Belfast Telegraph

We've exceeded expectations, says SPHERE Global boss

By Lisa Smyth

Engineering firm SPHERE Global has only been in business for six years but is already competing with multi-national conglomerate company Siemens. It is an impressive accolade for the Co Londonderry firm which was established by owner and managing director Sean McNicholl.

The company, which designs and manufactures engineering solutions, was founded as the recession took hold.

However, it has flourished and now holds its own on the global stage.

There appears to be no limit to the projects it undertakes.

They are currently changing the face of healthcare with technology that will assist with the dispensing of drugs and they recently signed contracts to develop robotics to construct pre-fabricated buildings.

"We work in countries all over the world, including the Phillipines, Dubai, South Africa, all the major countries throughout Europe and America," Mr McNicholl said.

"I think coming from the UK and Northern Ireland like we do, we are held in very high esteem. We have a high level of credibility, particularly in the sector in which we work.

"There is an extremely high demand for what we do so we have never encountered problems working outside of Northern Ireland."

Mr McNicholl, whose background is in automation, took the decision to set up his own company and has been overwhelmed by the success of SPHERE.

"I was travelling the world working in automation and I thought it would be a good idea to set up my own company and it actually turned out to be a very good idea," he said.

"It is actually quite daunting the first day you start out, sitting in an office, knowing no-one is going to pay your wages, and wondering where the first pay cheque is going to come from. But it has exceeded my expectations."

Within the first week, the company secured an order worth £8,500.

After three months, they had more than £50,000 of orders and within 12 months, they had won contracts worth £9m.

"At the end of the first year, we had six employees and I thought this was a nice, comfortable business," said Mr McNicholl.

But he said the demand for the services they offer was such that the business has continued to grow rapidly.

"You're always nervous when you start up your own business because you don't really know what way the market is going to go but we haven't really had time to stop and think," he said.

"Within year two we moved in to new premises.

"We now have over 65 full-time engineers and anywhere between 20 to 30 up to 50 sub-contractors.

"This year we are up 150% on last year's total turnover, and that is just in the first three months.

"We have never cold called anyone, people come to us.

"The business has been driving us forward, we've really had to move fast to keep up with the pace of business and because we are such a niche market we have been very successful.

"Our reputation is such that companies come to us and 50% of our business is repeat business.

"As well as that, we have done a lot of work with the website and search engine optimisation (SEO).

"Companies come to us with their problems and we work with them to find solutions, we design and manufacture in house, and we never charge for consultancy.

"We constantly have to be evolving, finding new solutions, and finding better ways of doing things.

"We make our money from designing and manufacturing cutting-edge technology," said Mr McNicholl. As a result, one of the greatest challenges faced by SPHERE is finding the right calibre of experienced staff.

"Resources are always going to be a problem," he said.

The company is currently in the process of developing an intensive training scheme for prospective employees.

"Trying to find the skill set and people with the experience is hard as we are looking for people with industry experience," said Mr McNicholl.

"One of the biggest problems is that because it is such a new sector, the skills for this game are not taught at university.

"We are working with local universities and this year we will have 20 to 30 students coming on board to hopefully get the experience and training they need to work in the industry.

"In this game, you can learn mechanical engineering at university but it is about getting the experience, bringing them in to the real world to deal with the bluechip industry.

"There are so many different circumstances but you can only learn that from experience."

Mr McNicholl added: "My role is travelling to different destinations to meet CEOs of companies we are doing business with.

"Last year I flew well over 100 times to six different continents.

"The day-to-day running I don't really get involved with, but we are very much people's people.

"We want to make sure we keep our customers happy.

"It makes me extremely proud when I look at the car park and see all the cars of employees lined up and know there is financial security."

Belfast Telegraph