Posted on Tuesday 6 August 2019 by Ulster Business


CBI Northern Ireland director Angela McGowan assesses the landscape for our top companies and the areas which look set to bloom in the coming years

With Brexit yet to be defined, chief executives across Northern Ireland remain adamant that they need a UK/EU deal that delivers frictionless trade for goods, maintains regulatory alignment and provides a good deal for services. One thing is for sure; the prevailing political uncertainty will not go away anytime soon.

Despite the political turmoil, local businesses remain committed to growing their businesses, and the 2019 Top 100 companies list is a testament to their tenacity. Companies from a wide variety of sectors across Northern Ireland are continuing to compete and win in global markets. Many of our SMEs are also expanding their operations and have ambitions to scale up even further.

I am lucky because in my job I get to talk regularly with many of the chief executives of Northern Ireland’s Top 100 companies. When I reflect on what makes these firms so successful, there are a four common themes I believe puts them in that ‘highly successful’ category.

Firstly, agility is often identified as a characteristic of the most successful firms. Companies that are well prepared for potential changes looming on the horizon fare best. Strategic intelligence and horizon planning is part of their everyday operations.

These companies are tuned into changing customer preferences, developments in new technologies and even potential legislative changes. The best firms are also agile enough to rapidly respond to unpredictable events, including changing geopolitical developments, trade wars or extreme weather events.

It should be noted however that mobility is a big part of the agility solution for firms, with companies choosing to relocate their operations and move to another jurisdiction if they have difficulty with access to customers, skills or if their ability to strategically plan is hindered by a poor policy environment.

Data is the second emerging theme for the most successful companies in 2019. In CBI’s recent report ‘The Changing Nature of R&D’, we found that the most effective firms are today deriving insight and value from the data they traditionally had stored but did not use. Successful companies, regardless of their sector, are now using data as a key raw material in their R&D.

Smart firms working in construction, manufacturing or indeed any sector, are today employing data analysts and software engineers to exploit data for a competitive edge.

A third common theme is technology adoption. Disruptive tech such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and 3D printing are no longer for the tech geeks in Silicon Valley.

Firms across Northern Ireland are now using disruptive technologies to create new and better products and services, to improve productivity, gather intelligence and to lower costs.
Finally, collaboration. This arises time and time again when I talk with successful firms. Great bosses value building relationships and networks, encouraging everyone in their company to do the same. All companies listed in the Top 100 will be actively building good relationships with customers, suppliers, universities, local further education colleges and the wider community. This collaboration gives them the opportunity to learn, problem solve and inspire innovative solutions.


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