Tom MacGuinness – ‘If I were to do it again’

Tom MacGuinness founded Horseware, the equine equipment brand, in 1985, sewing horse blankets by hand at his kitchen table. Today the global business, which has manufacturing plants in Ireland, China and the US, has a turnover of €40 million and employs 650 people. 

If I were to do it all again, what would I do differently? I would have trusted my gut more. I’d have had more confidence.

I did so many things because I was advised to or told to by other people, so-called experts. There was a very strong feeling when I was starting out along the lines of ‘You’re only an entrepreneur, you wouldn’t be able to organise a piss-up in a brewery. We’re the business experts; we’ll take over’. But your confidence as an entrepreneur comes with experience.

The other thing I would have done is going offshore earlier. We were the last company in the world to make horse blankets outside of India or China when we finally opened our production plant in China in 2004. People here were nervous about it; they told me I wouldn’t get the quality, that I’d damage the brand.

“It was the addition of value brands that enabled me to grow the company”

That didn’t happen. What did happen was that the move enabled me to introduce a range of brands, adding Rhino and Amigo to our existing Rambo range, and it was the addition of these value brands that grew the company. Without that move, we’d have stayed a small, very niche operation.

We still make a lot of our blankets in Ireland, incidentally. We employ 150 people in Ireland and of those, 35 are in production.

The biggest single mistake I made was taking over a production plant in Kingscourt, Co. Cavan, which was in liquidation at the time, in 2000. I tried to make a go of it and we managed to do that for four years but, eventually, I had to close it down and let 150 people go, which was a very sad day. In retrospect, I should have moved overseas in 2000 instead. It’s my biggest mistake and it happened because I didn’t listen to my gut.

Again it was because of that sense that others knew more than you did – in this case, people who worked in very structured organisations themselves, such as lawyers and professional advisors.

I think now there is a realisation that just because entrepreneurs are creative doesn’t mean they can’t have a range of business skills but at the time that view was very prevalent.