Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Dr Mark Sweeney: Managing Director, FG Wilson

Firm poised to power ahead when the economy recovers

Mark Sweeney with First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness

Dr Mark Sweeney provides a snapshot of life as managing director of FG Wilson. The global downturn has hit the manufacturing sector particularly hard but despite having to reduce its workforce, Dr Sweeney believes the company is well placed for future growth...

What technology are you harnessing to improve business?

We work continuously to find new ways to further improve the performance of our products, making them more efficient and more sustainable.

In recent years, with support from Invest Northern Ireland, we invested in a world-leading acoustic centre at Larne which has supported numerous advancements in product performance.

We also introduced a new simulated work environment last year which supports the training to world class standards of our employees. In particular, this is intended to enable the company to be a world leader in lean manufacturing.

Have you identified or do you trade in markets outside of Northern Ireland?

FG Wilson is a global business with customers in around 180 countries.

We are in the midst of recession, what impact has that had on business?

The demand for electric power generation very much tracks the performance of the global economies and as such our business has experienced the same recessionary pressures as the global economy as a whole. Normally the impact of a recession on our business is lessened because of our global reach. However, the nature of this recession has meant that all regions of the world have experienced significant reduction in demand for capital goods, which includes our products.

Recession is a challenge for businesses but it can also help companies emerge stronger when the economy returns to growth. What positives have you identified?

The recession has been very challenging, but the fact is that the fundamental need for electric power has not changed. A lack of confidence, credit and cash has caused this demand to reduce in the short-term, but the long-term outlook is still very positive. We had a very specific plan developed to deal with a downturn, which allowed us to take key actions in a timely manner, allowing the company to manage through the recession.

Have you any new projects in the pipeline?

The key goals over the coming year are to continue to position the company to cope as well as possible during the recession and to be ready to respond rapidly to the increase in demand as confidence in the global markets returns.

Do you think there is enough Government support, be that financial or in the form of advice, for local businesses?

From our own perspective, we have a strong relationship with the local economic development agency, Invest Northern Ireland. Working closely with them, we have made a number of significant investments in recent years that have enabled us to strengthen our business in a way that has benefited the local economy.

What advice do you have for people starting new businesses?

The first piece of advice would be to strive to understand the needs and motivations of the customers that you plan to serve. The second piece of advice would be to ensure that you are 100% committed because there are many challenges in growing any business and total commitment is needed to succeed.

What has been the highlight for your company to date?

FG Wilson’s long, successful history means that there are many highlights, but being named Northern Ireland’s company of the 20th century by the Institute of Directors was certainly a proud moment for everyone involved with FG Wilson.

We were also very pleased to be named UK manufacturing company of the year by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. I am confident that when the economic recovery comes, there will be many more highlights for the company.

What are the long-term hopes for the company?

In the longer-term, our goal is to remain a world-class manufacturer that delivers high quality products which enhance the lives of people around the world. We are also committed to being a sustainable business that minimises its impact on the environment.

What has been the highlight of your career to date?

Being appointed managing director of FG Wilson in 2002 is certainly one of the highlights. It was and still is very exciting and satisfying to have a leadership responsibility in such a successful and progressive global company.

Have you any professional ambitions yet to be realised?

I don’t worry myself excessively about where or when the next challenge or opportunity might come from. I think the most important focus should be on carrying out your current responsibilities to the best of your ability and the rest usually takes care of itself.

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

One of the best pieces of advice that I try to follow comes from Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. One of the habits is, “begin with the end in mind” and regardless of whether the task is large or small, I find the outcome is usually more satisfactory if you have a clear idea in your mind of the result you want before you begin.

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