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Terry Cross: We've got to get away from this notion of the benefits culture - people need jobs, not hand-outs

Terry Cross, founder and chairman of Delta Print and Packaging in west Belfast, on his love of business and winemaking, and why he feels so strongly that the UK should stay in the EU

By John Mulgrew

Published 17/05/2016

Founder Terry Cross at Delta Print and Packaging factory at Kennedy Way, west Belfast, which employs around 260 staff, with a further 65 at a factory in Poland
Founder Terry Cross at Delta Print and Packaging factory at Kennedy Way, west Belfast, which employs around 260 staff, with a further 65 at a factory in Poland
His French Chateau de la Ligne

There aren’t many entrepreneurs who own a successful manufacturing business in west Belfast and their own wine-producing vineyard in the south of France.

But Delta Print and Packaging boss Terry Cross is a businessman very different to others.

The 65-year-old is at the helm of a firm which turns over more than £40m, and produces packaging for fast food giants such as McDonald’s.

And he also spends time on his other love, his Bordeaux region Chateau de la Ligne.

A former Merchant Navy man, whose father William served across Europe during the Second World War, Terry started out in his business — which now employs more than 330 people in west Belfast and Poland — above a small shop on the Cliftonville Road.

That company has now grown into a major entity, producing cartons and packaging for giants of the food world such as KFC and Kellogg’s, which account for around two-thirds of his turnover.

Pre-tax profits for the firm are now £4.8m for the year to June 2015.

That puts Delta in at number 60 in this year’s Belfast Telegraph Top 100 Companies list.

However, he’s also faced tough times over the years, including the death of both his younger brother and son to cancer.

Terry studied at St Mary’s in Belfast, before serving across the world on ships with the Merchant Navy.

“It was good. I worked on various passenger ships, and joined in Southampton. I worked a long time for Shell, and worked for BP for a while as a deckhand.”

He grew up in the Antrim Road area of north Belfast, one of four children, to father William and mother Rosaleen.

And his father, who lived to the age of 91, was responsible for shooting down planes of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War.

“He was in France and in the south coast of England. He was in the Territorial Army and then they were called up in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland,” he says.

After working overseas, Terry came back to Northern Ireland, where he worked briefly for a time in the civil service, which he says he “hated”, before going back to study business at Ulster University in Jordanstown.

He then began working for a hi-fi manufacturer, now since closed, close to his own Kennedy Way site — where he said he “learned how not to do business”.

He moved on to agri-business Masstock in Antrim, working in purchasing and procurement, before starting at FG Wilson.

And work appears to be something Terry can’t live without. He says he “nearly went nuts” while out of a job for three months during his 20s.

“So, I decided to buy a shop. That was on the Cliftonville Road. That shop traded very successfully,” he says.

That then led to his first printing firm, alongside his business partner, just above the north Belfast shop. And while it was just a two-man operation, Delta Print was born.

Delta’s first factory began in west Belfast with a 5,000 sq ft operation, and 14 staff.

“I decided that we could continue as a firm and earn a good living, or go in to packaging, and make a company,” he said.

Delta then took on a site left behind by a US manufacturer, which pulled out of the city.

One of his biggest customers back then was the famous Yellow Pack brands sold at Stewarts supermarkets across Northern Ireland.

“The biggest single problem was the ability to attract staff to this area, because the area had a bad reputation,” he says. “But I’ve never had any bother with it.”

And it was a six-year labour of love to secure the Europe-wide contract to make packaging for global fast-food giant McDonald’s.

It’s a major contract which Delta has had for more than 20 years, and valued at around £20m each year to the firm.

Delta has been at its current Kennedy Way site for around 20 years.

But Terry says that the business could look to expand the facility further still to meet growing demand.

Delta employs around 260 staff in Belfast and a further 65 at a factory in Gliwice, Poland.

The new factory is part of a £40m investment announced in 2014.

He says it was set up for cost reasons, as well as the advantage of having a base in mainland Europe.

Terry’s own views on Europe are strong. He’s pro-EU and also believes the UK should enter the eurozone.

But he goes further than that.

“The biggest achievement in the EU is preventing another European war... that’s massive. Aside from that, you have a market of 500 million people, and you need scale to compete.”

He’s also critical of the DUP’s position to vote to leave.

“I don’t get it. I regard the DUP as the party for business. They understand business. But I don’t really understand their argument for wanting to leave.”

Outside of his business, cancer has thrown Terry’s world upside down on two occasions.

His younger brother Raymond died from throat cancer.

“It was progressive. He had chemotherapy and radiotherapy and could hardly speak after it,” he says.

Terry’s been married twice, and is now with a new partner.

He now has three children, Patrick, Lisa and Sinead. But his son David — who worked with his father at Delta — tragically died from a malignant melanoma, aged 33, five years ago.

“He was told not to worry about it... it was a wart, on his head,” he said.

“We tried all sorts of things. We took him to China, the People’s Liberation Army Hospital, where they get superior treatment.”

David received treatment there, which Terry said helped shrink the tumour. He then travelled to California for another new treatment.

But Terry’s son died during the trip to the US. And he now supports Ulster University in helping to accelerate and improve treatment and diagnosis for melanoma.

“It hits you. You don’t expect to bury your child. He fought it like a hero.”

Terry’s foray into wine making came in the late 1990s, during a trip to meet family in the Bordeaux region of France.

“I was thinking, this would be a great lifestyle if you could afford it. When I thought I could almost afford it, I found Chateau de la Ligne,” he says.

“The variety is Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.”

The vast and grand chateau is now a wedding venue, and the vineyard — which covers 17 hectares — produces around 72,000 bottles a year.

“It was a bit of both (the love for it and the business). The original intention was the wine would support the chateau, and produce a profit.

“It hasn’t quite worked out that way. It’s so competitive... selling it into the wholesale market here, for example, it’s a loss-maker.”

Terry says his successful Delta Packaging business “always has the ability to buck the trend” and wasn’t caught up in the recession to the same level as other firms.

“Particularly, because we are so into ‘quick service restaurants’ (fast food). The crash has actually helped that business substantially.”

Looking to the new make-up at Stormont, he wants the new Economy Minister to “understand the benefit of manufacturing and get away from this notion of benefits culture”.

“People need jobs, they don’t need hand-outs,” he said.

Q. What’s the best piece of business (or life) advice you’ve ever been given?

A. The best piece of business advice I ever got was from a gentleman called Fred Wilson, Founder of FG Wilson Engineering. We were discussing purchasing and negotiation and he advised: “When you see the tears welling up in their eyes, sign the order quickly, before they change their minds.”

Q. What piece of advice would you pass on to someone starting out in business?             

A. Make sure you enter a growth market and have the necessary skills, determination and finance to see you successfully through the initial start-up phase, until you generate positive cash flow.

Q. What was your best business decision?

A. Supplying the foodservice sector in Europe and the mobile phone sector in China.

Q. If you weren’t doing this job, what would be your other career?

A. Probably shipping in the oil industry as I spent five years in the Merchant Navy, two of them with Shell and BP tankers.

Q. What was your last holiday? Where are you going next?

A. I don’t take holidays as I find them stressful. Next trip will probably be Germany, Poland and the People’s Republic of China.

Q. What are your hobbies/interest?

A. Walking, crosswords, sudoku and keeping fit.

Q.  What is your favourite sport and team?

A. Football — Liverpool.

Q And have you ever played any sports?

A. Football.

Q. If you enjoy reading, can you recommend a book?

A. The Holy Bible.

Q.  How would you describe your early life?

A. A reluctant scholar with an after-school job delivering newspapers.

Q. Have you any economic predictions?

A. Continuing volatility before growth resumes in Europe subject to Central Bank interventions, political and fiscal policies. We have a great opportunity here if we decide to grasp it. To do so includes increasing the budget and effectiveness of Invest NI and playing to the strengths of our indigenous population. Creating enterprise zones would be a major step in the right direction as would 100% first year capital allowances for capital investments.

Q. How would you assess your time in business with your company Delta?

A. Interesting and exciting with an ability to link technology market opportunity and employment creation.

Q. How do you sum up working in the printing sector?

A. It’s a great and challenging opportunity and satisfying from the development of people viewpoint. There’s a need to ensure we operate in sectors where demand is increasing and create sustainable solutions in raw materials appropriate to our industry — eg, birch planting and sustainable coatings derived from recycled Coke bottles, and recycling wastepaper into usable products like papier mache fast food cup carriers, and egg and electronics packaging.

Online Editors

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