Posted on Sunday 4 August 2019 by Ulster Business

Andres 1

Ulster Business editor John Mulgrew sits down with Thompson Aero Seating chief executive Andres Budo to discuss doubling sales in the space of a year, expanding its headcount to 1,700 and starting work on a new 350,000 sq ft top-end production facility

Andres Budo has only been in the job at the helm of Thompson Aero Seating since January, but in those few months he’s been able to share some impressive news about the ongoing success of the aircraft seat maker.

The firm, which produces business and first class seating for airline giants such as Delta and Lufthansa, is on course to double its turnover to more than £220m, grow its workforce to between 1,600 and 1,700 by the end of the year, and also break ground on a new 350,000 sq ft production facility which would rationalise the current five sites in one new space.

“Currently, Thompson Aero employs about 1,500 people. This year we are going to have a record sales year – 2018 represents an 86% increase in throughput,” he said.

“It’s very challenging in any kind of industry to achieve that and 2018 was quite challenging for us, and we had to see a 30% increase over 2017 (in seat sales).”

“We work with some of the larger airlines in the industry, such as Lufthansa, Delta and Latam. We have provided seats to about 20 to 23 airlines, which is quite a significant portfolio.

“Typically, they are repeat customers, meaning when they go through a retro-fit or line-fit, they typically come back to us for additional business… this year we are projected to break the £220m mark.”

I speak to Andres in the firm’s boardroom at its main base in Portadown, a few feet away from one of the firm’s business class seats on display – and where he was sitting just a few moments ago for his Top 100 profile, which is featured further on in the magazine.

The firm has jumped up to join this year’s Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list, with turnover rising from £55m to £105m in the space of one year, bringing the firm in at number 69.

“One of the key successes to the company is we have a very good product which is very well recognised in the industry,” the former Airbus man says. “Part of the element of the success is the ability to remain quite flexible, with reasonably short lead times for the product.

“We are reaching the limits of what we can do industrially. We will have around 1,600 to 1,700 employees by the end of the year, roughly. This is basically extracting every benefit we have from the current facilities.

“In 2021, we are going to be moving to a new facility in Portadown, which is a consolidation of the five facilities we currently operate.

“We are going to have additional internal capabilities. That will be roughly 350,000 sq ft with the possibility of having an industrial park where key suppliers can set up to support us. They will have the ability to land on our industrial park.”

And speaking about the story behind the growth in sales, he says: “First of all, it’s a team effort. As a chief executive you set the direction of the company but you need a very strong team to execute that, and that is what we are putting in with Thompson. I think the company grew too fast, and too quick without allowing the system to grow at the same pace, but we are putting together a very fast team to deliver in 2019 and in to 2020.”

Andres says the company is focusing in the Asia-Pacific markets for fresh growth opportunities. “… 41% of the growth is coming from that area,” he says.

“We have a first in many categories in terms of offering types of features. It relates to the features on the product, the low cost of maintenance on the product. There is a lot of ingenuity, and we have a fantastic design team. Those are the guys coming up with the ideas that are making it attractive for the industry.

“Coming from a company as large as Airbus, there are policies and procedures in place to support even a couple of percentage points of growth, and here we are talking about 86% between 2018 and 2019.

“I’m quite encouraged about the level of commitment from the workforce and talent we are able to hire externally to help growth.”

But, as with many specialised manufacturers here, it’s having to address a shortage of skilled workers with its own in-house training.

“It’s definitely challenging, and it’s not easy. But one of the things we are developing is a training centre specifically for the needs of Thompson.

“We have the ability to hire people who are not completely coming from the aerospace industry, but through a four or five week period during training we get them closer to what we need internally.”

It’s progressing quickly with its expansion into its new proposed site, with planning expected by September and work hopefully due to start by the end of the year.

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