Ernst & Young Entrepeneur of the year

 

Four more nominees in the industry category of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, in  association with ‘The Irish Times’, Enterprise Ireland, InterTrade Ireland and Newstalk, are profiled today

Colm Piercy

Digiweb

DIGIWEB GROUP is an independent, wholly-Irish owned provider of converged telecoms, managed network and web-hosting services to 100,000 business, residential, wholesale and public sector customers.

Established in 1997 by chief executive Colm Piercy, the company was initially focused on the area of web hosting, but has developed to become a major, independent telecoms player offering a full service portfolio.

A number of strategic acquisitions have been key to this development. These have included the purchase of TalkTalk, Smart Telecom, Internet Ireland and Novara, and has resulted in the successful repatriation of 40 previously outsourced jobs from Belgium and UK, creating new employment in Dublin and Dundalk.

Broadband is a key strand of the business and Digiweb continues to deliver market-leading innovations via its Metro network – a wholly-owned wireless network reaching more than 50 per cent of the population – that is now offering 30Mbps, and shortly 100Mbps, to business and residential customers. For more than seven years, the firm has been connecting in excess of 2,000 primary and secondary schools to the internet, creating one of the largest private networks in Ireland.

As an infrastructure-rich company, with its own data centre, more than 300km of fibre network and access to over 500,000 phone lines through “unbundling”, Digiweb prides itself on delivering market-leading, flexible services to customers.

Employing 148 people between its Dublin, Dundalk and London centres, the company is now seeking innovative individuals who value the importance of providing a positive customer service experience to join its team.

Turnover at the group was €40 million in 2011, with operating profits of €8 million. According to Piercy, the company injects about €8.5 million in wages to the local economy, and a further €7 million in taxes to the national economy.

In recent times, Piercy has also established Dataplex, which is developing a number of state-of- the-art wholesale data centre facilities in Dublin, UK and Malta.

Services:

Digiweb Group provides a broad range of converged telecoms, managed network, and web-hosting services to 100,000 customers. These include broadband and data networks; cloud, virtualisation and managed services; data centre, web hosting and domain registration; telephony and voice over IP services; and corporate and enterprise ICT solutions.

Customers:

Digiweb services support the operations of residential and corporate clients, international carriers, governments and reseller partners including Boylesports, Ask.com,

Boards.ie, Coca-Cola, the HSE, Dublin City Council, SAP, Argos, Homebase, Bewley’s, the Department of Education and Skills, Eircom and Rigney Dolphin.

What advice would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?

“JFDI – follow your passion and just do it. In these dynamic times, real opportunity is out there.”

Has your Irishness contributed to your success?

“Definitely. At home, being a local, Irish-owned business resonates strongly with our clients, while internationally we have found a ready welcome for our friendly manner and the inevitable Irish ‘link’ usually gets the chat off to a good start.”

John Tuohy and David Field

Nightline

IN THE 20 YEARS since it first began trading from a back bedroom in Dublin, Nightline has, arguably, become Ireland’s most successful, indigenous express courier and parcel delivery company.

John Tuohy, CEO at the firm, and Dave Field, COO, started out with few resources: one phone, two vans and several years’ combined experience of working in the parcel delivery industry.

Today, however, the company boasts a network of seven depots that are strategically located throughout

Ireland. Employing 650 staff across its various divisions, the delivery firm achieved a turnover in excess of €40 million in 2011.

Both Tuohy and Field have been integral to Nightline’s evolution and in recent times, this has included successfully navigating the company’s entry to the competitive UK and worldwide delivery markets; the development of Eirpost – a new business-specific service that has taken full advantage of the shake-up in the domestic postal market – and Parcel Motel – an innovative approach to consumer parcel deliveries that has capitalised on the boom in e-commerce.

With innovation at its core, the company has also developed its own award-winning IT platform, known as Smartship, which has been fundamental to the success of its warehouse management system (“pick and pack”, as it is known in the industry).

This pioneering platform stores, bundles and delivers bespoke orders on behalf of some of the world’s biggest tobacco, telecommunications and pharmaceutical brands that require goods to be delivered in a timely, accurate and cost-effective manner.

Increasing volumes have inevitably led to a growth in the size of Nightline’s physical presence on the ground – the company handled more than 11 million items in the last calendar year – and since Q4 of 2011, two of its seven Irish depots have doubled in size, while a third has grown by 50 per cent.

The firm’s Dublin headquarters is set to increase in size by 40 per cent over the coming months, while staff numbers and floor space occupied by Nightline’s Belfast depot have increased eight-fold since it first opened in 2004.

Services:

Nightline provides a comprehensive, global parcel and postal delivery service to thousands of SMEs, multinationals, and individuals who require a reliable, efficient and cost-effective parcel-delivery solution. Services include innovations such as Eirpost and Parcel Motel.

Customers:

Some of the world’s biggest and best-known brands have retained the Finglas-based business as their preferred delivery solution. These include an ever-growing clutch of UK-based e-tailers, such as Debenhams, Oasis, Warehouse and Karen Millen.

What vision prompted you to start-up in business?

“We initially identified a niche market for next-day courier services from Ireland to North America and felt that our combined experience and entrepreneurial vision enabled and empowered us to provide a quality service that could be developed in to a scalable business.”

What are the biggest challenges you face now?

“Undoubtedly, the competition from multi-national carriers who use overseas’ profits to cross-subsidise their Irish operations. As a smaller, ‘home-grown’ enterprise, it simply keeps us on our toes and ensures that we are continually looking for new ways to improve standards and grow our business.”

Stuart and Russell Dickson

Decora Blind system

STUART AND RUSSELL Dickson are directors of Co Antrim-based Decora Blind Systems.

The company, which started as a small, family business in 1979, designs, manufactures and distributes a wide range of window blind systems from its Lisburn headquarters. In the 33 years since its foundation, has grown to become one of the leading suppliers of components, fabrics, and made-to-measure blinds to trade customers and window blind manufacturers in the UK and Ireland.

Since joining the family business in 1993, the Dicksons have gained a sterling reputation for innovation and customer service that has shaped their success.

Rather than simply responding to market demands, the duo continually assess the wider marketplace in an effort to shape consumer trends through intelligent application of their industry knowledge and investing heavily in new product development. This allows the firm to engage with new customers and territories, while improving its ever-popular, core range of products and services.

Notwithstanding its position at the vanguard of a highly-competitive market, the company strives for further success and continues to invest significantly in the business, recently announcing a £2 million spend and the creation of 79 jobs over the next two years.

By combining a pioneering use of automation technology to strengthen the firm’s manufacturing capabilities and the development of a highly-effective sales and marketing team, the Dicksons have created a business built on quality and innovation. Turnover at the company has increased by 56 per cent in the past three years and the positive, domino effect of this stellar growth is evident within the local economy, from which more than 400 people are directly employed.

Despite the apparent consequences of the economic downturn, the Dicksons have embraced the challenge that lies before them, viewing it as an opportunity to streamline, refine and prepare their business for the next stage of its evolution.

Products:

Decora Blind Systems offers a wide range of innovative systems, components, fabrics, and made-to-measure blinds. The product portfolio includes roller, roman, vertical and panel blinds; wooden and aluminium venetians; luxurious interior basswood shutters; and contract fabrics.

Customers:

Decora supplies window covering solutions to approximately 2,000 trade customers and blind manufacturers in the UK and Republic of Ireland.

The company has recently expanded its markets to include a number of European countries and plans for the next 12 to 36 months include substantial development into these previously unexplored areas.

Each of Decora’s brands – Santa Fe Shutters, Sunwood Blinds and The Fabric Box – has a clearly defined target audience within the budget, middle or high-end markets, and products and prices have been carefully designed to meet the demands of each market segment.

What is your biggest business achievement?

“Definitely our development from a small local company to that of one of the leading suppliers to the window blind trade in the UK market – this includes Sunwood, the number one brand of wooden venetian blinds in the UK.”

What is the best business advice you ever received?

“Stick to one thing and do it well!”

John McCann

Willowbrook foods

JOHN McCANN is the managing director of Newtownards-based Willowbrook Foods, but as a young business graduate 43 years ago, little did he know that he was about to revolutionise the fresh vegetable retail sector across Ireland.

Inspired by the arrival of the first self-service supermarkets to these shores, this enterprising son of a Co Down vegetable farmer quickly realised the traditional, greengrocer style of fruit and veg retailing would no longer suffice.

Instead, the modern, spacious “superstores” that were opening up throughout the country, would require daily delivery of clean, fresh, ready-to-use products in high volumes that were more suited to the new self-service style of food shopping that was set to become the norm.

In those first few decades, as Willowbrook Farms continued to provide the indigenous crop supply, McCann focused on developing the most appropriate and cost-effective packaging solutions that would maximise the freshness and quality of his products.

During this period, a mutually-beneficial deal with the Wellworths chain saw Willowbrook supply the retailer with 30 fridge cabinets. The arrangement provided McCann with the means to develop a wide range of ready-to-use produce, and this subsequently helped the company to win 28 per cent of the North’s fresh vegetable market and achieve a 200 per cent increase in sales and volume, placing it at the vanguard of the retail supply chain.

By the 1990s, Willowbrook had become the second-largest fresh vegetable processor in Ireland, uniquely retaining its roots in agriculture. However, the arrival of the larger, UK multiples later that decade meant that the Willowbrook team had to rapidly adapt to this sea change and adopt a strategy of client diversification rather than maintain a reliance on the big six retailers.

By the beginning of the 21st century, the prepared vegetable and salad market, which had been growing at 20 per cent per annum, reached saturation point and sales began to plateau. The focus now turned to new product development in an effort to remain one step ahead of market trends, and in 2011, the company opened its Food Innovation Centre, a state-of-the-art RD facility designed to prepare the business for the next stage of its evolution.

Today, Willowbrook Foods produces an impressive range of more than 300 prepared vegetable products for the retail and wholesale sectors. It employs more than 250 people and achieved a turnover in excess of £20 million in 2011.

Products:

Willowbrook Foods produces a wide variety of fresh and prepared vegetable products that include vegetables and soup mixes, wet and dry salads, stir fry-ready and steamed vegetables, and mashed potato products.

Customers:

Some of the best-known brands in Ireland and the UK including Tesco, Costco, Superquinn, Iceland, Hilton Hotels, Kerry Foods, Burger King and KFC.

What motivates you to succeed?

“Having established a £20 million business, we provide a living to 300 people. Maintaining profitability in order to sustain this – and keep the banks happy – is certainly a challenge, but it’s also a great motivator during these recessionary times.”

What is the best advice you ever received?

“If you don’t aim high, how will you ever get there?”