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Richard Hogg: MD, Limavady Gear Company

Gearing up for the shift toward renewable power

What has been the highlight for your company to date?

Breaking into the wind energy market and becoming a recognised repair shop for some of the largest wind turbine manufacturers in the world.

Another real highlight has been the purchasing and moving into the former Seagate factory.

What are the long term hopes for the company?

Long term the company would like to become the European leader in the refurbishment of industrial gearboxes but particularly wind turbine gearboxes.

We are getting there faster than we had anticipated with the purchase of the new building and by having contracts with the equipment manufacturers. With a lot of hard work and good management I know we can become the market leaders in our field.

Why did you buy the defunct Seagate factory in Limavady?

We’re an ambitious company, therefore, with the expansion plans we have, it was important that we had a factory space which allows us the flexibility to work with the large equipment.

We can also showcase our expertise to our customers, highlighting how we’re here for the long term and are serious about expanding into the market.

The wind industry is a relatively young one. Because of this the big manufacturers are for the most part operating out of new factories. These large customers, and in turn their customers expect the companies who are doing service work to be operating at the same standard. To do this you must be in a facility which reflects a high standard.

Has the recession impacted on your plans?

When money is tight and the market is generally tough you tend to step back and look at the big picture.

For us we knew we had to expand as we had run out of room in our old premises. We had been looking at new premises for some time but felt that they were not value for money. The Seagate building which we are now in fitted the bill and we could afford it. Two years ago before the recession hit we could not have afforded the price the building would fetch, so with every down there is an up.

For us also raw material was a major problem as it was all going to the far east. Now instead of two month lead times we are looking at two weeks.

What technology are you harnessing to improve business?

There are many different technologies that we are using to push the company forward. These range from innovative composites to new Cad design programs.

We have also introduced automated stores to give better control of our inventory.

To back up these new technologies we are working with both universities on a number of projects. Invest Northern Ireland are also helping with research and development projects which in the future will help the company to be competitive in the market place.

Is Northern Ireland wise to the need to adopt renewable energy?

Renewable energy is going to be the only energy in the not too distant future so we need to promote and develop it.

The island of Ireland has a massive resource in wind and tidal energy which we should be harnessing and selling to the rest of Europe. Two years ago we were being almost held to ransom by other energy producing countries who managed to get the cost of energy up and also threatened to cut off supplies.

With the natural resources we have in Ireland this should not be happening. Wind is much more advanced than tidal and hence the wind farms are getting larger and more efficient.

Northern Ireland is perfectly placed to capture these markets and really specialise in the sectors.

Now manufacturers and R&D companies need the continued support from local government. Invest NI is moving away from the slow creature it was, to a fast acting agency. They are much more able to make decisions faster and get funding to the people who need it much more quickly. We now need the executive to be as adaptive and follow its lead.

Northern Ireland manufacturing has a short window to get involved in the renewable market if we miss out we will have nobody to blame but ourselves.

One other crucial point in terms of the manufacturing sector is the help which the industrial rates cut gave to manufacturing across Northern Ireland. From talking to colleagues, the rates cap has saved jobs and in some cases saved entire companies. Credit to the Executive for bringing that through.

But times are tough for many businesses and the lobby going on for a rates break has my full support. So if Sammy Wilson is reading this — a rates break would be appreciated as it would put extra funding back into businesses.

How are you different from other companies in the field?

LGC is an SME so if a customer has a problem we can get to the bottom of it very quickly. In every business problems will occur. So any business can be judged on how quickly you react. If you are slow your customer will not use you again. If you are fast and efficient they will probably give you a second chance. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.

Also I think having access to the top management is key. No hiding behind doors, if you have a problem get out and face the music.

Why were you at Glastonbury this year?

We got the opportunity to exhibit the Skyrota turbine at the Glastonbury festival through one of our distributors who knows Michael Eavis, the owner of the land that Glastonbury is on.

Michael is having one of our turbines installed and was waiting for planning permission to be granted. This was taking longer than expected so he said well why don’t you put up a temporary machine by the main stage?

It was an opportunity not to be missed so we hastily put together the demo model sent it over, installed it and then unfortunately my wife and I had to go over for the weekend to look after it!

Do you have any big projects in the pipeline?

LGC are on an almost continual loop of R&D with different products of which one should be ready next year to launch. We are also in talks with some major companies and will hopefully be making some announcements shortly.

Have you any professional ambitions yet to be realised?

Firstly to continue with the growth plan for LGC and make it into a truly international company over the next number of years.

What is the best bit of advice you have ever been given?

My father told me that if you go to a meeting where you think things will get lively, write shut up on a piece of paper and hold it in your hand. When you feel like telling everyone how wrong they are, open your hand and do what it says on the paper.

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