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The Monaghan businessman aiming to create a billion-dollar company

EY Entrepreneur of the Year Sam Moffett attributes success of his Moffett Automated Storage business to family attitude of ‘getting things done’

Having grown up with the family factory as his playground, Sam Moffett has had a passion for engineering from a very young age.

“I probably preferred to go to the factory than go on holidays,” he laughs, describing how he used to spend every school midterm and summer break immersed in the Moffett family business.

Recently crowned EY Entrepreneur of the Year, Moffett now has big dreams to turn his own business, Moffett Automated Storage, into a billion-dollar enterprise.

Specialising in providing automated solutions and 24-hour support to clients to make their storage facilities more efficient, Moffett has been commended for his company’s “disruptive, dynamic” solutions that can double warehouse capacity as well as halve energy consumption for cold-storage facilities.

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A third-generation entrepreneur and engineer, Moffett grew up just 50 metres from the Moffett Engineering manufacturing facility in Monaghan.

Originally established by the late Cecil Moffett in 1941 to manufacture agricultural machinery and provide engineering services to local industries, the business was taken over by the next generation, Carol and Robert Moffett, in the 1970s. Since it was acquired by Finnish company Cargotec, the Moffett family business became synonymous with the red Moffett Mounty truck-mounted forklift, with more than 50,000 machines now in circulation around the world.

Robert Moffett, Sam’s father, would go on to co-found forklift manufacturer Combilift. The younger Moffett cut his teeth in the family business, having left school at the age of 17 to work his way up “right from bottom”.

“I really enjoyed that, I went through all the different stages of the work process and got to see every aspect of the family business,” he says.

He adds that getting involved in the family business was a lesson in “getting things done”.

“I think family businesses are great for many reasons, but definitely one of those is getting things done. Don’t hang around; never, ever wait for something to happen, just make it happen,” he says. “I probably learned to take chances because, without taking chances, you’ll never go anywhere.”

As he was learning the ropes of the business, Moffett says that going out on his own with a new venture was never part of the plan. However, one particular role he took on removed him from the day-to-day running of the business and sparked an idea.

In 2014, Moffett found himself project managing the construction of Combilift’s global headquarters and manufacturing facility in Monaghan. On a 100-acre site and with 11 acres of roof space, it is one of the largest manufacturing operations under a single roof in the Republic.

“I was family business through and through, right to the end, but when I took on project managing the new facility, it was quite an intensive job. I wasn’t in production meetings or chairman meetings or HR meetings or anything like that, so I kind of had a break from the business for 2½ years and didn’t know where I was going to come back in,” he says.

“I also had an idea and, unfortunately, it wasn’t going to fit the portfolio of the family business, so I decided that while I was disconnected from the day to day, I was going to give this a go. Like anything, I put my two feet in and away I went,” he adds.

I do think hard work can beat brains nine times out of 10 if you work at it, and I certainly did

—  Sam Moffett

Moffett took on a handful of staff to help with developing mechanical and software designs and attracted €1.2 million in initial investment. By 2017 he had officially registered the business.

A market discovery fund from Enterprise Ireland for “the guts of €200,000″ was particularly helpful to get the business off the ground, he says. “It gave us a bit of cash flow to help us go out there, see where the market was and what industries we needed to target.”

At first, Moffett says, it was challenging to get clients to take a chance on their storage solutions.

“We were going to take somebody’s warehouse and make it automated. But we were so new, the big thing was what happens if this doesn’t work – they would have a warehouse where they couldn’t get the product in and out of it,” he says.

“Strangely we got an order in from the Middle East, someone who had a warehousing challenge that was greater than the risk of taking us on. The client’s building was unique, and we had a solution that would fit their building,” he says, adding that taking on a few specialised client projects in the beginning gave confidence to potential customers with more standard facilities to trust in their solutions.

By 2019, Moffett Automated Storage made a profit for the first time and reported revenue of about €300,000. Turnover jumped to €2 million the next year: by the end of this year, Moffett says, the business will hit €17 million in revenue.

“We already have orders into 2024, so we’ll be targeting about €28 million [next year],” he says, adding that current orders for next year are already at €16 million.

Staff numbers have grown in tandem with the increasing revenue with a team of just three in 2017 growing to 65 currently. And, like many employers in the current market, Moffett is actively recruiting.

“We’re recruiting heavily; we have a target to hit about 85 people for 2024,” he says, adding that attracting staff is a “challenge”.

“We’re actively looking in all areas of our business, from accountant to design, HR, manufacturing, installation. Trying to get people back to the Monaghan area, who maybe over Covid went to Dublin or working remotely, is where we see great opportunity,” he says.

“We do offer a really extensive benefits package, which is helping for sure to get people into the business, we do a lot of training in house and we also run an apprenticeship scheme in Monaghan – so that’s also great to help to get staff in,” he adds.

In terms of other hurdles his business faces into next year, Moffett says the economy and interest rates are “definitely going to be a challenge”.

I grew up in an entrepreneurial family on both sides of my family. There were no sleep-ins in the morning, everyone was out working every day. I guess I have that attitude of just getting on with it

—  Sam Moffett

“We’re going to clients that are looking for a project that could be anything between €1 million and €20 million, and if they don’t have the cash to do that and they’re going out to finance this in any shape or form, that’s going to be challenging,” he says.

But being a relatively small player, he says his business still should have room for growth.

“If someone is getting 200 orders a year, and we’re only getting five orders a year, that 200 is going to drop for that large company, but we can still grow. It might not be at the same trajectory, we might not see 100 per cent growth any more year on year, but we can probably still see 30 to 50 per cent,” he says.

“Even in a slowdown, because we’re so small in such a large industry, we will still grow. I have no doubt about that,” he adds.

Moffett says the cold-storage industry in particular offers “large” opportunity for their automated storage solutions.

“Cold storage is where the industry is very much going with automation, you don’t want people working in minus 25 degrees, storing ice cream or frozen foods,” he says, adding that they also see more room for growth in the manufacturing and third-party logistics sectors.

“When we do a case study for a client and we see the numbers hit their face, the energy efficiency and the pallet quantity we can get into their warehouses, it’s just something else,” he says.

While Moffett is keen to emphasise the contributions of all of his staff in making Moffett Automated Storage into the success it is today, reflecting on his own attributes as the 2023 EY Entrepreneur of the Year, he says a strong work ethic was instilled in him growing up.

“I grew up in an entrepreneurial family on both sides of my family. There were no sleep-ins in the morning, everyone was out working every day. I guess I have that attitude of just getting on with it, burying the head and getting things done,” he says.

He adds that having left school at 17, he is an example of the fact that college isn’t for everyone, and that it isn’t the only career route.

“If you don’t go to college you might have to work a bit harder at the start to catch up with the people before they come out of college, but I do think hard work can beat brains nine times out of 10 if you work at it, and I certainly did,” he says.

“In my eyes, the Entrepreneur of the Year award is my master’s degree, and I really feel that I’ve proved to myself that [finishing education] was a good decision, and it’s probably made me into the person I am now,” he adds.

Looking to the future, Moffett says he is aiming for Moffett Automated Storage to surpass €500 million in turnover by 2030.

“We see most of our growth being international. Although the Irish market was very good to us in 2022 and 2023, we still see our opportunity being further afield,” he says.

“We are going to be developing new products into new markets within automation, so there are exciting times ahead of us,” he says, adding that the business is looking at expansion of its Monaghan base within the next two years.

As for beyond this decade, Moffett has his sights set on one goal in particular. “There’s only one thing. A billion-dollar business, that’s it,” he says.

“When I get there, we’ll see how things get on. But that’s what we’re pushing for, and there’ll be no let-up until we do,” he adds.

CV

Name: Sam Moffett

Age: 34

Position: Chief executive and managing director, Moffett Automated Storage

Lives: Monaghan

Family: Married to Andrea with children Hollie (two years old) and Jake (five months old)

Hobbies: He enjoys motor sports, having competed as a semi-professional rally driver with six championships to his name, as well as table tennis and family time

Something you might expect: He is “extremely competitive” in everything in which he participates

Something that might surprise: He believes family is most important thing in life, and key to the success of his business is family time

Ellen O'Regan

Ellen O’Regan

Ellen O’Regan is a former Irish Times journalist.