Tipperary firm recovers from recession, receivership and job losses to turn its fortunes around

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

A Dundrum based steel and cladding company that was on the brink of closure just a year ago is now turning its fortunes around and become a shining light for other struggling construction industry firms.

O’Dwyer Steel is a name you will see emblazoned on sheds in many farm yards across South Tipperary and has also played a key role in the construction of well known leisure, tourism, commercial and industrial properties around the country ranging from Thomond Park Rugby Grounds and Semple Stadium to the Ballymun Renewal Complex and Altana and Janssen pharmaceutical plants in Cork.

At the moment, company directors Matt Ryan, Sean Dalton, John Hanley and Richard Walsh are looking back on a year in which O’Dwyer Steel has benefited from the resurgence of the country’s agriculture industry and began exporting its steel and cladding products for the first time into the UK.

But in April last year it was a very different story as the writing appeared to be on the wall for the company founded in 1959 by JJ O’Dwyer and taken over in 1999 by three of the current directors in a management buy out.

Like many Irish construction industry firms, O’Dwyer Steel enjoyed a boom in business during the Celtic Tiger years with turnover growing from €5m a year to €20m a year and the work force expanding to about 120.

When the recession hit like a thunder bolt in 2009, the number of new contracts fell dramatically and the company was badly stung by bad debts from building developers and contractors they had done commercial projects for.

O’Dwyer Steel’s Commercial Sales Director Matt Ryan said about 100 staff members were made redundant in the wake of the downturn but the situation didn’t improve for the company and in April last year a receiver was appointed. O’Dwyer Steel was put on the market as a going concern and the directors did all they could to pay their creditors.

There were a few bids from rival companies but the directors decided to create a new company and take on board an extra investor, who wishes to remain in the background.

O’Dwyer Steel’s technical manager for the past 10 years Richard Walsh came on board as Contracts Director and each of the directors invested to give the company working capital.

Richard Walsh said their initial focus was to ensure all the projects they had started before the receivership were completed and to maintain the customer base they had worked so hard to build up.

“That has stood to us over the last 12 months. There is a lot of loyalty there to O’Dwyer Steel and the company is going very well”.

Matt Ryan said many of their bigger competitors are no longer in business and he puts O’Dwyer Steel’s survival down to the fact that at least 60% of its business was always in the agriculture sector, which continues to be their main focus.

And it is the current healthy state of the agriculture sector that is helping the company, which currently employs about 35 staff, to rebuild.

According to Agricultural, Tourism & Leisure Director John Hanly, the company has undertaken a number of large dairy units around the country and is currently working on a number of other large dairy and livestock unit projects and is focusing on researching and developing new products for the agriculture side of its operation.

Matt Ryan complained the banks were slowing down the agriculture sector at the moment by not making investment loans more readily available to progressive farmers wishing to expand.

Expanding into the UK market has been another very positive move. Matt Ryan said the company has been involved in the construction of residential apartment blocks and social housing projects near London over the past year and are actively working to secure more contracts in Britain.

MD Sean Dalton added: “The exchange rate has helped and we are competitive with UK prices. We have also set up a network of contacts in the UK and they are very receptive to us and would like to give us business,” he explained.

Meanwhile, a high profile project O’Dwyer Steel built in Ireland in the past year was the the gorilla house at Dublin Zoo, which was the latest in a series of projects they have undertaken at the popular tourist attraction that also include the mini-farm and elephant house.

Co. Council Chairman Michael Fitzgerald visited O’Dwyer Steel’s factory in Dundrum last week and paid tribute to its directors for fighting back and continuing to provide valuable employment in South Tipperary.

“Over he past few years every business in the county has suffered due to the recession and it would have been very easy for the directors of O’Dwyer Steel to give up 12 months ago but they didn’t do that and instead went out and tried to continue the firm’s great tradition.

“I would just say that they are an inspiration to businesses and people in trouble. It shows what can be achieved when you work hard enough and refuse to let go.”