Belfast Telegraph

Brothers who transformed Co Down medical firm TG Eakin soar up Northern Ireland's rich list

By Clare Weir

Two brothers behind a family-run medical firm in Co Down have seen their wealth rocket by £100m in just a year.

The annual Sunday Times Rich List for Northern Ireland reveals the 20 richest people here are worth £4.224bn, and most on the list have seen their personal fortunes getting bigger year-on-year.

According to the countdown, published tomorrow, one of the biggest gains recorded in Northern Ireland during the past year was by third-placed Paul and Jeremy Eakin.

The TG Eakin medical supplies company, based in Comber and founded by their father Tom in the 1970s, specialises in the production of products for use in stoma and wound care.

The list reveals that Northern Ireland still has only one billionaire – the wife and family of the late Lord Ballyedmond. Lady Ballyedmond's husband Eddie Haughey died in a helicopter crash when flying from their Norfolk estate to Northern Ireland in March.

His Norbrook Laboratories business specialises in pharmaceuticals for the veterinary industry and was founded in the late 1960s.

Along with the now bust tycoon Sean Quinn, they are the only family in Northern Ireland to have gained billionaire status, having seen their wealth soar by 63% or £543m in the last year.

The family is worth over £1bn more than TV power couple Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, who are in second place on the list with a fortune of £340m.

Burnett is responsible for successful series such as Survivor and The Apprentice, while his Londonderry-born wife Roma is an actress and producer best known for her role as Monica in Touched By Sn Angel. They were also behind a recent television adaptation of The Bible.

Fourth in the list, valued at £233m, is Danny Hill, who was born in Belfast and emigrated to Australia at 13, making his first fortune during 1970s nickel boom.

He was also a big name in construction and is now based in Monaco.

Next is Robert Barnett and family, of W&R Barnett, Northern Ireland's biggest manufacturer of animal feed stuffs, founded in 1896 and currently with a turnover of £500m.

The firm also owns animal feed company, Thompsons, and is run by Robert (69) and his son William (37).

Other big business names in the list include John King, a former university lecturer who made his name with Galen, now Warner Chilcott – worth £180m – and construction magnates Kevin and Michael Lagan, worth £155m.

Joint 7th on the list with the Lagans is Chris Watson, founder of the Chain Reaction bike shops, who is worth £155m – down £23m on the previous year.

And joint 13th on the list is Brenda Salters, who inherited the consumer goods firm SHS from her late husband Geoff, who died in 2010, and their business partner Joe Sloan, who are both valued at £104m, representing a decrease of £6m on the previous year.

Other well-known faces on the list are number 17 Brian Conlon, who founded financial software firm First Derivatives, which now has offices all over the world.

He is thought to be worth £96m.

Former racing driver Eddie Ervine, at number 20 on the list, is worth around £83m.

The Sunday Times Rich List 2014 is compiled by Philip Beresford, the leading authority on British wealth, and edited by Ian Coxon. The list is based on identifiable wealth, including land, property, other assets such as art and racehorses, or significant shares in publicly quoted companies. It excludes bank accounts, to which the paper has no access.

The family business that grew into a giant

It started out at a small pharmacy on the outskirts of Belfast and has grown into one of Northern Ireland's biggest business success stories – yet it still retains a family ethos.

And it was the vision of Tom Eakin that not only helped post-surgery patients living with ostomies – an opening in the body for the discharge of body wastes – but also helped his family become the third richest in Northern Ireland.

In the 1970s he began his work in Dundonald after meeting people who were reporting problems with skin irritation and leakage of the pouches designed to collect the waste from their bodies.

He started by looking at design, materials and construction to make life easier for those who had already undergone an uncomfortable procedure.

Among his many innovations was pioneering a PVC coating for pouches and adapting a small mixer, normally used in bakeries, to make adhesives. He also built an automatic cutting machine in his own back yard and eventually invented the Wound Pouch and Cohesive ranges.

In 1978, TG Eakin Ltd got its first order from a local pharmacy, but as sales increased more factory space was needed.

In 1990 the company began to export and in 1992 Tom's son Jeremy joined the company as marketing manager as the firm started to look beyond Europe to the USA.

Tom's other son Paul joined the team in 1995 as operations manager and the firm moved to a purpose-built factory in Ballystockart, Co Down, which remains the headquarters of the Eakin Group and has since been extended several times.

In 2003 Tom retired as MD, handing over the reins to Jeremy, but remains as chairman.

A few years later TG Eakin acquired Pelican Healthcare Ltd, a Cardiff-based ostomy manufacturer, of which Paul was appointed managing director.

In 2010 TG Eakin Ltd earned the Queen's Award for Enterprise for Exporting Achievement, and now sells products to over 30 countries.



1. Lady Ballyedmond and family, £1,400m. Owners of Norbrook Technology, a veterinary pharmaceuticals company with its headquarters in Newry. The family suffered a huge personal tragedy earlier this year when founder Lord Ballyedmond died in a helicopter crash in England.

2. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, £340m. Derry- born actress Roma s a household name in terms of American TV and is now based in Malibu; her husband Mark Burnett made millions devising reality TV shows such as Survivor and The Apprentice.

3. Paul and Jeremy Eakin and family, £310m. The pharmaceutical brothers run TG Eakin Ltd which was formed in 1974 by their father Tom. The firm is based just outside Comber and manufactures medical skin care products for use in stoma and wound care.

4. Danny Hill, £233m. Born in Belfast, Danny Hill migrated to Australia when he was 13 and made his first fortune there in mining. He went on to become a major property investor and much of his wealth is now in the Chardan Development Group. He currently lives in Monaco.

5.  Robert Barnett and family, £182m. Robert is the chairman of W&R Barnett, Northern Ireland's largest international grain trader and is the holding group of international commodity trading and agribusiness firms including animal feeds retailer John Thompson & Sons.

6.  John King, £180m. This former pharmaceutical lecturer made £165m from selling shares in the US company Warner Chilcott, formerly Craigavon based Galen Holdings. He once led the company, which focuses on women's healthcare, and retains a stake in it.

7= Kevin and Michael Lagan, £155m. These brothers transformed their father's quarrying firm into a huge civil engineering, construction and waste management empire. Michael owns Lagan Construction Group while Kevin owns Lagan Group Holdings.

7=  Chris Watson and family, £155m. Chain Reaction Cycles in Ballyclare started as a modest shop, but has now grown to be the world's biggest online bike store. By 2011, the family business had established itself as Royal Mail's biggest customer in Northern Ireland.

9. Gerard O'Hare, £150m. This Newry property millionaire owns Parker Green International, which includes the Quays shopping and leisure complex in the Co Down city. He also has commercial property in Ireland, England, and eastern Europe as well as US investments.

10. Chris Rea, £135m. This Rathfriland-born engineer runs specialist firm AESSEAL in Yorkshire. The company manufactures mechanical seals from a plant in Lisburn. It started off in Rotherham in 1981 with five staff, and today it has 1,268 employees.

Belfast Telegraph