Neal Meets.... Whale

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Neal Lucas, Managing Director of the leading Executive Search company Neal Lucas Recruitment meets Patrick Hurst Managing Director of Whale

Name:   Patrick Hurst

Job Title:  Managing Director

Company:  Whale

Established:  1810

Employees:  189

Previous Jobs: Worked at wrightbus and RFD

Hobbies:  Classic cars, tennis, travel

Proudest moment in career:  Two - Company being recognised by Sunday Times as one of the Top 100 companies to work for in the UK, and recently receiving an MBE for business work done in the community. 

What markets do you operate in and what is your position in those markets at the moment?

We export globally to 50 countries supplying into three core markets; International leisure marine, RV/caravan and the health care industry.  Within the last 2 years Whale has also become a centre of excellence within the world of 3D printing.

How have your markets changed over the years and why did you target these?

In 2008 the marine market fell by 80%, the RV market by 40% and health care dropped 20%.  This was extremely challenging for the company in its 199th year; fortunately there was a change in ownership back in mid-2006 to  the current management team who decided to invest heavily in product development.  The launch of the new product revolution was just as the recession hit.  By carefully managing the cash and resources of the business as well as focusing on increasing value to existing international customers we managed to grow significantly despite the extremely challenging market conditions.  We grew because we stayed close to the market as a manufacturer and promised next day delivery in the UK and within 48 hours to Europe and the States.  Today we offer high value and more innovative products and targeted taking market share as the principal strategy for growth.  In the past 4 years our turnover has doubled, with the end of year looking like Whale turning over in excess of £18m.

What process do you use for strategy formulation?

We produce a five year business plan that is updated every other year.  It is both bottom up and strategic.  We are always looking at ways to access new markets within existing channels and our growth through M&A, with big focus on M&A and technology.  I am the principal author of the plan but I seek direction from our senior management team and directors via taking the team on “away days” every 6 months.  The plan is communicated to the workforce annually and there is a company briefing every two months to ensure everyone is aware of the key factors affecting the business.   Anyone in the business can access the plan and our progress is communicated regularly.

What are (or have been) the major inhibitors to your strategy?

Lack of affordable and suitable commercial premises to match the growth.  For 5 years we have been trying to get a new factory, double the size of the current old one but it has been the most challenging project to date.  Thankfully, just this week we have been successful in our quest; a big thank you to the Bank of Ireland and Invest NI!

What key attributes of your own leadership do you feel have been important in delivering on the strategy?

I am passionate about being communicative to all employees and to make everyone in the company feel equally part of the business’ success.  Openness and treating people with respect – if I go away on a business trip nobody notices; if Mike Cullen, who maintains and looks after the factory goes off for a day, everyone notices!

What is your view on new product development and how does this fit into your strategy?

Historically we were a manufacturing company that designed and sold products.  We are now an innovative company focused on new technology, which when market led gives us the opportunity to make them.  New product development is the core of our business strategy.

How do you extract complementary skills from your team to enable strategic objectives to be delivered?

Everyone in the company has full visibility of the business plan along with using  departmental and personal objectives which are integrated.  The objectives are not prescribed by me rather they are set and agreed by everyone in the business.  This is part of the culture today and it is self managed.

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow as a business leader?

I enjoy providing mentoring and supporting local companies.  Working with companies such as Nugent Engineering and Holybrook Sports Cars give me stimulation from seeing other market places and problem solving in these areas.  I also enjoy reading biographies and articles on new innovation.  The auto industry is a great source of ideas and helps to predict consumer trends.

Is there anything you would like to change about business in Northern Ireland market?

I would like to see NI business and government work even harder together to tackle in a practical manner giving our young people hope of employment that is rewarding and stimulating.  The press tends to focus on the negatives of Northern Ireland and these images are splashed across the world and are hugely damaging.  All the customers who visit us here always leave impressed and they come back.  We just need more to visit!