Neil Naughton: My Life
I was born and raised in Ireland. As a small child, I recall my father designing his earliest products at our kitchen table. The whole process fascinated me, like a real-life version of the construction sets that I played with. I also have fond memories of going to the factory in Newry, across the border in Northern Ireland. As a bonus, the plant was close to one of the only public swimming pools in the region, so it was an excuse for the family to go for a dip!
During my high school holidays, I worked in various related industries to get some experience. When I was 16, for example, I spent the summer working for a maker of corrugated boxes. Our family company was one of the biggest customers of the corrugated box industry in Ireland, so it was important that I understood the ins and outs of this business. The following year, I worked as an apprentice toolmaker, which introduced me to precision engineering.
Although I’m technically minded, I didn’t study engineering at college, probably to my dad’s disappointment. Instead, I did my undergraduate degree in pure economics at University College Dublin. After that, I went to Columbia Business School in New York to do an MBA. I thoroughly enjoyed living in New York, but I reckon if I’d lived there another fortnight I’d have been burnt out! I love that city to this day; it’s a home from home to me.
When it came to joining the family business, my dad was very strict. He said he had two golden rules: we had to want to join the business and demonstrate the necessary ability. After finishing my MBA, I spent three years running our business in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. I probably came out of business school a bit arrogant, thinking I knew everything. If I could do enough analysis, I believed I would get to the right answer. I quickly learned that the real world of business is about multiple shades of gray, rather than black-and-white answers. But it forced me to learn how to make decisions.
Upon returning to Ireland, I took over responsibility for Glen Dimplex’s international sales. I held that role for about five years and then joined the board. I’ve served as deputy chairman, chairman and now president. Until recently, my brother Fergal was our chief executive officer. Working with him is absolutely fantastic. We both have the exact same long-term goals for the business. We are demanding of each other, but I couldn’t ask for better.
While my home is Ireland, I have lived and enjoyed living in many other countries, and I’ve also traveled extensively. In life, I believe it’s essential that we expand our horizons. And we can only do that by experiencing other cultures at first hand. Over the years, I’ve helped to bring American football college games to Ireland. For me and the other organizers, it’s about enabling many thousands of young Americans to come to Ireland, broaden their horizons by seeing another culture, and make new friends.
The next generation of our family is starting to come through and they’re showing a lot of promise. One of my sister’s sons has started his own business, while another has been doing some work experience with us already. Some of our other kids are still quite young, so we’ve a few years to go before they make any decisions. If any of them want to join Glen Dimplex, we’ll be applying my father’s golden rule of desire plus ability.
Martin Naughton: My Life
The early 1970s were some of the darkest of times for Northern Ireland. The sectarian conflict that would become known as
the Troubles was escalating rapidly. Serious disorder and violence against people and property were a daily occurrence. The situation was aggravated by the global oil price shock, which marked the beginning of a seemingly relentless rise in Northern Irish unemployment. Manufacturing was hit hardest, as many businesses either retreated from the stricken province or simply folded.
However unfertile this landscape may have seemed, it wasn’t enough to deter Martin Naughton. The young engineer from the Irish Republic had always dreamt of running his own business. So, while he and his wife had only recently become parents, he decided to leave the secure world of paid employment. In 1973, Glen Electric began operations in the Northern Irish town of Newry, making oil-filled radiators. But despite his tiny workforce, Martin’s ambition was huge. He wanted his start-up to become the world leader in its field.
Having risked everything that he had to start Glen Electric, Martin gave his all to make it work. The factory kept running seven days a week; vacations were little more than a theory. His childhood memories helped spur him on. His father had erected their family home all by himself, juggling the enormous task with his duties as a policeman and father of seven.
Martin’s tireless efforts paid off. Within eighteen months, Glen Electric’s business had grown so much that he’d had to take on almost a hundred employees. Not long afterwards, an enormous opportunity arose. Dimplex – the market leader in electric heating – had gone into receivership. The subsequent deal took almost everyone by surprise. For an Irish company to buy a British rival several times its size was simply unheard of. Glen Dimplex – as the combined organization was called – would make a habit of rescuing distressed British household-name brands. In the decades that followed, it purchased Morphy Richards, a producer of domestic appliances, Roberts Radio, a maker of iconic radio sets, and Belling, a manufacturer of kitchen appliances.
Such was the success of Glen Dimplex that it too attracted the interest of potential buyers. At a trade show in the early 1990s, a representative of Siemens took Martin aside. He informed him that the German industrial giant had a plan to become the market leader in the category and wanted to know what price Martin would accept for the business. Once it became clear that the Irish company wasn’t for sale, Siemens suggested selling its own electric heating operations to Glen Dimplex. Here was an offer that Martin could definitely accept.
Over the years, the continued success of Glen Dimplex has helped to generate jobs and growth in a region where both were sorely needed. In 2015, Martin received an honorary knighthood from the British state in recognition of his services to the Northern Irish economy, as well as to art and philanthropy. Three years later, he was named one of the winners of the Oslo Business for Peace Award. The award committee cited his exceptional contributions to peacebuilding through business, including creating opportunities on both sides of the Irish border.