‘My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me’
Q What’s the best piece of business (or life) advice you’ve ever been given? AMY father-in-law, who was a successful businessman and always a great support throughout my career, always encouraged me to be a man of my word. Qwhat piece of advice would you pass on to someone starting out in business? A develop a client-focused approach and employ talented people.
Q What was your best business decision? A accepting the invitation to become a director of Doran Consulting.
Q IF you weren’t doing this job, what would be your other career?
A I find this difficult to answer because I can’t imagine doing anything other than civil engineering.
Q What was your last holiday? Where are you going next?
A I was in Malaysia and Singapore recently, and my next trip will be to New England in the US.
Q What are your hobbies/ interests?
A In addition to the work I do in my church, I enjoy travel, running and watching Arsenal with my son, Michael.
Q what is your favourite sport and team?
A I enjoy football and rugby. I am a long suffering Arsenal fan and try to get across to the Emirates a few times each season. I also enjoy Friday night at the Kingspan.
Q And have you ever played any sports?
A I played rugby at school, although I always preferred football.
Q IF you enjoy reading, can you recommend a book?
A The last two books I read for relaxation were Dominion by CJ Sansom and Camino Island by John Grisham, both of which I enjoyed.
Q how would you describe your early life?
A I come from a typical Belfast working class family. My father was a shipyard worker. My parents had a strong work ethic, which they instilled in me. This has been a great asset to me.
Q Have you any economic predictions?
A AS a civil engineer, I leave such predictions to the economists.
Q How would you assess your time in business with your company?
A I joined immediately after graduating and this year celebrated 30 years with the company. I have had the pleasure of working with many talented and committed people. It has also been great fun and a privilege to play a part in the success of Doran Consulting. It is an honour to now take over as managing director and lead an incredibly talented team.
Q How do you sum up working in the sector?
A Civil engineering is a demanding and challenging profession but delivers incredible job satisfaction. It has provided me with a very rewarding career and I recommend it to young people without hesitation.
Ihad the pleasure of a flying visit home to Belfast last month and as is standard on trips home from my soon-to-be former base in New Zealand, I packed a lot in and saw a lot of the city. I was struck by the vibrancy around town. Despite many downside risks, such as the Stormont situation and uncertainty over Brexit, moods were positive and many seemed to have a spring in their step. A fairly typical Belfast resilience, the longevity of which never ceases to amaze me.
The city centre itself is thriving. Physical investment, in both commercial property and infrastructure, is clear for all to see. Offices that lay vacant during and post the global financial crisis in 2008 are now leased and new commercial developments are underway or planned.
Titanic Quarter is starting to look like the ‘artists impressions’ of the early 2000s, with major employers such as Citigroup and Titanic Belfast major anchors.
One piece of news which struck me when home was the incoming Lord Mayor Nuala Mcallister’s theme of ‘global Belfast’, building on the City Council’s aim to make Belfast an ‘open, inclusive and welcoming place to live and do business in — a city that is attractive to visitors and investors alike’.
This has since been supported by the launch of a new city brand, which — love it or hate it — is a key tool for cities in making their global presence known.
This is something which is all too familiar to me having spent the last four years working for Auckland’s Economic Development and Promotional agency (ATEED), which is aiming to do just the same for Auckland.
Auckland is already described as New Zealand’s global city. It is its most populous city, with over 1.6 million people, the commercial hub, home to a major international airport and port, and a diverse population with over 200 ethnicities.
Whilst it operates on a global level, with embedded international connections and a clear focus on the Asia-pacific region, it is seeking, with ATEED a key actor, to further develop and leverage international linkages to enable trade, investment and visitation.
In the context of my work with ATEED in Auckland, I began to think how well Belfast as a city is placed, with its much smaller relative population and status, when compared to Auckland and other global cities, to achieve the city’s global ambitions.
To set the context it is necessary to understand the importance of cities and their role in the world today.
The Brookings Institution, a leading US think tank, has led a programme of research around the role of cities and metropolitan areas in today’s world.
They highlight that “the classic notion of a global city” has been upended and that the global economy is no longer “driven by a select few major financial centres like New York, London, and Tokyo”.
Today, instead, members of a vast and complex “network of cities participate in international flows of goods, services, people, capital, and ideas, and thus make distinctive contributions to global growth and opportunity”.
Belfast’s role as the civic and commercial capital of Northern Ireland and the second largest city on the island of Ireland, give it a political and business prominence.
A strong industrial past, vibrant services sector and visitor economy, skilled labour force, strong academic and research institutions and a track record of attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), mean it has the attributes required to be a member of this global network of cities.
This combination of factors mean that Belfast is well placed to be the ‘challenger’ and develop towards being a ‘global city’.
The city’s global ambition, whilst bold and aspirational, is refreshing and just what Belfast needs in a difficult political environment.
The Lord Mayor gets this — across other global cities the role of mayors as catalytic leaders, setting a vision and leading the city towards that, are proving to be a key factor.
First impressions, from afar at least, would suggest she is up for the challenge and energised for the task.
❝ Belfast’s role as the civic and commercial capital of NI gives it a business prominence
❝ The Lord Mayor’s theme is to make the city an open, inclusive and welcoming place to live
Thursday sees Northern Ireland Local Government Association’s (NILGA) annual conference and awards to review, showcase and celebrate all that is positive about councils in Northern Ireland.
We’ll also not shy away from debating the challenges that currently exist. The event comes at a crucial time. Other regions in the UK are progressing ahead with plans to address forthcoming uncertainty.
It is unacceptable that we are running so far behind due to our own political barriers. Greater focus must be placed on one of the institutions that can provide the solution — namely, local government.
The 11 councils in Northern Ireland are dynamic hubs of public service delivery and economic development. Councils are now much more than administrators of bins, births and burials.
Collectively, they spend around £1bn annually in our economy with ambitions to do a great deal more. Sustainable development has a truly transformative effect on people and places.
It is our councils who are best positioned to understand current need and future requirements in their specific areas. Working collectively, through NILGA, they significantly contribute to the prosperity of Northern Ireland.
All councils are driving forward — particularly with major social, business and government partners in the context of their community and investment plans.
It is clear to see, that within all 11 councils, there is fervent professional ambition to attract business from beyond Northern Ireland.
As the political impasse continues, the need for local councils to play a bigger role in investment and infrastructure is growing.
The situation in Stormont means that councils are cornerstones of the economy and good governance. There is determination amongst the councils to be part of a new, strengthened economy and government for Northern Ireland.
They can play an enhanced role in civic representation and public service delivery — what- ever the local issue — just like councils elsewhere. Their longterm planning and new powers enable them to meet local needs but have global reach — the title of this year’s conference.
Much more needs to be done to give councils the environment to do more, politically, legally, fiscally. It’s ludicrous that we still do not have the power of regeneration as without it ambitious infrastructure plans are held up. Investors are going elsewhere.
Councils have a vital role in developing spaces and places that attract entrepreneurs with business ideas which create jobs and taxes.
We don’t want to take power away; we want to have the same powers as neighbouring regions so we don’t suffer from continued competitive disadvantage.
Councils are increasingly at the forefront of investment and enterprise in Northern Ireland.
With the increased services, functions and responsibilities of the 11 councils, significant global opportunities are now available to transform the local government sector and enable the private sector and social economy.
This conference is a key event in the business calendar with around 150 elected representatives, offi- cials, delegates and business leaders attending to share knowledge, skills and ideas.
New local government strengthens democracy and creates sustainable communities.
It is time for this to be more emphatically recognised.
❝ Much more needs to be done to give councils the environment to do more, politically, legally, fiscally
Ian is an Arsenal fan and a regular at the Emirates stadium
Auckland is described as New Zealand’s global city
Councils can help to improve the economy if given the opportunity