Posted on Tuesday 13 December 2011 by Ulster Business

Many miles travelled

Hugh Morgan spent the best part of 10 months on the road last year.

Image: Hugh Morgan with Paul Duggan, chair of Armagh GAA

The founder and Managing Director of the Killean-based Morgan Fuel Group racked up the miles as part of a push to expand the network of filling stations across Europe which house terminals that accept his company’s fuel card. During that 10-month spell he estimates he was taking up to six flights a week to meet with potential clients.

“I would sometimes be getting up at a hotel in the morning and not knowing what country or city I was in. It was hard graft but if it has to be done I’ll do it,” he told Ulster Business.

Clearly the hard work has paid off. The Morgan Fuel Card is now accepted in 4000 filling stations across 14 European countries. The latest addition to the network is a chain of filling stations in Sweden and the business hopes to soon announce its first stations in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

The card offers hauliers and commercial fleet operators fuel purchasing and on-line fuel management services across Ireland, the UK and Europe and is currently used to purchase fuel by over 20,000 commercial drivers. The business now employs more than 80 people on the island of Ireland, France and Hungary and has turnover of around £150m.

It is a far cry from where Morgan started out. After leaving school at 16 he worked as a truck driver and then in 1981 bought a petrol station on the border. From there he began to develop the idea of a network of 24 hour, unmanned, multi-lingual fuel terminals. Today, Morgan Fuels is the only independent fuel card provider with no tie in to the major oil companies.

“It is a concept that works everywhere. The network can keep growing, we can keep adding additional sites, and we have the ability to partner with anyone in the fuel industry,” explains Hugh.

There are however, no rigid expansion plans regarding where will be next, because opportunities often come up where least expected, he says.

“As we develop the business we will be looking for opportunities and if it’s the right one we will take it. We’re not afraid to take big decisions. We can make them there and then – there are no shareholders to consult as there are in the big firms. That makes us pretty nimble,” he adds.

“The same goes for challenges. Nobody knows what they will be and you have to face different challenges in a different way. In all my years in business I have learned that every challenge is different.”

When he talks about challenges it is impossible not to ask about the recent publicity Morgan received during the Irish Presidential elections.

It emerged that he was the businessman who in 2008 gave presidential hopeful Sean Gallagher a €5,000 donation for Fianna Fail, a political party Gallagher was strenuously playing down his links to. Gallagher’s handing of questions about his history with Fianna Fail was seen as decisive to the race and the presidency eventually going to Michael D. Higgins.

The intense press interest in the story catapulted Morgan on to the front pages, and in the process resulted in his own past being dragged into the public spotlight. As part of this he confirmed he had been convicted of tax evasion in the mid 1990s in relation to fuel smuggling, but also that he had repaid the Exchequer and paid a substantial fine.

Despite the furore the Newry-based entrepreneur refuses to be downbeat about the experience.

“You have to look forward, why look back,” he shrugs. “I made my mistake in 1994 and I have paid dearly for it. But when your name’s already out there you might as well engage with the publicity and use it.”

Morgan’s view is that whatever the economic situation, his customers need fuel to keep their businesses running and so long as the firm provides a good service, the future is bright.

“We don’t worry about anybody,” says Hugh. “I take the view that everybody else should worry about us! We give a good service and we look after our customers and employees. That’s it. What anyone else thinks doesn’t bother us.”

Morgan is of course well known in the border region for his long-standing support of GAA and it is when the conversation turns to his beloved Armagh that he is most enthusiastic.

The businessman has for many years been the principal sponsor of the Armagh GAA and recently secured the naming rights to the Armagh Stadium – now known as the Morgan Athletic Grounds.

But while the Armagh colours coincidentally match the Morgan Fuels logo and he admits that being one of the largest sponsors in GAA has “opened doors all across Ireland” he insists the arrangement has nothing to do with commercial gain.

“It was never about an advertising campaign, it was always about pure passion,” he says. “This is the sport I have followed all my life and I enjoy every minute of it. It’s just my passion, my club and my county.”

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