This global pandemic is capable of destroying the sense of community within a company. As individuals, we need to feel that we are being cared for and belong to something bigger than ourselves. I met with Tommy Kelly a very successful local entrepreneur, someone who is deeply committed to the concept of community.
Kelly founded a specialist engineering services company called TEG almost 20 years ago. You might know TEG from its sponsorship of Cusack Park. Based in Forest Park, Mullingar, the company employs over 100 people, the vast majority of whom are local. TEG trades in over 30 countries worldwide and some of the biggest companies from the aviation, pharmaceutical, and biopharmaceutical industries are its clients. TEG is privately owned and managed by both Kelly and his business partner John Hunt.
Kelly used to regularly commute from his home in Mullingar to Dublin at 5 am and return late at night. He worked in the engineering industry. It was tough going. One day he just decided it was enough.
“I had been travelling to Dublin to work there and the traffic was a nightmare. I had a young family and wanted to get out of the rat race. So, I quit the job in Dublin, unsure as to what my next step would be.”
TEG began in Kelly’s garage in 2002. Thanks to his knowledge of the industry, his experience, and contacts in the sector, his phone, was ringing continuously. Kelly initially targeted pharmaceutical companies. He knew that more money was spent on developing drugs than enhancing engineering efficiency or fixing major issues in their processing. Within the first 4 months, he had won new business but still had doubters too.
“When we started, some local business people were saying that we were crazy because we were trying to compete with established overseas companies. But I argued that our strength was our location. Mullingar is central and only 45 minutes from the airport. When you need to get small, niche, precise work done – those projects need to be local.”
The approach worked well for TEG in Ireland. Between 90-95% of pharmaceutical and blue-chip companies eventually became and remain clients. Also, local customers from other sectors, have supported TEG over the years including Decotek (formally IRALCO), Mergon, C&D Foods, Trend Technologies, Steripack, and Vistamed.
“TEG was out there selling our wares to these local clients and most of them gave us a dig out along the way and gave us some business. Probably some engineers and purchasers put their own neck on the line to help us. In return we delivered a lot for those guys and that helped grow TEG to the reasonably strong position we are in today.”
HIRING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
TEG’s biggest asset is its people. Initially, the company wasn’t attractive to somebody who had gone on to do a Ph.D. or had prior work experience. But they managed to attract local people with a strong work ethic. People who were prepared to learn and put the effort in. Now TEG has got some of the best qualified engineers, machinists, toolmakers and quality inspection people in the region.
Tanya Kavanagh, HR Manager, was one of these earliest local employees:
“I joined TEG 17 years ago and live just over the road. TEG is a great place to work and it is important to us to give back to the community and support local mental health initiatives. On top of that, TEG supports many local sports team and clubs. We here at TEG believe strongly in teamwork. Everyone employed here feels part of a team. Motivation, determination and positivity are qualities that filter down from our senior management through to the rest of the team”
Anthony Carey, Sales Manager, Life Science Division has worked at TEG for the past 14 years.
“I joined TEG about 3 years after it was started and joined as a design engineer. I then became design manager and then subsequently moved into sales about 10 years ago. Previously, I worked at Intel for about 2 years but felt that I had plateaued there. I lost a few quid but it was worth it. This company has allowed me an opportunity to travel around the world and I’ve picked up so many new skills”
A DEGREE IS NOT A PREREQUISITE
TEG has always supported apprenticeships. When the Celtic tiger crashed, apprentice courses closed down and the equipment was taken out of the training centres all over the country. C&F in Galway and Autolaunch in Carlow joined TEG by filling the apprenticeships on their own. Between them they had a steady flow of approximately 12 apprentices a year that kept their respective businesses going when many skilled people from the industry had emigrated overseas. The pipeline that TEG created, ensured that apprentices were coming through as qualified people after 4 years. Most of those apprentices still work at TEG.
“We’ve built the company using the apprenticeship schemes. The company would be open to hiring somebody, training them and providing them with all the formal qualifications and set them on a strong path.”
DURING THE PANDEMIC
TEG clients put orders on hold as a consequence of the pandemic. This ramped up the stress levels. The decision was made to keep this negative news from staff to avoid panic. The company had to cease employment of some temporary staff and tried to cut expenses by 35-50%. Where possible, staff worked from home.
“We were managing a business, we were managing HR, we were managing family life – everything had been turned upside down. The signals were that a lot of companies were going to go to the wall, we didn’t know if we were an exception to that or how we were going to manage. We were lucky that we had a number of clients who were directly producing goods to fight the virus.”
Kelly is optimistic about the Government’s much fan fared stimulus package but wants to wait to see the nuts and bolts and how it can support TEG and its staff. The government subsidy scheme was a big help to TEG. At one-point Kelly feared the loss of 40 jobs. He believes that TEG staff contributed to the company’s recovery by taking a pay cut. That cut was originally to last 26 weeks but was reversed after 12 weeks. Kelly is in no doubt that his staff helped TEG to survive.
“The pay cut was really tough on staff as they had enough stress in their lives…the help and support from staff and their extra output meant that we could return to normality or some form of normality quicker. We’ve experienced a lot of other costs in making it a safer working environment but that’s part of everybody’s changed work working conditions.”
TEG’s financial recovery has stabilised but Kelly is concerned about 3rd quarter this year and what first half of 2021 is going to bring.
SUPPORTING THE COMMUNITY
Tommy Kelly is not just passionate about his company. He has two other strong passions in his life, his family and his local GAA club. Commitment is time. Remarkably, he has managed to juggle the trinity of running a successful business, raising a family and being available to help out as club selector or secretary.
“The Downs is my local club and we are very heavily invested there. It is only right and proper that you help out the communities who are helping out young kids, keeping them out of trouble, hopefully keeping them away from the drugs scene by getting them involved in community activity. Whether its small ball, big ball whatever it is. If they’re involved in something then it’s incumbent on us all to make sure we put the best resources and facilities in place for generations to come and help older people in the community. My wife is a fantastic support. We are always doing, going or coming from something for the GAA. It’s a way of life. It’s our life. It’s a bit like farming: If you’re a farmer: you’re married to the farm, to the animals to everything – it’s a complete package”
The discipline, commitment, loyalty and team work which is evident in local clubs is at the core of TEG.
To find out more, visit: http://www.teg.com/
This article was published in the Westmeath Topic 01/10/2020.