Belfast Telegraph

A family affair that is reaping dividends

Next Level Can

By Ron Immink

CDE making a splash with water treatment

Cde was founded 20 years ago by chartered mechanical engineer Tony Convery and his wife - Mr Convery remains the chair of the company. But today the Cde Group consists of several companies and employs around 250 people around the world.

Some 90 of these are based in the CDE Ireland headquarters in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, with another 110 employees based in the Indian division at Kolkata. In addition, there are a further 60 workers who work full-time for the company in various locations on sub-contract.

Throughout the history of the business, CDE has concentrated on the supply of similar products, but the customer base has evolved, as has the detail of the business's operations. "We started out working mainly for the water treatment industry in the use of sand and water filters," said Mr Convery.

Since then the business has developed and today it is also a leading supplier to the minerals and aggregates sectors. The CDE Design Team recently designed the world's largest sand washing system. The group also has a consultancy arm.

Most of the major British water supply companies, including Thames Water and Severn Trent Water, are CDE customers. Mr Convery said that while the water companies are very good at filtering their waste water supplies, they can have difficulty in extracting from their waste water the sand and grit from run-off from the roads after heavy rains.

CDE's products assist the water companies to cost-effectively sift the water. This produces a waste product that can be used on farm land, saving water companies the expense of having to dispose of the waste in landfill sites - and to pay the high cost landfill tax.

Offering a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution to waste problems is at the heart of CDE's business. "Our big focus is on recycling," said Mr Convery. "Not just as a green flag to fly over the building, but as a very commercially focused operation." He said that customers typically recover their costs in buying CDE's equipment in nine or 10 months. "Return on investment is our big thing," he explains. This is important as equipment is expensive - one item has just sold for £1.7m.

The same principles are applied to support mining businesses, where CDE equipment prevents the loss of valuable minerals that get caught up in general wastes. "Our equipment is still much the same, but we are applying it to different markets," said Mr Convery.

A willingness to exploit new markets has been central to CDE's success, said Mr Convery. The company became over-dependent on the water industry here, but recognised at the right time the need to diversify. "At one time we left the water treatment market because we were too focussed on Northern Ireland," he said. "They were big contracts on very low margins and the big English companies came into the market. So we had to change our focus."

CDE was also forced to radically reshape itself with the onset of the economic crisis in 2008, which caused a turnover reduction in the region of 60% as corporations massively cut back on capital spending. "We have not recovered our position [in terms of turnover], but profit-wise we have," said Mr Convery.

The key to the group's success, though, said Mr Convery, is concentrating on what is good for the customer. "Our big driver has been development of new equipment. We are focused on product delivery for the customer."