Creagh Concrete is the largest precast manufacturer in UK and Ireland. Creagh Concrete’s core business is the design and installation of precast floors and structural precast for commercial, industrial, residential, custodial and public authorities. The company is now recognised as market leader in the precast industry in UK and Ireland.
Seamus McKeague is Managing Director and shareholder in Creagh Concrete Products Ltd. Seamus is the Chairman for IPHA (International Pre-stressed Hollowcore Association), an international organisation for prestressed flooring manufacturing companies and is also a founding member of the QPA (Quarry Products Association) in Northern Ireland. Seamus sits on the board of directors for Habitat for Humanity NI and is also an executive member of the Lismullin Leadership Forum. Seamus is a co-founder of the Timoney Leadership Institute established in 2012, providing an Advanced Leadership Program in partnership with San Telmo from Spain to business leaders throughout Ireland. Seamus is a family man and is actively involved in his local parish and GAA club. Creagh Concrete has been a sponsor to the Antrim GAA for the past 6 years.
Creagh Concrete Products Ltd was established in 1974 to manufacture concrete blocks at Creagh, Toomebridge. Since then the company has grown to become one of the largest and most innovative producers of concrete products for a diverse range of market sectors throughout Ireland and the UK. Creagh offers a wide range of concrete products from its manufacturing facilities in NI, England and Scotland. These products are used both on commercial and private projects and are manufactured under BS and EN standards.
Seamus joined Creagh in 1982 and became a part owner of the business with 3 of his brothers in 1986 with a turnover of £1m/ year. By 2007, the turnover had grown to £55m. The last 4-5 years have been particularly challenging for the company as traditional markets had contracted by 75% in Ireland and 50% in the UK. In 2008 Creagh had to radically re-structure and down-size in order to survive. Employee numbers were 530 in May 2008 and by May 2009 this had reduced to 240. By 09/10, the situation had stabilised and a strategy was implemented to provide a clear path for business growth with the potential to double the size of the business within 4-5 years.
Prior to the economic downturn in 2007, Creagh’s geographical sales turnover breakdown was 70% in Ireland and 30% in Scotland and England. In 2013, 80% of business is carried out in England and Scotland with only 20% remaining within Ireland. Creagh changed its profile from being a product supplier to a contracting company which now delivers significant sub contract packages for a wide diversity of projects.
Through implementing this strategy they have grown market share from under 10% during 2007 in the UK market to greater than 30% in 2012. There are now 550 direct employees of Creagh Concrete and they also employ 250 sub-contractors on a semi full-time basis.
Creagh are now manufacturing in 4 locations: Newbridge near Edinburgh; Hoveringham near Nottingham; Ardboe, Co Tyrone; Toomebridge, Co. Antrim and have 3 quarries in Co Derry, Co. Tyrone and Co.Antrim supplying sand, gravel and stone to these manufacturing facilities. The company has been recently re-structured into two main divisions in the form of two senior management teams with a Board of Directors including a non-Executive Chairman. Creagh maintains an emphasis on improvement of quality, health and safety and manufacturing processes in order to further develop their business.
The company requires a wide range of skills including structural engineers, design, IT, logistics, project managers, construction managers, commercial management, production planning and management, finance and HR. Other skills within the operation include carpentry, metalworkers, mould manufacturing and concrete fixers.
Their ambition is to grow a profitable business to over £100mil in the next four years which includes remaining focused on improving their existing business across all regions; building and operating an Anaerobic Digestion Facility at their Ardboe factory and 3 Wind Turbines in their Draperstown quarry; and new product development with SpanTherm insulated precast concrete flooring which is targeted at the UK residential market where there is a good opportunity for Creagh to grow a strong, profitable market share.
– ENTREPRENEURIAL INSIGHT –
What vision prompted you to start-up your business?
Creagh Concrete is a family business. After graduating from QUB in 1979 in Civil Engineering, I developed a strong desire to be part of the business. There was always a strong ethos of ambition in our family and this lead to the desire to build a good business providing opportunities for many.
What were the best & worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?
The best piece of advice I received was “Always trust your own judgement”. This has always stuck to me and while I listen and learn from others, it is important to make your own choices and trust your own decisions. It is also important to look out for others and having a sharing attitude is important. I believe in sharing for the benefit of many as this helps you find better and greater ways of doing things.
How did you secure your first investment?
We secured our sand and gravel print in Draperstown in 1993 to allow us to supply our manufacturing facilities in Toomebridge. This was owned by a family in Draperstown and we bought the quarry but retained the existing employees in order to help the company with succession. This brought about a mutual benefit to both parties. We paid an initial deposit and the remainder of the balance was paid off throughout the next year in installments. Thereafter, we used HP to finance the upgrade of equipment.
What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?
In 2008 the company was in peril of going out of business due to the downturn in the economy and also a contracting job in England that performed badly. At this time it was necessary to radically downsize our cost base. Our employee numbers were reduced from 530 – 250, our capital spend was suspended and debt recovery was priority.
What moment or deal would you identify as the “game changer” for the company?
In 1999, we launched a new precast concrete flooring product (HomeSPAN) for use in the residential market in Ireland in both ground and upper floors. £2m was invested in a new factory in Toomebridge. At the time, there was no proven market for this type of floor but proved to be the correct business decision as within 2 years we were manufacturing and supplying 250,000m2 of HomeSPAN Flooring with a sales turnover of £6m. This changed the way that homes were built in Ireland and created a new dynamic to the way we did business in Creagh. This further lead to the development of Spantherm flooring in 2012.
What are the biggest challenges you face now?
The biggest challenge at the moment is to improve our business profitability especially in Ireland and to continue to earn the trust and confidence of our directors and founders in the strategy of investing in renewable and our new business development in England. While this is painful in the short term regarding the impact on profits, it will bring the company to a new place and increase growth and profitability.
What is your greatest business achievement to date?
Every month brings new achievements and new goals, I like to live in the present and currently our new achievements are completion of the Manchester Metropolitan University project, worth £6.3m. Further establishing our Spantherm business and developing our renewable energy business. Growing teams and developing quality people is on-going. Providing good employment and security to great people in all regions is an achievement I am most proud of.
What top tips would you give entrepreneurs starting out today?
Network both within your industry and with other business people. Keep close to positive people with a can-do attitude and develop good relationships. Be prepared to share information – be open, not secretive – and always learn from others. The personal skills that I would encourage are good relationship skills, integrity, being genuine, enthusiastic and optimistic.
Were there any early signs that you would eventually follow an entrepreneurial path?
I was always naturally interested in business. Whilst not a natural risk-taker, I had a passion for engineering, production and growing a business. I am hugely sales focused and I’m always thinking of how to complete things in new ways and always learning from others. Going to visit a precast concrete manufacturing facility in Belgium in 1994, sparked an interest in design and manufacturing. Being inspired by different people and events at different times in my life has lead to where I am at today.
Has your “Irish-ness” contributed to your success?
Most definitely. In Ireland there are strong links between business, community and GAA clubs which strengthens relationships. As Creagh develop the business in the UK, we meet many Irish business people working in England. I have found that there is a great pride within our people and a great camaraderie between the Irish working overseas.
When making a new hire, what key characteristics do you look for?
A hunger for new business and to complete the task in hand, enthusiasm, a hard-work ethic, a team player who is prepared to go the extra mile and ambition to grow and develop for the benefit of the company and not just for themselves.