Posted on Thursday 8 August 2019 by Ulster Business


The Ulster Business Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies list was a very different one in 2009. Editor John Mulgrew looks at the numbers, the analysis and the once household names no longer with us

The tattered corner of the Ulster Business Top 100 list from 2009 probably isn’t the worst way to analogise the then state of the Northern Ireland economy, and a precursor to what was around the corner

We’ve come a very long way in a decade, and while there are some big and familiar names on the 2009 Top 100 list, there are firms which have fallen off it entirely, and resigned to the history books post-recession.

In former editor David Elliott’s intro to the magazine, it references the fact that most of the accounting periods in the list were just as the downturn was starting to gather pace.

Economist John Simpson, writing in the edition, says the “big recession of 2008 and 2009 did not impact evenly across the economy, and recovery will be best seen as a sequence of different proportions”.

There are some positive things to take from it – including a large glowing image of Victoria Square, which in the more than 11 years since it opened in the heart of Belfast has become part of the retail fabric of the city.

Topping the list at the time was Viridian Group, which owned Northern Ireland Electricity and now includes Power NI as a subsidiary, with turnover of £1.45bn. However, it made a loss of £122m during that period.

Second on the list is a business familiar to many. Quinn Group, headed by Co Fermanagh businessman Sean Quinn, posted turnover of £1.15bn for the year ending 31/12/2007 but incurred a loss of more than £259m during the same period. There have been enough column inches written about the business in the years since then to fill many a book – and they have.

Among those no longer on the list is developer David Patton & Sons (NI) Ltd, Armaghdown Creameries Ltd and Ballyrogan Holdings.

Many others on the list have since been acquired by some of the now giants in their respective industries.

Moy Park is an interesting one. Back then it was still a large player in the poultry sector with turnover of £651m.

Those fortunes have evidently changed dramatically since then, as the company has held the top spot on the list for the last eight years, and now posts big profits and turnover of £1.5bn.

Meanwhile, W&R Barnett is on the 2009 list in position 45, with a turnover of £122m and pre-tax profits of £12m. In the last 10 years, it has climbed the list to comfortably take the number two spot with sales of almost 10 times that of those a decade earlier.

As far as employment goes, it was Tesco topping the list in 2009, followed by Bombardier – which at the time had a workforce of around 5,000 people – with Royal Mail and Queen’s University following in third and fourth position.

A lot has happened in the years since that list. The economy has slowly but surely gotten back on its feet. Growth has been gradual, and in the last year or so has been sitting at around 1%, while employment levels and unemployment levels are at their respective positive record levels.

However, we are amid the most challenging time for business in a generation and some of the signs, and whispered conversations, are far from positive. As I write this, we still sit on the precipice of whether we secure an agreement on Brexit, or shuffle off the edge without a parachute. Let’s hope it’s the former.


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