Friday 13th was a lucky day for family-run AE Global

Derry firm co-founded by MD Kieran Connor’s father wins Business of the Year award

Sinead McLaughlin, chief executive of Derry’s Chamber of Commerce: “AE Global is a great example of a local manufacturer that, despite the downturn in the economy, has spread its wings and grown its business across the UK.” Photograph: Trevor McBride

Sinead McLaughlin, chief executive of Derry’s Chamber of Commerce: “AE Global is a great example of a local manufacturer that, despite the downturn in the economy, has spread its wings and grown its business across the UK.” Photograph: Trevor McBride

 

It may be considered by some as a portent of bad luck but in Kieran Connor’s case, Friday the 13th brought him nothing but good fortune.

Connor, who is the managing director of AE Global, picked up the Business of the Year award at the inaugural North West Business Awards at the end of last week.

The Derry firm overcame very serious competition to clinch the top prize, the first since Connor took over as managing director.

But while Connor was more than familiar with the Maydown-based company, he only took over as managing director five months ago. Before that he had a 35-year global career working on large-scale projects across demanding sectors from pharma to chemicals, oil, power and commercial industries.

What brought him back to Northern Ireland and in particular Derry?

The answer is AE Global – or as it was previously known as Allpipe Engineering.

The firm specialises in mechanical and electrical engineering and clients include the likes of GSK (GlaxoSmithKline), BP, Dupont and Seagate.

It was originally set up by two Derry entrepreneurs in 1994 and the reason Connor is so familiar with the business is that his father, Malachy, was one of those, the other was Liam Gallagher.

Transition

The business grew on the strength of its reputation, operating primarily as a third-tier contractor providing products and services to sub-contractors. But as it expanded, its expertise advanced, creating new opportunities which, in turn, required major investment.

It got to the stage, according to Kieran Connor, that it was transitioning from a business run by two families into something much bigger and it was then that they decided to “change the business model”.

“We knew we needed to move to the next level. We didn’t need a middle man anymore because, in effect, we were the manufacturer of the mechanical engineering products in demand and we could also provide everything from design to procurement, installation and commission on the electrical engineering front.

“We brought in the right people to take the company to the next level and it meant that we could go directly to the clients and customers ourselves,” Connor said.

While the original founders remain involved, Connor has enjoyed the “challenges” of retaining the family values but expanding the company’s horizons as managing director.

“This industry is really very competitive and to succeed you have to have something that makes you stand out.

“I’ve real ambitions to grow this company. We employ 110 people now but we want to create more jobs here and we want to grow our business in Europe and one of my pet projects is expanding into Asia,” says Connor.

Inspiration

For now, he says his first “trophy” as managing director is a powerful endorsement of how far AE Global has come and what it has achieved. It is unlikely to be his last.

According to Sinead McLaughlin, chief executive of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, which organised the awards, winners such as AE Global demonstrate that, with the right mix of people and leadership, local firms can succeed in any environment.

“These awards exemplify the talent that exits in the northwest and AE Global is a great example of a local manufacturer that, despite the downturn in the economy, has spread its wings and grown its business across the UK.

She said the likes of Paul McElvaney – one of the founders of the online training company Learning Pool – who was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year, is a huge inspiration for other up and coming business start ups.

“They show what just we have to offer in the northwest.”

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