The Haldane Shiells Group is one of the leading independent suppliers to the construction industry in the UK and Ireland. Products include everything from timber, roof trusses, building materials to plumbing and heating, home improvement products to internal finish such as kitchens, bathrooms, doors and floors.
Ian Haldane was educated at Campbell College Belfast. He completed a two year institute of wood science course at Buckinghamshire College and also a two year MSc International Directors Program at the University of Ulster. Ian’s work experience outside the business involved working for companies within the construction sector based in Scotland, England, Sweden and the USA.
Ian became Managing Director of the Haldane Shiells Group in 1991 at the age of 27 when his father was tragically killed by the IRA. Since then, Ian along with his late mother (Elizabeth), sister Carol, brother David, a great Board of Directors and management team have grown the business throughout Ireland, the Isle of Man and England completing seven acquisitions to date and adding twelve branches to the existing network of four. Ian’s personal interests include golf, rugby and running.
The Haldane Shiells Group, is today one of Ireland’s largest suppliers of timber, building and plumbing materials. The parent company was established in Monaghan Street, Newry in 1946 by RobertHaldane, father of the late John Haldane and the grandfather of the Group’s current Managing Director, Ian Haldane.
During its early years, Haldane Shiells’ timber operations were centred around native woods, but in the late 1950s it became apparent that a major change of emphasis was required. Local products were insufficient to supply the ever increasing demand so the started to import. In 1958, John Haldane joined the company, specialising in the sourcing and purchasing of timber from the Scandinavian countries, Canada and Russia. The first full ship load of 1,000 cubic metres of imported timber arrived in the Newry premises in 1962. A thriving hardware shop was established and the company also started to develop the building materials and plumbing and heating departments. The business grew steadily throughout the sixties responding to the needs of its expanding customer base.
Today, products include everything from timber, roof trusses, building materials to plumbing and heating, home improvement products to internal finish such as kitchens, bathrooms, doors and floors. Services include; timber treatment, sawing and machining; roof truss, bathroom and kitchen design and garage door fitting. Estimated turnover for the group will be in excess of £85million in 2014 with employee numbers around 450 people. The total number of active accounts exceeds 7,000 throughout Ireland, England and the Isle of Man.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHTS –
What vision/lightbulb moment prompted you to start-up in business?
The Haldane Shiells Group is a third generation business. I have always had the desire to go into business along with the drive and passion to always seek continuous improvement, an aspect that I inherited from my late father.
How did you secure your first investment?
My first major investment was the acquisition of Hewitt & Robinson in 1998. This was by way of a direct approach to the owner with funding for the acquisition secured through the Northern Bank.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
In 1990, we acquired our biggest local competitor at the time, J S Fisher, who also had trading locations in Newry, Bangor and Portadown. Logistically, this was a demanding time joining the operations onto one site in Newry and one site in Portadown. There were a lot of reorganisation and redundancy costs and this, combined with weak trading conditions, resulted in a sizeable loss in the first year. Naturally, the bank were concerned and asked for a review to be carried out in 1991. Tragically in that year, my father was killed by the IRA and I found myself in the position of MD at the age of 27. Through hard work, focus, commitment, good leadership and a committed team we bounced back strongly in 1992. This laid the foundation for future success.
What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?
The purchase of J S Fisher in 1990.
Were there any interesting or unusual circumstances surrounding the inception of the company or its evolution?
Yes, my grandfather Bob Haldane used to work for A Shiells & Co Ltd which, prior to the formation of Haldane Shiells & Co Ltd in 1946, was previously owned by J S Fisher. So to purchase J S Fisher some 54 years later was quite a momentous occasion.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
As the construction industry starts to recover some of the key challenges will be the retention of key staff, succession planning and the engagement of company trainees to enable out performance growth in the future.
What is your biggest business achievement to date?
Establishing a geographical spread of sales and trading locations throughout Ireland, Isle of Man and England prior to 2007. This has helped us successfully manage the severe downturn experienced in the construction sector over the past 6 years.
What were the best & the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
To think strategically, focus on the key critical success factors that make a real difference to the business and have accurate and timely management information to look at the detail and make informed decisions.
Worst bit of advice; we were approached by a UK national in 2006 with regards to the acquisition of the business. At that time we were performing extremely well with sales over £100m. Following advice, we did not progress this interest and as a result one of our competitors was bought over with the UK national paying close to 90 pence in the pound for the business. We may never have sold, but at least we would have made an informed decision if we had allowed discussions to progress.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Have a clear vision of what you wish to achieve; back it up with a detailed business plan; provide good leadership; communicate effectively; establish strong teams; have good financial information to make informed decisions; employ good people and, above all, invest in a sector that is profitable and has a good opportunity for growth.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
When I was a student I loved working in the business during the summer months. The level of activity was a great buzz.
Has anyone acted as a mentor to you?
My father and mother gave me a great upbringing, provided me with good values and the determination to succeed. Ben Wilson and Stephen Prenter, both non-executive Directors with the company, gave me good guidance and support during the difficult times and provided me with good business advice and acumen. Eric Thompson, Course Director on the International Directors Program at the University of Ulster, taught me to think strategically and establish a clear vision.
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
The Irish are generally considered good communicators and negotiators, it is within our culture.
How do you generate new ideas to stay ahead of the curve?
Benchmark; travel; read; listen to other people’s ideas; visit trade shows/ exhibitions; network and never stop learning.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
Energy, drive, values and experience where possible.
Have you started to feel the effects of the economic upturn within your
Yes since April 2013. Sales to the end of April 2014 YTD are up 35% in the UK (excluding acquisition), 10% in Ireland and 5% in the Isle of Man compared to the same period last year.
What do you believe it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
Good leadership, strong teamwork, focus on continuous improvement, seek out new ideas and encourage constructive change. Be prepared to take risks based on accurate and timely information.
If you were to invest in a sector, what would you consider the next “big thing”?
The residential housing market; there is such a pent up build of demand based on historical data, demographics and population trends. The current recovery, whilst slow in Ireland, I believe is sustainable and will gradually improve once bank lending is more in equilibrium providing opportunity for new house builds to double in N.I and quadruple in the ROI over the next two to five years.
What do you believe is your company’s competitive advantage?
Customer service is key; delivering quality products at value for money prices.
What sacrifices have you had to make to get your business where it is today?
Having to work some extremely long hours at times to make a real difference in a relatively short period of time. No complaints by the way!
How do you recharge your batteries?
Spend time with the family and friends, my partner Lisa, watch rugby and exercise regularly through golf and running.