Mayo's Portwest eyes further expansion

Updated / Friday, 27 Oct 2017 12:57

Harry Hughes, winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year, award talks to Adam Maguire about the company's expansion plans

Harry Hughes, the CEO of Mayo firm Portwest, has been named this year's EY Entrepreneur of the Year. Portwest specialises in safety products and workwear and employs more than 2,100 people worldwide, selling to more than 100 countries. Last night CEO Harry Hughes was described by the judging panel as a visionary leader who has built a world-class business. He joined Portwest in the late 1970s and, along with his brothers Owen and Cathal, has helped to grow the company's turnover from the hundreds of thousands to more than €150m.

"We've worked hard and consistently over the last 37 years to try and grow the business," said Harry Hughes. "But the real winners last night were the staff - we have a marvellous team of people working on this - great designers and lots of innovation. It's just been one step at a time but we're absolutely delighted with last night."

Despite being in growth mode for some time, Portwest has made it clear that it wants to grow further and it has ambitious expansion plans for the years ahead. Part of that has seen the company acquire two firms in the Australian market so far this year. Mr Hughes said the two deals were undertaken to give the company a strong footholding in that particular market. "Three years ago we started out in the US - we actually started there without purchasing any company and it's a slow way of building a business," he said. "So this time in the Australian market, where we had no sales, we decided we would purchase a company. It just so happened that there was a second company for sale in the very same business, so it's taken us from a year ago where we had no sales in Australia to having €20m worth of sales there."

A key component in making this international expansion possible is a ramping up of production - which has seen the firm add a plant in Myanmar. However with the country facing renewed violence and political uncertainty, Mr Hughes says there is concern for that operation. However their focus is on what the country can offer the business - and how it can help with its global sales. "For us the main thing in these countries is that it's duty free into Europe - the factory in Myanmar is only just starting," he said.

Portwest's main manufacturing centre remains in Bangladesh, and the company hopes to expand that considerably in the coming years. However Mr Hughes says that the company's growth will also help its home town of Westport. "We now have 300 staff employed in Westport town and over the next three years we intend to double that," he said. "The overall growth of the company does create jobs in Ireland - but being part of the clothing industry demands that you have to have factories in Asia," he added.

MORNING BRIEFS - The parent company of Aer Lingus, IAG, has announced a 27% rise in operating profit for the first nine months of the year. The company was hit considerably by exceptional items relating to the restructuring of Iberia and British Airways. That left the group with a profit of €1.56 billion after tax - up 5.6% year on year. In its release, IAG noted Aer Lingus' continued expansion in North America and said it had also seen productivity gains at the airline.

*** Royal Bank of Scotland has reported a £392m profit for the three months to the end of September - only the second time since 2008 that the bank had turned a profit for three consecutive quarters. However, the bank said it could not be sure of a full-year profit, as it sought to settle a dispute with the US Department of Justice relating to mortgage-backed securities. Income at its Ulster Bank RoI division fell by 2.9%, the bank said.

*** Three of the world's biggest technology companies announced quarterly results overnight, with each firm recording an increase in profit for the period. Google's parent company Alphabet saw revenues rise 24% which helped to push profits for the quarter to $7.8 billion. Sales at Amazon jumped by 29% as it enjoyed strong growth in its hardware and data centre business. However profits only rose slightly to $256m as the firm continued to invest heavily in research and development. And Microsoft saw its revenues rise 12% in the quarter. That pushed the firm to a $6.6 billion profit, which is up 16% year on year.