1. Why did you choose business as a career?
From an early age I was into making things such as model cars and aeroplanes. In school, economics, geography and woodwork/metalwork was where my interests lay. Added to that was travel so working for an international, manufacturing company was where I ended up. It just happened, more than it was planned - but design, manufacturing and exporting are my passion.
2. ...or is it more accurate to describe business as a way of life, in your book?
I have worked for three fantastic international manufacturing companies based in Northern Ireland: RFD, Wrightbus and, off course, Whale. Each of them has offered me a very varied and interesting career, something I am very appreciative of. Northern Ireland is a great place, full of talented people - and despite the odds, many have grown world-renowned businesses. I am proud of this country - it has an amazing industrial past and when I look at all the people in Whale and see their commitment and loyalty I am genuinely humbled by it.
3. How long was the deal with Brunswick in the offing?
Brunswick made the approach last year and as with all these things it takes time. However, time was important as we wanted to make sure the prospective new owners would commit to the business in the long run, accelerate its growth beyond the limited means of the current shareholders and invest in the future. Brunswick answered all these goals beyond our expectations and most importantly the respective cultural values are very similar. At the end of the day business is about people.
4. How did you feel to sell the business - were your emotions mixed?
Emotions were mixed initially, but knowing we have done the right thing for our workforce was the key consideration. It's provided greater security and it opens up direct access to the largest market in the world and our skills can be enhanced further. I would like to think within a year all Walmarts in the USA will have Whale product on the shelf as made in Northern Ireland.
5. What was the most critical factor or nerve-wracking point in the process?
Like any deal the whole process can be nerve-wracking. To be honest such was the calibre of people involved in Brunswick from the Chairman, Dusty McCoy, through to the President of Attwood Division, Chris Drees, through to all the team involved it wasn't painful rather just many many long hours. Our advisers, Tughans, Ernst & Young and McClure Watters were fantastic; they also deserve credit for making it happen.
6. What does the future hold for you within Brunswick?
The reality of the deal is it's only one week old, so it's hard to be specific. However every day the opportunities get more exciting. The trick will actually be to be strategic and pick the ones that will make the most positive impact on Whale and also our parent company Brunswick.
7. Is international ownership a universally good thing for Northern Ireland companies?
There is no right or wrong answer to this as history tells us. For Whale I believe it absolutely is. Brunswick can take Whale into new markets and territories in a very short time that Whale on its own would have taken years to achieve, if ever.
With thanks to The Belfast Telegraph. The article originally appeared in the Tuesday 24th June 2014 issue.