Shannon Group boss ‘scared stiff’ about future of Britain as Brexit approaches

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

The Shannon Group won the best overall award at the 2018 Limerick Chamber business awards - far right is Matthew Thomas

The Shannon Group won the best overall award at the 2018 Limerick Chamber business awards - far right is Matthew Thomas

THE head of the Shannon Group has admitted he is “scared stiff” about the future of Britain, as ‘Brexit day’ approaches.

Matthew Thomas, the chief executive of the Shannon Group, which scooped the overall award at the 2018 Limerick Chamber Regional Business Awards, said he looks on at Ireland’s closest neighbours with “dismay and confusion”.

And, the British national admitted Shannon Airport will have to look to other hub airports, saying: “We are looking at pretty flat growth in the UK over the next five years.”

“The Mid-West needs hub activity. Whether it is Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt, there is a real collective effort required from the councils, from ourselves, and our key stakeholders, but also from government. We talk a lot about Ireland 2040 which says 75% growth is going to be outside Dublin by 2040 – but without that connectivity into our biggest partners,” he said.

As well as winning the overall company of the year, the Shannon Group, which employs 650 people, won the title for best contribution to the region.

Along with Shannon Airport, the Shannon Group operates Shannon Commercial Properties, the International Aviation Services Centre, and tourism body Shannon Heritage.

More than 400 business and political leaders were at the Strand Hotel for the Limerick Chamber regional business award, which saw seven other awards handed out. Also in the winners enclosure last Friday night were Raheen firm Optel Group, which took the prize for best corporate social responsibility, while Masterchefs took the title for best retail and hospitality.

Best not-for-profit title went to Novas Ireland for its work on dealing with homelessness.

And the high-profile title of best employer was given to telecommunications giant Three Ireland.

Electricity Exchange, Plassey, was named best emerging business while Rathkeale firm Design Pro won the title of best emerging business.

A special award was presented by Chamber president, the UL academic Dr Mary Shire to Dr Kieran Curran, of Gencell biosystems, which was acquired by BD.

Dr Shire described the businessman as someone who “personifies the Limerick of the future.”

Addressing the audience, Dr Curran said the best piece of advice he could give to companies was to have a positive culture.

“Make company culture your priority. By way of an example, the best companies which appeal to me work on problems which are going to change the world dramatically. They imbue excitement among their staff. They are also able to communicate – an attitude of ‘we are in this together, and we are going to work together’,” he said, “It’s important not to lose the human touch.”

In her keynote address, Dr Shire said it is important confidence is kept high in Limerick.

“We should not underestimate the importance of confidence in creating a success oriented culture. I know what it’s like to lack confidence in Limerick. When I was younger, I recall being asked where I was from, and rather sheepishly, I would response I’m from Limerick. But I always added the caveat Limerick county, as I felt it was the lesser of two evils. I think my story resonates with lots of people of my generation, and many other generations. But thankfully all that has changed, there is a renewed confidence in Limerick and it’s self-perpetuating,” she said.

She also warned against putting too many offices in the city centre, saying it needs a “cultural heartbeat.”

Dr Shire used her keynote address at the Limerick Chamber business awards to also call for more house building in the city centre – but she acknowledged this could only happen if the margins become more attractive to investors.

Saying house prices in Limerick remain below the national average, she added: “It’s great to have low house prices, we do have a housing shortage, particularly in the city centre, and low prices don’t make the margins attractive for investors. The city centre is still lacking the vibrancy we need and Limerick 2030 will help, but we need to make sure we have more than just buildings – but also a cultural heartbeat.”