C & F Automotive look to the future

April 30, 2010
In his 20 years involved with the company, C & F Automotive Managing Director Tom Hyland has rarely seen times as hard as they have been recently for the auto industry. However, he is happy to report that things are picking up at their plant in Collinstown.

These have been harsh times for all types of industries across Ireland and none more so than the automobile industry. In 2009, record low sales were shown but maybe that means the only way is up for Tom Hyland and all his co-workers out at the C & F Automotive company in Collinstown village.
All in all, there are 200 people employed at north Westmeath plant and with new business having been obtained at the start of this year there is the pleasing possibility of the C & F Group belying the current economic situation and bringing in more staff in future to help out to produce the trim for Volkswagen, Volvo and Audi cars. There should be no shortage of applications sent in if that proves to be the case.
Hyland has been the Managing Director at C & F Automotive since October 2008, and joined the business in 1990 back when the company was known as 'Iralco', and is a native of Clonmel in Co Tipperary, where he moved from to Mullingar.
He knows, as well as any, how difficult things have been in the past three years for the auto business
"The car industry has been seriously effected by the recession, especially in 2009," said Hyland.
"There has been major restructuring though and the company has emerged from the process. The latter half of 2009 and the beginning of this year has seen an increase, with some models out-performing others."
Michael Carr and John Flaherty established the C&F Group in 1989, when it was originally known as C & F Tooling, and sales revenue for the company has grown steadily over the past five years and the turnover in 2007 reached $100 million internationally.
The growth was achieved through shrewd financial management, identifying cost improvements, investment in new technology, implementation of best practice manufacturing processes and perhaps most importantly a vision to excel in service, building customer relationships and continuous innovation.
The C&F Group is headquartered in a purpose built 180,000 square feet facility in Athenry, Co Galway and employs a total of 984 people worldwide. C&F has a significant number of Fortune 500 companies on its client list including IBM, EMC, APC, Ingersoll Rand, Glen Dimplex, Sanyo and Hitachi Koki.
Furthermore, the business has achieved 'Top Tier Global Supply Status' with three of the leaders in the server rack business - IBM, EMC and APC.
In October 2008, the group purchased Iralco, which ultimately safeguarded employment at the north Westmeath facility.
"We're here since 1965 and Iralco went into liquidation in 2008. The assets were taken over by the C & F Group that year," Hyland explained.
"What we do here exactly is manufacture components and decorative trims for car manufacturers, such as Ford, Volkswagen and Volvo."
In 2009, C & F Automotive also acquired the assets of a former competitor in Germany. Hyland led the German acquisition at the time.
"C & F Automotive Germany adds car companies such as BMW, Skoda and Renault to the list of C & F customers," he said.
While the group's CEO, John Flaherty said: "The acquisition of a major competitor is a valued addition to our global manufacturing organisation.
"The continued support and hard work of all our employees over the past 12 months during difficult trading periods, in both our Mullingar and Galway plants, has unquestionably contributed on the group's sustainable growth."
In September 2009, C & F Automotive doubled their market share with the acquisition, which led to additional customers like BMW, Skoda and Renault. They are also producing trim for the Volvo XC 90 in their Collinstown plant, along with trim for the Volkswagen Passat, Ford Galaxy, Mondeo, Kuga and Bentley Continental models among others.
In the same year, John Flaherty received one of Ireland's most coveted business awards when he was named as the 2008 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Flaherty was first announced as winner of the international category before receiving the overall title which was presented by the Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
The winners were chosen from a total of 24 finalists shortlisted by a judging panel from over 150 entries. The Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards is part of a global recognition programme to identify, acclaim and support entrepreneurs.
"I set out to build a global business and by the way that was always my plan and I've not fully finished," said Mr Flaherty in his acceptance speech.
When asked by host David McWilliams about the death of Irish manufacturing he replied: "Let this be a message to Ireland, that if we don't keep what manufacturing is left we will have nothing because manufacturing is wealth."
From there, John Flaherty went on to represent Ireland at the World Entrepreneur of the Year Awards in Monte Carlo in June 2009, where over 10,000 entrepreneurs were in line for the worldwide title.
Like any other automotive business, C&F need to maintain their competitive edge in order to maintain sales and win future business, as more opportunities arise with car companies looking for cheaper sources and suppliers.
"Our future depends on competitiveness," Hyland stated.
"The drive and determination of our staff has made us successful in winning new business. Our efficiency and improvement helps to safeguard the future. Obviously, we depend on our committed employees. We also depend on a good infrastructure."
"Roads and internet access need to improve" he added.
"All our customers are based abroad, so communication is really key for us. Through e-mail and data transfer we depend on our communication with customers and fast internet access in this country is behind compared to others in Europe."
Hyland both believes and hopes that the outlook for the future is positive, as the company continues to experience growth and defy the dark economic times, and it's no secret that their continued success would be the good news that is wanted for their local region.
"We're winning new business and have different products on offer, which is good news for the company.
"It's difficult to predict, but it seems to be more stable than it was this time last year, because there are some signs of an uplift in the market."
Fingers-crossed it proves to be the case and Westmeath's C & F Automotive can be one of the leading lights to emerge from the dark dungeon that has been the automobile industry in Ireland in recent years.

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