Philip O’Doherty: ‘How I built a billion-pound company’

Businessman Philip O’Doherty has told how he built his Donegal-based engineering firm into a billion-pound success.

E&I Engineering is being bought by Ohio-based Vertiv Holdings in a deal worth up to $2bn (£1.45bn).

Mr O’Doherty founded the firm, which makes electrical switchgear and power distribution systems, in 1987.

The 60-year-old, who is the chairman of Derry City Football Club, started out with himself and just three others.

Mr O’Doherty said: “I left Queen’s University and I took up an engineering role in DuPont out in Campsie and I worked there for nearly five years.

“I learned a lot and I learned enough to basically go out on my own to set up a business making electrical switch gear and control systems and that was E&I Engineering in January 1987.”

Mr O’Doherty said the business came from humble beginnings, initially consisting of just himself and about three other people.

“I don’t think I ever envisaged getting to this size, certainly in those early days, but I was just quite happy to work in a profession I really enjoyed as an engineer,” he said.

E&I now operates in over 30 locations around the world from Campsie near Londonderry, in Burnfoot, County Donegal, as well as a facilities in South Carolina and Dubai.

The engineering firm has annual sales of around $460m (£333m) and employs over 2,100 employees.

“It is very challenging, every day there is some new type of technology you have to learn, there is also challenges with this amount of people and this amount of equipment,” the E&I owner explained.

Mr O’Doherty said the reason for selling his labour of love was because he felt the company – in its current form – had expanded as much as they could.

“We got to the stage where there was not much more we could do being independent,” said Mr O’Doherty.

“If I look at other companies who are large in their fields throughout the world they either acquire or they become acquired and become part of a larger group.

“This company [Vertiv Holdings] has a global reach, it would probably take us 20 years to get there, this company has been in existence in various forms for 60 or 70 years,” he said.

In the deal, Vertiv Holdings will make an upfront payment of $1.8bn (£1.3bn) in cash and shares with the potential for up to $200m (£145m) in additional cash, based on achieving 2022 profit milestones.

‘No issues over job losses’
The founder of one of the biggest employers in the north west has said local staff should not be concerned about job losses.

Mr O’Doherty said they made the sale announcement known to staff before announcing it publicly and said “it went down really well” with their workforce.

“Under our own expansion plans and Veritiv’s own expansion plans there will certainly be no issue over job losses,” he said.

He explained that the company intends to expand and are currently recruiting for roles in construction, finance and “primarily shop-floor production staff”.

“We are actually recruiting 100 more staff for our facilities here in the north west, we are on a recruitment drive,” the E&I founder explained.

“We took on nearly 30 apprentices in the last two weeks,” he added.

The 60-year-old said he intends to stay on at the company for at least five more years and wants to see E&I “continue to grow” and “keep staff and his customers happy”.