'Difficult to plan when growth prospects are so uncertain'
Pat Cooney, who has been heading the Gleeson Group since 1974, has seen tough times in business before but says there are stark differences that make it more difficult for companies to cope with the current economic problems. Cooney, whose company produces Tipperary Water and Finches soft drinks and distributes beers, spirits and wines in Ireland, says it is difficult to plan for the future. "In the 1970s, the banks weren't the problem," he explains.
"It was difficult to get money and it was expensive as interest rates were high but the economy was growing all the time and there was a reasonable certainty that you would always get bigger.
"Now, though, there is no certainty about growing the business, the banks have no money, your costs are going up and consumers are being squeezed," he says.
The Gleeson Group has made a profit every year, he says, and last year its turnover was €300m.
Today, it employs 700 people including his wife Marie, their daughter and three sons. The downturn, when it came, was drastic, with the company seeing a substantial drop in demand for its bestselling products around two years ago.
Since then, it has cut costs that included a wage cut among its workforce, although that was reversed this year when he saw signs of an improvement in the business. But he says this has been a "false dawn".
The company became uncompetitive in the UK and has lost business there, leaving it almost entirely reliant on the Irish economy.
It is on the lookout for opportunities to buy new businesses to help its long-term prospects. Cooney is frustrated, though, with the excessive bureaucracy and red tape that gets in his way as he tries to manage and grow the business in these challenging times.
Sorting these things out would cost the Government nothing and help to support Irish businesses, he suggested.