As a member of the Haldane Group, Haldane Fisher (HF) sits alongside the likes of PlumbMaster, GE Robinson, Key Hardware, and Prowood. Originally founded in 1946 by Bob Haldane, CEO, it is now led by Ian and David Haldane who are the third generation. The enterprise has steadily grown both organically and through acquisitions over the past 77 years.
“The organisation was originally known as the Haldane Shields Group, until in 1990 when we bought out our nearest rival in Northern Ireland (NI), JS Fisher,” David begins. “It was a bit of a landmark moment as combining two well established businesses gave us the capacity to expand with the housing boom in Ireland.
“Haldane Fisher is our main brand today, and within that we have PlumbMaster and Bathline, as well as an ironmongery and light hardware company called Key Hardware – all of which are based in NI. Our Isle of Man activities are spread between two locations, in Ramsay and Douglas, where we also operate under a mixed-merchant strategy, in a similar scope to the Northern Irish sites.
“Our business in England is built on our core strength of timber expertise, and we operate under Haldane Fisher, merchanting timber products to end users and trade customers in the construction, manufacturing, and farming sectors.
“We also have GE Robinsons, which has locations in Manchester and Birmingham, and the recently acquired Prowood. These are both timber manufacturing and distribution companies, with GE Robinsons focused on softwood manufacturing and treatment, and Prowood providing western red cedar and hardwood products, alongside laminated softwoods for the stair and construction markets. In all, we have 22 sites across NI, the Isle of Man, and England.
“With the typical nature of such a long-running family-owned enterprise, I’ve always been part of the company’s DNA,” David continues. “I used to work outside of term time from a young age to get a feel for our products and procedures, until I graduated from university and travelled to America to continue my studies.
“That gave me the opportunity to hone my business skills further, alongside working for a number of timber merchants and distributors, and I spent six months with a manufacturing consultancy business in Pennsylvania, too. This was where I really learned how to get to know people; those interpersonal skills are truly invaluable.
Investing in people
“I always felt that if I didn’t fall into that style of consultancy work, I would likely end up here, as I was groomed perfectly for the position. I have recently taken over the Group CEO role from my brother Ian, who along with my sister Carol led the company since our father was killed by the IRA in 1991, when our generation was catapulted into the leadership level at a very early age. Back then we only had five locations, which we have now grown to 22 over the last three decades.”
As David’s elder siblings have adjusted their responsibilities within the company, the company spent last year reorganising its senior positions. In doing so, his brother Ian has become the company’s chairman, which has created a space for David to step up to Group CEO. Following this, the organisation has announced a £50 million investment plan to perpetuate its growth over the next five years.
“As is the case with many walks of life, if you don’t challenge yourself, then you don’t create opportunities to grow,” David states. “We spent the majority of last year planning our new organisational structure to ensure smooth handover of roles and position us for future growth.
“It has meant that a lot of people have had to step up into more senior positions, which allows their careers to develop, but I really feel that everyone has got to grips with their new roles and settled in exceptionally well.
“One of my primary aims for the business is to invest in our people, and ensure we have great people with the right skills across the enterprise – not only at the management level, but also in our yard and manufacturing facilities.
“We have invested in a new talent manager within the group and launched our high-potential development program to identify the younger members of the workforce who have the potential to take us into the future. Similarly, we’re hoping to introduce another scheme through which we’ll be able to provide a clear route for employees to upskill themselves in order to advance in the company, whether they work in the yard or behind one of the trade counters.
“Besides this,” he continues, “we will continue to enhance the safety of our sites even further for both staff and customers, making sure they are fit for purpose and that we are providing fantastic welfare and office facilities.
Delivering on promises
“Most of our locations are in great shape; they’re modern spaces with new furniture and the latest IT solutions. In today’s world, people want to work somewhere nice and feel valued, which we are trying to facilitate by offering flexible hours within clean and professional environments.
“We’re aiming to apply a third of the £50 million investment over the five years on these organic inward factors, such as people, plant, equipment, health and safety, and welfare and wellbeing, and the remaining balance towards new business and greenfield expansion.
“Currently, there are a number of acquisition opportunities in both England and Northern Ireland. We will also be looking to expand our manufacturing business, and will be investing in our timber engineered solutions sites and prioritising our growth in the North West of England. We believe that an engineered timber product would be a valuable addition to our existing merchant and distribution businesses across this region.
“Recently, we have been developing our vision and values,” David concludes, “and we established that ‘to do what we say we will’ is a core element of our culture. By practicing the utmost in honesty and transparency, I am confident that we can continue to do exactly what we say we will to our customers and staff. We are honest, transparent, and always deliver on our promises. It doesn’t have to be any more difficult than that – and our staff really deliver on that message.”