Passage to India for Ballymena bus firm
The Wright Group has done a deal with Daimler to enter the Indian market
Mark Nodder, Wright Group’s managing director, believes the new venture “offers great prospects for the future”.
Ballymena to India is, by anyone’s standards, quite a journey to undertake. But one family firm has never been daunted by distance when it comes to winning new business.
The family-owned business, which has become one of Europe’s leading bus manufacturers, began life in 1946 as a father-and-son partnership. In the intervening 67 years, it has evolved into one of the North’s top exporters.
Now, it is about to change gear by shifting into a completely new market – going into business with Daimler Buses to work together in India.
Daimler already has a presence in India. Mark Nodder, Wright Group’s managing director, believes the new venture “offers great prospects for the future”.
“This project will leverage the strengths of both companies, and create long-term opportunities for growth,” he says.
Nodder has been disarmingly honest in the past about Wright Group’s ambitions to expand its operations to India and beyond, noting the business only started thinking seriously about exporting 12 years ago.
If it had not gone down this route chances are the Wright Group would be a very different business than the one it is today, employing more than 1,400 people.
Its early export success in Asia, for instance, proved to be a lifeline when a third of its UK order book was wiped out as a result of the manufacturing recession in 2009/10.
According to Nodder, the company is realistic about the “highly competitive and increasingly globalised” market in which it operates and, for all the focus on exports, he maintains the home market will remain the
“bedrock” of its business.
One of the company’s most significant recent successes was clinching the contract to manufacture the chassis and superstructure for the new hybrid bus for London. Transport for London plans to introduce 600 of the buses, which are now in service, across the capital by 2016.
But Nodder also acknowledges that Wright’s is keen to capitalise on new international opportunities.
“That is where the future lies” he has said. Which helps illustrate why the Indian market is such an important move for the group, which last year posted record pre-tax profits of £3.8 million (€4.5 million).
Its latest set of accounts also show a major jump in turnover from £132.7 million in the 12 months to September 2011 to £156.5 million a year later.
Wright’s has always stressed the importance of its commitment to research and development in staying ahead of its competitors.
In the 12 months to September 2012 the group invested more than £3.2 million in research and development.
But it also disclosed in the latest accounts that dividends totalling £2 million were paid in the year under review and that “a substantial part” of these will be used to finance additional manufacturing operations for Wright Group in the UK and “overseas”.
This clearly sets out the map for where the engineering business founded by Bob Wright intends to travel. It also shows that, with vision and determination, a local family-owned business can compete on a global stage with multinational corporations.
In recent years, Northern Ireland has won significant new investment from leading Indian companies such as Polaris Software, Firstsource, L&T Infotech and Tech Mahindra. But there is not such a long list of home-grown businesses investing in India.
Perhaps the Wright Group is about to change that.