Belfast Telegraph

Firm's journey from invincibility to seeking investment

 

Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

Wrightbus has long been one of our most closely watched companies, its successes a source of pride for the whole of Northern Ireland, not just its home town of Ballymena.

The triumphs of the 73-year-old business have been many. There was its totem deal to provide 1,000 double-decker buses to Transport for London, a deal championed by then London mayor Boris Johnson. The 'new' London bus, when it was launched six years ago, became a symbol not just of the capital city, but also of UK manufacturing prowess and Wrightbus invincibility.

There has also been a succession of big international deals, particularly in the Far East. A crowning moment came last year when its co-founder William Wright, who will be 92 next month, was knighted in Buckingham Palace. Even in his 80s and 90s he has been an influence in the business, with daughters Amanda Knowles and Dr Lorraine Rock.

Son Jeffrey is no longer listed as a director of Wrights Group companies, unlike his sisters and father.

Jeffrey is the lead pastor and founder of Green Pastures Church, which has been building large new premises in Ballymena.

Much of Wrightbus' expansion and a growing emphasis on research and development - which has powered an expansion into greener forms of fuel - took place during the 17-year tenure of former chief executive Mark Nodder. Mr Nodder left the post earlier this year, and has not been replaced. His departure opened the floodgates to a slew of concerns about Wrightbus. Yet there was still some positive news, including an order for 15 high-technology green energy buses for the city of Aberdeen that did give the company some respite.

But that alone was not enough to combat an overall dip in the UK bus market. Less than five days after the Aberdeen news, the company emerged to say that it had faced "increased complexity" in adapting its products to the needs of its global customer base.

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The company confirmed that it had sought the help of Deloitte to help find a new investor to "accelerate its development of these new technologies". It has also said talks with investors have progressed.

Understandably, there are strong hopes in Ballymena that a rescue can be achieved as 1,400 staff are employed there. And millions of pounds of expenditure by those staff, and within the Wrightbus supply chain, means that the company's continued survival is a must for Ballymena.

Belfast Telegraph

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