Belfast Telegraph

How the young have thrown away the caution of the old

By John Simpson

Influential international business leaders have been listening carefully to the evidence presented at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, spoke to leaders from the world's biggest economies on how Brexit is being delivered in the UK.

The Davos summit is a gathering where the commentariat reflect how the main economies have been faring and offers a baseline for forthcoming policy developments.

This year there was a Northern Ireland interest in contributing to the Davos initiatives. Spinning out of a network of aspiring business entrepreneurs, based in Catalyst Inc (formerly the NI Science Park), there is a local branch of the Global Shapers Hub. The Hub, with a keenly motivated group of ambitious younger potential business principals (all millennials aged under 30), successfully bid to be allowed to contribute to the Davos debate.

In preparation they brought together nearly 200 people with interests in the development of a more intensive knowledge-based economy in Northern Ireland. Then, later, they took part in a discussion via live stream at Davos with Shapers from Quitto, Vancouver and Seattle.

All this was organised by the Belfast Global Shapers Hub: a small but significantly influential group of 20 thrusting younger leaders. Critical leadership responsibility has been carried by Peter Edgar and Kain Craigs who serve as curator and vice-curator, respectively. Peter, a project manager at Catalyst Inc, who served for a period with Almac under the USNI Mentorship placement programme, will shortly be benefiting from a Churchill scholarship, and was recently the organiser of the Catalyst-Inc Invent competition. Kain has been developing his own business concepts and is now the entrepreneur behind the Iconic Golf Club, attracting visitors from round the world to visit golf clubs in Ireland.

The motivation of the Belfast Global Shapers Hub is a two-way process. First, they want to inform an international audience of the recent positive achievements in Northern Ireland. Second, that process should also work in reverse. Northern Ireland should seek opportunities to learn from the Davos network through links with other Global Shapers Hubs around the world.

The Shapers Hub concept is growing rapidly. There are 6,000 Shapers living in 435 cities around the globe. Each year the curators of each hub meet in Geneva to review recent experience and to contribute to the forthcoming agenda.

The leaders of the Belfast Global Shapers Hub now have sufficient experience to merit giving local business innovation activity a higher international profile. They have made a strong bid to bring to Belfast one of the next annual Shapers Europe conferences.

First, there has been progress in shifting business activity in Northern Ireland more to the added-value activities of the knowledge economy which is not yet fully appreciated in other cities and countries that might be partners in that development.

Second, while the knowledge economy is now more securely based, there is recognition that there is scope for further development and learning.

Peter Edgar is optimistic about the scope and prospects for influential developments spurred by the Global Shapers.

Such is the change in the last five years that Peter doubts whether it would have been sensible or possible to have as optimistic an appreciation of the changes in the economy as now underpins the networking ability of the Global Shapers group.

This year the theme of the Global Shapers exchanges has been on 'Cities as Hubs of Innovation'. Looking at the past evolution of science and technology, Northern Ireland can cite numerous examples of individuals who have set the advancing standards in their special sectors, ranging from people like Sloan, Ferguson, Pantridge and McClay and including more recently Mark Dowds, a returned entrepreneur whose genius is being applied to the Ormeau Baths.

The younger business enterprise generation is setting an example to challenge the caution of their predecessors.

Company report: Gordons Chemists

D Shannon Stewart Ltd trades as Gordons Chemists and operates across Northern Ireland as a group of nearly 50 dispensing chemist outlets, including a number of shops that formerly traded as Trevor Baird.

In the year to March 2015, the company acquired further outlets and has since then continued to consolidate on the acquisitions of earlier years.

The trading position continues to improve. Turnover maintained the large increase recorded in 2014, supplemented by further increases in 2015 and 2016 and has risen by 50% in three years.

The increases in turnover have been reflected in an increase in operating profits from £1.8m in 2013-14 to £5.1m in 2015-16. The business incurs interest charges on borrowed funds which, when deducted, means that pre-tax profits at £4.7m were lower than operating profits. A feature of the accounts in recent years has been the impact of accounting for significant amounts of capital attributed to goodwill, in intangible assets, and the impact on pre-tax profits of annual write-downs of part of this capital each year. 

In 2014-15 the company reduced its amortised intangible assets by nearly £1.4m.

In the absence of dividend payments to shareholders, retained post-tax profits have reinforced the balance sheet value of shareholders’ funds which, at the end of April 2015 were stated at £7.1m.

In April 2016, shareholders’ funds had risen to £10.7m.

In 2015-16, employment in the group increased to an average of 655 people.

Belfast Telegraph