Mayo firm grinds out market leading position

Inside Track Q&A: Tommy Griffith, founder and CEO of PEL Waste Reduction Equipment

Tommy Griffith is founder and chief executive of PEL Waste Reduction Equipment. After developing a bottle-crushing machine to reduce commercial waste, he has led the company to become not only market leaders at home, but a major player internationally.

What is special about your business?
Coming from an engineering background, we are great problem-solvers so we can tailor our products to suit the varying needs of clients. When we see an issue that a business has, we will find a solution to it. We are also uncompromising in the standards we demand of our design and manufacturing, which enables us to create a product of the highest quality.

What is the biggest challenge you have had to face?
The realisation that when you give up the day job, you alone are in control of your own success or failure. You worry where your income is going to come from and how you can make the business succeed, and that uncertainty can be daunting. But with that uncertainty comes a blank canvas upon which you can create your own success.

What is the biggest success you have had?
We manufacture in a small town called Balla, in Mayo. When I see our products installed around the world in places like the Dorchester Hotel in London or the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, with our local village stamped on the side, it fills me with great pride. At a more operational level, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in 2009 was a great endorsement of our achievements. Being involved in them has brought us into whole new league of competitiveness.


What is the biggest mistake you have made?
A mistake is only a mistake if you don't learn from it. I try to turn any errors that we make into a positive learning experience, firstly by not repeating them, but also by improving what we do incrementally.

In Ireland there is a widespread fear of failure, but if you never fail you’ll never learn. In a way it’s an education, albeit an unconventional one.

What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
You have to get yourself out there, find customers and build your brand from the ground up. You need to know where you are going and how you are going to get there, but never let your competitors worry you or dictate your plan. The only business I'm worried about is my own. Most of all, don't be afraid to fail.

Who do you admire most in business and why?
Steve Jobs because of his originality and innovative thinking. He was an ideas man who never accepted second best. He always wanted to be the first to market and that desire and passion is admirable.

Also Michael O Leary and the way he has made Ryanair into what it is. Maybe it's the engineer in me, but he does things simply, but with maximum effect. Nothing is overcomplicated.

What piece of advice would you give the Government to stimulate the economy?
Small companies and start-ups must be allowed to hire more graduates as interns on a temporary basis. The restrictions on the number of interns a company can hire (currently 10 per cent of full-time employees) must be lowered. When interns are a big cog in a small wheel, they gain far more experience than when they are swallowed up by a bigger company. This, coupled with a reduction in PRSI, will incentivise entrepreneurs to take on more staff and thus stimulate the economy.

What is the short-term future of your business?
We have always been a proactive company. We have been able to adapt our business model when needed and this has stood to us in the past. This flexibility is something we aim to continue as we expand internationally. Our future is bright; we are entering the UAE and have already set up in the USA.

As we expand our export market we will keep innovating and adding value to our already existing products. Our manufacturing will be kept in Ireland, however, not only for the good of our local economy but so that we can ensure that our standards are consistently high.

What is your business worth and would you sell it?
It's worth more to me than anyone else. When you create and grow a business, you have a strong connection to it. That being said, everything has a value, and if the price is right, everything is for sale. In years to come, if someone put a bid on it, I might sell it, but not right now.

In conversation with Alex Brock