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Featured Business: Moll Industries Ireland Ltd.
Name: Michael Masterson, co-owner, Moll Industries Ireland Ltd – a custom technical moulding and assembly company that is an outsourcing manufacturing partner for life science and high tech products.
One of the main stories we often hear about company buyouts is that a multinational takes over an indigenous company. In the case of Moll Industries, it was the other way around. After approximately 15 years, the ownership came full circle to again become a stand-alone Irish company.
Owned by husband and wife team, Michael and Helen Masterson, Moll Industries in Donegal is an outsourcing manufacturing partner for medical device manufacturers and pharma companies. It makes injected moulded components for those industries, and 70% of product is for export to Europe and China.
In the 80s and 90s the company was privately Irish-owned and then sold to a multinational in 1999, changing hands a few times until it ended up with Moll Industries in Texas in 2004. Each new multinational owner considered it as a European hub to start manufacturing from. In 2010, the parent company lost focus on the Irish company and were looking to close it down. It was at this stage that the company’s operations director Helen Masterson and husband Michael, who also had a background in manufacturing operations, stepped in and bought it using their life savings.
Helen has worked with the company since 1991 so has been through all its various ownerships while in various management positions, from quality to operations to being plant manager since 2002.
When the opportunity came along, she was in the right place to take control and husband Michael, who had the right experience and was an operations manager, came on board too.
Michael has worked in manufacturing management positions with both foreign direct investment companies and local companies. Both engineers, Helen and Michael also completed an MBA in the last five years, which has helped them implement modern management techniques, computerised systems and a lot of KPIs to bring about continuous improvement.
Since taking over the company, they’ve won a number of awards, grown business and moved staff from a three-day week back to five days.
Interview with Michael Masterson
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
We would have always aspired to have our own business, having worked in senior management positions for many years with bigger companies. With the turmoil that was in Moll Industries at the time – it was on a three-day week, the parent company had lost focus – the opportunity presented itself. We took the opportunity to say this is something we can do. We took it on at that stage and, three years later, we’re still here.
How did you initially fund your business?
Because the management buyout was a private affair, we had to put in our own personal savings to resource the company. We had to put our life savings into buying the company. Thankfully we had a good career to date. We had to fund the business after that with working capital; we did that with AIB.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
No, we have stuck to our core competency; if anything, we’ve gone back to our basics, making sure what we do is right. We’re experts at what we do, so therefore we stuck to that. The way we diversified is we became more customer focused, we looked at what we needed to do in order to deliver what we do. We got to understand our customers a bit more. We got certified to ISO 13485, which is the medical device standard. That’s major to have for a company of this size. That made us change all our work practices.
What have been the highlights to date?
There’s been several thankfully. The initial buyout itself to keep the company and maintain the company was the big one for us. Our first major success was the company had been on a three-day week from 2008 to 2010. By October 2010 we brought it back onto a five-day week, which was great for the people who were here. In 2011 we got registered to ISO 13485 (the medical device directive), which was a major goal for the company and a great achievement. Each of the new customers we got were a major milestone for us. Thankfully we won a business development award with Donegal Enterprise Board in 2012. In 2013 we went on and won the Small Firms Association Manufacturing Award.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
It’s the opportunity to do it, to do it for ourselves. That privilege of being able to run an organisation, making the decisions, making the calls, holding the team together, making the team – trying to create something from what we’re doing.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
One of the things is there’s a major advantage of having a husband and wife team in a business; we’re a team at home and we’re a team here. There’s blurred lines between the two. We’ve three kids, we’ve a lot to do, but because we’re a husband and wife team, it’s all consuming, the business and family is one. Because we’re a team, we can make decisions on how we do it and how we manage. I don’t know if it’s a balance but we achieve getting there anyway.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
No one in particular; everyone and anyone who’s out there doing their own business and making it work for them. We’ve seen some great companies. Every day you see good ones that are employing people, changing what they do, being good at what they do in order to maintain the business, being competitive and working really hard. Every time you see one, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a one-guy operation or a 150-person multinational somewhere else, they’re doing their job and each one of them encourages you to say this is the way we should be doing business.
What tools do you utilise that benefit your customers or that make running your business easier or more profitable?
When we took over the business, the goal was to get ISO 13485. It’s not just a quality standard or related to the product. It’s related to all aspects of the business, it makes you define and organise your business and everything you do to achieve and maintain the requirements of the standard. The requirements are quite high.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
We’re a manufacturing partner, we’re not just a supplier. We get to know our customers. We’re a certified supplier and, in order to maintain that certification, they have to audit us. We have that day or two days of an audit where they come in and sit with you and say what they like and they don’t like. That gives you good, hardcore feedback on your business; that’s partnership. You know what they want, they understand you and you understand them. The partnership is the real key of what we believe in.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
In 2010, the company had been on a three-day week for nearly three years. The biggest challenge at the time was: how do you take a company that was on a three-day week and take them back up to full production and growth? That continues to be the challenge – how do you get new business and maintain that and provide growth? That’s what we’re constantly working on.
What do you think the biggest challenge to businesses in Ireland is at the moment?
I think the biggest one is confidence and fair opportunity. We need to work together as in local supply – sourcing in Ireland instead of imports; some people automatically go and import it from somewhere else. There’s a lack of trust and confidence out there and that needs to be restored immediately.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
I suppose because of our background, the operations side, the real technical sides of what we do and how we do it, what we make and the materials we process and all the technical challenges we face on a daily basis.
What has been the best reward in running your own business?
It’s the satisfaction of doing it for ourselves. Both myself and Helen working together as a team and running a business like this, seeing it grow and facing the challenges head on and moving on to the next stage. While it’s difficult, there has been a level of satisfaction in doing it together.
What was the main catalyst for growth?
The main catalyst for growth for our business is our technical capability – what we can do. It starts with the people we have and the equipment we have and the skillsets we have. It really goes back to why did we buy the business. There are some really good, talented people in the company. They’re important. We’re able, we’re capable. Also we can come in at any stage of the lifecycle.
How did you scale/grow your business?
Our customer focus. If you’ve an issue in the morning and want something made, you’ll go to someone who can do it for you. It brings growth, but it allows you to scale the business after that.
What obstacles to growth have you faced in the past?
There’s a long new product introduction cycle in medical devices, pharma packaging and high tech product sectors. You don’t just get it today and you’re up and running in a week’s time. It can take anything from a month to two years’ time to get a product up and running; it takes a lot of investment and time. That’s part of the business, it’s not an obstacle to growth, it’s a part of what we do here – we’re patient, we’re focused on what we do, we know what’s involved. We take the obstacles out for other people so they can achieve things – that’s what we’re about.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
To further the business at the moment is to grow within our core competency, which is a good growing sector.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
Our desire to create something successful, to maintain employment and maintain the skills. We firmly believe in an indigenous Irish manufacturing base. We believe it’s very important we have that.
What’s your vision for the future?
That we grow. It’s important that we do grow and that we get to be bigger – for lots of reasons. First of all, to create opportunities for people, for ourselves to generate wealth is important and also that it spreads risk and makes sure we’re sustainable long-term, that the company is still here in 50 years’ time because it’s sustainable.
Do you have a mentor; do you find this has positively impacted on your success?
No we don’t have a mentor of the business but we do have a lot of go-to people. We have a lot of people who have encouraged us and have advised us on different aspects. We have each other, two people that know each other really well but come from different ways of doing things.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
You have to believe in what you do. You fail to plan and you plan to fail. You have to do it for the right reasons.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
You couldn’t underestimate the detailed plan – the plan for three to five years ahead of you. That plan has to have growth – what happens when you employ somebody and where do you go from there? Make your company for growth. If you just say I’m okay for now, you’re only ever going to be okay for now.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
Success is not final. Failure is not fatal and it’s the courage to continue that counts – Winston Churchill. There’s nothing like a wartime general to give you something to get you going.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
Not much. If we were to do it all again, we probably would have done a lot of what we’ve done already. One of our regrets is that when we took over the business we didn’t promote it enough, we didn’t promote the takeover or what we had achieved at that stage: we took it over, it was nearly closing, we saved it.
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