Entrepreneur Rusk takes slice of Portadown family bakery Irwin’s

Financial restructuring sees 112-year-old company swing back into profit

Irwin's Bakery
Nutty Krust bread maker Irwin's Bakery in Portadown has swung back into profit after a restructuring which saw entrepreneur Sam Rusk invest £1m into the business

Mid-Ulster entrepreneur Sam Rusk has become a significant shareholder in the family-owned Irwin’s Bakery operation in Portadown.

The 71-year-old, who has more than four decades of experience in managing and growing businesses, pumped £1,000,000 into the north’s only independent bakery plant ahead of a significant restructuring which has seen its financial fortunes revived and the company swing back into profit.

Rusk, who has had associations down the years with a clutch of prominent businesses including Thompson Aero Seating, Mivan and Kingspan, appears regularly on the Sunday Times Rich List and boasts a fortune in access of £50 million.

Irwin’s Bakery, which can trace its roots back to 1912 when its founder WD Irwin and his wife Ruth baked fresh bread for the people of Portadown, undertook the first part of its turnaround in 2022.

At that stage the board resolved to increase the ordinary share capital of holding group WD Irwin (Portadown) Ltd from £9,200 to £2,009,200 by way of shares issued for cash.

This was made up of £1m from existing shareholders (the Irwins) and another £1m from new investor Mr Rusk, who then joined the board as a non-executive director.

WD Irwin & Sons Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the holding company, then entered into a sale and leaseback arrangement of premises at Diviny Drive in Portadown, which was sold at a market value of £3m.

A year ago the group then replaced its on-demand invoice discounting facility with a long-term loan obtained from Endeavour Investments, in which Mr Rusk is a partner.

Sam Rusk
Sam Rusk (Matthew Cummings)

The company said in a statement to Companies House that this offered up a major boost to its cash flow position as all borrowing (except £112,000 in finance lease payments) was then due in excess of 12 months from the date of filing the accounts.

“The positive actions have enabled the group and company not only to strengthen the balance sheet position and create a significant cash reserve, but to invest in restructuring the group’s operations,” the directors said.

This, in turn, contributed to a transformation in the results, with a return to profitability, while the group’s net debt was reduced from £5.1m in March 2022 to £2.2m by last September.

In newly-published accounts, which cover an 18-month period to September 2023, WD Irwin and Sons - whose other directors are Brian Irwin (69) and his late brother Niall’s wife Kathleen (67) - generated a profit of £610,000, compared to a loss of £2.1 million previously.

Turnover rose from £30.4m to £46.6m (again, the comparisons are 18-months versus 12 months), and the bakery operation, the largest part of the business, saw employee numbers over the period fall from 310 to 263.

Publication of the company results comes on the same week that Seamus Gillespie (62), who was a sales manager at the bakery from 1991 until he was made redundant in August 2022, settled an age discrimination case against Irwin’s bakery for £75,000.