Ian Haldane, Haldane Shiells Group

Estimated group turnover will be in excess of £85 million this year

Mon, Jun 16, 2014, 01:00

Ian Haldane was educated at Campbell College Belfast. He completed a two-year institute of wood science course at Buckinghamshire College and a two-year MSc at the University of Ulster.

The company was established in Newry in 1946 by Haldane’s grandfather Robert Haldane. During its early years, Haldane Shiells’s timber operations were centred around native woods, but in the late 1950s it became apparent that a major change of emphasis was required.

Local products were insufficient to supply the ever-increasing demand so the firm started to import. In 1958, Robert’s son John joined the company, specialising in sourcing and purchasing timber from the Scandinavian countries, Canada and Russia.

Haldane became managing director in 1991 at 27 when his father John was killed by the IRA.

Since then, Haldane, with his late mother (Elizabeth), sister Carol, brother David and management team have developed the business throughout Ireland, the Isle of Man and England, completing seven acquisitions to date and adding 12 branches to the existing network of four. Haldane Shiells is today one of Ireland’s largest suppliers of timber, building and plumbing materials.

Estimated turnover for the group will be in excess of £85 million in 2014, with employee numbers of about 450 people.

What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business? The Haldane Shiells Group is a third generation business. I have always had the desire to go into business along with the drive and passion to always seek continuous improvement, an aspect that I inherited from my late father.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it? In 1990, we acquired our biggest local competitor at the time, J S Fisher, who also had trading locations in Newry, Bangor and Portadown. Logistically, this was a demanding time joining the operations on to one site in Newry and one site in Portadown. There were a lot of reorganisation and redundancy costs and this, combined with weak trading conditions, resulted in a sizeable loss in the first year. Naturally, the bank were concerned and asked for a review to be carried out in 1991.

Tragically in that year, my father was killed by the IRA and I found myself in the position of managing director at the age of 27. Through hard work, focus, commitment, good leadership and a committed team, we bounced back strongly in 1992.

Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution? Yes, my grandfather Robert Haldane used to work for A Shiells which, prior to the formation of Haldane Shiells in 1946, was previously owned by JS Fisher. So to purchase JS Fisher some 54 years later was quite a momentous occasion.

What are the biggest challenges you face now? As the construction industry starts to recover, some of the key challenges will be the retention of key staff, succession planning and the engagement of company trainees to enable out performance growth in the future.

If you were to invest in a sector, what would you consider the next “big thing”? The residential housing market – there is such a pent-up build of demand based on historical data, demographics and population trends. The current recovery, while slow in Ireland, I believe is sustainable and will gradually improve once bank lending is more in equilibrium, providing opportunity for new house builds to double in the North and quadruple in the Republic over the next two to five years.