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  • Economic Growth Powered By Entrepreneurial Spirit In Northern Ireland

Economic Growth Powered By Entrepreneurial Spirit In Northern Ireland

24 October 2016

Discussing the agenda at this year’s CBI Medium-Sized Business Conference at foothills of the Mourne Mountains in Newcastle is David Gavaghan, Aurora Prime Real Estate, Peter Burnside, BDO (sponsor) Gavin Kennedy, Bank of Ireland UK (sponsor), CBI Director, Angela McGowan, and Colin Walsh, Crescent Capital. The main themes were leadership, scaling up, entrepreneurship, and driving up productivity.

Medium sized businesses (MSBs) will undoubtedly play a key role in transforming Northern Ireland’s economic growth in the years ahead. This was illustrated recently when more than 50 MSBs gathered at the foothills of the Mourne Mountains to share their experience of leadership, scaling up, entrepreneurship, and driving up productivity - often doing this in the face of considerable adversity. This event was the CBI’s fourth annual conference dedicated to celebrating these business champions and was supported by Bank of Ireland UK and BDO Northern Ireland.

The mood was uplifting with many inspirational stories from a wide variety of businesses and sectors. The common theme was an open-ness and sharing of experiences – something that has become a hallmark of this event since its inception four years ago.

CBI Chair David Gavaghan opened the conference:

“MSBs have done much of the heavy lifting to drive the economy. They will be crucial to our future growth and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in the coming years. Everyone who attended was inspired by the honesty of our speakers, with a number commenting on difficult periods of their business. We all left with a strong conviction that good businesses will thrive in spite of the challenges ahead!”

On day one, Bank of Ireland UK Economist Alan Bridle set the scene and posed the question, “is it time to redefine business success?” One insight he offered was that, “the changing landscape provided opportunities for local businesses to invest in skills, infrastructure and exports to compete.” This was echoed by Irish Dragon, Eleanor McEvoy, Chief Executive, Budget Energy, who said that she would love to invest in a number of companies who have the natural potential to grow, but for one reason or another, the directors seem to be content staying put. Under Eleanor’s direction, Budget Energy’s turnover has gone from zero to £40m inside five years – and they are now planning to launch into the Republic of Ireland this winter.

Denis Lynn, owner of artisan meat producing company, Finnebrogue, gave an inspirational account of the highs and lows of scaling up and growing a multi-million pound business. Through product development and market penetration, ‘the Finnebrogue Magic’ has steered growth since 2002 - from farmed venison to award winning sausages produced for and stocked in a number of the UK’s top rated supermarkets., including M&S, Waitrose and ASDA.

Martin Agnew, Joint Managing Partner, The Henderson Group, shared his story of how a fourth generation family business can successfully run itself like a Plc. They are focused on growing and investing for the next generation – and it is this culture that has helped drive the company’s success in wholesale, retail foodservice, property and most recently, print. With a strong CSR strategy, the company has successfully grown the SPAR brand

On day two, Jeremy Eakin discussed the importance of automation in making family business, TJ Eakin, a more efficient and productive business.  Delegates also heard from Jonny O’Brien, Chief Strategy Officer, TotalMobile who explained how mobile technology allowed companies to raise productivity and reduce costs in a number of ways.  For example, TotalMobile solutions can remove geographical barriers between headquarters and off-site staff, reduce auditing and regulatory costs and also allow for the streamlining of employees hours, contract workers and overall work schedules.

Delegates also heard the successful turnaround story of another family business, Creagh Concrete, which, after a turbulent period in 2013/14, completely restructured and reorganised itself in order to survive – and subsequently flourish. Lorna McMullan gave a passionate account of how the company has grown from a £26m turnover in 2003 to more than £70m in 2016 – the most financially viable year in the company’s history. Strong leadership with key investment in market & product development has now given rise to an ambitious £120m turnover target by 2020.

The conference closed on a strategic note from Helen Kirkpatrick, who discussed the valuable role to be provided by experienced non-executive directors. She provided insights from her positions on a number of Boards, including insulation manufacturer Kingspan Group Plc., where the Board is made up of almost 50/50 executive and non-executive directors. Helen emphasised in particular the importance of being involved in the business but not interfere with the executives role in running it.

Gavin Kennedy, Director Business Banking gave an overview of his highlights:

“Bank of Ireland UK is passionate about its role in supporting the growth of businesses in Northern Ireland. I was really pleased to witness first hand how our business leaders are embracing opportunities to scale. The quality and honesty of approach to investment in innovative new products, markets and ways to do business was both refreshing and very uplifting. It highlighted a responsibility for us all to play our part in encouraging more of this in driving future economic growth.”

Closing the conference, Peter Burnside, Managing Director, BDO Northern Ireland said:

“I was delighted to attend CBI’s MSB conference this year both as a sponsoring organisation and as a delegate. At BDO we recognise our medium sized businesses are the backbone of the NI economy driving growth, encouraging innovation and creating jobs and this conference allowed these business leaders to come together to talk about mutual issues they face. I was encouraged at how honest and candid each of the speakers were about their business experiences and it was also refreshing for me to find that regardless of the size or sector their business operated in, each delegate at the conference faced the same challenges and adversities as each other. I think everyone took away with them something that can practically help and grow their business for the future.”