“It was 2006 and everybody was talking about services but I was convinced there was a definite opening in high end manufacturing. We can’t make widgets – Eastern Europe and China will beat us on cost – but when it comes to high end manufacturing, we can beat the East all ends up. And that’s been proven. They can’t produce the quality and deliver the service levels that we can produce here."
It was the summer of 2006 and SEAMUS KILGANNON had a decision to make. A steadily rising career trajectory had seen the UCG Engineering graduate take pit stops at Green Isle Foods, C&C International and GSK before moving to Wexford in 1999 to join the start-up management team at the Medical Devices multinational, Waters Technologies. At Waters, Seamus’ career curve continued its ascent with a series of promotions culminating in his appointment as Managing Director in 2002 and Head of European Supply Chain Manufacturing Operations in 2004.
Success comes with a price, however, and for several years, Seamus, by then married and with three young children, spent much of his working week on the road or – more precisely – in the air. “I loved the work but of its nature it involved being away from my family a lot more than I liked. Some weeks, you’d fly Sunday to Boston; fly back Monday night, get home Tuesday morning and grab a few hours sleep before going to work in Wexford. Then maybe fly Wednesday morning from Dublin to Manchester, work Wednesday and Thursday over there, fly home and work Friday in Wexford. By Friday night, you’re just exhausted and you ask yourself, what’s this for?”
But the decision Seamus was about to make was fuelled by more than the familiar challenge of work/life balance. “I was ambitious and at Waters I was responsible for European manufacturing, for the supply chain and for a certain level of sales but I didn’t have the full gamut of running the business. I’d proven myself in that world and so I decided if I can do it for somebody else, I might as well do it for myself. It was about testing myself; about seeing what I could do.
What Seamus did was go shopping and by the autumn of 2006, he’d found what he was looking for at Waterford Tool Company, a precision engineering company on the outskirts of Waterford city. “At the time, there were about sixty people in the business and it had all the precision engineering skill sets that I needed. I’d identified a gap in the supply of manufacturing components and assemblies to Medical Device companies. You either had very large global multinationals or you had small local firms. If I could buy a small indigenous business that had the necessary skills and the ability to supply a quick turnaround; that if I professionalised it and put the systems and structures in place, it could grow to compete with the multinationals. I found that business in Waterford.”
By May, 2007, Seamus had acquired the company and begun a journey which in just nine years has seen the SCHIVO Group earn a reputation as a trusted and valued supplier to the Medical Technologies, Aerospace and Oil & Gas industries. Specialising in precision engineering, and full product sub-contract assembly, SCHIVO today employs more than 300 staff in Waterford, Leicestershire and Derry. The company enjoys a national and international client base with its Aerospace divisions in Derry and Leicester counting Rolls Royce, Bombardier and Airbus amongst its customers and the Waterford site supplying Medical Technology brand leaders such as Stryker, Waters, DePuy, Integra LS, Abbot and Boston Scientific.
Seamus Kilgannon leads from the front but is keen to credit his Waterford workforce with SCHIVO’s success.
“We have a tradition of precision engineering skill sets in Waterford and the South East that you don’t get to the same degree in other parts of the country. And the bedrock of our business is that high end skill set. It’s a business founded on skills and founded on people; a marriage of people and technology. One person has a vision and one person has the direction to lead it but you’re wasting your time if you don’t have a great team at the coalface following you. We’re fortunate to have been able to find and build that team in Waterford as well as at our other sites in Northern Ireland and in the UK.” - Seamus Kilgannon, Owner & CEO Shivo Group
Like many other industrialists in Waterford and the South East region, Seamus is pleased to acknowledge the important role of Waterford Institute of Technology in the SCHIVO success story. In particular, Seamus salutes the work of the SEAM Research Centre, an industry focused applied research centre based at the WIT campus. “We’re developing 3D Printing processes and technologies in conjunction with SEAM and Boston Scientific. Boston is in the Medical Device field and they have a particular project they want to pursue. We have the precision engineering technology and SEAM has the analytical technology to test the part that’s produced. So it’s an extremely fruitful research and development partnership right on our doorstep.”
Seamus believes Waterford’s geographical position on the South Eastern tip of Ireland is no barrier to international business and cites SCHIVO’s alliance with leading global multinationals as impressive evidence to the contrary. “Stratasys, Waters, GE Medical, etc. are huge organisations - world leaders in their technology fields – and in recent years we have become one of their key global manufacturing partners. They chose us not for where we are but for how well we could do what we do. And it’s the same with our other customers. It’s not about geography. It’s back to skill sets and capabilities and ambition.”
The son of a Garda whose work saw him stationed all over Ireland, Seamus Kilgannon spent much of his childhood in transit. His working life followed suit but almost a decade after the decision to build his own business in Waterford, Seamus, along with his wife and three teenage children are happy to have put down roots in their adopted city. “Building a successful business from start-up is a big commitment and there’s no point in saying otherwise. You’re absent a lot, you’re travelling a lot and for that reason it makes a big difference to come back to a place where I know my family are happy. Waterford has been good to SCHIVO and it’s been good to me; we’re really glad to call it home.”