40 years of success for German plant in Bantry

 

When German industrialist Roland Wagner visited Bantry in the late 1950s he knew immediately this was where he wanted to establish his pharmaceutical company. The decision had nothing to do with any of the usual criteria for choosing an industrial location. What actually swung it was the scenery and the surroundings. It was the magnificent summer of 1959 and he fell in love with west Cork.

Bantry was a little difficult to get to from Cologne so he built his own airstrip on the outskirts of the town and flew between both places in his twin-engine Cessna. Over four decades later, his intuition has proven to be very sound as the company, Rowa Pharmaceuticals, marks its 40th anniversary. Next weekend visitors from 24 countries will arrive in Bantry to celebrate the success story of what is now one of the longest-established pharmaceutical companies in the State. Employing around 70 people, Rowa ranks among the top Irish companies in this sector. Its products are exported to over 70 countries.

For 20 years Roland Wagner divided his time between Cologne and Bantry before he died in 1979. His wife, Brigitte Wagner-Halswick, then took over the reins. At that time staff numbers had dwindled and no amount of pretty scenery could make up for the depressed state of the economy. Her late husband had never accepted IDA grants, preferring to make his own way. During the lean 1980s Ms Wagner-Halswick says that when she felt the company might benefit from grant assistance, she was turned down.

Nevertheless, she showed her mettle and built the company up to the strong position it is in today. A number of years ago when she began to explore the idea of manufacturing branded generic drugs, people laughed at her. "I said `Wait a minute, the time will come when doctors will have to prescribe a cheaper product', and I was right."

Dividing her time between the German company in Cologne and Bantry, she also travels the globe visiting customers in Europe, Asia, the Middle and Far East, Egypt, Africa and Central and South America. A strong market for the company's products is developing in eastern Europe, too.

On Saturday night Ms Wagner-Halswick, her general manager, Ms Eileen Minehane, who has been with the company since it was established, their staff, and 450 guests, will enjoy a party in a marquee in the gardens of Bantry House.

"We have a lot to celebrate. In the next few years my aim is to be the number one in Ireland," said Ms Wagner-Halswick. "It's all down to hard work, determination and perseverance. I think you have to be straightforward and honest in business. That's what works. Of course I have very loyal people in Bantry and we have a great team. Irish employees are excellent, they are well educated and hard working. It has not just been down to me, but to all of them."