Belfast Telegraph

Departing Invest NI chief Alastair Hamilton coped well in 'uneasy mix of public and private' role

Arrival of big foreign companies and coping in the downturn will be legacy of the BT apprentice who rose to the top job

Alastair Hamilton in Novosco last June
Alastair Hamilton in Novosco last June
Alastair Hamilton in Wall Street, 2015, with Michael Hollingsworth of Hanweck Associates and founder Gerald Hanweck
Alastair Hamilton as an apprentice
Alastair Hamilton with the late Martin McGuinness, Arlene Foster, Peter Robinson and other dignitaries at Hillsborough Castle
Alastair Hamilton with Mark Mullan, Fresh Food Kitchen and Philip Morrow MD of PRM in 2011
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Outgoing Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton has been praised for his contribution to the economic development agency after announcing his departure.

Mr Hamilton was appointed 10 years ago to lead the agency, which is responsible for drawing foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland, and for helping homegrown companies expand.

The 10 years he's been in charge spanned the worst years of the economic crash, when Invest NI came up with strategies to help the NI economy withstand the impact of the downturn.

The agency encouraged the creation of new jobs in a shorter than usual time through the Jobs Fund.

He also developed new Access to Finance measures to encourage banks and other types of lenders to fund business, after banks' balance sheets in particular were badly hit by the property crash.

And in the last two years, it's aimed to continue to attract inward investors to Northern Ireland despite any potential impact of Brexit.

Mr Hamilton this week told the Belfast Telegraph that he and the board of Invest NI had initially made a decision to be "neutral" on Brexit, but that the board had then taken the step of contacting the leaders of the political parties to express concerns over readiness for Brexit.

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He said that move had been "fully supported and endorsed by the full executive team in Invest Northern Ireland".

He has also been the face of other more positive news stories of job creation and economic development - notably the growth of legal sector jobs from firms such as Allen & Overy and Baker McKenzie.

And through the work of Northern Ireland Screen, a sister organisation of Invest NI, he was also involved in encouraging the growth of US cable HBO's operations in Northern Ireland, where it filmed blockbuster fantasy series Game of Thrones.

Recruitment specialist Neal Lucas said Mr Hamilton had played "a critical role in driving toward future economic prosperity for our region and his is not a job that is easily comparable to any other role in Northern Ireland".

He added that the role had changed in recent years as Mr Hamilton became the face of Invest NI and government in jobs announcement, as there was no longer an Economy Minister to take part in photo opportunities.

"He has had to walk the intricate tightrope between the public and private sectors in a highly politically visible role.

"His public profile has undoubtedly increased in the last two years in the absence of active politicians as he has had to step in front of the camera more than usual and take the deserved credit for the work of his organisation when announcing inward investment projects.

"Many local business owners will have noticed the positive cultural change within Invest NI under his stewardship as it has improved the support services, adding real value and helped many businesses grow in the difficult economic and political climate of recent years." His role attracted one of the highest salaries in the public sector in NI. And unlike others in top roles in both the private and public sector, Mr Hamilton did not go to university, instead rising through the ranks of BT after starting as an apprentice. He told the Belfast Telegraph in 2012: "I realise it would be difficult for me to repeat what I have achieved in my career in today's environment or to get to where I am now without a degree - because of the need for a degree, in a lot of jobs, it doesn't matter how good you are, you could get filtered out."

Belfast Telegraph