Welcome to the 2020 edition of the Belfast Telegraph Top 100 Companies in association with Arthur Cox. We are proud that the well-established legal firm is supporting our must-read guide to Northern Ireland’s most profitable companies for the sixth year in a row.
s well as being the year of Arthur Cox’s centenary, 2020 also marks the Belfast Telegraph’s 150th birthday - so it’s been a time of celebration for both.
Nonetheless, we have all had a rocky and distressing six months following the outbreak of Covid-19 and the devastating impact it’s had on many lives and livelihoods.
None of us have been immune from the pandemic’s effects on our daily lives, and even if and when we can discard our face coverings, we’ll be reckoning with the economic effects in the form of high unemployment and reduced output for between three and five years.
While the financial data which informs this year’s publication is of necessity drawn from previous years, it serves as a useful indicator of the health of our biggest companies and their position entering into the pandemic and recession.
Our banks are in a fairly strong position, with one even laying claim to the number one spot (clue: it’s not their first time to top the chart).
Utilities companies are also a stellar performer, with our natural climate lending plenty of volume to the accounts of windfarm businesses.
Many of our biggest manufacturers are also reporting a rise in profits though for one, an impressive profit figure masks sectoral problems which are leading to the closure of a plant.
As economist John Simpson points out after another year of poring over accounts of hundreds of Northern Ireland businesses, our largest profit earners have enjoyed a four-year period of improving results.
That should equip them well for the challenges they are facing at the moment.
Hope is something we need to have a lot of as we face the effects of the pandemic and Brexit Margaret Canning, Business Editor
Indeed, our conversations with businesses as we’ve been compiling the profiles of the 100 have educated us about how they’ve diversified during the pandemic.
Brett Martin has become involved in the manufacture of visors, SHS Group has redirected energy towards more spice blends and cooking pastes for home cooking after we were forced to stay at home and fend for ourselves during lockdown.
Huhtamaki in Lurgan upped production of its egg cartons due to the same rise in demand from growth in home cooking - not to mention home baking.
And EOS IT Holdings also pivoted to launch a service using collaborative technology to make it easier for people to work from home.
But unfortunately, regardless of how some of our biggest companies are doing, the impact of Covid-19 and the recession it’s exacerbated is going to take a heavy toll.
As many business leaders have pointed out, the worst impact is most likely to be on our smaller firms. Bigger businesses have the balance sheets and experience to cope and in some cases, pivot towards in-demand areas.
We are also facing the end of the Brexit transition period in just a few months. Most big firms had planned for a Brexit within the terms of the NI Protocol and Withdrawal Agreement. Instead, the proposed Internal Markets Bill has thrown the protocol into disarray - but let’s not give up hope just yet that a free trade agreement between the EU and UK can be concluded.
And hope is something we need to have a lot of as we face the effects of the pandemic and Brexit.
But it’s a virtue which is always rewarded, even it it does take time.
Look at our Executive - it successfully reformed in January after three years in abeyance and with exquisite timing, resumed government of Northern Ireland as it entered the pandemic, the most challenging period since The Troubles.
That timing can certainly give us hope for the future.