Belfast Telegraph

The four Northern Ireland business leaders worth looking out for in 2020


Kevin Holland
Jo Bamford
Tom Gentile
John Wood
Margaret Canning

By Margaret Canning

At the start of 2019, it would have been inconceivable to think that the year would bring such upheaval to our biggest companies, writes Margaret Canning.

Happily, the financial problems and subsequent administrations at Harland and Wolff and Wrights Group led to relatively positive outcomes, with both now under new ownership.

But in the case of Wrightbus, around 1,300 lost their jobs with only a limited number so far redeployed by new owners, Bamford Bus Company. Bombardier in Northern Ireland was sold to US firm Spirit AeroSystems.

Economic development agency Invest NI is looking into a new decade with new leaders, chief executive Kevin Holland and chairperson Rose Mary Stalker.

Here we look at what 2020 might bring for the people likely to be our highest-profile business leaders:

Tom Gentile: The Spirit AeroSystems chief executive had warm words for Bombardier in Belfast when its takeover was announced, saying it had an "impressive position in business jet fuselage production" as well as its Airbus A220 wings manufacturing operation.

He said the deal was part of its growth plan of increasing Airbus content. That will be a greater imperative than ever as the company has been a major Boeing customer and will be badly hit after Boeing suspended production of its 737 Max aircraft following two crashes which took 346 lives. Revenue from 737 components brings in more than half of Spirit's annual revenue and the company has said the suspension will hit its "business, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows". For that reason, it will be looking at its costs in 2020 - which may not mean much of a honeymoon period in Belfast.

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John Wood: The chief executive of InfraStrata plc, the new owner of Harland and Wolff, faces a planning challenge in 2020. The Department for Infrastructure is holding a public consultation into its bid for a marine licence for activities in the seabed off Larne. Opponents cite problems such as potential disruption to birds, tourism and the fishing industry. But the licence is crucial to the activity it wants to carry out at the Islandmagee Gas Storage project - fabrication work for gas storage will be a major part of the work for the Harland and Wolff workforce in future. The consultation closes on February 7, and InfraStrata will be hoping many hearts and minds will be won over between now and then.

Kevin Holland: The former international diplomat is settling in as chief executive of Invest NI at an interesting time, with Brexit a closer certainty at the end of this month. That in theory should free up agencies like Invest NI in how they support existing firms here. But uncertainty will continue as the UK negotiates a free trade agreement with the EU. And now that Brexit is a more tangible reality, what impact will it have on big international investors and the availability of workers?

And he will also have to face Invest NI's age-old perceived problem of not channelling enough investment into the north west. If talks between the political parties succeed, he will get an early bounce from a new Executive, which could finally usher in a lower rate of corporation tax for Northern Ireland.

Jo Bamford: The executive chairman of Bamford Bus Company will be hoping to usher in a new era of renewed productivity after taking over historic Ballymena company Wrightbus. It will be hoping to announce fresh orders early in 2020. Mr Bamford is the son of Lord Bamford, chairman of equipment giant JCB. It will be a personal challenge for Mr Bamford as he sets out to prove that he can make a success of a major manufacturing company in his own right.

Belfast Telegraph