AIB Backing Brave: From Farming to transport: a journey in business

Overview helicopter shot of a manufacturing site with backed by AIB branding.

Many people would find it difficult to imagine working day to day with their immediate family, but for Tomás Horgan his family business spans across two sectors. Tomás grew up on a family dairy farm and began helping out from a young age.

Farming in the genes

After school, Tomás attended agricultural college in Kildalton, gaining experience by working on different farms all over the world. After finishing agricultural college and attaining a green cert, Tomás returned to the home farm where, unfortunately, there was not enough work to support him. Making the best of a bad situation, Tomás saw an opportunity with his father’s truck.

Tomás explains: “I was only in my early twenties and I enjoyed driving around and seeing the country.”

The truck was used to transport sugar beet and fertiliser for Waterford Co-op (now Glanbia) in the springtime so with a truck license attained, the transporting business started out. His lucky break came from a gate manufacturing company called MMG, who hired Tomás to transport their steel products to a galvanising plant up north.

He reveals: “What started off as driving for a local company built up over the years and allowed me to build on lots of relationships including the one which started from a very low base with Glanbia.”

Agri Expansion

In 2009 along with his brother, Tomás took over his father’s farm. Since then, they have formed a partnership with another family, which allowed them to grow the farm substantially. The growth in their herd number and milk supply facilitated huge changes on the farm, including a 400 cow cubicle shed in 2010 and a new state of the art milking parlour in 2012.

Tomás explains how his relationship with AIB aided this expansion: “There was huge investment in the parlour and the cubicle house. When I moved to AIB, not only did they have a dedicated business manager, they had a dedicated agri section and that was hugely helpful.”

Collaboration is key

With experience securing funding in both the agri sector and finance and leasing in the transport industry, Tomás believes that it’s crucial to have a good relationship with your bank:

“AIB have been useful for general business advice, especially in the agri sector, but in the finance and asset leasing side also. I’ve often called for advice and it’s always forthcoming. Likewise, our bank manager is very accessible also. There’s a team of people that I can call on for advice, and I do. I find it very helpful.”

He continues: “In general, it takes a lot of hard work to grow and sustain a business. It’s vital that you build a trusting relationship with your bank and that you deliver on what you promise. I would say when we’re putting together a plan, our motto is ‘under promise and over deliver’ and that’s what we have tried to achieve over the years. What’s hugely important also is credibility. If people trust and believe in you, then they’ll invest in you.”

Keeping it in the family

When it comes to working alongside his family, Tomás says there are many benefits.

He explains: “It has worked in our situation. It made sense for myself and my brother to keep the farm as a single unit and to leverage the total land-base in order to grow it in the most productive way possible.”

“Likewise in the transport business, my brother is a qualified mechanic so he is involved in the garage and repairs side of the business whereas I’d be more involved in the administration side so we have complementary skills.”

Overcoming challenges

Today, most of the day to day work is taken up with running the transport business. In contrast to agri finance, finance and leasing was used to grow the transport business.

Tomás says this side of the business differs from agri: “With trucks and equipment, it’s capital intensive. You have to replace trucks regularly, so there was no way it would have been possible to grow this type of business without bank funding over the years.”

It is the transport business that has seen the most difficult challenges of Tomás’ career. He says: “I think there are challenges in every business. Transport over the years has been affected by very high insurance costs and this became such a dire situation at one point that we had to question whether it was actually viable to stay in the transport business at all. The spike in oil prices in the middle of the latest recession put pressure on all Transport companies and this along with the reduction in freight service requirements caused challenges during that period. There’s always challenges but it’s how you approach the difficulties and overcome them that makes the difference.”

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