moment, Belfast is a city beside the Lagan. It should be a city on the Lagan.
“My connection with the city goes back a long time,” Chris said.
“Part of what I would see the Belfast Waterside project doing, along with the Titanic Quarter, is helping to reconnect Belfast, and repopulate the Laganside, generally.
“I had the privilege of serving on the Laganside development (Laganside Corporation).
“Going back to my Disney days, re-imagining a huge brownfield site as a waterfront for the city (outside Paris).”
Essentially, a new town, Marne-la-Vallee, was built outside Paris to complement the new Disneyland resort, which opened in 1992. Speaking about plans for the new Belfast Waterside development, Chris said: “(It's about) bringing a brownfield site into a sustainable use, and clearly, delivering commercial returns to our organisation, but also working very hard to making a viable contribution to social purpose.” And whether it's exaggeration, or not, he's clear what he thinks Belfast, as a city, could become in the next five to 10 years. “If we get our act together, Belfast can be the best (city) on this island, if not in Europe or the rest of the world. The potential is there - the workforce, the connectivity, the quality of life.” Of course, like almost everyone else, he's also keen for a return to government at Stormont. “Belfast City Council made a great impact at MIPIM. It has a prominence, and it was great to see how big an impact it has had. That has to be built upon,” he said. “When I came on board, we engaged a whole raft of consultants, on the back of that, and I reconnected with contacts I made in the past, and the community. “People spoke out about their concerns, and hopefully the new updated designs will reflect that.” Asked what concerns had been raised about the plans, he said: “The issues were about whether it was exciting enough... connectivity. “It's about being able to walk home safely at night, from the city centre. “Being able to feel that this new piece of urban real estate is positive and indicative of Belfast in the 21st century. That, whatever community you come from, you can be proud of it. “Every time you fly in (to Belfast), you look at where Sirocco/Waterside is... it's a hidden >
Hound for hound, the best property team COMMERCIAL PROPERTY & CONSTRUCTION
The new Belfast Waterside plans
gem. You say to yourself, this is what will unlock the city.”
Chris Kane at MIPIM in Cannes
The company also took on new architects, Henning Larsen, to oversee the scheme's design. Planning consultancy Turley is also working on the development. “I wanted to get someone that understands cities that don't have 365 days of sunshine a year,” Chris said. “It's understanding daylight, and maximising the sun when it is out, and also dealing with wind.” The first phase includes 250,000 sq ft of office space, followed by the creation of one, two and three-bedroom apartments on the riverside site, as part of plans for up to 750 new homes. “Phase one is 250,000 sq ft office building and some housing - 700 sq m of hive building for content creation. Overall, it's a £400m project,” Chris said. “It's a biggie. It looks like Belfast has a shortage of grade A office space. “We want to put a spade in the ground this year, and complete by 2023. We have
significant confidence in Northern Ireland. If everyone can row in together, the city has huge advantage and will be hugely attractive to inward investment. “With phase two, we are going to get the design, the bridge finished, work with public bodies on how best to do that, working on public realm. “We have a good fortune to be well financed. The site was purchased for cash, so there is no debt on the site.” Previous plans for the waterside development included 5,000 apartments, a hotel, an international convention centre, a
supermarket, leisure facilities and other retail sites. Asda had been tipped as operators of the supermarket. Ewart Properties sold the Sirocco site for £40m to the Carvill Group in 2006. The proposal was once billed as "a new cultural destination for the city" and was one of the Carvill Group's flagship Belfast projects. However, Carvill Group, a company which made its name in construction as well as housebuilding, went into administration in 2011. ■
DTZ MCCOMBE PIERCE JOINS FORCES WITH CUSHMAN & WAKEFIELD Your local team at DTZ McCombe Pierce has joined forces with Cushman & Wakefield, one of the largest commercial real estate services firms in the world â€“ bringing you a whole new world of property opportunities. As a leading global real estate services firm, Cushman & Wakefield help clients transform the way people work, shop and live. With $6 billion of revenue and 45,000 employees in more than 70 countries, Cushman & Wakefield help investors optimise the value of their real estate by combining global perspective and deep local knowledge with an impressive platform of real estate solutions. We provide a service that is responsive, efficient, balanced and relevant, delivered with speed and integrity. The service delivery is backed up in strength and depth through our international office network. The same great service will continue with the same great team and with access to global occupiers, investors and financing for our clients. Wherever you want to invest, either in Northern Ireland or globally, make Cushman & Wakefield your first stop.
TRANSFORMED for a more global perspective
Award-winning Licensed Specialists COMMERCIAL PROPERTY & CONSTRUCTION
Is our future just a gamble to our politicians? By Martin McDowell, managing director, Osborne King
he television advertising for online gambling companies constantly makes it easier to wager on sporting events worldwide with Ray Winstone being part of the world’s largest betting market albeit he gambles responsibly on Bet 365. For Mr Green everything is possible; at Sky Bet you are trying to win Jeff Stelling’s money when you gamble on football, and with Ladbroke’s Chris Kamara, everything is “unbelievable”. However, even the industry recognises that gambling is addictive and the consequences of foolhardy behaviour catastrophic, hence the current stressing of the slogan “when the fun stops, stop”. Businesses in Northern Ireland have watched our politicians gamble with our future for way too long, and despite reassurances, we are no closer to having answers relating to many issues. For many of us the fun stopped a while ago yet the politicians gamble on without any real regard for the damage they leave behind. The last couple of years have seen a political impasse of epic proportion and a lack of leadership that is staggering in its ineptitude. The RHI scandal now seems like distant memory but it effectively created the vacuum that continues to today. Add in the Brexit negotiations and Northern Ireland business is left leaderless, rudderless and without any clear direction towards which to steer the economic ship. I have written before that “capital is a coward” and it is hard to deliver inward investment and jobs when you cannot point to basic requirements such as stable government, an effective planning regime and a certainty surrounding cross-border issues.
At Osborne King we have continued to try and sell the positives of Northern Ireland as a region in which to invest but our successes are matched with failures as deals fall away when investors research the uncertain climate that exists. For the third time in recent months we have heard of a significant deal being pulled because of “the political uncertainty within Northern Ireland” (only mildly amusing when I realise that my entire 35-year career has been within a climate of political instability) and on each occasion the investors are well experienced in international markets. Northern Ireland needs inward investment especially within the financial/legal/IT services sectors and to enable property developments to be viable which feeds through to helping our construction sector. US companies constantly tell us that they like NI due to the availability of graduate talent, relatively low occupational and wage costs and a good standard of living. Our economy is changing and we need to continue to encourage graduates to stay and work within the local economy rather than repeat the brain drain we saw in the 70s and 80s.
To effectively do this we need to see politicians focus on a few of the more important business decisions rather than spend countless wasted hours on things that in reality very few people actually care about. I genuinely believe that business people care far more about having a stable economy with no border controls to the Republic and UK markets rather than who is responsible for a failed RHI scheme or whether we should have an Irish Language Act. We need our politicians to find a workable solution or step aside and allow for some form of effective government to function. We need a planning system that assists investment rather than throw up obstacles every step of the way. We need entrepreneurs to be encouraged to build a future here and we need to retain our young professionals to stay and help us build a stronger economy. If our politicians stopped creating unnecessary roadblocks our future would be less of a gamble and more of an educated guess. For most of us the fun of watching our politicians gamble with all our futures stopped some time ago, sadly they don’t seem to realise the concept of “when the fun stops, stop.” ■
A breed apart. Hound for hound, the best property team in town. Independent thinking for the smarter investor.
COMMERCIAL PROPERTY & CONSTRUCTION
Laying firm foundations for growth Johnsons Solicitors has further expanded its commercial property offering and welcomed a new partner, David Wilson, to the firm. Partner Rhys Jones, head of corporate and commercial, speaks about Johnsons’ ambitions, and partner David Wilson about his new role
wo years ago, we made a strategic decision to focus on growing our commercial property offering in response to the increasingly buoyant marketplace and, in particular, our clients’ requirements for legal support across Ireland and the UK,” Rhys Jones said. “Clients are more regularly looking to expand beyond Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and England so we set about building a commercial team that could act in all three jurisdictions. “We recruited experienced solicitor Heather Leitch to help us drive this area forward. Heather is qualified to practice in both Northern Ireland and England and Wales and in the past 12 months this capability to undertake English commercial property transactions has allowed us to provide not only a more comprehensive service to our existing clients but is already winning us new clients as well. With so many of our clients operating in England already, and many more with plans to expand, it was a logical step. “David Wilson, who joined Johnsons as partner in March 2018, brings with him
18 years of hugely valuable commercial property experience, with specific expertise in telecommunications and renewable energy law.
“We continue to see particular growth in the retail and hospitality sector, with independent retail businesses securing impressive growth through innovation.
“David is dual-qualified in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and his arrival at Johnsons marks a significant development for us, as we can now advise on commercial property work for clients in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
“To name but a few client examples, we recently acted for Northern Ireland-owned jewellery business Argento in England, when increasing the size of its premises in the Frenchgate Interchange Shopping Centre in Doncaster. We then advised on the lease for Argento in the Trafford Centre in Manchester, a prime site for the business.
“As with the requirement for English property experience, the cross border nature of our corporate transactional work alone necessitated further commercial property expertise in the Republic of Ireland.” David is supported by recently appointed Sarah McFarland, a paralegal with eight years’ experience in commercial law, specialising in property and telecoms work. Within two years, Johnsons has gone from having one person handling Northern Irish commercial property services, to a four-strong team covering three jurisdictions. Speaking about current trends within the commercial property market, Rhys said:
“We also acted for leading menswear brand, Remus Uomo recently, in its debut standalone store in England, located at Bridlesmith Gate, Nottingham. This was Remus Uomo’s first venture into standalone stores in England, having already opened stores in Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast, Ballymena and Galway. “In Northern Ireland, fashion boutique Rio & Brazil expanded into its new home in Belfast’s Victoria Square in 2017, with the help of Johnsons. The store, which has traded in the city for 35 years, moved from its Wellington Place location to a 25% bigger unit within the central shopping hub.
COMMERCIAL PROPERTY & CONSTRUCTION
David Holley, Heather Leitch, Sarah McFarland, David Wilson
“Common to all of these businesses is the vision of their owners in finding the right homes for their outlets that will give them access to their target customer and ultimately deliver growth. We are proud to be an integral part of that process.” Speaking about his decision to join Johnsons Solicitors, David Wilson said: “I wanted to look beyond Northern Ireland and develop my work in the Republic of Ireland, building on my existing client base and forging new connections. I am delighted to be joining an independent, locally-owned firm with ambitious growth plans. “Notwithstanding the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the lack of a Northern Ireland Assembly and even the ‘America First’ approach declared by the Trump administration, there are a multitude of opportunities out there for forward thinking firms operating on an allIreland basis like Johnsons. “We can never guess what the legal and political landscape will look like in two years
but what we can do is position ourselves so that we are best placed to offer both our local and international clients the best advice possible.” With their eyes set firmly on the future, Johnsons recently doubled their premises
RECENT COMMERCIAL PROPERTY WORK CARRIED OUT BY JOHNSONS SOLICITORS INCLUDES: Acted for the developer in the award winning Dublin Road development “The Gallery” Acted in the letting of the new flagship Porsche centre on Airport Road, Belfast Representing male grooming and barbershop chain “The Manshack” in its leasing of premises at Belfast, Lisburn, Newry and Worcester
in Dublin’s Harbourmaster Place to meet the needs of its growing clientele in the Republic of Ireland, and is in the process of redeveloping its Wellington Place headquarters in Belfast. The firm has also strengthened its corporate and commercial, employment and litigation teams in the last 12 months, having recruited solicitor Bradley Duncan, who is working in both the southern and northern markets; commercial solicitor Jenna Watt, trainees Darragh Carney and Emma McKee as well as experienced solicitor Shane Garvey, who specialises in Defence Insurance Litigation. “The focus we continue to place on corporate and commercial property is supported by ongoing growth within insurance litigation, dispute resolution, media and defamation services,” Rhys said. “Our developments are always driven by client requirements and we feel, more than ever, that we have an excellent team in place to meet these effectively and efficiently.” ■
NI Water: arguably the most vital infrastructure NI Water is one of Northern Ireland’s largest infrastructure networks and crucial to both businesses and households Every day, NI Water processes an average of 920 million litres of drinking water and wastewater. That’s the equivalent of almost 2500 typical 25 metre swimming pools, and the sheer scale of the infrastructure network that is needed to safely transport and process this volume of water and wastewater is quite simply huge. v 42,600 km of water and sewer pipes v 2,748 pumping stations, treatment works and sludge management centres v 394 impounding and service reservoirs Sara Venning, chief executive of NI Water said: “Much of what we do takes place underground or out of sight and as a result most people don’t think about water and wastewater when they hear infrastructure mentioned, but the reality is that every aspect of life and business in Northern Ireland depends on the supply of clean drinking water and the safe management of wastewater. Our infrastructure network and treatment processes are vital to economic growth, protecting the environment and safeguarding the health of Northern Ireland’s population; we all rely on water to thrive.
“Since forming just over 10 years ago in 2007, NI Water has had a relentless focus on delivering improved performance, trust and value for money. To date efficiencies made have reduced our annual running costs by c £65m and in 2016/17 we delivered record levels of wastewater compliance (98.89%) and water quality remained at near record levels (99.86%). We are very proud of our significant progress to date and going forward our aspiration is to provide a world class service to all of Northern Ireland.”
Keeping the current network working Ms Venning continues: “However the network is old and water and wastewater don’t flow uphill. The majority of NI Water’s pipes were built many decades ago, in fact records show that over 70% of water and sewer mains are now more than 50 years old and made up of over 20 different material types of pipe eg.clay, brick, concrete, iron, PVC
etc. Add into the mix that 20% of the c.10,000 pumps needed are now over 25 years old and that 30 of our wastewater treatment works are at maximum capacity and you start to get a feel for the importance and scale of maintenance, repair and replacement that is essential just to keep the current network working.”
The investigations also identified that environmental upgrades were necessary to bring the old combined sewer overflows (CSOs) up to an acceptable standard and that there was a need to divert a number of the old CSOs to the NI Water Belfast storm water tunnel and away from the Blackstaff River Culvert.
“Year-on-year constraints in the funding made available to NI Water simply means that the age profile of our water and wastewater network continues to get older, requiring more money for maintenance, repair and replacement of existing assets and less money available to proactively expand the network or increase its capacity to meet new demand from industry, a growing population, increasing tourism etc.”
In addition to the investigation findings, a number of new property developments located on the Dublin Road and Adelaide Street required connections to the sewer network.
Construction complexity and long lead times The underground and urban nature of NI Water’s pipe network adds significant complexity and lead times to construction projects, particularly in towns and cities where businesses need to keep doing business and people need to keep moving.
Ormeau Avenue sewer upgrade - January 2018 - £5m Prior to 2013, NI Water investigated the cause of recurring pollution incidents at the Blackstaff River Culvert at Ormeau Avenue which discharges into the River Lagan. Investigations identified that within the local sewer network, some of which dated back to the 1920s, a critical sewer on Ormeau Avenue was almost totally blocked with fats oils and grease (FOG) discharged from local premises however the sewer was inaccessible for cleaning.
The scheme design requires the construction of two new CSOs, four new storm sewers, a new Wastewater Pumping Station and a new pumping main and the relocation of an old CSO, and all to be constructed underneath some of Belfast city centre’s busiest roads and junctions. Some sewers will be laid 7m below ground with excavations of up to 9m required – this is equivalent to the height of two double decker buses.
To minimise disruption where possible, large sections of the sewers will be laid through existing car parks in the area. Large diameter sewers crossing the main arterial routes of Dublin Road, Great Victoria Street and Cromac Street will use the latest trenchless tunnelling techniques. The tunnel under Great Victoria Street will be c.9m deep and the work will involve personnel working inside the tunnel, at this depth, while the traffic above continues. Detailed traffic management arrangements have been discussed with the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) The Ormeau Avenue Sewer upgrade construction work commenced in January 2018 following a lengthy process for the acquisition of a required site. The work is expected to take 16 months at a cost of £5m.
W: www.niwatwr.com T: +44 (0) 3457 440088
COMMERCIAL PROPERTY & CONSTRUCTION
£27m Derry transport hub green light Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said: “By bringing together a range of transport modes, such as car, bus, rail and walking and cycling the Hub will make it as easy as possible for people to visit and shop in the city. “Building on the success of the hourly Belfast train service, this could be transformative in developing Derry’s reputation as a retail destination.” John McGrillen, chief executive of Tourism NI said: “Tourism NI welcomes the proposed investment by Translink in a £27m Derry multi modal transport hub. Tourism NI is supportive of any project which is likely to lead to the growth of tourism across Northern Ireland.
What the new transport hub could like when completed
By John Mulgrew
new £27m train and bus hub has been given the green light for Londonderry.
Translink wants to build the base at the Victorian-era railway station in the Waterside area of the city. According to Translink, it would offer “a strong balance of services for public transport, cycling and active travel”. The scheme received around 50 letters of opposition, but was approved by Derry City and Strabane District Council. Translink’s head of projects, John Glass, said the hub was a “huge opportunity for the North West region and represents a major investment in the city”. “It will transform travel and enhance connectivity between train, bus, and other sustainable transport modes. “The hourly train service on the Derry line has already been a big success and we want a new facility that enables further growth for up to 650,000 passengers across the North West region helping to make public transport your first choice for travel “We have worked in close partnership with several organisations on both sides of the border to develop this proposal to build
stronger north /south infrastructure links and encourage a modal shift from car to public transport and other healthier active travel options.” In support of the scheme, Jennifer McKeever, president of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, said: “Following a detailed review of the plans and a visit to the site, the Chamber fully support Translink’s plans. “The plans in their current form are 100% right for the city, and will breathe fresh life into this historic point of arrival and departure, as well as helping regenerate this area of our city and enhance the economy”
“One of our biggest challenges is connectivity across the region, particularly to and within the North West. It is also important that we enhance every part of the visitor experience while they are here in Northern Ireland. “Translink’s plans for a new multi-modal transport hub will not only improve connectivity to and within the region but will also enhance the experience of visitors when arriving at the destination. “It will also be important to the council’s ambitions towards making the city the gateway to the Causeway Coastal Route and the Wild Atlantic Way.” ■
KEYSTONE LAW PROPERTY DEALS HIT RECORD IN Q1 Keystone Law’s real estate practice has experienced its most successful period yet, opening 250 transactional deals across the group as a whole. Meanwhile the firm’s last set of financial figures indicated that property deals accounted for nearly 30% of the group’s entire revenue. But what has the team been up to? Check out some of the key highlights for this year…
Acting for the VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM in relation to the £80m construction of its new
Acting for main contractors on the redevelopment
museum in the Cultural and Education District of
of the iconic BATTERSEA POWER STATION into
London’s OLYMPIC PARK.
housing, retail, hotel and event space over a 39
Acting for NI and ROI contractors, sub-
contractors and suppliers active in the GB
Acting for three London based funders in relation
to various education, retail, residential, leisure and
Retained by administrator’s in two of NI’s largest
hotel developments in the London area.
construction insolvencies to recover contract
Acting for NORTHSIDE REGENERATION
LIMITED on its Development of a 620 bed
Advising the Eglinton based EHA GROUP in
student accommodation block in Belfast.
relation to its GB projects including a major retail,
Acting for JOHNCORP (NO.3) LIMITED in
hotel and student accommodation contract in
connection with the ongoing redevelopment of
Plymouth city centre.
WESTWOOD SHOPPING CENTRE in West
Acting for a NI based developer on a £24m PRS
development of private accommodation in Central Belfast. Keystone Law Northern Ireland Managing Director, John McMahon, commented:
Ronan Speers, Consultant Solicitor in the Property & Construction Team added:
“It’s been an incredibly busy start to 2018 and we are expecting this positive momentum to continue. We are proud to have been at the forefront of some truly eyecatching and complex deals for our clients, giving us the opportunity to demonstrate the growing strength of our team.”
“During Q1 our Belfast and London teams have collaborated on a growing number of significant projects for clients active in both the NI and GB property - construction sectors. This seamless delivery of specialist support is proving invaluable for funder, developer and contractor clients and we look forward to growing this niche service during 2018.”
t 028 9002 2520 | e email@example.com Rochester Building 1st Floor, 28 Adelaide Street, Belfast, BT2 8JD
COMMERCIAL PROPERTY & CONSTRUCTION
Political deadlock hitting construction sector Two decades on from the Good Friday Agreement, John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation looks at how the industry is performing with a lack of government
hroughout the last 20 years, the NI construction industry has sought to make its impact in this change – both by the number of people the industry has engaged and by the development work that has been completed to enhance our competitiveness and attractiveness as a region to do business and invest in. While Northern Ireland’s future – and indeed that of local contractors, their employees and their supply chains – can undoubtedly be positive, we face a series of challenges over the months and years ahead – challenges that were clear in our latest State of Trade survey with BDO Northern Ireland, covering the second half of 2017 and the industry’s prospects for 2018. The key survey findings included: • During the second half of 2017 just under half of firms worked at full or almost full capacity • This was down on the first six months of 2017 when two-thirds of companies worked at full or almost full capacity
• Costs were up across the board for firms • Looking at work expectations locally over the next 12 months, around two-thirds of firms expect it to level out or decline • Only a small number of firms see the next 12 months as being about survival – a third are focused on stability, a quarter on growth and a third on increasing profitability • Firms are though much more positive about the next 12 months outside of Northern Ireland in terms of work expectations
The Department of Finance’s Budget Outlook very clearly details the challenges presented because of the huge investment going into the Northern Ireland Executive’s flagship projects over the next three years even though the overall capital budget is going up.
• Taking these factors into account, the sector’s outlook is flat in terms of employment growth • The industry is clear that the failure to restore the Northern Ireland Executive is a clear impediment to its sustainability and growth. This has had, and will continue to have, a major impact on tenders coming to market
Unquestionably, the Executive’s flagship schemes stand on their very clear economic merits. However, a balance must be struck in budgetary planning between how much resource is spent on these and other areas so to avoid a massive cliff edge for the vast majority of firms not engaged on the flagship projects. With a 2018/19 Northern Ireland Budget now progressing through Westminster, we now need urgent clarity on how the funds allocated by the Secretary of State are to be spent by the various Government departments. In this context it is therefore very welcome to see the Department for Infrastructure announce its highest start of year funding for roads maintenance – £75m – since 2011.
• Additionally, while industry has welcomed the extra clarity on Brexit provided by December’s UK-EU deal, there is significant uncertainty as to what companies should be preparing for in This will come as a massive boost for those terms of the final outcome contractors, their employees and supply chains, to which road maintenance is a significant part While workloads have remained positive and of their workload. the vast majority of the industry is beyond purely focusing on its own survival, the yearThe industry has faced a challenging period long political deadlock at Stormont has clearly in respect of its sustainability. From issues begun to feed through. With fewer than 50 related to low margins on works, to insufficient public sector construction projects currently out pipelines of activity, to the current political and to tender, less than half the amount in October, budgetary challenges within Northern Ireland, the industry is fast approaching a dead end in there are significant tests to be dealt with. terms of its public sector workload. With little political direction beyond the Executive’s flagship schemes, it is impossible for future infrastructure planning across government clients to, properly, take place.
These must be matters of concern to anyone who wishes to see a healthy and vibrant Northern Irish construction industry given its critical role in delivering jobs, economic development and growth. ■
COMMERCIAL PROPERTY & CONSTRUCTION
Keeping the cranes up Brian Lavery, managing director of CBRE in Belfast, assesses how the commercial property market in Northern Ireland has progressed in the 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed
eep the cranes up, keep the voices free and keep the votes fair” – the words of former US President Bill Clinton on his recent visit to Belfast to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
Northern Ireland has come a long way in that time and Mr Clinton was offering a few tips on how to build on that success in the future. That he chose to make mention of cranes is telling as to how important an ever-evolving built environment is as one of the ingredients of a peaceful, progressive society. His words resonated with the team at CBRE as we promote Belfast and the wider region as a great place to invest and work. Certainly, the cranes have been active in the days since the agreement was signed, particularly in the commercial property world in which CBRE operates. You only have to take a walk through Belfast to realise how far we’ve come and, as importantly, to understand how much is yet to realise.
faltered as a development pipeline in the financial crisis but looks set to continue in the years ahead with investors now exceptionally keen to back ‘build-to-rent’ projects, starter homes and a number of purposebuilt student accommodation projects have already completed. The retail sector has also changed dramatically, with the arrival of Victoria Square and a host of big name retailers helping offer an impressive shopping experience.
The city has been transformed over the years with a plethora of office buildings – either new-build or refurbishments of older stock – playing host to our many successful indigenous companies and foreign direct investors (FDI).
Culturally, the new Lyric Theatre and the MAC stands shoulder-toshoulder with world-class venues and alongside a robust and Michelinstar studded restaurant and gastro pub scene.
They are a sign of the economic growth witnessed in the wake of the 1998 agreement as businesses threw off the shackles of the Troubles and strived to reach their full potential.
Meanwhile, Titanic Belfast represents the changing face of Northern Ireland, built on what was waste ground 20 years ago but which has recently been named the number one visitor attraction in the world.
FDI was a big part of that and is proof investors are able to take advantage of a high level of talent, a committed workforce and low operating costs. These fundamentals haven’t changed, and we now need further grade A offices to satisfy demand. The vibrant economy has helped to reverse the brain drain which was a huge problem in 1998 as students and job hunters left these shores.
Tourists, along with delegates attending the extended Waterfront Hall, need somewhere to stay and it is the cranes building a raft of hotels in the city which Mr Clinton may have noticed on his way to Queen’s University last month.
Our recovering economy has managed to draw workers from other parts of the world who have come to live in Northern Ireland to take up a job, boosting diversity in society, which in itself helps solidify peace.
With peace now embedded and the economy showing admirable resilience, the next 20 years are sure to see a huge transformation in the built environment right across Northern Ireland.
The city has also flexed to provide housing for the growing population and is endeavouring to reclaim the city centre as a place to live.
Our role will be to connect the opportunities - which have been created in the wake of the agreement - with the right investors, developers and occupiers who can help make this city a vibrant and compelling place to live.
A number of apartment blocks have sprung up in that period to accommodate such demand, helping transform the city centre. This
We need the cranes here to continue to build and sustain economic prosperity from which everyone in Northern Ireland can benefit. ■
Powered by Talent is a new conference for Belfast that will lead
HOS T ED B Y:
the narrative on how Northern Ireland businesses can be world leading in developing and retaining a companyâ€™s primary asset - its people.
W H AT I S : P O W E R E D B Y TA L E N T ? Competition for talent is at its highest level for 10 years. The latest official figures show the Northern Ireland unemployment rate was 3.5% in the three months between December and February 2018. That represents a fall of almost two percentage points compared to the same period last year. Effectively Northern Ireland is at full employment according to one leading economist. It is therefore essential businesses present a highly attractive offering in order to attract the best talent. Historic under-investment in skills. During the great recession training, opportunities were culled, as a result the pipeline of qualified professionals coming through has stuttered. Demand for experienced professionals is now at an all-time high. Departure of EU Nationals. Due to Brexit uncertainty and the offering of better paid work outside of Northern Ireland. Local businesses are in danger of losing a key element of the NI labour market.
Pressure on Salaries. Employers are currently faced with the challenge of expected wage increases due to inflation, economic growth and pressure to retain. Key staff are valued at a premium and must be rewarded as such. By delivering this summit, Abacus want to lead the narrative on how to make Belfast and Northern Ireland a truly great place to work, live and thrive. Who will attend? The Powered by Talent Summit will target senior executives and leadership teams from multi-nationals, the public sector and the 3rd sector based in Northern Ireland.
MAKE SURE YOU ARE THERE VENUE: BELFAST WATERFRONT D ATE : THURSDAY 14 TH JUNE 2018 D ATE : 8:30am - 4:00pm
JAYNE GALLAGHER MD, LEGAL ISLAND
MARK DOWDS CSO, TROV
JOHNNY CAMPBELL CEO, SOCIAL TALENT
NEIL GIBSON CHIEF ECONOMIST, EY
GAVAN WALL MD, THE WALL GROUP
SUZANNE WILLMOTT DIRECTOR, PEARSON FINANCE SERVICES
GARETH WALLS PARTNER, A&L GOODBODY
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T. 07496 367 841
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Awareness of information security heightens with GDPR on the horizon Rosemary Lundy, employment law partner at leading law firm Arthur Cox, outlines the steps still available to firms to ensure they are fully compliant with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) before it is enforced later this month
he recent global scandal around the use of people’s personal data caused an understandable public outcry, and sharpened the corporate world’s focus on information security. It has raised public awareness of how personal data is stored and used by companies, and heightened their expectation that businesses treat information sensitively and transparently. Increased public scrutiny can therefore be anticipated on whether firms are compliant with the GDPR, which becomes effective on May 25. The regulation, which will apply to all businesses, is designed to provide a greater level of consistency in terms of how data is protected across Europe. Key elements of the regulation include measures to raise the standard of consent required to store information, while individuals will reserve the right to object to their personal details being processed. Rosemary Lundy
With limited time remaining before the introduction of GDPR, there are several key steps businesses can take to ensure compliance, the first of which would be to conduct an audit of the information they hold to ascertain where, how and why it is stored – and what security measures are in place. Businesses must have a data protection policy that includes data retention, destruction and breach protocols. The policy should set out the categories of information, the purposes for which it is held, how long it will be held, the legal basis for holding it, when and how it will be destroyed, and an action plan in the event of a data breach. Privacy notices must also be reviewed to ensure they align with GDPR, while data subjects must be informed about their rights of erasure, deletion, rectification and how to complain. If data is stored off site by external third-party providers, robust data sharing agreements should be in place to ensure measures are taken to protect personal data against accidental or unlawful destruction, loss, alteration, unauthorised disclosure or access, while
the agreements should also provide a level of appropriate security and indemnities. Unlawful data sharing can have huge consequences - at the time of writing, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) can impose a fine of up to £500,000 for a serious breach. However, once the GDPR comes into force, a data controller or processor may be fined up to £17.47m or 4% of its global annual turnover for the previous year, whichever is the highest. For now, however, the key piece of advice for businesses is that it is not too late to ensure compliance. Seeking expert legal advice will help businesses fully understand their requirements and safeguard against the risk of potentially steep fines that may be meted in the event of a data breach. ■ The data and information law team at Arthur Cox is well positioned to advise on all aspects of data and information law in Northern Ireland. Please call 028 9023 0007 for further information from Rosemary or your regular Arthur Cox contact.
The old UTV signage is taken down from its headquarters at Havelock House following its takeover by ITV
Deal, or no deal? Economist John Simpson takes a look at the Northern Ireland businesses which have made the leap into merging or a takeover 54
hen a Northern Ireland business is bought, or taken over by new owners, that change will make the â€˜newsâ€™. If the sale is agreed by the present owners (shortly to be the former owners) it will be assumed to be good news. Usually, news reports and the assessment of business observers will be congratulatory. That reassured response may not be an adequate understanding. What next for the business when it has new investors? No changes, keep doing more of the same things in the same place? More likely, changes to find economies of scale, the avoidance of overlapping overheads, and/or rationalisation of market reach? Takeovers and
As household consumers, does it matter if businesses like Moy Park are now within the policy management with people in the US? There are few stock exchange quoted businesses based in Northern Ireland. Recent accessions to a listing, on the Alternative Market, include Kainos and First Derivatives. Interestingly, both of these successful businesses have special expertise in the IT world. Locally there are a number of successful family controlled businesses which might be a natural magnet for a take-over or merger, if, the family shareholders were interested in a deal. Unlike the purchase of a quoted business, a family controlled business has an effective veto on a purchase bid. A bid may be received and rejected and that offer may get no publicity. Not only do family controlled businesses, often better described as private businesses, have the protection of full ownership of their assets, there are some which protect their privacy even further. This can be seen in company structures where, behind a trading company, there may be a parent holding company. Going even further, in Northern Ireland there is a growing number of businesses controlled by the owners through parent companies registered in the Isle of Man, Channel Islands, Gibraltar, Luxembourg and the British Virgin Islands. corporate restructuring are rarely neutral or passive events.
family shareholders or other personal shareholders.
At first sight, changes in ownership of Northern Ireland businesses rarely attract national interest. Takeover battles, rising share prices and coping with pension fund deficits are dramatic features of stock exchange companies often led by high profile personalities. Only rarely do these issues occur locally but it should be added never say never.
There are few local businesses for which a takeover bid and offer for shares on the stock market is even a possibility. Takeovers of Northern Ireland businesses do sometimes take place.
Northern Irelandâ€™s largest businesses fall into two groups. Of the 50 largest employers, 22 are local branches or subsidiaries of companies headquartered, usually, in GB. About 25 of the other businesses are predominantly owned by Northern Ireland
A recent example was the sale in 2014 of the Queenâ€™s University inspired Andor Technology, the high quality medical-scientific camera manufacturer, to a national company, Oxford Instruments. More recently, UTV shareholders agreed to a take-over by ITV. As television viewers, should we welcome the sale of UTV to a media company with UK-wide shareholders?
A small number of profitable firms in the construction industry, in the manufacture of medical equipment and in the local hotel sector, report to parent companies in the Isle of Man. While privately owned businesses cannot be taken-over without the co-operation of the owners, there are occasional examples of that type of merger. In 2014, Toomebridge based Retlan Manufacturing, a successful specialist engineering group also making commercial trailers, was purchased by CIMC Vehicles, a Chinese owner. A similar transaction saw the take-over of the former Delta Print and Packaging, headed by >
Terry Cross, by the Finnish registered Huhtamaki Group, now renamed as Huhtamaki Food Service Delta. In the food and drink processing sectors there has been a continuing series of take-overs and consolidations, some involving deals that crossed the border on this island and some of which were a response to the impact of the EU Common Agriculture policies. Milk purchase and processing is now handled by fewer processing units as milk distribution and product development have become more specialised and plants operate on a larger scale. Dale Farm Dairies, the Kerry Group, Lacpatrick and Lakeland Dairies have all coped with business rationalisation plans. Other changes have affected parts of Dunbia, the meat processor. Even the Old Bushmills Distillery has now passed to owners in Mexico. Although each year there are only a small number of mergers or take-overs in Northern Ireland, the process has been continuing.
Perhaps the more acute observation of the tensions in Northern Ireland should be that, amongst the more profitable locally controlled businesses, there are possibly at least 10 which would sensibly attract new owners/buyers or investors but for whom there is no immediate wish to sell. As the Brexit negotiations near their final stages and as the trading conditions for the UK and Ireland become clearer, some industrial
observers are beginning to assess how the changes will affect the operations of businesses in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland. Food processors will be in the spotlight: will cross-border trade be damaged or will some flows of trade, whether north to south, or south to north, gain or lose market shares. With Brexit eventually finalised, restructuring, mergers, acquisitions and take-overs will be back on the agenda with renewed commercial apprehension or appraisals. â–
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Lagan Group sold for £455m
orthern Ireland construction giant Lagan Group has been sold to a listed UK firm for £455m.
In one of the largest business transactions here this year, the deal will see Breedon taking on acquiring Whitemountain, Lagan Cement, Lagan Brick, Lagan Asphalt and Welsh Slate. However, Lagan Homes is not being sold off. “Our committed and passionate staff at Lagan Group have contributed significantly to the development and growth of the business, differentiating us from our competition in all of the markets in which we operate,” boss Kevin Lagan said. “I’d like to thank the staff for the role they have played in the growth of Lagan Group, and I wish them every success as they enter an exciting new chapter with Breedon, who I am confident will build on that success, supporting the development of the business in the years ahead”. According to the company, Kevin Lagan and his family “intend to pursue a managed growth strategy with the Lagan Homes and FastHouse businesses, which are being retained”. In its latest set of accounts, Lagan Group generated revenues of £249m and EBITDA of £46m. Peter Tom CBE, Breedon’s executive chairman, said: “We are delighted to have completed our largest acquisition to date and particularly pleased that it has been so strongly supported by our shareholders. “Over the last eight years we have pursued a successful buy-and-build strategy which has established Breedon as the largest independent construction materials business in the UK and the acquisition of Lagan is another strategic step for us. “We believe it has the potential to add significantly to the group’s performance and prospects and we are looking forward to
working with our new colleagues to deliver further value for our investors.” Formed in the 1960s by Kevin Lagan’s father Peter, the company has grown its reach and business right across Northern Ireland, the UK and further afield. In Feburary, Lagan Group said it was considering the "unsolicited approach" for part of its business from Leicestershire-based Breedon Aggregates. Breedon is the UK's largest independent construction materials firm. The pair already operate a successful joint venture in the asphalt business, Whitemountain. Some of Whitemountain’s work includes a £13m construction and civil engineering contract for Luton Airport in London. The Lagan Homes business, which will be retained, is one of Northern Ireland's biggest housebuilders. Earlier this year, the company's FastHouse division announced it had won a deal to build 470 lodges on the site of the new Center Parcs in Co Longford. Meanwhile, speaking about the new takeover of the rest of the Lagan Group business, Breedon’s group chief executive, Pat Ward, said: “Lagan represents a unique opportunity to enter a growing market with immediate
scale and excellent opportunities for expansion. It significantly strengthens our cement offer, adds to our mineral and downstream resources, brings us a bitumen import/export business and adds real weight to our contract surfacing operations. “Lagan is well-run, well-invested, with an experienced management team and a strong track record. Its culture is complementary to our own, with a sharp focus on customer service, a first-class workforce and a commitment to safety, which is a key priority for us. “From a strategic perspective, it provides us with a stronger platform from which to pursue further organic growth and bolt-on acquisitions.” ■
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onnect Telecom has evolved and rebranded as Connect Total Communications. This is much more than just a rebranding exercise. Connect Total Communications has through an acquisitive growth strategy, consolidated a group of elite, high-performing businesses across the IT and communications sector throughout the UK, to position itself as the leading business at the forefront of total communications. Connect Total Communications brings together the most innovative IT, telecoms and cloud based software solutions as well as a range of workflow apps to enable business customers to transform how they do business. Leading products such as Vodafone’s unified communications platform, One Net Business (ONB) allow businesses to sync their telecoms systems and create a more productive and flexible communications infrastructure, which can be entirely tailored to business needs and objectives. Digital transformation has been a key focus for most businesses over the last few years. It presents an opportunity to reimagine business systems and processes and to create more nimble customer journeys. Customers expect an easy-to-use interface across all channels. By virtue of this, rigid legacy IT and telecoms structures are being replaced by new unified technologies. Connect Total Communications has developed its product portfolio to create unified communications that will truly enhance its customers communications experience. Scott Ritchie, chief executive, said: “For our customers this has been a big enabler for them in their quest to deliver superior customer service and has been a fundamental part of their ongoing digital transformation’. For Connect Total Communications, this has required a focus and investment on being strong where it matters most. “We have focused our business on looking at our customers total communications experience and eliminating pain points,” Scott said. “We build our customers technology roadmaps and enable them to embrace the latest changes to future proof their communications infrastructure.” Since inception, Connect Total Communications has been agile and therefore more able to respond and lead on emerging trends. Importantly, throughout its journey it has stayed true to its core values, and continued to build on great customer service delivered locally.
Today, through regional bases in Belfast, London, Manchester, Carlisle, Glasgow and Aberdeen it is now the third largest Vodafone partner in the UK offering in-region personalised account management, and that is something that truly sets it apart. Connect Total Communications has led the way among businesses in the sector. It has been visionary and brave at bringing together the very best skills and experience from leading businesses throughout the UK and have created a significantly better customer offer. “We have had a focus on implementation and delivery for our customers which sets us apart from our competition, being the only Vodafone Partner to have Implementation status in the UK,” Scott said. “We offer extensive multi-network knowledge and control processes end-to-end through our own in-region installation teams. This means we can ensure exceptional customer service delivered in shorter lead-times than our competitors and is why we are achieving outstanding growth across the UK.” ■
Car sales slow after boom By John Mulgrew
ew car sales in Northern Ireland have stalled and suffered the quietest month in almost five
The number of vehicles powering out of showrooms in March fell by almost 17%, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT). Overall, the UK as a whole saw sales drop by 15.7% during the same period. The Scottish new motor market felt the biggest hit, with sales down 20.8%. In Northern Ireland, 7,122 new cars were sold in March. That was down from 8,556 during the same period last year. As for the top sellers, the Ford Fiesta topped the list, with 267 cars sold, followed by Ford's Kuga on 239.
According to SMMT chief executive, Mike Hawes”March’s decline is not unexpected given the huge surge in registrations in the same month last year”.
“Despite this, the market itself is relatively high with the underlying factors in terms of consumer choice, finance availability and cost of ownership all highly competitive.
“Consumer and business confidence, however, has taken a knock in recent months and a thriving new car market is essential to the overall health of our economy.
“This means creating the right economic conditions for all types of consumers to have the confidence to buy new vehicles. “All technologies, regardless of fuel type, have a role to play in helping improve air quality whilst meeting our climate change targets, so government must do more to encourage consumers to buy new vehicles rather than hang onto their older, more polluting vehicles.”
Total top 10
Northern Ireland grand total
Ulster Bank chief economist, Richard Ramsey, said: “New car dealers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all posted hefty double-digit year-on-year declines in March. “These ranged from 15% for England to 21% for Scotland with Northern Ireland coming in with an annual decrease of almost 17%. Last month was the quietest March for NI new car dealers in five years.
“This wasn’t due to the Beast from the East dissuading would-be car buyers from venturing out to dealers’ forecourts. Instead the steep falls are largely due to the inflated sales figures in March 2017. “Back then Northern Ireland car sales increased by 10%, year-on-year. “However, this was distorted by a change in vehicle excise duty in April 2017, which incentivised consumers to bring forward their plans to buy a new car. “In light of the year-on-year distortions for March, it is more insightful to look at the quarterly sales for quarter one, alongside sales figures over the last 12 months. “Nevertheless, the trend in new car sales remains a downward one. There were 17,200 new cars sold in the first quarter of 2018. “This was over 9% fewer than last year and the lowest volume of new car sales for quarter one since 2013 (15,987 cars sold). The latest quarterly figures are also 25% below the peak of almost 23,000 vehicles in Q1 2007. Analysing sales over the last 12 months also paints a similar picture.” ■
Work-life balance is key to staff retention By John Moore, managing director, Hays Northern Ireland
n the war for talent, what hope does a local SME have against multinational employers? One offers catered meals, free gym membership, and international travel, the other a generous tub of instant coffee and a kettle in the canteen. And that’s before you even start to compare salaries. For SME leaders, staff retention can seem like a real problem. It’s true that some jobseekers will always be lured by the perks of a big company but it’s equally important to remember that this environment doesn’t suit everyone. SMEs often find it easier to avoid a closed off “us vs them” culture, which is often found in larger corporations. This is because all employees, regardless of seniority, often work in the same office together. But SMEs still need to make sure they have the best people as managers - those who communicate frequently with their employees as opposed to solely in an annual
review, who motivate their team and who care about their progression. Developing staff is a key retention tool that also helps to overcome skills gaps. Employers can do this by looking at the areas in which skill shortages exist within their business, and cross-reference these with the goals of their employees and the demands of the market. Mentoring from senior employees, providing the opportunity to shadow a high performer or attending client meetings helps junior employees grow. While SMEs may not have the training budget of a large corporation, they can utilise the people resources they have within their business to teach and mentor others. SMEs can also more acutely promote and encourage a good work-life balance. However, this isn’t to say businesses need to spend a fortune giving everyone free yoga sessions. Work-life balance can also come in the form of the option to work remotely or flexible hours.
Work-life balance also stems from the culture of the organisation. If your management team never switches off, this can trickle down to their team, creating a culture of ‘presenteeism’, whereby employees feel they should be seen to be either virtually or physically present, even during downtime. SME leaders should avoid this downward spiral, refrain from contacting their employees outside office hours, and encourage all of them to leave on time and take breaks. These strategies certainly won’t break their budget, but they will give SMEs a staff retention advantage that money can’t buy. ■ To find out more about Hays Northern Ireland log on to hays.co.uk/ni, follow us on Twitter @ HaysN_Ireland or call 028 3844 5800.
Ship work sails in for MJM Group
ewry fit-out MJM Group has begun work on a £50m refit of a huge luxury cruise ship which is now docked at Belfast Lough. The Azamara Pursuit will be getting a complete makeover by Newry-based fit-out company MJM Group, at the Harland & Wolff shipyard. MJM will carry out the refit of the Azamara Pursuit in preparation for its return to sea in August. MJM Group will refurbish the liner's eight decks, completely revamping its interior and preparing it to welcome its full complement of almost 700 passengers. The bulk of the job will be done in a 30-day period across June and July and will involve some 800 workers. It’s understood the deal is worth around £50m.
Richard Twynam, managing director of Azamara UK and Ireland said the firm enjoyed a "great chemistry" with MJM. "We needed a turnkey solution, so we went out to tender, as you do with these projects, and the nature of the bid from MGM was really outstanding," he said. "But what we also really liked was the chemistry we've been able to have with MJM as a family-owned Northern Ireland business."
Gary Annett, chief executive of MJM Group, said the contract allowed it to realise its goal of bringing a major refit to a UK port. MJM Group is one of Northern Ireland’s fastest growing family-owned businesses. Company founder Brian McConville was named Businessperson of the Year at the 2017 Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in association with Ulster Bank. ■
Back of the With Brexit less than a year away, Emma Deighan takes a look at the Northern Ireland companies scoring big with exports
MRC’s latest data on Northern Ireland exports shows growth. And while the latest incline may not be at the same momentum it was a year earlier, the consensus on global trading is one veiled with modest optimism.
With Brexit in the waiting, the one thing that’s certain about exports to our two biggest customers, the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU, is uncertainty. But with growth in exports to countries beyond the EU there is ambition among the business community.
Exports varying from leading GPS sports monitoring equipment, used by the world's biggest football and rugby teams, top craft gin and machinery.
According to HMRC the EU as a trade bloc is the destination for more than half of NI’s exports with the Republic holding the number one spot, as our key partner.
In 2017, goods to sold to the Republic amounted to 31% (£2.7bn) of the total goods exports value. Goods exported to the US were valued at £1.57bn in 2017, equivalent to 17% of total exports however the export market showing the greatest level of growth between 2016 and 2017 was Canada, with a hike of almost 33%. This makes Canada our third biggest customer and up two places from being our fifth largest export market in just one year.
Although this is going to be hard work, there are some encouraging signs,” he said. “We can go down two routes - sell more in each of the existing overseas market or develop what are more or less entirely new geographical markets. The evidence from research in GB suggests that the first of these is relatively the easier to do but the latter, breaking into largely new markets, is tougher but more rewarding in terms of generating big increases in export revenues.”
net Couple growth in exports to more foreign markets with a “small surplus” of trade with the EU and modest hope seems the right sentiment. Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at Ulster University, says the latter stats may be important “in the context of any post-Brexit trade deals with the wider and more distant economies”. “This is all about market diversification.
investment that we are injecting into the business. We are actively seeking new markets through global trade fairs and this is paying dividends. “We already have a manufacturing facility in India and we have plans to have a permanent presence in North America, where the market is set to soar.”
For some, the “tougher” route is reaping rewards.
Manufacturing accounts for £6bn of the £8.3bn goods exported from NI annually. It’s our biggest export and deals even further afield are proving that it’s a driving force in export growth.
Recent success stories in Northern Ireland include STATSports’ (the Newry-based firm that makes sports player development hardware and software) £1bn deal with the US Soccer Federation.
Dungannon’s BlueMAC Manufacturing Ltd, which specialises in recycling systems, material recover facilities and machinery, secured a deal worth over £1.3m with a waste management agency in the UAE in recent months.
Its new partnership will result in the world’s largest player data monitoring programme. And it’s the not the first of monumental deals for the firm.
Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton said its support assisted in attracting the new contract.
It also supplies similar services to the Brazilian market as well as the English Premier League, including Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United, along with some of the top teams, elsewhere in Europe, such as Juventus. The NFL, NHL, Rugby Union, NBA, track and field and hockey also use the company’s APEX Team Series GPS units which provide real-time data to players and coaches to drive improved performance.
“Through our extensive trade programme and inward buyer visits we are proactively helping local companies to access new markets and reach new customers,” he said. “Growing exports is central to our strategy. Exporting ensures businesses are able to grow, which in turn supports and strengthens our economy.” And Dr Birnie believes the support of the Government and its business bodies is key to boosting geographical playing fields.
Then there’s Smiley Monroe, the Lisburnbased conveyor belt manufacturer. It recently announced the creation of 12 new jobs to help it broaden its geographical customer base, in which there are already 42 countries.
Invest NI has a series of events that expose businesses to global markets. Dubbed as insight events and “unparalleled networking opportunities” it has helped businesses branch out from their comfort zones.
It also announced a 20% increase in turnover last year, its greatest growth in its 40-year history.
Beyond manufacturing, it has assisted Glastry Farm ice cream, based in Kircubbin, Co Down, in securing its first deal outside of the UK and Ireland and into the UAE.
Smiley Monroe marketing director, Tim Monroe, said: “We are in the middle of a significant growth period and it is down to many factors including the ambition and drive of the business, the upturn in the original equipment manufacturing market and the
“There is a wealth of export opportunities in the UAE for Northern Ireland food companies and it is great to see another Northern Ireland company achieving success here,” Mr Hamilton said. >
EXPORT FOCUS He said the company was introduced to buyers at an Invest NI event and urged other food producers to look at the UAE as an export partner. “The scale of business opportunities here is endless and I would encourage local companies to get in touch with Invest NI and see how we support them to explore new markets.” Two-year-old craft gin company, Jawbox, is also benefiting from the appeal Irish food and drink has to other countries. Gerry White, founder of the Belfast gin made, at Echlinville Distillery in Kircubbin, has seen his business expand rapidly due to exporting opportunities. “I’m generally spending two to three days a week in the Republic, between Dublin and Cork, and that’s an area that is certainly growing. We have also started exporting to Canada and that came about through delegates attending a World Credit Union Conference held here. “We also export to eight European countries. Spain is one of the highest consumers of gin and that has worked really well for us. The Asian market has also been a revelation to us. We are in Hong Kong and Thailand and we’re hugely excited about selling in the US. We expect to launch there at the end of September. The interest has been huge.”
Chris Brooke, BlueMAC Manufacturing Ltd, Sonia Y. Nasser, RAK Waste Management Agency and Alastair Hamilton, Invest NI
Actively exploring new markets could be a knee-jerk reaction for many of the bigger firms here, induced by our imminent departure from the EU, but it’s one that all economists feel should be at the top of the exporting agenda. On the subject of Brexit, however, uncertainty around trading in the Republic still remains. And Aidan Gough, strategy and policy director of Intertrade Ireland, who has kept a close eye on the challenges still to face those with strong trading links with the Republic, to prepare and plan.
“Although we have, through research by ourselves and others, a much greater understanding of cross-border trade and the disproportionate level of inter connectedness through supply chains and two way traders there still remains, one year on, a large degree of uncertainty among the 7,000 small businesses in NI that trade with the south,” he said. “Our knowledge on the type of goods traded and sectors that are so connected has strengthened the view that a so-called hard Brexit must be avoided. “Nevertheless there will be a new trading relationship and we are encouraging businesses to begin planning by undertaking a risk assessment and mitigation exercise that will prepare them for the challenge. “We are seeing an increased level of engagement amongst cross border traders but would like to see more of them turn this engagement into formal planning and we encourage more to avail of our £2,000 Brexit readiness voucher which can be used to secure expert advice on the exposure challenges and opportunities that face their business.”
Dr Birnie says forecasting the exporting landscape in the Republic post-Brexit is “close to impossible” until trading terms are clarified. ■
Exports fuel private sector surge By John Mulgrew
marked and “accelerated” surge in exports to the Republic and elsewhere has helped Northern Ireland’s private sector expand. There was a strong rise in exports, and the majority of firms also grew the size of their workforces, according to the latest Ulster Bank purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for March. “In contrast to the trend in total new orders, new export business increased at a marked and accelerated pace,” it said. “According to respondents, strong growth in the Republic of Ireland was the main factor supporting rises in new export orders.” While the index dropped from 56.3 in February to 53.2 in March (where 50 is no change), Northern Ireland’s economy outpaced or matched nine of the monitored regions in the UK. “March brought the first quarter of the year to an end and in many respects it was a better three-month period than had been
expected,” according to Richard Ramsey, chief economist with Ulster Bank. “However, the data from the March PMI suggests that the private sector has come off the boil across Europe, including in the UK and Northern Ireland. “The Beast from the East has clearly had an impact on activity in areas including construction and manufacturing and has also caused disruption to supply chains. “Almost all regions of the UK experienced a slowdown in March, driven at least in part by the weather conditions, with Northern Ireland output and new orders easing to eight-month and 17-month lows respectively, with the services sector the worst hit.” But input costs are also rising, according those firms surveyed. “Northern Ireland companies continued to record strong rises in input costs during March, despite the rate of inflation easing to the weakest in 2018 so far,” the report said.
“On a positive note, the pace of jobcreation accelerated, as did export orders, with the latter buoyed up by the positive tailwinds coming from the Republic of Ireland, one of the fastest growing economies in Europe,” Mr Ramsey said. “Inflationary pressures also eased outside of retail but remain elevated, with high staff costs and sterling weakness as factors. “Respondents also cited the higher cost of steel as a component in the inflationary pressures, in part due to high global demand. With steel and other raw materials being a target for tariffs, this trend could well continue and economies around the world will not want to see an escalation in the opening shots of a trade war.” Northern Ireland companies increased their staffing levels at a faster pace during March, according to the report. The increase in employment was solid, with approximately twice as many respondents seeing a rise in staffing levels as posted a fall. ■
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By John Mulgrew
The column that doesn’t have time for lunch... Howard Hastings
BREAKFASTEER: HOWARD HASTINGS, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF HASTINGS HOTELS BREAKFASTING VENUE: CAUSERIE RESTAURANT, EUROPA HOTEL, BELFAST
oward Hastings is a busy man, and a catch-up in the Europa Hotel’s ground floor Causerie Restaurant allows Ulster Business the chance to get the latest on what will soon become Northern Ireland’s largest hotel. Hastings Hotels, which also owns the Culloden outside Holywood and Slieve Donard in Co Down, among others, will unveil the new 300-bedroom Grand Central next month. “The pre-opening PR is very strong. People really identify with such a large structure,” Howard said. “Regardless of which way you come in to town, you’ll be able to see it, no matter which part of the city you come in from. “The recreation of the old name, it very much does what it says on the tin.” As for the price, Howard says it will “be a little bit more expensive than the Europa”. “The rooms are proportionally bigger and there are more rooms with a bath and shower. “It will be at a slight premium to the Europa.” Howard – and the rest of his family – were dealt a huge blow last year, with the passing
of his father, company founder, and industry stalwart, Sir William Hastings.
“Northern Ireland punches well below its weight in bedroom stock on the island of Ireland,” Howard said.
I remember last meeting him at the official unveiling of the new Grand Central hotel, several years back, and listened intently to him give a potted history of the original Grand Central – which played host to The Beatles and Winston Churchill, among others. “I suppose, he was wholly engaged right up until the last, in business. Even when he was needing help, and couldn’t play golf any more,” Howard said. “It was a project that he was heavily engaged in, so, to that extent it will be very sad that he wasn’t there to see it through. “I think he was happy that when he passed on, the narrative for the company that he had developed and grown, that the next chapter was being written, even though he knew he wouldn’t be there to see it.” As for the breakfast itself, for this editor it’s normally several strong cups of coffee, but in this case, it’s also a home-made muffin, while Howard opts for the porridge.
And he says Belfast has done well to attract a host of major conferences, particularly to the Waterfront Hall extension. “The tourism community works better together (now), than when rooms were in over-supply,” he said. He, as with many in business, wants a return to devolved government, so it can tackle industry issues. That includes lobbying for a lower rate of VAT for the hospitality sector, and removing air passenger duty – a £13 on most flights. “The UK is only one of three countries in the EU that levies its full rate of VAT in tourism,” he said. And he wants a stronger focus and budget in helping promote Northern Ireland’s burgeoning place on the tourism map. “Tourism has a great story to tell. It has doubled its value to the economy in the last eight years.
Part of what Howard says makes the Causerie different from others, is the sheer quantity of food produced in-house, as well as the widerange of Northern Ireland suppliers which he uses.
“And yet, the budget for tourism is only a tenth of Invest NI’s budget.
Moving back to business, a number of hotels are already being built to satisfy the tourist market here. A new study from the Northern Ireland Hotels Federation – featured in this issue – says the number of bedrooms here could surge to 9,500 by the end of the year.
“At what point do they say, ‘tourism is more important than we thought it was’, and some of the manufacturing and tradeable services, while still important, are not delivering as much return on investment, to the public purse.” ■
“The draft industrial strategy made no mention of tourism. What were they thinking?
How vocal should your technology be? With the rising adoption of smart home devices, AI personal assistants and voice-activated technology, Terry Moore, managing director of Antrim-based Outsource Solutions, addresses the fears of potential cyber eavesdropping and what that means for businesses
t will come as no surprise that voiceactivated technology is tipped to be one of the fastest growing trends for 2018/2019. Comscore predicts that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches, and according to Activate, it’s estimated there will be 21.4 million smart speakers in the US by 2020. Thankfully, for the Northern Irish consumer, the days of painfully enunciating each syllable and cursing our colloquial accent are fast disappearing as voice recognition, artificial intelligence and the technology behind it gets ever more sophisticated. Terry Moore
It’s not just stand-alone voice-controlled devices which utilise this technology. Apps such as Apple’s Siri are used daily to search for answers, set reminders, make calls and play music. Plus many other apps can and do request access to your handset’s microphone. But with ever-increasing methods of using new technology, the means of hacking and accessing valuable data also escalate. Smartphones are basically mobile tracking devices which collect of a vast amount of information including audio information, thanks to the growing use of the in-built microphone. It begs the question - do we really know who’s listening? And if this is a concern on a personal technology level, then what are the threats at a business level? Perhaps your employees use voice-recording in meetings to keep a record of actions, or have a useful app for communicating between teams, but do you know how secure this data is? It might sound like something out of a spy novel, but given the recent headlines about
Russian interference, it is very much a current issue which local businesses need to take seriously. In fact as an IT company, based on the increased chance of cyber-attacks from Russia due to deteriorating diplomatic relations, we took the decision to advise our customers that internet traffic including website visits and emails would be blocked between Russia and its customer accounts in the UK unless there were specific legitimate business reasons for the channels to remain open. Whilst no IT company can offer 100% certainty that a system will remain totally secure at all times, our team of IT specialists who are among the best in the business guarantee that even if the event of a successful cyber-attack, our customers can rest assured the will be able to fully recover their data.
We also increased the levels of our own ethical hacking to ensure our infrastructure and systems are best placed to deal with any heightened cyber aggression aimed at interrupting East/ West email or web activity. It is this awareness of potential threats which is so important for business leaders and decision makers to have. Whether it’s from an employee’s innocent use of a voice-recognition app on a company smartphone, recording of meetings which might be commercially sensitive, or a loophole in your IT infrastructure, having the right support and advise is what’s essential. We know that what worked today won’t necessarily work tomorrow, which is why it’s so important to continually review and refine strategies to ensure they meet current needs, which is what will ultimately keep your business safe and protected. ■ Outsource Solutions was established 18 years ago, and employs around 30 staff across offices in Antrim, Belfast, Cookstown, Dublin and Edinburgh. Its customers including leading names from the hospitality, engineering, legal, professional services, manufacturing, energy, financial services and food sectors.
Pushing the boat out
P&O Ferries has enjoyed its highest level of freight traffic in six years. John Mulgrew speaks to Roger Armson about its growth in Larne and a post-Brexit future 72
ith more than 40 years' experience under his belt in the industry, Brexit is the new challenge facing Roger Armson. The South Yorkshire man is head of operations for P&O's Irish Sea links, and general manager of Larne Harbour. P&O Ferries now employs around 4,000 workers, and operates two main Irish Sea routes, connection Larne to Cairnryan in Scotland, and Dublin to Liverpool. He says, while he hasn't seen any direct impact on the business yet, that any intervention on traffic, customers and the border, could have a “detrimental” hit on the whole supply chain.
“The other thing is frequency. We operate the highest frequency of sailings across the Irish Sea.” As for its passenger business, P&O carries around 400,000 tourists and families each year, with 150,000 vehicles. “The Northern Ireland economy is generally picking up, bit-by-bit, from what we can see,” Roger said. Speaking about expanding and growing the business, and port, further still, he said changes and expansion are “incremental”.
“I suppose, at the moment we are not seeing any direct impact. Our view is that post-Brexit traffic will still flow, and we will still be there to handle it,” he said.
“We have made significant investments in Larne and Cairnryan. It's about making everything on a month-to-month basis, and working with our customers to achieve this.
“As to what will happen with the border, we obviously want trade and traffic across the Irish Sea to be as free and simple as it is today... that's what we are lobbying for.
“Making sure our operations on the ground are as slick as they can be. I've been in the shipping business for 41 years, and you have to look at it on a daily basis.”
“Our process is very simple. We are simply the bit that moves back and forth between the Irish Sea. Our ships are very simple, they have a door in one end and one at the other.
“The other side is the non-ferry traffic. Last year, non-ferry business included wind farms, waste going to Scandinavia, generators and ships coming in to do layovers.
“Anybody who is intervening with the traffic, customers, immigration or whatever, will have a detrimental effect on the whole supply chain.
“Now that we are connected (with the road to Belfast) that has opened up the market to other sorts of cargo.
“Our customers are in a very competitive environment.”
“You can't have a port that's not connected. We are now connected to the all-Ireland road and rail network.”
On its Larne route alone, P&O carried 210,533 lorries and trailers on its ships during the last year – up 1.3% on 2016.
Roger's been working in the nautical world for 41 years, starting his career as a navigating cadet.
Asked what's helped lift overall business, he said one of the main advantages for Larne is the new A8 road to Belfast, which speeds up connection between the port and the city.
He then moved on to become a navigating officer, aged 20, and has continued working in the marine industry ever since.
“The first word I would use is connected. The road, that is an important element of the success,” he said.
“It's made a big difference – 95% of our ships arrive (and depart) within 10 minutes of their scheduled time.
In that time, his various roles have taken him across the globe, to West Africa and the Middle East, before coming to work in Northern Ireland in 2000. ■
Entrepreneur of the month BRIAN REID, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF DELI-LITES How is business? Business is great. We recently opened a new bakery for our separate product range, Past Tense Treats and are in the process of transforming the Deli-Lites head office into a customer experience and innovation hub, so there are some really exciting things happening at the moment. The food-to-go market has gone from strength to strength and we are delighted to have been part of that for 18 years. How did you get started in the industry? I studied catering at college in Newry, and was destined to work in the food industry. After travelling for a year, my wife Jackie and I identified a gap in the market and went for it. We now employ over 200 staff, producing and distributing right across Ireland seven days a week, and are creating new flavour combinations and products on an on-going basis thanks to the work of our in-house chef and product development team. Typically, who are your clients or customers? We supply a wide range of customers such as international coffee chains, food retailers, forecourt companies, and food services. Only 30% of what we do is actually branded Deli-Lites, the remainder is own-branded for the client - which is where we have experienced huge growth. Product development and innovation is a big part of what we do, and where we see the opportunity to grow our business further.
Do you enjoy what you do, and what in particular? Yes, absolutely and I wouldn’t change it. I really enjoy the buzz of being in business and the cliche that no day is ever the same is so true when you run your own business. I love to be busy and I’ve certainly found the right market to meet that need. A lot of our production work is done overnight and at weekends or holidays, so you simply adapt to working when everyone else is off, but it’s great because the work is always evolving. What is the most difficult part of your job? As the business has grown and our client base expands, one of the most difficult changes in my role has been moving away from the day-to-day interactions with our team and customers in order to get on with the aspects of running and growing the business. It’s important for me that we have a great team who are just as passionate about
the business, which makes it easier to let them get on with what they do best. What are the challenges facing your sector, and the economy in general? One of the major challenges is the uncertainty of Brexit. We deliver all over Ireland seven days a week from Warrenpoint and the thought of a hard border or any sort of tariffs could be very damaging to our business and the agri-food sector as a whole. In order to plan as a business, there needs to be clarity and some reassurance to industry on what is likely to happen after Brexit. We have been very fortunate to enjoy the benefits of open borders and free trade across Ireland and it’s simply difficult to plan ahead when there is uncertainty. On a positive note, overall, our economy looks and feels like there are more opportunities for young people to get into business the way we did. ■
By Pat Burns
The Largest Family Owned Motor Retailer in N.Ireland www.donnellygroup.co.uk
Seven seater Shogun Sport M
itsubishi has just launched a new Shogun Sport. Closely following the January arrival of the Eclipse Cross, the distinctive seven-seat Shogun Sport will sit between Outlander and Shogun in the range and will be offered with a choice of two extensively-equipped trim levels: Shogun Sport 3 and Shogun Sport 4. Both versions are equipped with an allaluminium, 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine that produces 181hp and 430Nm of torque combined with Mitsubishi Motors’ advanced Super Select II all-wheel drive system and an all-new, eight-speed automatic transmission. The Super Select II all-wheel drive system allows the driver to switch seamlessly between two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive on all terrains. On tarmac, this means that drivers enjoy optimum efficiency in
two-wheel drive mode, but can switch to four-wheel drive for extra stability when towing or in slippery driving conditions. The standard specification also includes Hill Descent Control, Trailer Start Assist (TSA), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and a dedicated offroad mode, ensuring Shogun Sport delivers the outstanding all-terrain, all-purpose performance for which the brand is globally renowned. The Shogun Sport combines luxurious space for up to seven people with outstanding versatility and practicality, offering up to 1,488 litres with the rear seat folded. The entry-level Shogun Sport 3 includes such features as leather upholstery; electricallyadjustable front seats; power folding mirrors; LED headlamps, tail lamps and DRLs; dualzone climate control; reversing camera with rear parking sensors; keyless entry with pushbutton start; privacy glass and automatic headlamps and wipers.
Bluetooth connectivity with music streaming is also standard, as is the Mitsubishi Motors smartphone link display audio (SDA) system which allows users to connect to apps or other features of their Apple or Android smartphone through the touchscreen or via voice control. Prices start from £36,905 for the Sport 3, while the slightly more expensive Shogun Sport 4 adds heated front seats; the Mitsubishi Power Sound System with additional tweeters and a 510W amplifier; headlamp washers and Mitsubishi Motors’ most advanced safety and driver assistance systems including adaptive cruise control (ACC), forward collision mitigation (FCM), which uses radars in the front grille to judge whether there is risk of a collision with the vehicle in front, blind spot warning (BSW), a 360 degree view camera and the ultrasonic mis-acceleration mitigation system (UMS) which utilises front parking sensors to halt any accidental sudden acceleration when any obstacles are detected nearby. ■
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The Largest Family Owned Motor Retailer in N.Ireland www.donnellygroup.co.uk
Subaru already turning heads
ubaru has introduced the XV to its sturdy SUV range. Starting from £24,995, the all-new XV has already turned heads claiming the Best In Class title for the Safest Small Family Car in the Euro NCAP 2017 full year results. The combination of Subaru’s bespoke EyeSight driver assistance safety technology, included as standard, and the addition of the new Subaru Global Platform, make the all-new one of the safest new cars on and off the road.
Alongside technical improvements both interior and exterior design details have been updated to offer both style and substance – culminating in a vehicle that’s engineered as a true crossover SUV. The all-new 2018 XV is the first model to feature the new Subaru global platform (SGP), designed to deliver higher levels of safety performance, driving enjoyment and ride comfort. The SGP brings significant enhancement to the body and chassis rigidity and impact energy absorption is improved by 40% over present models.
Flexible across a number of terrains, the all-new XV allows drivers to maximise the crossover capabilities with minimal effort. With X-Mode and hill climb assist featuring in the new models, the XV has been built to conquer everything from mountains and mudslides to rivers and roads; proving it truly is better where it matters. Featuring the iconic Subaru Boxer Engine, the new XV offers drivers the choice of two engine variants, a 2.0 litre and 1.6 litre petrol CVT, perfectly paired for use with the symmetrical all-wheel drive system, made famous by the Subaru marque.
Subaru EyeSight, the company's driver assistance technology, which is also fitted as standard on the new XV and Impreza, scored highly in the autonomous emergency braking section at Euro NCAP testing, with both cars and pedestrians.
The all-new XV offers improved dynamic quality, handling and performance, with improved rigidity flexibility and core strength provided by the Subaru global platform.
Subaru EyeSight also observes the lateral support functions, warning the driver of unintentional lane departure and assisting the driver in keeping the travelling lane. ■
The EyeSight driver assist technology is a set of two digital cameras that monitor the traffic movement to warn the driver of a threat ahead and to apply pre-collision braking in emergency situations, in order to avoid or at least to mitigate the collision.
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The Largest Family Owned Motor Retailer in N.Ireland www.donnellygroup.co.uk
Power and performance
owerful V8 engines, thrilling driving dynamics and distinctive, motorsport-inspired equipment have turned the top-of-the-range models of the C-Class from Mercedes-AMG into best-sellers. The C63 perfectly embodies the core of the performance and sports car brand and now offers, in the guise of the saloon, estate, coupe and cabriolet even better dynamics and a more modern interior with extended individualisation options. The AMG Speedshift 9G transmission with wet start-off clutch makes for an even more agile gearshift response. The 4.0-litre V8 biturbo engine is available in two output variants rated at 476 bhp or 510 hp for all four body styles and delivers the performance of a sports car – the top speed of C 63 S saloon and coupe is 180mph in case you’re ever on a stretch of derestricted Autobahn. Greater driving pleasure is guaranteed also by the redefined drive programmes, which allow further differentiation of the road performance of the eight-cylinder engine.
Visually, the looks of the new C63 are even more appealing: the AMG-specific radiator trim underscores the brand identity while emphasising the muscular appearance. The interior benefits from an optional fully digital cockpit with unmistakable AMG displays and the new generation of AMG steering wheels. The C63 range will go on sale in June with first deliveries expected from October. The impressive driving dynamics are based, among other things, on the elaborately retuned AMG ride control steel suspension with adaptive damping adjustment, the electronically controlled rear-axle limited-slip differential which is now also standard on all C 63 variants, and the dynamic engine mounts, which are part of the standard equipment on all C63 S models. The exterior of the new C63 underscores the brand identity of the performance models with the AMG-specific radiator trim with vertical louvres in high-gloss chrome. With a redesigned transverse fin in the outer air inlets, the front apron in A-wing design gives
an even stronger emphasis to the width of the vehicle. When viewed from the side, eye-catching features include the sporty side skirts plus aerodynamically optimised AMG light-alloy wheels. The rear view, too, with two remodelled twin tailpipe trim elements in high-gloss chrome, has a muscular look, which is reinforced by the new, more expressive diffuser. The S-versions are additionally provided with a diffuser board. The lateral air curtain look of the rear apron makes for improved air flow at the rear end, as does the spoiler lip on the boot lid (estate: roof spoiler), which is painted in the vehicle colour. The optional AMG aerodynamics package for the C63 coupe provides an even sportier look: the more expressive front splitter, spoiler lip with integral Gurney flap, broader side skirt inserts, flicks in the rear bumper and more expressive diffuser insert are finished in highgloss black. ■
Name: Alan Lowry Position: Chief executive and managing director of Environmental Street Furniture
A word from
The column with an ear for experience...
How did you start out in business? My previous employer went into administration in 2012, with no money and no job, the only other option to me at that time was to start up my own company. I knew that to succeed in business, we had to offer our customers something different than what was already out there, and never one to shy away from a challenge and with the help of my wife Caroline, we set about establishing Environmental Street Furniture (ESF), committing ourselves to establishing the company as a leader in the global market and I haven’t looked back ever since. What have you found the most challenging during your years of business, so far? Since launching ESF in January 2013, our journey to success has seen many challenges along the way, but a personal one for me is striking that perfect balance in business and in life. A balance to commit to opportunities that will grow and develop the company, while staying true to the core values of ESF. I also want to help my employees grow and I want to spend as much time as possible with my family, this can be challenging at times, but I make it work. I’m very proud of what ESF has achieved to date but if I can’t share it with my family, then it would all be for nothing. How would you describe your management style? Consultative, persuasive and accommodating. What would you change if you could go back and do it all again? I would take the leap and set up my own company sooner, as I have been reaping the rewards ever since.
Have you done it all on your own? I can’t say that I have, to be honest I don’t think anyone who succeeds in business can do it all on their own. In the early days of ESF, it was my wife and I who took the risk, but since then we have assembled an excellent team of staff and support partners which has enabled the company to grow and develop. From establishing a sustainable platform locally with a range of street furniture products, to determining a truly global supply chain and most recently launching the solar powered Stellar Bench, it has required the assistance of others. It is through collaboration, the help of our employees and partners that has made this all possible.
This supportive network of people paired with a very strong Christian faith and prayer life has driven me to where I am today. How would you like your business to be remembered? ESF has had a very successful journey to date and long may it continue. However, I hope to be remembered by making a difference, both locally through the lives of our staff and globally. We continue to raise vital funds and donate to global charities in Zimbabwe and Cambodia. With success comes the ability to help people and that will always be the most important thing to me. What piece of advice would you give to a 20-year-old you? Pursue your passions – it isn’t a job if you love what you do. ■
Aideen Conway has been appointed compliance director at Willis Insurance and Risk Management. With over 23 years’ experience in the insurance industry, Aideen will be responsible for developing, implementing and embedding regulatory compliance and risk management frameworks. Barry McIvor has been appointed as sales executive for ICT and technology company Fujitsu. He is responsible for the sustainability and growth of Fujitsu’s public sector business in Northern Ireland. Anna Valli has been appointed chief marketing Officer at SureCert, an online recruitment platform. Ms Valli will be responsible for a seamless user experience for all users of the platform. Carole Callender has joined Holywood’s Ardmore Advertising as talent director, with a wealth of experience in resource and performance management. Ms Callender will lead on HR matters, including resource expansion and training. Polly Adgey has been appointed nurse advisor and business development lead at SureCert. Ms Adgey is a registered learning disabilities nurse with over 20 years’ experience in the sector. Craig Routledge has been appointed as senior consultant with Cunningham Coates. Mr Routledge is responsible for providing independent financial planning advice to private and non-personal clients.
Lauren Bishop is now a solicitor in corporate and M&A with A&L Goodbody. Ms Bishop completed her training contract with the firm and qualified into the corporate team in September 2017. Rob Tubman has been appointed as a solicitor with A&L Goodbody in employment and incentives. He advises a wide range of public and private sector clients on contentious and noncontentious aspects of employment law. Michael Bell, executive Director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association (NIFDA) has been elected as vice president of The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST).
Jonathan Topping has been appointed general manager of Clayton Hotel Belfast, part of the Dalata Hotel Group. Mr Topping has extensive hotel and hospitality experience. EirGrid Group has appointed Mark Foley as group chief executive. Mr Foley has significant management experience in the private, multinational and commercial semi-state sectors. Claire Hamilton has joined Holywood communications agency, Clearbox as PR manager. In the role Ms Hamilton will be responsible for campaigns for clients including Amazon and Sony Xperia.
Ashley Dalzell has joined Clearbox as senior project manager. Ms Dalzell will work on consumer focused projects for clients including Universal Pictures Ireland, Bushmills Irish whiskey and Morelli Ice-Cream. Claire Best has been appointed to the board of directors at Clearbox. Ms Best will take on the position of company board member while continuing in her role as internal communications manager. Danielle Hibbert has been appointed project director at Clearbox. As project director Ms Hibbert will lead Clearbox’s ‘experiences team’ specialising on consumer-focused events, stunts and experiential activities for clients.
RSM UK has announced the appointment of Alex Tait as the regional managing partner for its Scotland and Northern Ireland region. Barclays has appointed Liam McGonigle to the role of business development manager. He oins the team from Barclays Wealth, which has given him extensive experience of helping clients with their personal and commercial requirements. Patricia Murtagh has been appointed as business development manager for the Europa and Grand Central hotels, part of the Hastings Hotels group. Ms Murtagh has more than 15 years’ experience in business development.
PHOTOCALL 1. UFU president Barclay Bell and air ambulance crew members, paramedic Emma Dolan and doctor Rory Maguire, say thank you as the UFU raises ÂŁ10,000 for Air Ambulance NI.
2. Pictured launching the 150th Balmoral Show in partnership with Ulster Bank is Marcia McNally, TechXpert at Ulster Bank. The event runs between May 16 and 19.
3. The launch of the Young Leaders NI Conference YLNI Conference with Chris Fleming, chair of Young Leaders NI and Alan Simpson, head of disputes.
4. Helping to unveil Translinkâ€™s Bus and Train Week are Chris Conway, Translink group chief executive, Translink, Kirsty McManus, national director, IoD, Ann McGregor, chief executive, NI Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Philip Brown, regional chair, ICE, Iain Hoy, CBI,
Kieran Harding, managing director, BITC.
5. Ards and North Down Borough Council unveils its new strategy for developing tourism and the economy. Pictured are Susie McCullough, director of regeneration, development and planning, mayor Robert Adair and Stephen Reid, chief executive.
PHOTOCALL 6. Ulster Youth Orchestra’s Hannah Patterson and Jamie Howe (violin), Aedan Beatty (viola), Ellen Quinn (cello) and Martin Walsh, are pictured with Rushmere Shopping Centre manager as the retail site revealed it is
sponsoring the group.
7. Gerard O’Reilly from PIPS and Claire McCallum from Bryson Recycling pictured after Bryson Recycling an its partners donated £16,000 to suicide prevention support services through their Recycling Rewards Campaign.
8. Former Formula One driver and boss of new airline Laudamotion, Niki Lauda, and Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary launch a new partnership between the companies.
9. Treasa Anderson from Bank of Ireland, Jayne Brady from Kernel Capital, Nuala McAllister, Lord Mayor of Belfast and Gemma Crothers from Kainos unveil the BelTech 2018
10. The professional body for Chartered Accountants in Northern Ireland has appointed corporate law firm A&L Goodbody as its legal partner. Pictured is Pamela McCreedy, chair, Chartered Accountants Ulster Society, Zara Duffy, head of Chartered Accountants Northern Ireland, and Michael Neill, partner, A&L Goodbody.
PHOTOCALL 11. Frank Liddy, mindfulness ambassador, AWARE, Bullitt Hotel’s Yasmin Brown and Petra Wolsey, group marketing director, Beannchor launch a new partnership between the hotel and Northern Ireland’s depression
12. Launching Henderson Foodservice’s new customer digital offering at IFEX are Kiera Campbell, sales director, and Mark StewartMaunder, business development director.
13. Martin Symington, Pure Roast Coffee and John Hood, Invest NI as the firm announced it’s doubling its workforce and growing its customer base outside Northern Ireland.
14. Pictured at the KPMG GDPR breakfast in Belfast are, Bernard O’Hara, director, risk consulting, Tony Hughes, associate director, risk consulting and Michael Daughton, partner.
15. Kilrea firm Hutchinson Engineering, is hosting an open day to help drive the industry forward. Pictured is managing director, Mark Hutchinson alongside IT and marketing director, Richard Hutchinson.
PHOTOCALL 16. International rugby referee Nigel Owens MBE, centre, has told an IoD event in Belfast about the importance of garnering life lessons to enhance professional development as leaders. He’s pictured with Kirsty McManus, IoD NI national director and Nigel Harra, senior partner at BDO in Northern Ireland.
17. Digital advertising agency Loud Mouth Media has appointed Siobhan Lavery as its new commercial director. Ms Lavery is pictured alongside managing director, Mark Haslam.
18. Ballycastle’s Marine Hotel owners Colum McLornan and Claire Hunter are pictured with Stephen Comer from First Trust Bank outside its newly refurbished premises following a £1m revamp.
19. The Innovation Factory (IF) has hosted a Applied Digital Innovation day for businesses. Professor Niall McKeown, chief executive of Ionology, IF innovation director, Majella Barkley and Brendan McCourt, chief executive of New Red.
20 MAY 2018
20. Scott Higginson, managing director of the new Dundonald Four Star Pizza shop, is joined by world number-five darts champion Daryl Gurney to celebrate the opening of the pizza chain’s 50th store.
PHOTOCALL 21. That Holywood Bike Thing becomes the 1,000th business to use the Go For It programme. Owner Gideon Burrows is pictured with his business advisor Emma Pearson (right) of North Down Development Organisations and Mary Young (left) of Invest NI.
22. Pictured at the latest Danske Bank Export First event are Kevin Reid, Almac Group. Sandra Scannell, NI Chamber, and Aaron Ennis of Danske Bank.
23. Andrew Gowdy, senior portfolio manager, WhiteRock Capital Partners, Peter Keeling, chief executive of Diaceutics and Clive Lennox, director of Irish business development, Silicon Valley Bank, pictured as Diaceutics raised ÂŁ3.75m in finance.
24. Yuile Magee, managing director, Agnew Group, Alexander Pollich, managing director, Porsche GB, and Carl Russel, Porsche Centre Belfast, at the opening of the new Titanic
25. Northern Ireland sugar-free food company Freeâ€™ist has landed new listings with more than 2,000 stores across Ireland. Pictured is national account manager, Gary Martin alongside sales development executive, Manus Carson.
PHOTOCALL 26. Darren McDowell (centre), partner at Harbinson Mulholland is pictured with brothers Ricky and Chris Martin from Skunkworks Surf Co. The brothers from Coleraine were guest speakers at the NI Family Business Forum event at the Europa Hotel.
27. Liam Lavery and Fearghal McKinney from PickaShift with Desmond Wilson, Wilson Group managing director, Mary Cusick, group HR manager and Colin Nimmon, finance director Wilson Group after signing a deal with the new nursing and residential home app.
28. Abacus Professional Recruitment, has invested more than £180,000 in the company within the past 12 months. Pictured is Ewan Lockhart, senior IT recruitment consultant along with Roisin Moss, senior legal recruitment consultant.
29. The Wilson family, Kenny, Kerrie, Noah at Belfast International Airport to help celebrate the launch of Jet2.com’s new summer schedule.
30. Ken Nelson, chairman of InterTradeIreland is joined by 2017 Seedcorn winners Professor Helen McCarthy and Darach Neeson from Phion Therapeutics to urge start-ups from all sectors to this year’s competition.
Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, current, and former, SDLP leaders Colum Eastwood and Alasdair McDonnell, Claire Hanna, DUP MPs Ian Paisley and Emma Little-Pengelly, Ulster Unionist MP Danny Kinahan, along with Goliath board members Ray Hayden and Nuala Hayden. Some of Northern Ireland’s business leaders also pulled up a chair for charity, including Kainos chief Brendan Mooney, Paul Daly of Osborne King and David Kerr of Strategic Planning – a former political advisor.
The Chairman He’s been doing the rounds at some of the top events across the city and beyond, but did he make it to your soiree this month?
t’s no secret that The Chairman enjoys the company of the great and the good of Northern Ireland business and political society. During one of the latest forays, the Europa Hotel’s Grand Ballroom played host to an event fitting of the venue’s name. The Goliath Trust event attracted, not only political, business and social heavyweights, but some of those who helped shape peace in Northern Ireland. There’s not enough column inches here to name those in attendance, but The Chairman will give it a go. Senator George Mitchell was keynote speaker, and joined by former political leaders such as Bertie Ahern. Among those milling around the grand space included Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern
The Construction Employers Federation hosted its annual black tie, with speakers including its managing director, John Armstrong, and Ray Hutchinson, boss of Gilbert Ash and incoming president. Also gracing the stage was Northern Ireland man and fan of the moustache, Dick Strawbridge MBE. A man of many talents, the engineer, inventor, sustainability expert, and television kept the swathes of industry stalwarts a guests both entertained and educated.
And helping bring discussion under some sort of control was the BBC’s Stephen Nolan. The Goliath Trust was set up to try and take on educational underachievement and disadvantage in Northern Ireland.
And at the glam DANI awards, the Property News team were among those picking up a gong.
Elsewhere, broadcaster and media trainer, Sarah Travers, hosted and paid tribute to the top Northern Ireland businesses which showcase their commitment to advocating equality and diversity in their organisations.
Hundreds packed into the Whitla Hall at Queen’s University for event.
The Northern Ireland Equality and Diversity Awards, held at Titanic Belfast, saw Michelle Morris and Orla Barron of Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, pick up the gong for Best Gender Initiative.
It also featured Ana Matronic, who I’m reliably informed is in the popular music group, Scissor Sisters.
Other winners included Teresa McDonough from Habinteg Housing Association.
And a campaign by two Northern Ireland companies, Digital 24 and Social 24, helped Babocush – an aid that relieves babies from wind, colic and reflux – win the award for Best Social Media Campaign.
Moving to the more casual end of the social spectrum, the Dead Rabbit bar – the New York pub named best in the world and owned by Belfast pair Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon – launched its own whiskey, at the Cathedral Quarter stalwart, the Duke of York.
Kirsty Nixon of Digital 24, Kerry Nevins, founder of Babocush, Niamh Taylor, managing director of Digital 24 and Kerrie Grugan, managing director of Social 24, picked up the gong. Some of the winners included Galgorm Resport & Spa and PR firm Smarts Communicate.
Meanwhile, it was the turn of the construction sector to flex its formal dining muscles, at the Culloden, outside Belfast.
And St Anne’s Square in Belfast played host to Peroni’s three-day La Primavera event. It saw some top Italian fare from Tony O’Neill’s Coppi, the Chubby Cherub, and Belfast Woodfired Pizza Company. Meanwhile, at Aintree, Randox founder Peter Fitzgerald helped celebrate Tiger Roll’s win at the Randox Health Grand National, alongside the horse’s owner, and Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary. ■
Senator George Mitchell with Ian Paisley and Bertie Ahern
Senator George Mitchell alongside Nuala Hayden
Kainos chief executive Brendan Mooney and George Mitchell
George Mitchell pictured with Strategic Planningâ€™s David Kerr
Emma Kerr, GCD Technologies, with Charlie Graham and Caroline Norris of Property News
Kirsty Nixon of Digital 24, Kerry Nevins, Babocush, Niamh Taylor, managing director of Digital 24 and Kerrie Grugan, managing director of Social 24
Gavan Wall, director of The Wall Group with Michelle Morris and Orla Barron from Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, and Sarah Travers
Pictured are Ciara Fulton with Alison Logan and Bilal Zahid from the Northern Ireland Office with Sarah Travers
Louisa Moran and Federico Riezzo at the Peroni La Primavera event
The winner of the Randox Health Grand National, Davy Russell, with Peter Fitzgerald and Michael Oâ€™Leary
Life of luxury in Malaysia Jillian Bolger discovers the five-star Pangkor Laut is one of South East Asia'a top pampering palaces
aving been soothed and smoothed, poked and pummelled, in some of the best spas in the world, I rock up at Pangkor Laut feeling somewhat curious. For over 15 years, this five-star, private island resort on the east coast of Malaysia has enjoyed a far-reaching reputation as a destination spa — which, by my calculations, is no mean feat. South East Asia is rife with competition, after all — from the traveller’s favourite, Thailand, to the north, to Bali’s fragrant (and spadotted) landscape to the south. Malaysia often gets overlooked by everyone from backpackers to luxury seekers, but Pangkor Laut has always managed to seduce.
with a large private balcony and bathroom that allows me throw open the windows and watch the waves from an oversized bathtub. It’s an idyllic spot for sunrise or catching a few rays as the waters lap below. Malaysia is an intriguing mixture of three distinct cultures: Malay, Chinese and Indian, and these manifest themselves joyfully in the country’s fragrant cuisine. It’s a mystery why Malaysian food doesn’t have the same profile as Thai food.
My mission? I want to know why.
It’s easily as interesting and delicious... think Chinese-style deep-fried soft shell crab with Kampung Koh chilli sauce, or perhaps Char Kuey Teow, a Malay favourite using prawns and handmade rice noodles from neighbouring Pangkor island.
Set along the Straits of Malacca, three miles off the coast, this leafy island is textbook tropical, its rocky outcrops and pristine white beaches fringed by virgin rainforest that dates back over two million years.
The country is over 60% Muslim with Buddhists the next dominant religion — a day trip to Pangkor island, where many of the resort’s friendly staff live, offers a colourful window on local life.
It’s a pretty spectacular sight for sore (and jet-lagged) eyes, and a far wilder setting than the Maldives could ever muster.
We join a cookery trip, where our chef takes us to the little harbour, spice shops, a small noodle maker and fish market to select local produce for a cookery class back at the resort.
Home to colourful hornbills, cheeky longtailed macaques, monitor lizards and fruit bats, the resort has been created with minimum impact on nature, its luxury accommodation set into the hills, lush gardens and over the water. It’s here I’m billeted, sleeping in a room on stilts above the emerald ocean. My spacious room is accessed by a boardwalk,
With a little guidance I realise I’m quite adept at folding fish fillets with sambal into glossy green banana leaves, a skill I’ve yet to showcase back home. I’ve been here three days when I finally make it to the Spa Village, a waterside retreat of elegant low slung buildings,
The five-star Pangkor Laut
pools and leafy gardens. Three days of sunshine, seafood, swimming and sleeping over sparkling waters have me more than a little relaxed, so I slink into the spa believing that half the Pangkor Laut spell has already been cast, before a therapist ever gets to lay a hand on me. Before my massage begins I’m treated to a Bath House Ritual, a 45-minute whirlwind of Asian practices that starts with a smirkinducing Chinese foot pounding, once the preserve of concubines in feudal China. Next, I’m bobbing about in a traditional Malay circulating bath before entering a bath house to wash with a Japanese goshigoshi cloth. Each ritual flows into the next, before I’m led to a heated pool outdoors — a
steaming Rotenburu based on the Japanese practice of bathing in hot springs. Lying back against smooth pebbles, hot water swirling around me, I breathe in the ocean breeze and look skywards. Palm fronds stir above me, and, for a moment, the world is still. Before the masseuse works her magic, I have found the answer to my question. Somehow the spa’s Bath House Ritual has unlocked my stress valves, and brought me to the kind of blissed out state life rarely affords. The ensuing exfoliation, tea and massage are still to come, but I’m already spellbound. If this is magic, Pangkor Laut-style, I’ve never been happier to surrender myself to a spell. ■
British Airways putting customers first In late 2017, global airline British Airways revealed its investment plans for customers. Brenda Morgan MBE, partnership manager for British Airways in Northern Ireland, discusses the investment and reflects on the airline’s role here
n 2017, British Airways unveiled a new investment plan including a £400m investment in its long-haul business class, Club World. This is an exciting development which will enhance the experience of dining at 38,000 feet and deliver an excellent night’s sleep for British Airways’ travellers, with stylish new bedding and an amenity kit designed by The White Company. New Club World seats with direct aisle access are also expected in 2019. In addition, British Airways is planning to spend £88m in its lounge facilities across the US, with JFK’s Terminal 7 receiving over £52m worth of investment over the next two years. This will improve the customer journey at check in, security and boarding gates and the First and Club lounges will also be refreshed and refurbished. Technology continues to drive new trends among customers and the way people book and engage with British Airways has changed considerably over the last number of years. As a result, we are becoming more digitally enabled, allowing us to remain modern, competitive, and agile to meet customers’ needs. Customers will soon be able to use the latest generation wi-fi across British Airways’ long-haul and short-haul fleets as it is rolled out over the next two years – something we know is important to them. Technology is also helping us to simplify and speed up customer journeys through the airport, with the opening of British Airways’ first three automated self-boarding gates for
UK domestic flights at Heathrow Terminal 5. Via the BA app customers can now track their flight, upgrade fares, and manage their itineraries. As part of the new investment plan, British Airways has also introduced its European business cabin, Club Europe, on all UK domestic flights. This is good news for local customers as Club Europe is now available on flights from Belfast City Airport to London Heathrow. British Airways has a long-standing commitment to serving the local community in Northern Ireland and we take great pride in the role we play in the region – offering bestin-class service, responding to our customers’ needs and keeping pace with technological change. Belfast City Airport to London Heathrow is an important route for British Airways and crucial to the Northern Ireland economy. The service provides connectivity for local passengers and cargo traffic to the airline’s extensive
global network of over 140 destinations worldwide from London Heathrow – essential for the continued development of business, commerce, and tourism. This includes new routes to Nashville and the Seychelles as well as New Orleans and Las Vegas. There are also a wide range of departure times from Belfast City Airport to London Heathrow to meet the needs of all our customers – whether they are travelling for business or pleasure. All flights from Belfast City Airport arrive into Terminal 5, British Airways’ flagship Heathrow home. As a result, customers benefit from smoother and quicker connections through the airport to onward British Airways flights or have quick and easy access to frequent and fast Heathrow Express services direct to London. With 2018 well underway, we’re looking forward to continuing to work with all our partners across the region, welcoming more business and leisure passengers on our flights and continuing to play a part in contributing to the local economy in Northern Ireland. ■
The hunt is on for top talent By Hannah Macdonald, search consultant with headhunting firm 4c Executive How does executive search differ from traditional recruitment? A key difference between what we do here in 4c in comparison to more traditional recruitment methods is that our clients retain us to fill their critical roles, and in doing so we go fresh to market to find the absolute best fit for that role. Searching the marketplace, rather than a database or relying on ad response, ensures we are presenting stellar candidates for each role – that’s why 73% of our placed candidates come from search rather than advertising or who we already know. Another vital difference is how much time we invest throughout each assignment – we take a consultative approach, making sure we understand our clients’ culture, structure, needs and products fully before embarking upon filling the role. Is it more challenging to find the candidates and to fill the roles? It really depends on the nature of the assignment, the difficulty of finding relevant candidates can vary on a role-by-role basis. We work across all sectors in Northern Ireland and as such may find certain sectors are experiencing skills shortages, so the pool of candidates becomes smaller. Also, we are not restricted by geography and so have carried out searches across the world, making sure no stone is left unturned. Is the demand for the sector increasing in Northern Ireland? I’m so proud to say that our statistics can speak volumes in answering this question, in that we are approaching our 250th role since our inception four and a half years ago. As we become more established in the marketplace, we are noticing not only repeat business from loyal clients, but also an increase in new business coming through the doors – and we are so grateful that our clients trust us with these roles that ultimately drive their own success in to the future. We also are encouraged by the fact that our 4c Boardroom, 4c Public Sector and 4c Third Sector divisions have grown significantly since their launch in October 2016 and we feel confident that these will continue to grow.
What has contributed to the success of the company since its inception in 2013? One of the main reasons for our success has to be the 4c team, led to success by Gary Irvine. The combined expertise, attitude and level of camaraderie is something we could easily take for granted, but every single person in 4c is so proud to be part of the team, and proud of what we do. Another key factor is our model – we follow a methodical process that differentiates us in the market, which is also the reason why our success rate is 44% above the industry norm. Finally, I really believe a lot of our success is down to our clients. Without our
clients we wouldn’t be here, and their trust, repeat business and demand for our service is something we place the utmost importance on. What is it you enjoy most about your role at 4c? I really love the variety of my job – each day is so different, I like to be kept on my toes. I feel so privileged that I get to learn more about Northern Ireland businesses, and meet some of the top business men and women that are leading them. I also get to work with an incredible team, interact with such experienced candidates and see the talent that exists here. ■
We need to look smart to take control of phones Tech expert Adrian Weckler speaks to Samsung's UK and Ireland boss Conor Pierce about how the industry is changing
rish people look at their phone 57 times every day, more than any other country in Europe. Or so says Conor Pierce. He should know, though — he’s the head of Samsung IT and Mobile in the UK and Ireland, which is Europe’s joint biggest electronics and tech market. And yet even as his company launches what is regarded as the main competitor to Apple’s
iPhone X — the Galaxy S9 — Pierce has somewhat counterintuitive thoughts about the place of smartphones in our lives at present.
a bit more discipline in how we use our phones. How do we get people to get their heads up?”
“We’re becoming a heads-down society,” says Pierce, referring to people walking along the street with their faces stuck in phones.
Pierce, an active outdoors climber and adventurer, has his own tricks to curb any temptation at bingeing.
“In Ireland, there’s a real debate about this. Maybe we have a more social culture than others but we do all have a responsibility, as do the social media giants, in trying to encourage
“I put my phone in another room with the alarm so that I have to get up and retrieve it instead of having it beside me as I’m not falling asleep,” he says.
“For a lot of people, the phone is the last thing they do at night and the first thing they do in the morning. That’s fine, but I do think that everyone needs some quality time.” In one way, Samsung isn’t really helping. Its latest S9 Plus phone is probably the company’s most accomplished device. Its screen has been rated as the best on any electronic or electrical device, while its camera breaks new ground in the all-important lowlight scenario. To be blunt, there hasn’t ever been a more addictive phone in Samsung’s repertoire. And it may even get worse (or better, depending on your perspective). Samsung’s next major goal is to tie together all of the products it makes — from tellies and phones to fridges and smartwatches — so that they’re all connected. In the short term, this means that your phone becomes a remote control to your house. For example, when you walk into your living room with a Galaxy phone, a Samsung TV will detect it and enable you to control it from your phone. In other words, your phone will become even more central to your daily movements. Pierce chooses to view this as asserting control over the phone rather than the other way around. He also points to the benefits that a joined-up smart household brings. “Right now you need to be tech savvy to patch all that stuff together,” he says, referring to competing smart gadgets like the Nest and Philips Hue light bulbs and Amazon Echos. “But in the future it should be a lot more simple. And yes, your phone will be more of a slave to you, with you being the master instead of the other way around.” If the jury remains out on this, Pierce is still hoping that other elements of phones such as the S9 can augment healthy, more active (“quality time”) activities. To this end, he thinks that Samsung Health — and health apps in general — could
The camera is now the number two reason for getting a phone. The top reason, by the way, is getting online — 5G is a big coming thing. Our phones are really well positioned.
yet become a big selling point for top end smartphones like the S9.
“The UK and Ireland has one of the highest Samsung Health user ratios in the world without much marketing,” he says. “People who use it tend to love it. Now we’re starting to look at questions such as how to build Bixby [Samsung’s artificial intelligence assistant] into Samsung health. Could it be an entry into your local GP? I’d love to see it make much more in this area.” Personally, Pierce has had an interesting journey through the mobile world. Despite still being relatively young, he is a veteran of the industry. He led the Irish business for Ericsson from 1996, a period when it switched over to Sony Ericsson. He then joined Nokia in 2004, seeing the Finnish giant mop up a staggering 84% market share in Ireland before the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 spelled Nokia’s doom. Before its demise, however, Pierce spent 12 years at the company, landing big jobs in the Middle East, Turkey and the UK, where he somehow managed to carve out a 10% market share for Nokia Lumia (Windows) smartphones. But with a lack of support from key app developers in the industry, Microsoft’s phone business started to implode. In 2015, Pierce joined Samsung as its vice-president for IT and Mobile, a job he still has.
In the last three years, he has witnessed some tumultuous times at Samsung, the peak of which was the recall of the exploding Note 7 phone. Both in the UK, Ireland and globally, Samsung appears to have suffered almost no fall-off whatsoever in its business since the Note 7 fiasco. If anything, it has tightened its grip on the global smartphone market alongside Apple, shoving everyone else (with the exception of Huawei) to the side. Indeed, Pierce quotes industry figures to claim that there’s been a 40% increase from people moving from iOS (iPhone) devices to Samsung devices. Apple may well have something to say about that. And while the latest Galaxy S9 wows with its camera and its screen, it hasn’t added much else of note over last year’s Galaxy S8. But Pierce says that where it really counts on features, Samsung is hitting its sweet spot. “The S9’s good performance in orders is an indication of the importance of the camera,” he says. “The camera is now the number two reason for getting a phone. The top reason, by the way, is getting online — 5G is a big coming thing. Our phones are really wellpositioned.” And the next big thing in phone technology? With edge-to-edge displays, there’s nowhere really left to go with the screen. Can we push camera technology even further without challenging the laws of physics? “I believe we’ll continue to see innovations in camera technology,” says Pierce. “That’s definitely a focus for future design in the industry. Security and safety are hot topics now, too. We could open Knox [Samsung’s security standard] up to partners. And then 5G is going to be a massive platform, leading eventually to a ubiquitous smart society that will have things like connected homes, more digital lifestyles, connected health and greater productivity. “All of these things are being taken into consideration when the next phones are designed.” ■
MY DAY Uncovering the 9-5
Depending on the day, I’ll do an inspection of various departments such as housekeeping or maintenance. I’ll also do meetings with heads of departments to stay up-to-date with key issues. 12.30pm As our owners are American and based in Dallas and Santa Fe, I usually start to make contact with them around mid-day and will host a weekly conference call to keep them abreast with business updates and sales. 1.00pm I like to be on the ground for lunch service to meet guests and provide any support required for the team. Following this I usually enjoy lunch in the staff room as it’s a great opportunity to speak with staff from a range of the teams and get a good understanding of their work and an insight into any challenges.
Name: William Kirby Position: General manager at Lough Erne Resort
6.30am My home is Kilkenny and I live on site when I’m working, which makes the daily commute very easy. I often bring my black lab, Rufus, to stay with me to give my wife a break from his boundless energy levels. When Rufus is staying, my day begins with a walk around the golf course with him, then we’ll return home to sort his breakfast and get myself ready for the working day. I don’t tend to have much for breakfast myself, but as a Yorkshire man, I religiously have a morning cup of tea and usually try to throw some vitamins my way. 7.30am With a short 15-minute walk to the main resort, I’m usually on site for around 7.30am. I’m a creature of habit so I’ll do the rounds, visiting all the departments as I do a walk of the property and say good morning to the team and greet any guests who might be up early. I’ll complete maintenance inspections and log any issues or incidents from the
night team before things get busy with the breakfast service. 8.00am I often try to grab a coffee and a banana around now then spend some time at the breakfast service. You might find me serving tea and coffee, clearing tables or simply greeting guests. 10.00am The morning brief with the senior management team takes place around 10am. We’ll discuss any challenges, service queries, plans for VIP guests and golf course issues as well as the usual daily business. 10.30am I share a large office with the sales and marketing team as I feel it’s very important to be involved in this element of the business and it allows me to play a hands-on role, sharing ideas and providing quick sign off on marketing campaigns and sales plans.
2.00pm Depending on what’s taking place in the hotel, from weddings and civil ceremonies to golf events or business conferences, my day can be very different, but regardless of the event, I prefer to be on the floor engaging with guests and working alongside the team. 6.30pm I try to take 45 minutes each day to either go for a swim or spend time in the gym. I like to keep fit and obviously we have great facilities on-site so it’s a good opportunity to make the most of them. 7.30pm Daily operations can be very different according to what’s taking place at the resort, but I tend to be on site until around 9pm unless there’s a late event or dinner I am attending or need to assist with. 9.30pm Evenings vary depending on the time of year. I might take the dog for a run through the nearby woods or go out on my bike for an hour. Or I might just chill out with a malt whiskey and watch some sport or Dexter before turning in and getting ready for another busy day.
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