Neal Meets.... Alpha Marketing

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20131119 EHP 0753

Name: Paul Black

Job Title: CEO

Company: Alpha Marketing

Established: 1972

Employees: 87

Previous Jobs: Warehouse Op/Driver/Fitter/Sales rep (all with Alpha Group)

Hobbies: Avid follower of Ulster Rugby

Proudest Moment in Career: Heading up the internal M & A team which brought two large competing businesses into the Group


Neal Lucas, Managing Director of the leading executive search and selection company Neal Lucas Recruitment, talks to the individuals behind some of Northern Ireland’s leading companies in this popular Ulster Business series. This month, he talks to the CEO of one of NI’s smaller, yet thriving private businesses.


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

We currently operate in NI, ROI and GB. We are market leaders in NI, very strong in ROI but quite modest in GB. We have plans currently rolling out in ROI to grow our business into new markets.

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

Our markets have changed rapidly during the last number of years. In ROI during 2008 our market sector reduced by 45% within six months. This forced us to look at things differently and diversify to a certain extent relatively quickly. As a result we have a much stronger business today, despite the fact that trading conditions are still extremely different. During 2009 we brought 1080  - our corporate interiors arm - into our NI business structure, which in itself changed our capabilities dramatically, and as a result we have not only targeted a new audience of clients but also incorporate some different ways of delivering great solutions to all of our customer base. In GB we are currently reviewing how we do our business there, and have options on where we go next with it.

What process do you use for strategy formulation?

Depending on the level of strategy required, we look at things with the next 2 to 3 years in mind. Our industry changes so quickly now that even 3 years can seem light years away! We have one main strategy meeting for the whole Group once per year, with localised business centre strategy sessions every 6 months. It is never ‘my’ strategy, but a team view of things.

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

I firmly believe in customer care and good service, and this has been strongly carried through our strategy at every stage. Our entire business is focussed on our relationships with our customers, and we will not rest until the client is happy. I also ensure that I don’t always have the final say on customer facing issues, which means that I don’t have to be involved at every stage so that issues are sorted rapidly. I am able to do this as I have a highly skilled team who work with me.

How do you manage risk in the organisation/how important is corporate governance to you?

We never go ‘gung-ho’ with big decisions – we will discuss amongst the various teams depending on the nature of the issue and come up with a strategy. In 2007 we employed a non-executive director for the first time in the history of the company, and he has instilled a major level of importance on corporate governance. To be honest I have personally learnt more in the last 5 years than I did in the previous 25 working for the company, and I have benefitted hugely as a result of practices we have employed.

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

The 56 million dollar question!! I guess from our perspective we would like to see the whole corporation tax issue resolved so that we could start to see some of the inward investment coming to NI that we would be aware of in ROI. I know this is a weighty issue for Government, but we really need to kick start the whole private sector and get away from the over dependence on public sector. We all know that we have some of the best employees in this part of the island, who have a great attitude to work and performance. This point would not be lost on inward investing companies.