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'By becoming global, we create more security for Delta in Belfast'

Joris Minne meets Terry Cross, who talks about how his packaging firm continues to grow

Published 29/09/2015

Joris Minne with Terry Cross in Shu
Joris Minne with Terry Cross in Shu

When Game of Thrones runs out of steam and we need to pitch a new epic series to the studios, we could do worse than give them the life story of Terry Cross.

A former merchant navy teenager, the north Belfast man has provided one of Northern Ireland's great manufacturing success stories of the century.

It's a classic boy-made-good story spanning the four decades of the Troubles, a story of survival against all odds, triumph in adversity and a flaming ambition to succeed. Throw in international travel and overseas expansion, a touch of glamour and a French chateau and you have a compelling and promising man of mystery.

But Terry Cross is not so much mysterious as modest. It takes an age to get out of him the path to success which led him from the merchant navy -where he showed signs of ambition by wanting to complete his master's certificate - to become a commercial printer.

He ran a small business (a shop), became a senior player in a large organisation and had roles in purchasing and business development for companies from Strathearn Audio to FG Wilson.

But it was Delta Print which made him. By 1980, he had managed somehow to fit large Gestetner printing machines into the flat above his shop on the Cliftonville Road. He laughs at the memory - he and his wife feared the heavy machines would crash through the floor.

Within five years he was in a new 5,000 sq ft factory in West Belfast with support from the then Local Enterprise Development Unit (Ledu). Soon he was in packaging as well as printing. He signed contracts with Stewarts Supermarkets, followed by Dunnes Stores, Marks and Spencers (producing packaging for ladies' tights, an iconic and brand-critical product for the store) before growing to take on KFC, McDonald's, Motorola and many more blue chip clients.

He is quick to acknowledge the help he got from the University of Ulster Business School. Expansion took Delta to India and China, Poland and France and now the company employs about 4,000 people, 250 of them in Belfast.

But is expansion detrimental to the Northern Ireland operation? No, says Cross - he says international expansion is critical to the ongoing success of Belfast. "By becoming global we create stability. Jobs may be created outside Northern Ireland but these only go towards enhancing operations here. We have to be global to survive."

Cross is optimistic about Northern Ireland. He acknowledges the political instability is damaging our investment reputation, and that hopes for reduced corporation taxes are receding, but his biggest concern is EU membership.

"The EU was set up for noble reasons, prevention of future wars and freedom of movement. Without this freedom of movement many of us would be out of business," he says. "We cannot afford to leave the EU."

He adds: "It's not until you're in business that you see what opportunities exist."

When you consider how hard it is to make that leap into business, the comment could only be made by someone glad to have survived.

Next week, Margaret Canning dines with John Knapton of the Northern Ireland Science Park

Belfast Telegraph

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