Q&A with the driving force behind budding entrepreneurs
Douglas Cookson, vice president of corporate marketing at Almac Group, talks about sponsoring the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards and helping young people reach their full potential.
Q:Why have you chosen to sponsor the category of Young Businessperson?
A: It is no secret that the Almac Group was founded by one man - the late Sir Allen McClay - in 1968, and it was down to his entrepreneurial character, building a strong team, always looking at innovative approaches of doing things better and following a clear vision that Almac has got to where it is today. He proved that anything is possible when you have drive, determination and a vision. It is therefore very fitting that we are sponsoring the Young Businessperson award to recognise the entrepreneurial talent that exists throughout Northern Ireland and encourage not only the winner, but also the nominees to continue pursuing their ambitions.
Q: The difficult economic situation of the past few years has taken a heavy toll on young people and their prospects. What are the qualities a young person needs to show these days to succeed and what advice would you give to a young person hoping to start a new business?
A: There are no doubts that entrepreneurs and business owners throughout the province have been affected in some way by the challenging economic situation. But now, more than ever, is the time to demonstrate your unwavering passion for your vision and truly believe in your own ability to overcome adversity. The main qualities a young entrepreneur must demonstrate, in our experience, are tenacity, ambition, creativity and having a forward-looking approach. Only by having a clear vision, focus and dedicating yourself to seeing it through will you succeed in business.
Q:Are accolades like the Business Awards and an award for Young Businessperson of the Year important?
A: Absolutely. It has been Almac's experience through winning many awards, including several at the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards, that recognition of a company's success and growth is a fantastic boost to employee morale - without whom that success would not be possible - and helps to motivate them.
Awards of this nature prove that a business has not only been successful, as shown by the choices of their customers, but has also exceeded the rigorous criteria set by the independent judges to stand out from the competition. It provides a third party endorsement, showing to potential clients, as well as existing customers and the qualities of a business.
The Young Businessperson of the Year Award is particularly important as it helps establish credibility right from start and enable the winner to build on their success by creating networks of like-minded people to encourage and motivate them.
Q: How is business in general for Almac Group and has it had to adapt in the downturn?
A: We are delighted to say, that despite the tough economic climate, Almac has experienced great success over the past number of years and continues to go from strength to strength.
Now employing over 3,500 skilled people globally, 2,100 of whom are based at our Craigavon headquarters, we continue to reinvest all our profits into developing our facilities, people services and innovation to maintain our competitive edge in the industry. Our global reach has recently increased with physical presence now established in Japan and with a new, bespoke manufacturing and packaging facility planned to open for business in Singapore this summer. This adds to our established sites in Pennsylvania, Durham (North Carolina), San Francisco, Belfast and Edinburgh.
Q: Do you think young people coming out of education have the necessary skills needed to ‰ll the roles that you are creating as you continue to expand?
A: We are fortunate to have a highly qualified pool of graduates in Northern Ireland but there is always a need for more talent.
We're keen to highlight that you don't necessarily need to have a scientific background for many of the jobs in Almac. We are creating opportunities all the time in a range of services for example in IT, project management, marketing and engineering, as well as in the expected scientific fields such as chemistry.
As one of Northern Ireland's leading businesses in the life sciences sector, we believe that we have a responsibility to encourage young people here to consider STEM careers which help to grow a dynamic and innovative economy.
We have strong links with local schools and universities through our education programmes to highlight opportunities available within our company from an early stage.