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Departing CBI boss confident over future of Northern Ireland's economy

By John Mulgrew

Published 03/05/2016

Nigel Smyth
Nigel Smyth

Northern Ireland's business landscape has had its "ups and downs" amid financial uncertainty and years of violence but "we have now never been in a better position", according to the outgoing head of the CBI.

The search is now on for Nigel Smyth's replacement as director of the CBI in Northern Ireland.

Mr Smyth's 26 years at the helm of the business organisation took him through boom and bust times, along with turbulent times amid violence in the 1990s.

And he's had to deal with political instability for three decades.

Regarding a potential successor, Mr Smyth told the Belfast Telegraph: "They have to be passionate about the CBI, and about creating the right environment for businesses. It's about creating companies, to prosper, for the benefit of everyone... including society.

"There's never been a better time, with the transformation that (a low rate) of corporation tax can bring. "In the 1990s, there began greater involvement, getting businesses engaged, and we looked at what the Republic was doing.

"The big theme was about the political process and stability. In the 2000s, it was the establishment of the Executive, bringing things up to speed, and supporting the private sector. We have had our ups and downs, but we have never been in a better position."

Mr Smyth was a project manager in Sheffield when his father-in-law spotted a job with the CBI in Northern Ireland in 1990.

"I was going to have to relocate to Manchester, and always said I'd come back (to Northern Ireland) if the opportunity arose.

"I moved back in 1990 as assistant director, and 18 months after I was appointed director."

His business background over the years has been varied, including project work as a geologist, working in the coal industry and open-cast mining.

Mr Smyth is married to Kay, and has two sons, Andrew - who works for Rolls Royce - and Jamie, in his fifth year at Queen's University studying architecture.

He said while his time at the helm had been hugely rewarding, it also had its "frustrations".

"We are about supporting growth and enterprise, and there is a wide range of issues which the CBI engages with," he said.

"We have great contributions from our members and we pride ourselves on that.

"(The CBI) is more strategic now. It has changed and it will continue to change. The goal is to grow the economy, create more jobs and get the right investment coming in.

"We are moving in the right direction, but it's a slow process."

He plans to retire, shortly before he turns 60 in August. "Six or nine months away, and I'll see what comes up. I have a passion for education."

The hunt for his replacement has now begun through 4c Executive Search.

Belfast Telegraph

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