Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

How the right medicine goes down well at home and abroad

Outward looking: Almac boss Alan Armstrong is proud of the company’s strong export record
Outward looking: Almac boss Alan Armstrong is proud of the company’s strong export record

Almac chief Alan Armstrong is a firm believer in building on the legacy of founder Allen McClay

What are the biggest challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry?

The economic challenge is that global and governments and health authorities are all looking for savings in public spending.

That creates a challenge for us as we continue to develop the highest of quality products, under straightened economic conditions. A lot of medicines on the market don’t suit all patients.

At Almac we are at the forefront of personalised medicine, which often accompanies treatment with a diagnostic test to ensure the right medicine is given to the right person.

It is better for patient health and often better value for money as it reduces ineffective treatment.

Almac is now a major player since it developed out of Galen. Was there ever a time when Almac considered relocating somewhere outside Northern Ireland?

There have been times when attempts have been made to get Almac to relocate a few miles down the road!

But [Almac founder] Allen McClay was always adamant that he would remain loyal to Northern Ireland. We do, of course, have a presence elsewhere in the UK and the US, but home to Almac will always be Northern Ireland.

Do you have any plans for expansion?

Yes, we have plans for expansion in our Northern Ireland headquarters in Craigavon.

We have just started building a three-storey office facility representing an investment of £3m, to accommodate 230 staff.

Our new North American headquarters which we have now occupied represents an investment of $120m, and we have plans to employ over 1,000 people at this new facility

The economic difficulty of the last few years at home and abroad has seen many companies in trouble. Has the downturn impacted on Almac and if so, in what way?

Year on year we have seen a record increase in turnover and also, despite the downturn, our staffing numbers have risen in excess of 15% per annum.

Our business is about keeping customers satisfied and making sure they remain customers.

We have the right mix of products and people to make sure this is the case going forward.

In a competitive marketplace with plenty of choice for customers, how do you win business?

With an unwavering focus on innovation we always aim to stay ahead of the market. We achieve this through a constant and ongoing dialogue with our customers.

Modern medicine is a complex sector and a complex business — Almac is an established world leader, which is something all of Northern Ireland can be very proud of.

Export sales from Northern Ireland have fallen, according to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI). Are export markets more significant than home sales for Almac? Which regions do you export most to?

Given the nature of our product, we are driven by export sales.

Over 50% of our export base is in the US, but we have markets, customers and business partners across the world.

From our headquarters here inCraigavon, Almac is truly a global business.

Can the Executive do anything to encourage companies to export?

I think one very simple step would be to ask those companies who have been successful exporters, “how did you do it?”.

Smaller businesses who want to enter the export market should get the chance to learn from those already in the export business.

Where does Almac stand on the corporation tax debate?

It would give Northern Ireland a competitive edge when it comes to competing for inward investment.

One note of caution we would sound is that with the anticipated reduction in the Northern Ireland subvention, spending on research and development must not be significantly affected.

How important is the legacy of Sir Allen McClay to the continued operations of Almac?

Allen McClay built this company from nothing and his presence and character dictated the way we run the business.

Allen always referred to the staff at Almac as his family and this culture permeated throughout the business and has been key to our success.

Since his sad passing that culture is being maintained and will always dictate the way we do business. Our success is his legacy.

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