Business

Wheels turning again at Quinn's, where stability is central

Quinn Industrial Holding Group chief executive Liam McCaffrey (right) with operations director Kevin Lunney

SUDDENLY the swagger and mojo is back in Derrylin, and is shared by virtually every one of its 420-strong population.

For in the post Celtic Tiger era a cloud had hung permanently, it seemed, over the tiny village straddling the Fermanagh-Cavan border.

But in the modest amalgam of shop, garage, pub and post office - and in Derrylin and neighbouring Ballyconnell's respective places of worship - there's a newly-restored positive vibe and sense of optimism again.

And it's solely down to the fact that machines at the Quinn plants are whirring again, lorries are emerging morning, noon and night, and workers are clocking off with their hands dirty literally, not metaphorically.

After all that's gone on in the personal life of its former owner Sean Quinn - who became the richest Irishman in history with personal wealth of around €4.7 billion which made him the 164th richest man in the world in Forbes magazine's 2008 Rich List - there's a sense of normally and calm returning.

Since Quinn Industrial Holdings Ltd (QIHL) acquired the construction industry supply (cement and therm blocks primarily) and packaging businesses of the former Quinn Group from Aventas two days before last Christmas, the business has enjoyed a genuine renaissance.

The team leading the business, headed up by managing director Liam McCaffrey, are still in the initial throes of making various financial adjustments and investments which see QIHL take off again.

But grow and prosper it probably will . . .

"In this calendar year we've created 74 new positions spread across the construction industry supply (CIS) operations, packaging division, distribution, engineering services and product development," says McCaffrey, who worked alongside Sean Quinn in the halcyon days.

“Since we acquired the business it has performed strongly, and QIHL is well placed to further invest in our infrastructure and asset base in the years ahead.”

It's been a positive time overall since the new owners acquired control of QIHL last December, and a major effort has been made to refocus the business towards a rapid return to profitability and growth.

“We have a hugely experienced team in place now and, yes, we are fortunate to still have the benefit of Sean Quinn's experience in a consultative role.

“We've made a significant investment in staff and will be commencing a rolling plant and equipment reinvestment programme in the coming months,” he added.

The assets acquired by QIHL include manufacturing facilities at Ballyconnell and Derrylin as well as another manufacturing plant in Granard, County Longford and a cement import facility at Rochester, Kent outside London.

The CIS business has its roots in what was the original business of the industrial empire founded by Sean Quinn in 1973 while Quinn Packaging is one of the largest and most diverse food packaging manufacturing operations in Ireland or the UK.

QIHL, whose payroll is close to 750 staff, is majority-owned by three major American-based private equity funds with a combined $60 billion under their management. And those owners are content with their lot.

Since the acquisition from Aventas, QIHL has relaunched its graduate and apprenticeship schemes as it continues to re-establish itself as a major economic driver in the Fermanagh area providing highly-skilled employment in a broad range of fields.

More than 150 young people, for example, attended a graduate and apprentice open night in July, where just eight graduate and seven apprenticeship positions on offer.

"This company has always had a tradition of bringing young blood through the ranks, and we felt that the time was right to re-introduce what has been a successful graduate programme in the past," McCaffrey said.

The company is also in the process of significantly enhancing its in-house Building Information Modelling (BIM) capability which will be deployed in support of its building and construction product range across the UK and Ireland.

Compatibility of construction products with BIM is becoming a prerequisite for inclusion in public and private sector projects and is acknowledged as a hugely important skill set in order to maintain competitiveness in the construction sector.

And Quinn Building Products believes that investment in a strong team in this area will have long-term sustainable benefits for the business.

Hardly a month goes past now without some sort of positive announcement emerging from the Derrylin-Ballyconnell axis.

One day QIHL will flag up taking delivery of three new Quinn lorries in the first phase of a major capital investment programme to replenish its 140-strong haulage fleet at Derrylin. It's part of an initial 12 units which will include new Rooftile grab lorries as well as articulated tractor units and new cement tankers by the end of this year.

Another day the company is celebrating being accredited with the Investors in People Silver standard for its two subsidiaries, underscoring the vast changes put in place since last December.

So what's the difference at Quinn's between now and 12 months ago?

One veteran employee told me: "In one word, it's stability. So much has gone on down here, but since the acquisition there seems to be a vibrancy coursing through every corner of the firm. Long may it continue."

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